After Bob’s and my luxurious outing to the newest incarnation of Gage & Tollner, I would almost think I imagined writing about the gaslit joint after 9/11 for the NYT. The story doesn’t show up in search, but I still remember arguing with the copy desk over my description of the rice looking as if it had been molded in Madonna’s bra. Post-traumatic shock is still with us…
Heard tonight, at a picnic in the park crashed by pissants, a squirrel, three unleashed terriers and two rats, that Keith McNally had the interior of his last great stage set jackhammered out so one could infringe on his signature style. So many eras ending thanx to the #trumpandemic…
Apparently there is so much terrible news about Sandy it can’t all be printed, because I just learned the Bridge Cafe took a huge hit. This is the curse of “location, location” — even when the food was at its best, the most compelling reason to head there was the atmosphere, transporting you back to the 1800s right under the Brooklyn Bridge, right where devastating amounts of water could come slamming in. My consort and I first ate there before the South Street Seaport became a mall, and our reward at lunch was seeing James Beard ensconced in all his immensity alone at a table in a back corner. We were new to New York and unaccustomed to how often legends move among us here. I went back a year or so later to meet Leslie Revsin, who was the chef and had agreed to advise me about the wisdom of then insane-idea of giving up my job at the NYTimes to go off to restaurant school. Now they’re both dead, and so is Pierre Franey, who also agreed to advise me, by phone. I hope the place itself is not next . . .
My favorite observation lately is Richard Price’s on how “real estate is violence.” And nothing makes the point sharper than seeing Oppenheimer closed. That time-warp shop on upper Broadway was one of the greatest things about my not-always-great neighborhood, and I can only surmise that it was forced out by the greed ignited by the invasion of a couple of butt-ugly, environmentally unsustainable high-rises just to the north. We’ve been up here 22 years now and have seen everything change while one real carriage-trade butcher survived, even after the wacky owner sold to a younger entrepreneur who had no fear of fins in the house of shanks. I remember going back one Black Friday to say the “fresh” turkey we had bought was actually frozen, slowing down our rush to the Calvados greatly, and Harry in his bolo tie being both mortified and conciliatory, offering anything in the shop as recompense. His successor was quirkier, but he ran a smart operation. When I was on crutches for all those months, I could not underestimate the value of having a source I could call for meat for recipes to test and be guaranteed that what arrived an hour or so later would be exactly what I would have picked out myself. Beyond all that, there was such a great feeling to being in a shop “established in 1964” and knowing it looked in 2008 pretty much as it did when I was in seventh grade on a whole other planet. Word on the smart blogs is that they’re looking for a new location, and I wish them well. But I hope all those buyers of $2 million-plus apartments in the hideously misplaced glass boxes know Holy Foods will be nothing like the real deal if indeed it ever opens.
What’s even funnier is that one of those sackcloth-and-ashes sites leading the grief parade just touted the opening of a Qdoba. (Manhattan is now a mini-mall.) And on another I learned there apparently is a supermarket chain called Roach Bros. Vermin Ltd. would be more reassuring.
Even before the latest crane fell toppled as I was heading over to the Greenmarket on 97th Street, I was thinking how unfair it is that Holy Foods is invading my neighborhood with a soulless behemoth just steps from the best food-shopping opportunity in town (at least as long as Union Square is Pure Hell during renovation). And I certainly eyed that scary crane up around 100th with total dread on a 9/11-level severe-clear morning. As skeptical as I have been about how commerce can edge out quality, I did have qualms about the hardy souls who turn up Friday after Friday within limping distance. But I came home with Ronnybrook milk and Kernan strawberries (and Sweet Williams) and a booster shot of vicarious seasonality even though I would not be cooking while home alone. And a postcard announcing that Keith the Garlic Guy is back downtown for the season had almost the same restorative effect. It was a reproduction of a woodcut of a “walk-behind seeder.” It looked to be more authentically hand-signed than any condolence note Go-Fuck-Yourself has had mailed to the nearly 5,000 families of Iraq war dead on our side. And even the stamp was chosen to fit, a new-rate pink one depicting a watermelon. Imagine one single slaughterhouse owner taking a fiftieth of that care with the product itself. I hear the wolf out on the horizon but can’t imagine giving up food by hand even when the beast turns up at the door.
Now I know why buildings in Manhattan have to be thrown up in record time these days — if construction takes more than three days, the promo signs are obsolete. I spotted one on Park Avenue South touting a new apartment house as center-of-the-cool-food-universe by showing matchbooks from nearby restaurants with travel times below each. Candela was a five-minute walk. Except it’s now Irving Mill. I forgot to look for Barca 18, but having actually braved bogus Wildwood only to walk right out, I would say omitting mention of any restaurant in that space might be a very wise idea. It’s not worth another steelworker’s life.
The NYC study on the incredible shrinking supermarket was disturbing even to someone who gets depressed walking west and looking north at the Holy behemoth about to invade her own neighborhood, which now has almost equal numbers of food shops and drugstores. But it occurred to me that two ailing industries could be healed with one merger. Just turn all the spaces rented by Wachovias, WaMus, Chases, North Forks and First Republics into something useful. Call them food banks.
I rarely leave the island except to go to the airport, so heading to Brooklyn for a little story was like packing for Liberia must have been for the Chimp’s handlers. I armed myself with a friend as an escort and tracked my route on Hopstop and even tried to do research on a destination for lunch, only to find we were bound for where the internets don’t go. So after wrapping up my bit of work, we started out for the subway by a slightly different route and had a series of experiences that really brought home how soulless the island has become, even in my neighborhood, where fresh chorizo and crema were once available just blocks away from my kitchen. We stopped first at a butcher shop where three types of Puerto Rican sausage made in-house were laid out tantalizingly on the counter along with fresh sofrito and containers of seasoning blends and a variety of other sausages the store simply carried. The meat in the length-of-the-store case looked gorgeous, and a little stand in the front was selling cooked food. The butchers also could not have been more charming (when were we two last called “girls”?) And then we stumbled upon a tiny narrow shop selling Mexican ingredients, some of which I have never seen fresh, where I bought two champagne-style mangos and a pack of 32 tortillas, all for exactly $3, from the nicest young kid at the counter. We had lunch next door at a place where I was too stupid to take a menu and which does not seem to exist on the Google. And that’s too bad because the waitresses in their crisp white shirts could not have been more gracious and patient, and even with over-ordering we paid $19.50 for guacamole, two huaraches, two rajas-con-queso tamales, a huge chorizo cemita, a fruit drink and a seltzer. We were surrounded by families pushing strollers the size of SUVs and by young people tucking into things that looked even better than what was on our table. And then we made our way back to the train for the short ride to the borough where every block is now a bank, a nail-sploitation salon and a Duane Reade.