A Week in New York with Meals at Pearl Oyster Bar, Mimi, Flora Bar, Daniel, Bar Bolonat, Union Square Cafe, Cafe Altro Paradiso, Hearth, and King

Craig’s in the middle of editing his new movie ALEX STRANGELOVE for Netflix (can’t wait for you to see it) in New York and though I planned to just stay in L.A. for the duration of the edit, two things did occur to me when he asked me to come out for a week: (1) it’d be good for our marriage for me to support and nurture Craig through the difficulties of the editing process; (2) I COULD EAT AT A BUNCH OF NEW YORK CITY RESTAURANTS!

I won’t tell you which was the more compelling factor, but there I was, last Monday, arriving at JFK and taking a cab into the city.

Craig was doing film-related work in the Village and so I decided to drop my stuff off on the Upper East Side (where we were staying) and to take the new 2nd Avenue Subway to Union Square, and then walk over to the Village, grabbing some dinner on the way.

Monday night is a great time to fly into New York: not only was the airport pretty empty, restaurants too (at least at the end of September) were only half-full. As I wandered through the Village, I found myself drawn to Cornelia Street and back to an old staple that’s one of my favorite New York City haunts and has been for years: Pearl Oyster Bar.

There’s a certain kind of hunger you achieve when you travel that makes for the most sublime eating experiences when you finally sit down. I think the greatest bite of my life was when I drove from San Francisco to Napa on my book tour, a drive that took forever (I hit lots of traffic), and I decided to go straight to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, where I sat at the bar, had a glass of wine, and a sublime Caesar salad.

Well: here at Pearl I did exactly the same thing, only this Caesar salad was the stuff of poetry.

The Pearl Caesar has a consistency unlike any other Caesar I’ve ever had; it’s positively shellacked in briny dressing (I mean that in the best way) and I think the richness is a result of gently cooking the egg before emulsifying it (I have the Pearl Cookbook and I seem to remember that step in the process). Also brilliant: the croutons are made of English Muffins. This, plus a glass of Gruner Vetliner, was the most excellent first bite of New York City; chased, of course, by a bowl of impossible-to-photograph-well Clam Chowder:

The next day, I had lots of work to do, so holed up where I was staying and got a mediocre toasted everything bagel from Pick-A-Bagel on 2nd Avenue with lox spread, tomato, and onion, which–despite being mediocre–was still amazing because it was a bagel in New York and reminded me of the kinds of bagels I’d eat growing up.

That night, we were meeting up with a new friend; Broadway star GIDEON GLICK who you may have heard on the Spring Awakening cast recording (“I love you Hanshel!” I know the thing by heart because I cook to it all the time) or seen in his star-turn in Significant Other. We started at the Washington Square Hotel Bar, one of Craig’s favorite bars in New York, partially because it’s the least glamorous place you can imagine.

Each of us got a Manhattan which was so strong but so right at the same time (the room was spinning when I went to bed that night, I blame this):

Then it was off to Mimi, a restaurant I learned about through reverse dinner reservation engineering. See, in the olden days, I’d figure out a restaurant I wanted to go to and then clamor for a reservation. Now I just use the apps–OpenTable, Resy–and see what’s available and then read about the places that are available to see if I’m interested. On Resy, I saw a table available at Mimi, so I read the Pete Wells review, which was mostly positive, and the New York Magazine review, which was even more positive. So off to Mimi we went:

This really felt like a restaurant in Paris, from the cramped tables to the not-warm, but passionate service. Our table was so cramped, it almost felt like we were at a table for five with the people sitting next to us; this restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. Here’s Craig and Gideon to illustrate:

OK, that doesn’t look too cramped after all. It was also very dark.

Which makes these pictures not-so-great, but the chicken liver mousse was most excellent:

Wow, that’s a huge picture but that’s because I batch-edited all these pictures so they’re all 640 width, even the vertical ones. Sorry!

Confession: I don’t remember much else of what we ate there, and the pictures are really bad, so here’s just one more…

That thing in the background was delicious: cheesy, gooey, carby. I don’t remember what it was and the online menu doesn’t match our meal there.

(Maybe you can tell, I’m not sure I’d rush back to Mimi, but let’s not make a big deal about it.)

The next day, I went to go see a much-ballyhooed play, A Doll’s House Part 2 which was in its final week. I missed Laurie Metcalf, who I love so much, in the lead part, but Julie White was wonderful and this was a terrific, thought-provoking play.

Afterwards, the restaurant Daniel called (where we were supposed to have dinner; more on that in a bit) with news that a water main broke outside the restaurant and that they’d have to reschedule our dinner to the next night. (They were very nice about it.)

So after Craig finished with work that day, he came back to the Upper East Side and I led him to Flora Bar, a restaurant I was most curious about, in the old Untitled spot at the former-Whitney now Met Breuer:

Craig’s a huge fan of Ignacio Mattos and his restaurant Estela on Houston in SoHo. It has a dish that’s truly one of the most memorable things Craig and I have ever eaten: an endive salad that buries a granola made of walnuts, breadcrumbs, anchovies, and chunks of cheese. It sounds bizarre but it’s oh so good.

So Flora Bar, also a Mattos restaurant, was an exciting thing to find near where we were staying. And on this lovely New York night, there was a table right outside. Get ready for another huge picture!

Here are pictures of everything that we ate, some of which will be self-explanatory (a Caesar with the most amazing croutons soaked with an orange-flavored oil) some of which won’t (a steak that you can’t see because it’s covered in mushroom disks):

That dessert was maybe the most mind-blowing of all: it was a disc of frozen coconut ice cream on top of of something made of mango, but the craziest part was that it tasted like it was infused with jalapenos. There was heat.

At the end of our trip, which we’ll get to eventually (I hope!), Craig and I agreed that our dinner at Flora Bar was probably our favorite meal of the week. The only downside: the price. It’s a little crazy expensive, especially that steak, but I think it’s worth it.

Now: the next day. I continued to work on the Upper East Side, and needing a break, I wandered up to the famous Kitchen Arts & Letters, a culinary book store rivaled only by Bonnie Slotnick’s downtown and Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

I spent about an hour there (I could’ve spent HOURS there) seeking out something that would be impossible to find anywhere else. Eventually, I think I found it:

The store’s proprietor asked if I’d read about the recent revelations regarding Roald Dahl; I said I hadn’t. He paused, saying that if I went home, read about them, and decided to bring the book back, he’d give me a refund. So naturally I went home and read some stuff about him; I guess he was anti-Semitic? Though Steven Speilberg had to address that when he did The BFG and he seemed to think Dahl was more of a provocateur who liked to get a reaction out of people. And, frankly, if I had to purge my book collection of hateful writers/creators I’d have a very thin book collection indeed (bye T.S. Eliot, etc). I’m all about separating the artist from the art, or the cookbook, as the case may be.

Now: on to Daniel!

Why did we go to Daniel, one of the most lavish restaurants in New York?

Blame Bette Midler.

We had a tiny windfall a few weeks ago (someday I’ll tell you about green envelopes; which equal residuals in the entertainment biz… ok, I guess I just told you about them) and upon receiving one, I made up my mind: when I went to visit Craig in New York, we’d go see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly!

Now there’s a lot you have to know about this: I love Bette Midler, always have. Going to Beaches with my grandmother is one of my most prominent movie memories (especially since my grandfather had just died and I chose Beaches in order to cheer her up… oops!) I’ve seen Bette Midler many times in concert; once with my parents when I was in middle school, wondering why there were so many men at the concert?

But Hello Dolly! is not my favorite. I once saw my college boyfriend in it in Summerstock in Birmingham, Alabama. It was cute, but once was enough. Then I saw it again in Atlanta. Then I saw the Barbra Streisand movie. I find it all incredibly corny/cheesy. It’s fine, it’s cute, but when I went to pay for the tickets, I just couldn’t hit the “PURCHASE” button. It was so wildly expensive on StubHub…

And for the same money, we could go have an incredible, earth-shattering meal somewhere. So I chose Daniel:

Why Daniel over New York’s other palaces of fine dining? Didn’t Pete Wells demote it a star, knocking it down from four to three?

Well: he did. But Daniel, more so than any other restaurant in New York, evokes the kind of classic New York French restaurant I love reading about in books, with the kind of old-world French style captured in movies like Ratatouille. The other choices all had knocks against them, in this department: Le Bernardin is lovely, but it’s focused mainly on seafood; The Grill at the Four Seasons is recently refurbished, but too trendy for my tastes; Jean-Georges is certainly excellent, but it’s known for its Asian-fusion. He’s into yuzu. I wanted French food without Yuzu.

And that’s precisely what we got. Again, a series of pictures:

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Our waiter, who you can see in the middle of that series of pictures, was so helpful: we didn’t want to do a bottle, but wanted to get a glass or two of wine to match the food. He poured us half glasses for the first two courses, and a full glass for the third course, which worked out perfectly.

And though I feel like I’ll lose my gay card for saying this, I’m glad we chose Daniel over Bette Midler (somewhere, an angry unicorn is blowing fire from its nose and charging out to find me). This meal WAS theater: entertaining, inspiring, fattening (OK, theater’s not fattening). I’m very glad we went.

Jesus, do I still have more meals to write about? I’m on an airplane, by the way. This post is getting me all the way back to L.A.

Next night: had dinner with our friend Chris at Bar Bolonat. My pictures are lousy, but you should see Chris because he’s handsome and our good friend:

That’s what he looks like ordering wine.

All of the food at Bar Bolonat was flavorful and perfect for a Friday night, catching up with an old friend.

(Do you feel like I cheated there? It’s just because the pictures were bad!)

Now: on to another highlight meal, the one that we had at the newly re-opened Union Square Cafe.

I like this place even better in its new location, and it wasn’t hard to get a reservation for lunch (again: use the apps. I play them like a video game!)

We were joined by the lovable creator of BETTER LATE THAN NEVER and THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER and the Tweeter behind TIM FEDERLE: Tim Federle!

That’s him with our appetizers, a beautiful tomato salad (God, now that I’m blogging again, do I have to come up with more adjectives for food besides beautiful?) and a gorgeous polenta that tasted like adult baby food in the best possible way. Here are close-up pictures of both:

We all had the famous tuna burger, which lives up to the hype, and is a very good thing to eat for lunch (we had it with salad instead of chips because I’m really into showing restraint… haha):

Then for dessert, there was a battle of wills: Tim was Team Ricotta Mousse, I was Team Strawberry Pavlova. Actually, Tim very kindly said I should just get the Pavlova, but the waitress overhearing this brought us BOTH. That’s the kind of service Union Square Cafe (and Danny Meyer restaurants) are famous for.

OK, now even I’m getting exhausted from this post. So let me just tell you: Saturday night we met our friends Lucci and Josh at Cafe Altro Paradiso, another Ignacio Mattos restaurant. This one’s less weird than Estela, less ritzy than Flora Bar, more just straight-forward Italian food but made with so much artistry and wisdom and love. I really think this restaurant’s a gem; from the way it looks to the way everything tastes. It’s not a blow-you-away kind of restaurant; it’s more of just a restaurant that feels right, if that makes sense. Like a pair of elegant Italian slippers. Here are some pics:

Yesterday, our last day in New York, we met our friends Ola and Andres for brunch at Hearth, which is firing on all cylinders these days (last trip to New York, we ate there and had a tremendous dinner; Craig goes all the time and always wants to eat there every time I visit. I love Marco Canora and his food. Why am I still in parentheses?)

The two best things about eating brunch at Hearth: (1) You can make a reservation on OpenTable; (2) the pastry chef is the legendary Karen DeMasco, whose baking book is incredible, and who’s worked at some of the city’s best restaurants. Her corn muffin with blueberries was out of this world. And all the savory food was so, so, good; way better than brunch food has any right to be. My kale and sausage ragu was so deeply-flavored, it should be taught as a class at all culinary schools:

After brunch, Craig and I went to see the most heartbreaking but lovely play by Amy Herzog at The New York Theater Workshop, a play called MARY JANE, about the mother of a very sick child:

Needless to say, we needed a drink afterwards. I researched “wine bar” on my phone, and we wound up at Rebelle Wine Bar on the Bowery, which had the most incredible Sunday deal: HALF OFF all wines less than $400. Every wine on the menu.

So we got an $80 Jura Chardonnay for $40, which I’m still a bit in shock over:

We also got to sit outside and watch the people go by. Somebody came up to Craig and asked if he was The Amateur Gourmet! I immediately threw my Jura wine in the man’s face; just kidding, we had a nice conversation. He’s starting a podcast.

Finally–FINALLY–we had our last meal of the trip, at King in the West Village, which I read about in The New York Times and The New Yorker:

This was a very straightforward, delightful dinner that maybe didn’t dazzle, but it comforted in all the right ways:

Would you look at that: this post took so much time, we just landed in Australia.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed our meals in New York. I sure did. And seeing Craig! Because that’s what the trip was all about. Heart emoji.

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