The Seven Stages of Dining at Per Se (Craig’s Birthday Lunch)


The First Stage: Shock

The original plan was to take Craig to see the play “Speech & Debate,” which he’s been eager to see, and then to dinner at Soto–a Japanese place in the West Village, praised as the second best new restaurant of the year by Frank Bruni in The New York Times. And then Mika happened.

Mika, as you may or may not know, is the poppy, campy not-out-of-the-closet-but-clearly-gay singer/songwriter whose catchy tunes–including “Grace Kelly,” “Lollipop,” and “Love Today”–are taking Europe, and slowly America, by storm. I casually mentioned to Craig that I’d considered getting Mika tickets for his birthday but that I didn’t think he’d want to go (this after making reservations at Soto, but before buying tickets to “Speech and Debate”) and he said, “Awww–that’d be so much fun!” So I quickly shifted gears and was able to snatch last minute Mika tickets, rendering the Soto dinner plans a no-go and leaving a big gaping hole for the day part of Craig’s birthday.

Clearly, though, there needed to be a meal. Craig had initially responded “a nice meal” when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. Where could we go for lunch on a Saturday that’d constitute “a nice meal” before I surprised him with Mika? The first thing that occurred to me was Le Bernardin: it’s one of the best-kept lunch secrets in New York (see this post) and so I quickly called there to see if they had anything for Saturday and the hostess politely told me that they don’t serve lunch on weekends, only on weekdays.

Le Bernardin is a four-star restaurant and since I was in a four-star frame of mind, I Googled my other options. It was then that I realized Per Se has a lunch it serves on weekends. I was well aware that a reservation at Per Se is astonishingly difficult to attain–this is, for those who don’t know, the sister restaurant to our nation’s most prized, celebrated restaurant, The French Laundry–and even if I did attain it, it’d be far outside my price range.

I dialed the number, put the phone on speaker phone, and listened to the Per Se recorded message for about 10 minutes before someone picked up.

“Hello, this is Per Se, how can I help you?”

“Hi,” I said, “I know this is crazy to ask, but I thought I’d take a chance: do you have anything for lunch this Saturday?”

My finger was poised over the phone’s “off” button, prepared for her to cackle and say, “SATURDAY? ARE YOU MAD? WE BOOK UP THREE MONTHS IN ADVANCE!”

But instead: “You’re very lucky sir. We just had a cancellation for this Saturday at noon.”

I almost leapt out of my chair. “Oh wow,” I said. “Ummmm… hmmm… how much is lunch anyway?”

She told me and even though that number was FAR outside anything I ever dreamed of paying, my inner demon said, “What the hell?” and my outer demon said, “Ok, I’ll take it.”

“Excellent,” she said. “I’ll just need your credit card number to hold the reservation.”

“My credit card number?”

“Yes,” she said. “You have until tomorrow to cancel and after that if you fail to make the reservation, we’ll have to charge you for two lunches.”

I got out the card, read her the number, and, once my shock subsided, entered the second stage of Dining at Per Se…

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…craig’s birthday surprise…

it’s 9:40 am and craig is still sleeping. soon i will make him don a suit and board the D train with me for his birthday surprise. it’s such a surprising birthday surprise, that i’m surprised myself it’s happening. four days ago, on a whim, i called the most difficult-to-book restaurant in new york, per se, to ask if they had a lunch reservation for saturday. i never thought they’d say yes–i wasn’t really financially prepared for them to say yes. but the woman on the phone said, “we do have an opening at 12 o’clock” so i snagged it. which is where we’re headed in little more than two hours. will craig shriek with glee? will i have to file for bankruptcy? the answer to these questions, and more, on Monday.

[UPDATE: Craig is awake and about to shave. T-minus one hour, fifteen minutes!]

Sundance Thrills

The stars of Craig’s movie, True Adolescence, blew the lid off at Sundance this year. Melissa Leo, who plays Aunt Sharon, starred in Frozen River which won the grand jury prize for Best Film. Mark Duplass, who plays Sam, sold his movie Baghead to Sony Pictures–a huge achievement for a movie shot entirely on a little video camera with no-name actors.

Meanwhile, our friends Andrew and Rob–who you met when we went to Cape Cod last year–both hit home runs with their short films. Andrew’s film, Sikumi (On The Ice), won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking and Rob’s film Aquarium received honorable mention.

A huge congrats to everyone–I’m honored to be connected to you all!

My First Christmas


For the longest time, as a young Jew, I was convinced that all of Christianity hinged on a deep, profound belief in Santa Claus. Jesus baffled me; I presumed he was just a supporting player in the epic, inspiring story of Santa. And as much as I was supposed to be impressed with an oil lamp that burned for eight straight nights, the idea of a big fat man with a beard soaring through the air, climbing down the chimney of good little Christian kids and smothering them in a sea of gifts filled me with a jealous rage.

It took 20 some odd years, a flight to Seattle and a drive to Bellingham Washington–where Craig’s family lives–to finally experience December on the other side of the religious fence. And though I won’t be baptizing myself in the bathtub any time soon, I was thoroughly impressed. Here’s why.

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How To Make Latkes


Hanukkah may be over today, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to make latkes. If you’ve never made latkes before, may I suggest you do so tonight?

It’s pretty easy and pretty rewarding. Granted, it’s not guiltless food: eating a bunch of latkes is basically equivalent to eating a bunch of french fries, so you may want to serve them on a treadmill with a side of personal trainer. But holiday time is about treating yourself, isn’t it, and when was the last time you tre


Where was I? Oh yes, latkes. Let’s continue below, shall we?

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Fried Chicken & Collard Greens


The plan was for my usual roast chicken (which, by the way, you should only salt until it has a light coating: those who said it was too salty took my recipe too literally!) but then, as I was standing there in the grocery store, I spotted collard greens.

“My, my,” I said to myself in a Southern accent. “It’s been a long time since we here attempted fried chicken.” (You may remember that was a disaster). “And I done never cooked collard greens before. Why, I see a mighty fine supper in my future.”

Rib-Eye For One


Please remove your heart strings so I can tug them a bit: I am lonely! I miss Craig! He’s been gone all summer shooting his movie in Washington State. Well, he was in pre-production for the last few months; he just started shooting two weeks ago. The second day of shooting, he almost gave me a heart attack: he called me hysterical to say that, “The worst thing in the world that could’ve happened happened.” The equipment truck had caught fire in the night and it looked like all their film and equipment was destroyed. He hung up and I didn’t speak to him for another 24 hours and in that time I imagined the worst: that the movie was over. But when I spoke to him the next day he said it was a false alarm: a battery had overheated and exploded and covered everything with soot, but nothing was really destroyed. All was ok. And onward they go with the movie: he’s having a blast. And I wish I could be there but I have my book stuff to tend to. And he’ll be back in three weeks anyway. But in the meantime, I’m Mopey McMopeypants. I need some cheering up. Can’t someone kill a cow for me and give me its flesh to cook? They can? Yippee!

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My Olympic Peninsula Adventure


Please unfurl your map of the United States. Now place your finger in the center and drag it to the most northwestern corner of the continental U.S. If you are doing this correctly, your finger is in Washington State. And your finger should be very happy because up there on the northwestern most corner it is in one of the most beautiful locations a finger can experience in the natural world: the Olympic Peninsula, the crown jewel of Washington state. This is where I just returned from after two days of roughing it: and through the magic of my digital camera, iPhoto, Flickr and Typepad, I can now take you there with me. Your finger can come too.

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