We did it. The Beast and I conquered NYC. We spent a grueling five days eating, drinking cocktails at noon, sightseeing, talking, shopping, walking, navigating the subway system like pros, and eating. It was hard, wonderful work, and we’re counting the days until we can go back. Until then, here’s a summary of the highlights.
For our first meal, we let our good friend Brie, with whom we stayed during our holiday, choose the location. Barrio Chino, a tiny little spot in lower Manhattan on Broome, near Orchard, was quite slow for a Friday lunch. In fact, the three of us were the only ones there. It crossed my mind that Brie had lost hers, but then the house-made guacamole and chips came rolling out and my faith in our sweet host was restored.
Our server looked (gorgeous) and talked (too cool for school) like a real-live New Yorker! She didn’t warm to us at first. But soon she was recommending fancy tequilas for the Beast to sample and whipping us ladies up classic lime marritas served with crunchy salt. Conveniently, the tacos are served in threes, so Brie had the tilapia version, I chose the shrimp, and the Beast, not surprisingly, ordered the steak, and we all swapped one with each other. I can’t tell you which I preferred best. All three varieties were deliciously seasoned and perfectly prepared.
It was an ideal meal that prepared the Beast and me for an afternoon that included touring the Tenement Museum, the New Museum, and The Whitney. The New Museum (with exhibits featuring Elizabeth Peyton and Mary Heilmann) was a bit of a shock after the emotionally charged stories that haunt the flats of the Tenement.
The Beast and I were outside the museum—which consists of varying sizes of white cubes stacked precariously on top of each other—discussing our mutual confusion over why Mary Heilmann’s paintings are considered “pioneering”, when along came a nice homeless man.
Man: Spare some change?
The Beast: I have, let’s see (rummaging through pockets) only 35 cents.
Man: Hah! Beggars can’t be choosers! Ain’t that the truth (laughing hysterically)!
Most people would walk away, even run, from this little man whose pants were trying desperately to stay above his bum, and who had difficulty keeping his saliva from sneaking out the sides of his mouth. But not us. We didn’t want to be rude.
Man: Hey, let me ax you two a question. You married?
The Beast: (laughing) Oh no, not yet.
Man: Hah! That’s good! Not yet! Hah! Now let me ax you this: how does it work? I mean, how you get things done? Who’s the boss?
The Foodie: Well, I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50.
Man: Hah! You hear that? 50/50! Hah! Now that’s too good! That’s priceless! Now you listen here Jack (to the Beast). Don’t you go hitten her. I mean, I hit my bitches. That’s different. And when you feel the need and she says no, don’t you go and take her now okay?
The Beast: O…kay.
Man: That’s when you go lock yourself in the bathroom and have a cold shower! Hah! You take yo’ five fingers God gave you and beat the skin off that motha fucka! Hah!
The nice man kept following us as we walked south on Bowery. Real Life New Yorkers were watching to make sure we were okay.
Man: You know what they call me? They call me The Peacemaker. Hah! I’m famous ‘round here! See these boots? These is two-hundred dolla boots. Yes, that’s right! Say, let me axe you something…does she cook?
The Beast: Yes, actually, she cooks quite well.
Peacemaker: Well how do you like that? You lucky motha fucka! She cooks!? What choo cook?
The Foodie: Oh, lots of things really.
Now I’m trying to get the Beast’s attention. I just want to get to the fucking Whitney to erase the sour post-modern taste left in my mouth after the New Museum. My eyes are saying, “Can we wrap this fucking thing up Beast, or what?”
Peacemaker: You cook ham-hocks, beans and collard greens?
The Foodie: Not yet. I’d like to learn though.
Peacemaker: Hah! You hear that (to the Beast)? You gots yo-self a fine woman. Don’t you go fuck it up now, you hear?
The Beast: Yes Sir.
The Foodie: It was nice talking to you Mr. Peacemaker. We’ve got to go now though.
I’ve got the Beast’s arm and we make our way down the subway stairs, even though they’re the wrong subway stairs.
The Peacemaker: I know, I know. You be good to each other, love each other now. And God bless.
After the Peacemaker was out of sight, we back-tracked, cautiously, up to street level. The Peacemaker would forever be engrained in our memories.
The Whitney, specifically the Wiliam Eggleston and Alexander Calder exhibits, the Edwards Hoppers, and the little installation by Charles Simmonds that’s always reminded me of a Tatooine dwelling, cured our curmudgeony attitudes. Completely arted-out, we navigated ourselves down to Prune, a charming eatery in the east village. There was a cancellation that day, so we managed to score an 8:00pm reservation. Our table wasn’t quite ready so the affable host sat us down at the bar and forced us to order drinks on the house. I had a Campari with prosecco while the Beast sampled a calvados. Before our aperitifs were drunk, our table was ready.
Beast: I have to have both the marrow and the sweetbreads. I’m sorry.
Foodie: Fine, but I’m ordering our sides for our main courses.
In reality, I was hoping we’d choose any appetizers save for the two the Beast chose, but there was a fire in the beast’s eyes like I’ve never seen before. I’ve always known I’d have to someday get over my irrational fear of trying food that sane and rational people just don’t eat, and no better time like the present.
Foodie: I don’t get it. I just put a piece of a cow’s thymus gland in my mouth, and I ate it.
Beast: It’s amazing.
Foodie: Is it? I just don’t know. I think the delicious coating they’ve fried it in is delicious, and so too is this caper and parsley bit of salad business, but it’s a fucking thymus gland. I just don’t get.
The beast’s attention was turned to scooping out the bone marrow and applying it onto toasted ciabatta bread.
Foodie: You know what? I don’t get this either. It’s fucking bone marrow. It looks like snot. If it tasted like, say, bacon, I wouldn’t care that it looked like snot. But all I taste is the bread, the olive oil on the bread and the sea salt I’m sprinkling all over the marrow. So I ask you, why eat bone marrow?
Like a great white shark devouring its dinner, the Beast’s eyes had rolled back so that only the whites were showing.
And so arrived our main dishes. The Beast ordered a lamb shank, and I ordered a grilled branzino stuffed with fennel and herbs.
Beast: You know what? What I don’t get is you having such a problem with eating harmless glands and delicious marrow, and NOT having a problem with THAT!
Feast: What? You mean this entire fish that’s on my plate?
As I spoke, I was cutting off the head and the tail of my perfectly cooked branzino, opening her up, and gently removing the bones. They even brought me a little bowl filled with flakey flecks of sea salt.
Beast: Yes! That’s horrific what you’re doing!
Feast: Really? It’s delicious.
And it was! With our bellies filled with fat and far too much salt, we had no room for dessert. Prune was good. We felt as though our innards had been lightly coated with a slick of oil, but it was good.
Our next meal was the Big One: the Meal to End all Meals, but I’m almost too upset to speak of it. Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s flagship NYC restaurant, has shaken up my little culinary world, which is a good thing. It reminded me that sometimes the best food experiences can be had eating burgers and freshly-cut fries in the park. One doesn’t require white linens, and unicorns drinking from champagne-flowing fountains, every night of the week. But the temptation of eating at a three Michelin starred restaurant at least once, was too great for both the Beast and me, so we singled out Daniel for my official birthday meal over a month before our trip. Maybe we expected too much. Regardless, here’s how it started:
The impressive, newly renovated, Art Deco-inspired room was dotted with folks that looked nonplussed about being at Daniel. Upper-west side families, straight out of a Wes Anderson film, sat around round tables as though they were in their very own 5th Ave. dining rooms. Some men appeared to be on dates with much younger women. And other men appeared to be on dates with their wives who invested in one too many Botox sessions in order to look like said younger women. The Beast and I invited our host, Brie, with us. She’d put us up for five nights—not an easy task for anybody—plus she’s a wine agent in the city and when we dined with her, we tended to be taken care of. Daniel was no exception. As soon as we sat down, the restaurant’s house champagne was poured into our flutes. It appeared as though there were three employees per guest at Daniel. The service was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. After we all settled on the three course prix-fixe menu ($105 each), our charming sommelier offered her services for finding some wine to compliment all of our different dishes. And she didn’t make me feel like a pauper for telling her our price range per bottle. Her selections were both spot on: a $90 Savigny Pavelot Burgundy and a St. Joseph Rhone for $125 (Suffice it say, there weren’t many option below $100 on their expansive wine list!)
Beast: How’s your lobster bisque?
Foodie: I’m not sure. Is it supposed to take like Campbell’s tomato soup?
The Beast chose frog legs with heavenly potato gnocchi and pumpkin oil. Brie had the an almond crusted foie gras terrine which was lovely. Okay, I’m fibbing. It was all gelatinous and tasted like glue. I was just trying so damned hard to enjoy and memorize everything I put into my mouth. I faired much better with my main: a duo of dry aged black angus beef; the first component was a red wine braised short rib with sunchokes and the second was a seared rib eye with hazelnut-potato croquette. The beast chose milk-fed veal with chanterelles, served with endives, sweetbread tourte, and tête de veau. (I don’t know what the fuck any of that means either.) And Brie went light with her choice of the pan-roasted halibut with pine nut & grape chutney, celery and verjus.
I should also mention that other courses (two, I think) magically appeared on our table. I’d like to tell you what they were in detail, but the mix of champagne, the pre-dinner cocktails at The Rainbow Room of 30 Rockefeller, and the two bottles of wine clouded my memory. I do remember a singular raviolo that might have been the most flavourful bit of the entire meal. These extra courses were most likely a result of sweet Brie’s connections, however I like to entertain the thought that our wide-eyed optimism played a part too. For the record, we DID NOT behave like tourists. (Yes, I did take pictures, but I did it discreetly.)
Dessert is, and was, an utter blur. I know I chose a manjari chocolate bombe with Guiness foam and toasted almond ice cream. I can’t tell you what the Beast and Brie had. There was also a very special dessert platter filled with sweet little squares. It was a very impressive display of sugar, but in terms of taste, a bit underwhelming.
Okay, okay, Daniel was amazing. But for just under a $1000 for the three of us, I wanted mouth fireworks. I wanted angels flying to and fro between the chandeliers, farting out perfectly airy meringues. I wanted to never forget the sensations of each course. While the amounts of alcohol consumed surely played a part in me forgetting flavours, I think it has more to do with expectations. If you eat like that once a week, I think you’d be more inclined to to sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle of both the scene and the food. But if like both the Beast and me, it’s your first and last visit to such a fine establishment,
I think you need those farting angels.
Barrio Chino Foodie *** Beast **1/2
Prune Foodie ** Beast **
Daniel Foodie **1/2 Beast **1/2