As wacked as I can be, I’m always thankful there are women out there who are not just far battier/scarier but also happen to be on either side of my consort and me when we’re at a bar somewhere, like The West Branch on the night we wandered in after the exceptional “Slumdog Millionaire” and were promised a table in 30 minutes and wound up settling for just where we were. We ordered only appetizers and wine and almost regretted it when the two women to my left got their shared steak frites. All of it smelled sensational and looked even better. Between the two of them, they polished it off to the last ort and turned their attention to our too-refined vitello tonnato. Since they asked what it was, I asked how their meat was. “It was way too salty,” one said. “If you get it, ask for less salt. It was a hanger, so they must have tenderized it with salt.” Oh. Kay. The menu said it was a strip steak, but what does the chef know from tenderizing with salt? And I guess it was so bad they licked the plate — what’s that old punch line about how “the food sucks and the portions are too small”?
Just as those two were swaddling themselves to head out, two women took stools to Bob’s right and I could feel him cringing as wraps swung off and over-toned flesh came out. “They’re scary,” he whispered, and it was hard to argue with young faces that scalpel-hard. I tuned them out until we both noticed the bartender shaking a drink with Cruise-worthy vigor. “What is it?” Bob asked. And his look of resignation said it before he did: “Cosmo.” At least they were only your average consumers of “Sex and the City” who think New York is just like they pictured it on the teevee. Not Russian hookers after all.
This is the season for reality checks on Union Square. I stopped to inspect the corn even though I should have learned last week, and as I was turning away from the piles of shrunken ears, I overheard an accented voice say: “They are so small.” To which the kid collecting dollars said, “Well, it’s early. They’ll get bigger later on.” And the response: “Why don’t you let them grow?” Foolish foreigner. When you can get 50 cents now, why wait?
Random funnies I’ve overheard lately: Hustling up Eighth Avenue and late for lunch, I passed a heavyset sweating woman pushing a dolly stacked with Sid Wainer boxes and thought how odd that was on that street, dominated as it is by fast food crapola. Just as I got in front of her and her cellphone, I heard: “Where the fuck is DB Bistro Modern?” (Short “I” in Bistro, too.) I didn’t have the heart to point out that she was a long way from maison. And then there was the fill-in elevator operator in our building who was trained to put shareholders first, leaving no deliveryman unattended. He had a full complement of privileged residents and one Asian guy with a steaming aromatic bag in hand when I got on. After the fourth stop to pick up more people, the bag man started screaming in Chinese (I guess). And the Hispanic kid just responded: “I hear what you’re saying, but I can’t leave you alone.” Floor after floor, fury in Chinese was countered by calm in English. He was good. And then he was gone. Clearly, frustration is a universal language.
My decision to always eat incognito at Pearl Oyster Bar was validated when I stopped in for a late lunch at the bar next to three not-small women whose order was sent to the kitchen with a “VIP this, show ’em some love.” They were whimpering trying to finish their over-heaped plates while I was feeling beaten not even halfway through my usual skate sandwich. Those portions are beyond generous even for the hoi polloi. (I am always absurdly grateful when friends benefit, though.) Besides, who needs extras when you can hear a repeated dis of “Anthony” for advising diners never to order fish on a Monday, or overhear an explanation of the draconian 2:30 cutoff of lunch orders (the tiny kitchen needs every second to prep for dinner)? It’s the best place in town for lunch and a show.