And then of course there’s Serendipity.

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What’s frozen hot chocolate?

Funny you should ask. Serendipity recently came out with a cookbook where they apparently revealed the secret recipe for their frozen hot chocolate. I ran to the bookstore and charged my way to the cookbook section so I could learn the great secret. What is the great secret? “Choose your favorite hot chocolate mix, put in a blender with ice.” Ummm… that’s like Steven Speilberg telling his film students that the way to make a great film is to hit “record” on the camera.

No matter. I’m glad the secret’s not really out. Now you have a reason to go to Serendipity and experience the frozen hot chocolate yourself. It defies description.

Lauren and I sat at a round table like Archie and Betty or Jughead and Veronica, savoring the joys of a sodafountainy New York relic (that Andy Warhol and Jackie O frequented too):

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What’s that other dessert on the table?

A Broadway sundae with black chocolate cake and whipped cream and vanilla ice cream and fudge:

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It was way too much. But that’s the point isn’t it? When you take a cab 30 blocks uptown for ice cream, you don’t want a small cup and a dipstick. You want to binge. And binge we did. That, my friends, is Serendipity.

PrettyFood & Attitude: DavidBurke & Donatella

“She sits at the Ritz with her splits of mums

and starts to pine for a stein with her village chums

but with her shlitz in her mits down in Fitzroy’s bar

she thinks of the Ritz–oh

It’s so schitzo!”

– Stephen Sondheim, “Uptown/Downtown” cut from “Follies”

The uptown-downtown dynamic in New York is palpable. Never before have I considered myself a downtown guy, but surely I’m not an Uptown Girl. Chelsea (where I live) seems a perfect mix of the two: you have men in suits riding up and down the elevators, but you also have facial piercings, pink hair and tattoos (don’t show your mother). Chelsea is a fusion of uptown and downtown, but mostly downtown and I think that’s why I like it.

Uptown, of course, there can be manifestations of the downtown edge. Like performance artists in Central Park or the challenging Broadway show, uptown maintains some sense of integrity. But, of course, delegates at the RNC stayed uptown, and protesters lived downtown. My parents who arrived Thursday night and are staying uptown were hassled by a protester standing outside their hotel yelling: “Goodbye Republicans! Time to go home!”

DavidBurke & Donatella is located on the Upper East Side and I always imagined it as a bastion of downtown cool in a sea of uptown slickness. The promise of “angry lobster” on a bed of nails and a white limo parked outside for smokers seemed strokes of downtown genius. And in many ways the food was genius. But, sadly, it was the uptown slickness that dominated and made our meal a little less than cozy. Dreams were shattered last night at DavidBurke & Donatella.

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Two quick things in their defense:

1) We made our reservation at the last minute and they accomodated us.

2) We urged them to change our 9:30 timeslot (very late for us for dinner) to something earlier and they accomodated us again with a 9 pm bump. We owed them thirty minutes of gratitude.

But then there was our table. Our table sucked. A tight round table in a corner (“No one puts baby in a corner”) by the stairs beneath the bar and away from the main room where the VIPs ate. The main room looked lush and exciting. Our room was rather drab. Dad was pinned to a wall by the stairs and I was sandwiched between a column and the bussing station. Mom looked shadowy in the darkened slot she squeezed herself in.

Mom then, of course, pestered the hostess for a table change and the hostess was a bit condescending and told us it would be more than an hour. Strangely, a pair of women who entered without a reservation were led to the main room right away. A Studio 54 appetizer, anyone?

Good news, though, loyal readers of this site. For those that wonder why it is that I photograph every course of every meal I eat and post it up here, the reason is that I believe the visual component to be one of the essential components of the meal. This isn’t novel: chefs spend a great deal of time on plating. And, therefore, I feel like I get to share–vicariously–an essential aspect of our dining experience with you. It’s like you’re right there with us.

But the good news here is that the plating was the star component of our meal. A freak show of novelties made their way across the table, and so what if the tastes were unexceptional (everything tasted fine, but nothing moved us to tears)—everything looked beautiful.

Look how the bread is served—a pop-over in a mini-copper skillet:

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An amuse bouche of mashed chickpeas, yogurt and mint:

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Tuna and salmon tartare:

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Angry lobster on a bed of nails: (click to see it bigger) (and here the flavor was extraordinary):

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And my personal favorite in terms of presentation: scrambled eggs with lobster, creme fraiche and caviar served in a broken OSTRICH EGG on a sea of peppercorns:

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(Do you think they recycle the peppercorns? That’s so wasteful!)

(But this was definitely the best appetizer in terms of flavor–we all fought over it.)

As for entrees, I had the duck:

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Mom had the lambchops:

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Dad had the salmon:

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All of which were fine but nothing becoming their revered status or hefty price. I wonder if DavidBurke was away for Labor Day? Maybe Donatella has a cold.

The desserts were, though, quite beautiful.

Mom had something with chocolate and marshmallows:

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And I had the butterscotch panna cotta voted one of the city’s best desserts in New York Magazine:

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Delicious, true, but nauseatingly sweet. I couldn’t finish it and I love dessert.

By this time of the night, the bar was teeming with leery gray-haired men and buxom plasticized blondes yapping loudly. At a table around the corner a woman threw back her head in laughter: “HAR HAR HAR HAR.” The bus station (which was right over my shoulder) allowed for me to pick up sly comments from the waiter complaining about the guests to the bus boy. The two hostesses looked like they hated each other. A woman at the bar on the tier above us held her drink precariously over mom’s head. Dad paid the check and we left.

Amma (New York)

If you are a restaurant and you want to piss me off, here is what you should do. Send a waiter over to my table and have him say: “Would you like sparkling or flat water tonight?” Then, when me and my companions say “flat,” have the waiter return with a large bottle of water. Have him pour water until our glasses are full and then, when the bottle is empty, have him open a new one and continue filling our glasses. Then, to guild the lily, have him charge us $12 on the bill for two full bottles of what may as well have been tap water.

This was our experience tonight at Amma, an otherwise very good, very expensive Indian restaurant on 51st between 2nd and 3rd.

First, I met up with Ricky and Lisa outside Lisa’s office next to Radio City Music Hall.

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We walked down 51st towards the Home of Overpriced Water.

Finally, we reached it and Ricky and Lisa posed outside.

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Then we encountered a problem.

“How do we get into this restaurant?” asked Lisa.

We attempted the left side, the down side, the up side, until finally we ascended the stairs on the right side. Entering the dimly lit room, the owner approached us as if we were a band of vagabonds there to deflower a virgin on the bar.

“Can I help you?” he asked nervously. I have a very intimidating gait.

“We have a reservation,” Ricky said.

He looked us up and sat us in a corner. No one puts baby in a corner.

Already, the room was rather oppressive. It was uncomfortably silent, and waiters and servers and other non-identified employees stood like secret security agents in different corners of the room.

We unintentionally ordered our expensive water and then ordered our food. To start, we ordered a trio of samosas: peas, potatoes and chicken. Soon, a waiter brought out a plate and we cut each in half.

“Which is the chicken! Which is the peas! Which is the potatotes!” worried Lisa who is a vegetarian.

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“I think they’re all mixed together,” I declared sadly.

Lisa frowned. Ricky and I devoured the samosas.

Then a waiter came out with a plate. “Samosas!” he said.

“What did we just eat?” I asked.

“That was spinach and potato (something),” he answered.

“Oh,” we answered.

He placed the plate down.

“Which is the chicken! Which is the peas! Which is the potatoes!” worried Lisa.

The waiter pointed out the chicken and Lisa cut into the peas.

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They were very good.

Then our entrees arrived. Mine was delicious. Mine was lamb with an apricot fennel stuffing.

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Lisa was a little less enthused about her saag (with spinach and chickpeas). She says now: “I thought it was good at the time, I told you it was good at the time. The restaurant itself is what pissed me off. The prices of things and the fact that they don’t serve you rice, that’s what i didn’t like about it. I thought the food tasted good, though.”

And so there you have it. And now for the most important part…

AMMA BATHROOM REVIEW

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As you can see, the Amma bathroom is quite lovely. I particularly liked the flowers and the zesty citrus handsoap. I did, unfortunately, burn my hands on the incredibly hot water (my fault for not turning on the cold early enough, but still) but overall this bathroom has a lot of character.

Grade: B+