Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bouley


Dec-a-dence.  My gorgeous husband recently had a birthday and decided, in lieu of a gift, he would like me to take him out to a lavish dinner at a fancy New York restaurant.  Sweet, right?  Now, if you don’t know us well, you might be confused as to why he wouldn’t want some new electronic gadget or a watch or something.  See, my husband and I are inexhaustible foodies.  Between his degree from the French Culinary Institute and my ability to consume vast amounts of calories in record time, over the years, we’ve concluded that one of our favorite hobbies is . . . eating.  And eat we did.  Where was his lavish birthday dinner?  None other than Bouley, the exclusive and critically acclaimed restaurant of chef David Bouley.

As we know most of the folks in the food industry, we called in a favor and procured not only the best table, but doting service and a few freebies compliments of the chef.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  I must first tell you that the d├ęcor alone is reason to visit this establishment.  The “front room” where people can wait for their guests and sip cocktails on leather sofas is, quite literally, covered in flowers.  Fresh, aromatic, colorful flowers.  TONS of them.  It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but after a moment, the flora only adds to the rich ambience.  In fact, the flowers balance the otherwise heavy room, with its dark wood, leather, and large framed paintings.  A very polite young lady brought me a cocktail designed particularly to my tastes by the “mixologist” and I leaned back and read a book while I waited on my man.  I felt privileged and pampered.  As I should be.  For my $17 cocktail.


When Victor arrived, we were led to a glittering table in a cozy corner and presented with menus.  I perused the menu and realized I had a problem: I wanted everything.  Seriously, the selections at Bouley included a fresh Malibu sea urchin terrine with Russian golden oscetra caviar, grilled Colorado rack of lamb with a soubise of chippolini, zucchini mint puree and black truffle sauce, and a hot caramelized Anjou pear with valhrona chocolate and hot toffee sauce.  It was virtually impossible to choose.  Eventually, as we were compelled to heed our growling stomachs, I ordered a chilled strawberry soup, porcini flan with Alaska live dungeoness crab and black truffle dashi, and an organic Connecticut farm egg with Serrano ham, steamed polenta, artichoke, coconut, and early garlic broth.  It was all brilliant.  In all honesty, the egg dish was truly a revelation.  I had no idea what they had done to it, but it was the best egg dish in the world as far as I was concerned.  Delicate and complex at the same time, it was unlike anything else I had ever consumed.  The whole meal was, all in all, a brilliant experience.

I must mention one last thing about Bouley.  This may sound like an odd thing to be excited about, but I was truly enamored by . . . the restroom.  The ladies’ restroom was covered wall to ceiling in red velvet.  Gilded gold mirrors hung from the walls and shimmering chandeliers tinkled above me.  Plush red velvet armchairs beckoned their curved cherry arms toward me and shiny fixtures stood proudly beside linen hand towels and L’Occitaine soap.  I could move in here.  (In fact, it was about the size of my first Manhattan apartment).  I wanted to run upstairs, grab Victor’s hand and drag him down here. ‘Lookit, Hun!’  But, as I was a cultured, grown-up New York diner with a sophisticated palate and a general knowledge that men are generally not welcomed in the women’s restroom, I composed myself, snuck a picture, and returned to the table to whisper to my dinner date, “Dude!  You have got to go down there.  It’s freaking awesome!”

We finished our meal and . . . no.  Wait.  It was not just a meal, people.  It was an EXPERIENCE.  Recently, folks have been saying that dinner is, of late, taking the place of theatre as evening entertainment.  I wholeheartedly agree with this conjecture.  Not that theatre should be ignored (I’d be in trouble if it were), but dining as an experience rather than a means of filling your pie hole, is all the rage.  And I love it.  I will remember some of my more lovely dinners much longer than some of the bad (and mediocre) theatre I’ve seen.  Bouley is a fabulous example of dining and food as high art.  Everything we had was artfully, lovingly, and complexly made from scratch.  It was not prepared in Wisconsin, frozen, packaged, and reheated heaven-knows-how-long later by skill-less ex-cons garnering minimun wage (no thank you, Applebees, O’Charley’s, TGIFridays, Red Lobster, Bennigans, and Olive Garden).  Not to get on my soapbox, but that crap is not real food.  It tastes okay and makes you not hungry, but it is, by far, not art.  It is a page from a child’s coloring book to Bouley’s completed Monet.  Yes, our dinner was pricey (a little over $500), but it was an occasion.  It was a chance to spend an evening basking in degustory mastery . . . as well as each other’s company.  For us, it was well worth it.  Happy birthday, Victor!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guaranteed peace and quiet in Midtown

When I met my buddy, Hiatt, at a new tea shop in midtown, I had fully not planned to blog about it.  I mean, I had SO been there, done that with the tea thing already.  Thus far, I had blogged about Empire Coffee and Tea, The Tea Spot, bubble tea, and Argo Tea.  I'd say that's more than enough tea, thank you very much.  Round about dessert, though, I decided I had to do it.  Trust me.  It's for the good of the fine people that read this blog (meaning, you).  I had never been to a restaurant/tea shop like this in all of my 21 years on earth (stop snickering).  The place is worth a shout out.  So, if you're tea-ed out and/or don't care about brewed beverages as much as I do, join me for my next blog about PS1 MoMA (or whatever else fun I find to do before I go there).  Otherwise, read on.

Radiance Tea and Book shop is smack dab in the middle of Manhattan's I-want-to-kill-all-of-the-tourists-and-stupid-large-groups-and-cabs-that-make-me-crazy area of the city.  55th between 6th and 7th.  In my short trek from 9th Avenue, I jostled a weeble-wobble of a woman that was trying to work her Pilsbury hands around a cumbersome camera, narrowly missed being plowed over by a teenage delivery guy on a bike, and was, I'm pretty sure, fondled by a man (or woman - I couldn't tell) in a full Elmo costume.  I blew into the front door and noisily heaved a sigh of relief.  Safe!  The first thing I saw was running water over a smooth rock wall, the tinkle of quiet Asian music caressed my ears, and the scent of sweet aromatics drifted into my nostrils.  The perfect combination of instant sensory calm.  I joined Hiatt at a small wooden table and consciously took a deep breath.  For the first time in about 24 hours.  Aaahhh. Mama likey already.


First of all, we had the sweetest and most adorable server, like, ever.  His name was Dan and he gently and patiently guided us through the restaurant's over 120 different teas.  "We do tea tastings as well.  If you're interested, I can take your email and send you information about it".  Well, yes, I was interested.  We chose a tea called Tropical Escape - a blend of black and green teas, pineapple, papaya, and kiwi bits and marigold.  It was presented in a beautifully hand-painted kettle and cups and was playfully fruity and complex.  I had a fresh avocado, asparagus, tofu, and shittake mushroom salad and Hiatt munched on perfectly prepared vegetable dumplings.  The thing that became apparent was that the hustle and bustle that occurs in most restaurants was completely absent here at Radiance.  The servers and people preparing food behind an open counter moved quickly, purposefully, and most astonishingly, practically silently.  I noticed that Hiatt and I were speaking in slightly hushed tones to accommodate our surroundings and that I could still hear the tinkling music and (somewhere in the distance) running water.  I looked across the room at a wall of kimonos, tea kettles, and other intricately crafted things for sale.  I read that they hold private Chinese and Taiwanese tea ceremonies.  This place was, in a word, precious.  I felt like a little girl having tea with her dolls.  Except Hiatt swears more than my dolls ever did.

Best part of the meal?  Dessert.  Dan brought over the menu and, as I had been expecting the general chocolate, cheesecake, maybe a green tea ice cream, etc (which, my friends, is dairy, dairy, dairy which equals unhealthy, unhealthy, unhealthy - read the vegan blog - seriously, there's a reason cows have four stomachs), I announced "Yeah, but I bet you don't have any vegan desserts, huh?"  Dan smiled and excitedly crossed to my side of the table.  Yes, in fact, they did.  Not only that?  They had vegan "ICE CREAM".  Oh yeah.  Coconut milk and avocado.  It was heaven.  The cherry on top of our lunch was the coolest (and probably one of the healthiest) desserts I've ever seen.  These folks took sweet sticky rice, baked it inside a bamboo stalk, brought it to the table, and split it in two (one for me, one for Hiatt).  Then, we poured warm coconut milk over it and sprinkled candied almonds on top.  It was perfectly portioned, really yummy, and I actually didn't feel guilty about it afterward.  Well, not that guilty, anyway.

We finished eating and I found myself longing to linger.  I could feel the stressful pulse of the city encroaching upon me.  Much like a last day in Bermuda or a kid in bed on a school day morning, I wanted to roll over, turn off the light, and pretend I didn't have to go anywhere.  A call from my agent broke my stupor and Hiatt and I headed out into the fray.  I said goodbye to our new friend, Dan, and hustled out into the mess of 55th street with a full belly and a slightly calmer disposition.  I headed south, passed Elmo, and gave him a "wassup" nod.  You never know, maybe that was all the action that costumed character would ever get.  You know?  It's amazing what a civilized cup of tea can do to one's perception of this raucous place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day in Times Square

St. Patrick's day.  Celebrated in America by the Irish and, well, everyone that has ever heard of the Irish.  A holiday that commemorates the life of Saint Patrick, a widely successful missionary in Ireland in the second half of the 5th century.  How do we Americans celebrate the holiday?  Drinking alcoholic beverages and wearing green.  And . . . well, that's about it.  I'm sure that the folks over in Ireland who are celebrating their RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY are appalled by America's choice of celebratory traditions, but it's true.  That's what we, as a country, do.  I mean, there's a parade or two, but that's it. Drinking beer and wearing green. And sometimes drinking green beer.  And what place is more appropriate to do these things than New York City, a city that has the second highest number of bars per square mile (Athens, Georgia is first - who knew?).  So, in honor of blogging about New York's St. Patrick's Day celebration, I headed to the city's epicenter of celebration - Times Square.  Yes, folks. I did it.  Now, ask any sane New Yorker and they will tell you that this is the LAST place any local would want to be on March 17th.  But, I braved it.  And, actually, it wasn't so bad.  For a while. 

Around 3pm, I grabbed a salad and my jacket, plopped my butt on a pylon on 47th and Broadway, and munched while I observed the action.  First things first: obviously, practically everyone was donning some shade of green on some part (or every part) of their bodies.  As I observed, it was actually kind of fun to see all the creative uses of the color in various fashion plates.  Older women wore crocheted sage sweaters, fashionistas sported fur-trimmed emerald coats, the occasional business men wore forest green ties with their suits, and the majority of traveling frat parties wore the obligatory green buy-them-on-the-street tee shirts.  Apparently, "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" was out this season.  "Kiss Me, I'm NOT Irish", "Kiss Me, I'm Wasted", "I <shamrock> NY", and "Why are you staring at my freaking green tee shirt" had replaced the old classic.  Second: For some reason, on St. Patrick's Day, people travel in large groups.  I watched traveling parties walk past, taking pictures and laughing.  Folks old and young seemed to be spending the (gorgeous and sunny) day with their pals.  'Now, that's not a bad way to spend a holiday', I thought.  A group of cute young girls stopped and asked me how to get to Penn Station.  When I told them, the majority of the group let up a unanimous cheer like I had told them that there would be a fourth Sex and the City movie and forged ahead down Times Square.  It was a lovely, cloudless March Thursday and folks were spending it with their pals.  So what if they were imbibing alcohol.  My verdict: St. Patrick's Day=cheerfully fun.

And then I headed off to my 4pm obligation.  On a side note, if you were wondering why I haven't been blogging so much lately, I have a fabulous new internship at TVI actor's studio.  (Incidentally, if you're an actor or an aspiring actor, they have tons of great classes with awesome agents and casting directors.  Seriously - that's why I'm interning there - fab.)  Anyway, I was inside from 4-8pm and then headed back out to spend some more time observing my fellow cheerfully green-clad Americans in Times Square.  Um . . . a WHOLE different story.  The first thing I saw was two women on the corner of 46th filing some kind of police report - both were wearing green feather boas and one was bleeding from the head.  I crossed the street and a small dodgy-looking character walking with one eye open nearly missed knocking me out with a shamrock-shaped bag.  I high-tailed it across Broadway and picked my way through a group of girls that were SITTING on the disgusting sidewalk.  One was sobbing, one was asleep, and the other two were trying to console/keep seated the other two.  Ew.  Wait.  This wasn't cheerful and fun anymore.  You know when you're out dancing at a club and they turn the lights on full blast and everybody that was once really hot suddenly look sweaty and busted?  Yeah . . . like that.  I walked down 8th avenue and stepped over a puddle of puke.  Yes, human vomit.  Orange, chunky human vomit.  And, incidentally?  That was not the only vomit I had to circumnavigate in my short 8 block walk to the bus, that was, of course, filled with loud talkers, heavy sleepers, and people that I was genuinely afraid would produce still more vomit.  Okay, that's it.  Done with St. Patrick's Day.   I hopped off my stop in New Jersey and was VERY thankful to be at home.  And wearing purple.

The moral of the story?  St. Patrick's day should only be celebrated in the daylight hours.  The end.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Koreatown


I have lived in New York for almost ten years and until recently, if you had asked me where Koreatown was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you.  Chances are, my response would have been, "Um . . . somewhere south of 14th street?"  Yep.  I would have been wrong.  Try closer to Herald Square, Michelle.  Apparently, I know nothing.  So, in the spirit of exploration, Rachael and I headed to Koreatown's main drag (32nd between 5th and 6th) to check it out and soak up a little culture.

First, a little info on the 'hood.  Koreatown, K-Town to those who are in the know, is between 5th and 6th Avenues and 31st and 36th streets and houses more Korean restaurants, karaoke joints, and massage parlors than practically anywhere in Manhattan.  It began with a bookstore and a few restaurants and grew to encompass entire city blocks in tandem with increased immigration from Korea.  Now, most Korean folks actually live out in Queens (Spa Castle, anyone?), but New York and its boroughs are home to the second largest population of Korean people in the world, second only to Korea itself (duh).  Rachael and I armed ourselves with restaurant reviews and internet-researched places of interest and moseyed down what the street sign called Korea Way.

Ten paces and I seriously felt like I had been transported to Korea (minus the overcrowded-ness and language barrier).  We passed a 24-hour spa (note to self), a few restaurants, and headed into a book shop, supposedly the one that started the whole neighborhood.  We opened the door, the bell rang over our heads, and everyone in the joint turned and silently stared at us.  Awkward.  We began to browse and realized why.  Every book in the place was written in Korean.  I picked up Oprah's latest book with foreign characters surrounding the only Roman alphabet word on the cover - Oprah.  I wanted to take a picture of it, but the guy behind the counter was staring holes into the back of my head.  I felt like I had walked into Eleven Madison Park in my gym clothes.  Rachael and I walked around awkwardly for a few minutes and high tailed it out of there.  Who knew, though, I could read Korean.  You don't know, Mr. Shop guy.  So, there.

We walked the length of Korea Way and attempted to soak up a little culture . . . until I spotted a restaurant called Mandoo Bar.  It had a floor to ceiling window in the front of the restaurant behind which a little Korean woman was diligently folding fresh dumplings.  Adorable!  Suddenly, I HAD to have some of those dumplings.  Additionally, one of my goals in Koreatown had been to try one of Korea's most well-known dishes - kimchee.  A little history on me and kimchee:  I have never tried it.  But, my dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and was stationed in Korea for one of them and HATES kimchee.  Like, becomes vomitaceous at the smell of it.  I have, thus, always dutifully avoided the dish.  So, I decided that part of my Koreatown adventure would be to end my kimchee fast.  I checked out Mandoo Bar's menu.  Kimchee dumplings.  Score.  We headed in.  (A pic of Daddy Lookadoo below - he's on the right.)

We were welcomed and seated by a host.  Whew!  No bookstore treatment for us in Mandoo Bar.  I looked around and noticed about a 50/50 split of people obviously raised with this food and people obviously NOT raised with this food.  Perfect.  After graciously identifying the condiments on the table and dropping off some (I think) pickled daikon, our kindly server took my order of kimchee dumplings (warning me that they would be spicy) and Rachael's much more sensible pork dumpling order.  10 dumplings for 10 bones.  Not a bad deal.  They arrived quickly, I snapped a picture for Dad, and dug in. They were . . . brilliant.  It was so obvious that the dumplings had been made fresh for me and I'm sorry, Dad, but the kimchee was really, really good.  Flavorful and not too spicy.  Double Score.

Rachael and I headed out and back toward America.  We were tempted to drop into one of the bazillion karaoke bars on the way, but decided we had neither the time nor the patience to endure it (karaoke takes a very special kind of person).  A quick massage at one of the equally-as-numerous spas would have been a more likely next step, but we decided to be good and save the dough.  I did, though, put the phone number of Juvenex, one of the nicer 24-hour spas, into my blackberry contacts.  You never know when you're going to need a sensible 24-hour spa in midtown.  So, now I know where Koreatown is.  And I have a new favorite dumpling shop.  Mission: accomplished.