Sometimes going away from a city gives you permission, upon your return, to do things that you wouldn’t normally do when you lived there.
Case in point: eating alone at the bar at Maialino on a Friday night. There are a million reasons I would never have done that as a New York City resident: what if someone I know sees me? What about all the people jammed in there waiting for their tables looking at this guy, alone, reading Salman Rushdie’s article in The New Yorker? Somehow, though, my time away has made me feel like a tourist in the city I once called home…which is how I worked up the courage to walk in and ask for a seat at the bar.
I have the good fortune to be friends with a guy named Dan Fortune, a DJ with an incredible knack for hunting down obscure tracks–mostly show tune oriented–performed by unexpected artists (Stevie Wonder singing “Hello Young Lovers” from “The King & I,” Nina Simone singing a medley of songs from “Hair,” James Brown singing “September Song.”) Dan’s talent for weaving these songs together into a cogent stream of music has won him a large New York following; and because of that following, Dan often gets asked to DJ celebrity events. And, being his friend, he’s now invited me to two: one was Chris March’s book party (remember Chris March from “Project Runway”?) and the other, more recent event was Michael Musto’s party celebrating 25 years at The Village Voice.
April Bloomfield–the chef of The Spotted Pig, the late John Dory and now The Breslin–cooks bold food. That’s what everyone loves about her; her food is never, ever boring. It’s the metaphysical opposite of the boiled peas and carrots you remember from your middle school cafeteria. Her peas and carrots, if she ran a middle school cafeteria, would be browned and salted and spiced and acidified. Kids would be so energized by them they’d stop beating each other up, earn straight As and all go on to win Noble Peace Prizes. That’s the power of food cooked by April Bloomfield.
I love brunch but I’m always a bit perplexed when I arrive at a celebrated brunch spot–Prune, for example–and see crowds of people huddled outside, waiting desperately for eggs and pancakes and coffee, foods they can easily and much more cheaply prepare at home. Don’t get me wrong: a place like Prune can dazzle you with its brunch food, but at the end of the day, it’s brunch food and no brunch food–however spectacular–should require a one hour wait.
Which is why I’m delighted to tell you about the brunch I had a few weeks ago with my friend Lauren at Irving Mill, one block east of Union Square. The place is enormous, like a farmy banquet hall, and on Sunday at 12 noon it was almost totally empty, which should’ve been a cause for alarm. Instead, though it was a cause for celebration: Irving Mill serves a pretty killer bunch and the best part is, you don’t have to wait.
Have you ever had a truly forgettable meal? A meal that makes you scratch your head when someone asks, “Have you eaten at X?” Well that’s how I feel about the meal I had a few weeks ago at Stand, the new burger place on… on… see, I’ve totally forgotten where it is. I think it’s near Union Square. Regardless, the inside looks like a forgettable cafeteria from a forgettable job you had during a forgettable period in your life. When you finish reading this post, you’ll probably forget I ever wrote it.
Craig and I had our one year anniversary on Sunday. We thought about renting a zip car and going somewhere out of state; we thought of returning to the location of our first date–Lucien, in the East Village, where I had a cassoulet that made the rest of the date quite uncomfortable (all those beans). But, ultimately, a gift certificate given to me on my birthday for the Union Square Hospitality group led us to Eleven Madison Park:
I’d been to Eleven Madison Park once before with my parents. But that was before the arrival of Daniel Humm, the hot new chef who single-handedly elevated the restaurant from two-stars to three in the Book of Frank Bruni. Of all the Union Square Hospitality restaurants we could have chosen–Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, The Modern–Eleven Madison Park seemed the most exciting. And when you click “continue” you’ll see why.
I’ve been campaigning for Country for a while. My parents didn’t want to go because a hotel concierge advised them against it, but I won the battle last week when they came to town. It was a rainy, ugly Wednesday night and Craig and I made the journey from Brooklyn to meet my parents at Country’s home in the Carlyle hotel on 28th and Madison. Upon entering, we were both way impressed with the digs. “Whoah, awesome,” said Craig (that’s a direct quote.) Here’s a blurry bad picture of the hotel lobby:
Finding the restaurant took some work. We went to the bar downstairs and thought it was just a bar but, upon asking the hotel clerk, we were told that it WAS the restaurant bar. So we went back to the bar, snuck around the corner and discerned that this downstairs part was the low-key restaurant (Country has two restaurants) and upstairs was the fancy high-end version where we’d be eating.
If you want to know what kind of restaurant I do approve of, the kind of restaurant that embodies all I love about eating out, look no further than A Voce.
A Voce opened this year to great acclaim. It was one of the “hits” in the NYT restaurant round-up of “hits” and “misses” 2006. Its chef, Andrew Carmellini, was renowned for his work at Cafe Boulud and opened A Voce to showcase his love for all things Italian. Frank Bruni rewarded him with two shimmering stars. More importantly, A Voce is only two blocks from my apartment. So when it came to lunch on Friday with my parents (and Craig!), A Voce was the perfect choice.