new york.

11.17.09

“skyscraper national park.”
– kurt vonnegut

disclaimer: i tend not to proofread, especially with these novel-esque posts.  excuse the grammatical errors.  notifying me as to what/where they are is encouraged.

courtesy of jetblue’s so-good-it’s-stupid halloween promotion–city to city within the continental u.s. for $30.  having found a cheap return flight, my round-trip flight cost was the equivalent of a good one-way flight coast to coast.  impossible to pass on.  booked the flight without the slightest clue as to what i’d be doing with my time.  having newly acquired expendable income helped.

my trip in list form, categories arranged by priority.

food friends and family, and activities enjoyed with them.

– stayed with my cousin, cherie.  while one of my favorite people, she’s excessively tardy and unreliable in all matters concerning punctuality.  i arrived with the understanding that she’d leave a set of keys for me at the bakery (my family owns a bakery in spanish harlem called la tropezienne) if she wasn’t home at the apartment.  called her upon landing–unsurprisingly she didn’t pick up–and took a cab straight the bakery, where i’m met by an employee who has no idea about a spare key.  the only way to get a hold of cherie when she’s unresponsive is to call her mother, who manages to contact her without fail regardless of the circumstances.
– quickly changed into my russell costume before hoping into a cab (half an hour, $25.  FUCK.) to katie’s annual halloween/birthday re-enactment of sodom and gomorrah.  saw many familiar faces and was warmly received by most, if not all.  felt great being back.  made many what would turn out to be empty gestures about hanging out while i was in town (madeline, if you ever read this, i’m really, really sorry.) and “raw dogged” lots of vodka.  i was hoping my costume would garner at least three propositions for sex.  no such luck, which is not to say i got less than three–i got none.
– lunch at momofuku ko with my jewish namesake foodie companion sam.  so full.
– hung out with rob the next day.  met at washington square park where i’d been sitting, taking in the east-coast-autumn sunlight and various goings-on throughout the park.  saw a serious man for the second time, rob’s first.
– scores with sara.  had our titty-bar cherry popped that night.  was about as seedy but fun (who you’re with is imperative in this department) as i thought it would be.  got a lapdance by one very sexy black girl.  i don’t remember her name.
– made plans with cherie to go upstate the next day.  her grandparents, my grand uncle and aunt split their time between an 80-acre property in upstate new york and what i’ve been told is a very large house in west palm beach.  they were leaving for florida in a couple days and i wanted to see them before they left.  needless to say, we left later than schedule.  by about five hours.  the drive allowed for the only time cherie and i would have to catch up.  that was nice.  had breakfast with my grandparents the next morning, featuring unsparing helpings of grandma’s strawberry jam.
– met with annie for macarons from bouchon bakery.  had a good talk in the columbus circle mall on the level just above the teeny-bopper debacle of glee fans waiting for a signing.  gay.
– saw hamlet starring jude law with sara.  ’twas a very competent production with some excellent performances save for the women.  (what’s new?)  the play’s greatness was confirmed.  saw rachel ray there.  thought about killing her at the end of the climax.
– made the pilgrimage to grimaldi’s with rob and blake.  fun(ny).  music at the restaurant was particularly great.
– dinner at l’atelier de joel robuchon with david.  saw the duchess of york checking into the four seasons as i waited for him to get there.
– went to the met (excellent robert frank exhibit), then coffee afterward at cafe sabarsky with katie.  katie is the friend equivalent of one’s favorite blanket.
– late-night dinner at balthazar with sara.
– lunch at gramercy tavern with sara that left us both elated.
– lunch with annie at salumeria rosi followed by cookies from levain bakery.  a walk in central park to aid digestion/ward off diabetes.
– visited the last pictures guys (bobby, bryan, and chadd) at their office.  further cemented the pathetic state my life by comparison, and has instilled in me a drive to try harder to ride their coattails.
– dinner at marea with sara after a failed attempt at catching the matinee of our town.  saw william friedkin at the restaurant.  followed dinner up with dessert at per se.  truly an embarrassment of riches.
– karaoke at… some bar with rob and chadd.  zach and jesse came later.  though not entirely certain, i have my suspicions about the bartender turning the mic off whenever it was my turn to sing.  if true, it would be reason enough to never karaoke again.  fortunately, i will never know.  perhaps one too many happy hour gin and tonics were had.
– dinner at corton with cherie, then sara, then cherie AND sara.  aforementioned alcoholic beverages delivered my comeuppance.  a shit show.

film.

only two.  i tend to avoid movies while on vacation.

a serious man
the coens continue their doomsday prescience from no country for old men in this bleak-as-it-is-hilarious (their funniest since the big lebowski) ode to jewishness.  it’s a strange, strange film which for the coens should be taken as a sign of quality; others include excellent performances from a cast of relative unknowns, career-best cinematography from roger deakins, and a mastery of tone and pacing.  burn after reading was thankfully a fluke.  this and up are the best american films released this year thus far.

the box
having not seen donnie darko and hating southland tales, i have no idea what compelled me to see the box. this movie is richard kelly tearing his heart out of his chest and putting it on screen, bearing all of his shortcomings as well as talents in full force.   there isn’t much to be said for his frankly silly worldview and naive sense of morality, but he expresses them with conviction and the kind of self-conscious bravura that only hollywood can breed.  this film grandstands to the point where one gets the sense that kelly is attempting to induct his film among the greatest science fiction movies ever made.  what it is instead is a thoroughly entertaining and indicative work.

food.

momofuku ko
wouldn’t mind going here once every season.  not as varied in its offerings from the other three times as i would’ve liked but i suppose the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies.  highlights include the amuses (taro wrapped shrimp, spicy sausage), diver scallops, and an octopus dish.   i thought dessert was pretty off the mark this time around.

bouchon bakery
my favorite place for macarons.  perfectly sized, approximately that of a silver dollar pancake (i for one am not a fan of the itty-bitty macaron) and absolute perfection in flavor and texture.  i always get pistachio.  also tried their seasonal macarons as well: fig balsamic(!) and pumpkin.  both were delectable.

grimaldi’s and shake shack
go there.

l’atelier de joel robuchon
there’s something inherently lacking about a restaurant tucked in a hotel that i can’t quite put my finger on.  “cheap” may seem an erroneous choice of word given that l’atelier is at the four seasons, but it’s how it felt.  we were seated at the counter surrounding the kitchen area, where i saw one of the most beautiful food items in the world: a whole leg of jamon iberico, aged 3 years and, according to our waiter, cost $1800.  at one point i tried very subtly to ask my waiter if he could cut me off a slice and failed miserably.

we ordered the tasting menu, and in typical fashion i ordered an extra course (la lagoustine) and made a dessert substitution (a yuzu souffle.  more on that later.)  the amuse was a foie gras mousse with parmesan foam and port reduction, each element distinct and pure in flavor, marrying together in a pretty euphoric bite, a worthy opener for a meal at the restaurant of the chef of the century.  that being the case, expectations were appropriately high which i felt should have been met without exception.  the caviar course that came next was a pretty abrupt fall from grace.  reputation and anticipation tricked me into believing it was a good dish until i found myself eating only to finish it off and get my money’s worth.  from there, dishes ranged from very good to great: seared foie gras with quince and yuzu compote, scallop with spicy chives, a mushroom custard with jamon iberico, kobe beef with shisito peppers and oyster mushroom, served with pomme puree, a robuchon signature.  i would’ve gladly eaten a basket of the langoustine papillote.

pre-dessert consisted of a gourmand orange creamsicle shot with the questionable presence of hazelnut.  next was a passion fruit custard with a potent rum granita, all topped by a coconut foam with lime zest nestled on top.  refreshing and very tasty.  so, this yuzu souffle.  as it came out, it occurred to me that maybe it shouldn’t be eaten, as it was the most picturesque, perfect souffle i’d ever seen.  coming up off the ramekin about an inch and a half, it was a uniform column of airy sweetness, a perfect yellow circle when seen from above with its edges so as to suggest the warmth that awaited underneath.  upon its presentation, another waiter came with a large spoon with a hefty quenelle of okinawa black sugar ice cream.  before i got a chance to say anything, he jammed the spoon into the souffle, wherein i came to appreciate this touch as a play on the traditional method of digging a small hole in the middle of the souffle from the top and pouring creme anglaise.  this was the only way i could cope with seeing that beautiful football of ice cream disappear so quickly.  this dessert was one of the great treats of my life–i love yuzu, i love souffles, i love ice cream, and i guess i love black sugar.  fucking incredible.

the bill arrived and i have to say, it hurt.  i’ve definitely spent more but when i have, i felt it was warranted.  while l’atelier is certainly a good restaurant, it wasn’t worth the money they asked of me.  ordering a la carte may have been a better way to experience this place.

balthazar
a solid bistro with overpriced entrees and seemingly endless vivaciousness.  even at 11:30 it was packed and bustling.  fuck you bobby flay, these were not the best fries i’ve ever had, and though i wasn’t holding out much hope, your failed recommendation only confirms your worthlessness.  had a delicious beet salad here, the bread is crusty and chewy (both good things), my steak frites: okay, leaning towards good if only because of the bernaise.  the strawberry rhubarb tart was fine.  the pavlova, however, is worth the price (in time, patience, and tolerance for loud noise) of admission.  a lovely meringue filled with warm mascarpone cream and macerated berries along with their thickened, sweetened juices.  heavenly.

gramercy tavern
perhaps THE new york institution when it comes to fine dining, and for good reason–whimsical and tasteful in its decor with perfect ambiance and exceptional, exceptional food.  at $55 for a five-course lunch, this is my new favorite value fine dining experience, formerly the $28 for two courses at jean-georges, which was more about price than the value-to-dollar ratio.

if there was an amuse, i don’t really remember it.  the breads offered were french baguette, sourdough, and an amazing olive foccacia.

i substituted my first course for pickled scallops with grapes and apple, perhaps the single most beautiful plate of scallops i’ve ever had.  generously portioned–one can never have too many scallops… sort of–and perfectly balanced in flavor.  if ever i had a plate of food that truly tasted like the season it was meant to represent, the second course of shrimp and carrot salad was that dish. achieving refreshment while maintaining a robust earthiness, you can’t help but feel like you’re tasting the image of orange and yellow leaves and golden sunlight.  how that happened with shrimp in the dish is beyond me.  next came a pan-seared spanish mackerel with mussels, sunchoke, and cabbage.  the sauce on this dish was proportionally delicious to the perfection with which the seafood on this plate was cooked.  bacon-wrapped rabbit with brussel sprouts, pears, and radish was sigh-inducing, the kind of plate of food you never want to end.  however, if it must end, it should be as follows.

my sweet tooth is voracious, my appetite for gourmet desserts knows no boundaries.  and so when dessert came, and we each took one of the two tasting desserts offered with the five-course lunch, i asked for the a la carte dessert menu and ordered two more.  the tasting desserts were a chocolate mousse with salted caramel, and a fig crostada, both fantastic.  the additional desserts were a pecan tart with pumpkin spice ice cream and mulled cranberries and chocolate bread pudding with cocoa nib ice cream.  the desserts at gramercy tavern need no explanation or further exultation than as what’s described on the menu.  one only needs to imagine each component as listed, how good it would taste, and that is exactly what’s delivered.

this is perhaps the best lunch of my life, though i suspect it may have had as much to do with who i had it with as the quality of the restaurant itself.  an instant favorite for me and an absolute must for anyone who hasn’t.

salumeria rosi
a modern upper west side haven of cured meats that serves tapas style italian dishes, all of which are abundant in flavor from the risotto-style farro with butternut squash and pumpkin to the pork belly.  also had a plate of an assortment of their cured meats, among which were some of the best pieces of prosciutto i’ve had.  the panchetta here is killer.

levain bakery
supposedly the best chocolate chip (walnut) cookie in new york.  the first one i had was revelatory, the second one i had a few days later wasn’t nearly as inspired.  inconsistency aside, for $3 you can buy a behemoth of a cookie, perfectly crisped on the outside and gooey on the inside, as though it were medium rare.

marea
a chic italian restaurant in midtown west specializing in frutti di mare.   exceptional crudo: bruschetta with sea urchin, lardo and sea salt, an appetizer aptly named “ricci”, is eyes-rolled-into-back-of-skull good; cuttlefish tagliatelle, and razor clams with fennel showcase fresh ingredients in simple presentations; geoduck with chilies and lemon may be the best preparation of one of my favorite food items i’ve ever had, and that’s including the geoduck ceviche i had at le bernardin.  (i hope one day to disprove that notion by trying it again)  an antipasti of novia scotia lobster, burrata (the best cheese ever?  maybe.), eggplant al fughetto, and basil is among the most amazing dishes i had all week and rightfully known to be the restaurant’s signature dish.  a plate of seafood risotto suffered from the law of diminishing returns, unreasonably large, but it didn’t stop me from eating the whole thing, if dutifully.  there might’ve been a lot of it but it was tasty.  paled in comparison to the pleasurably intense-in-flavor lobster ravioli, their richness cut with the sweet salinity of salmon roe, a genius touch.  having dessert here was a formality–no meal is complete without it–more than a desire to try something that genuinely sounded interesting, but what we ordered based on the waiter’s recommendation turned out to be a high brow black forest cake by way of the ice cream sandwich and italy: torrone gelato sandwiched between two black cocoa cakes with sour cherry compote.  a nice dessert/end to a lovely meal at a lovely restaurant.

dessert at per se
i intentionally didn’t bring a suit with me to new york so that i wouldn’t be able to go to any of the michelin 3-star restaurants as a means of curbing my budget.  as expected, the allure of per se was too seductive to resist.  after having a full-on dinner at marea with sara, we found ourselves at the salon in per se–i can happily report that the salon is NOT jacket required–for dessert.  four desserts, brought out as two courses.  an experience at per se isn’t complete without having coffee and doughnuts.  along with that came a superlative vanilla ice cream with huckleberry compote and golden syrup, proof that some of life’s greatest pleasures are found in the simple things.  (i’m actually pretty embarrassed by how hackneyed that sentiment is, and i’m going to leave it there for everyone to see to punish myself)  the second wave of desserts: a chocolate-pumpkin marquise with a hazelnut marshmallow and spice ice cream; a peanut butter mousse, concord grape jam, concord grape sorbet, and a peanut genoise with a dried milk tuile.  the chocolate pumpkin dessert was excellent, the hazelnut marshmallow being the best single component.  it had an element with unsweetened pumpkin puree, which i found to be a questionable, overpowering touch of bitterness.  the “pb&j” dessert was a-ma-zing.  dessert isn’t per se’s strong suit but having four of them, one of which was comped, with sara along with the best cappucino in new york made my fifth per se experience as memorable as the others.  consistently beyond excellent.

corton
i’d rather not relive this night.  all i’ll say is that the food was delicious and i absolutely loved the decor.  a revisit is in order.

take 2.

11.14.09

mutteringretreats.wordpress.com is no longer.  this is my suspiciously similar, identically titled blog, freed from the burden and pretentiousness of having words pulled from t.s. eliot in the url.  yes, that’s the only reason for creating an entirely new blog instead of giving the previous incarnation a tweak and posting yet another promissory note that i won’t make good on.

heaves a heavy sigh.

the only claim i’ll make is that this time, “mm.” will get regular updates, the nature and quality of which i cannot speak for.

well…

now, usually, I don’t do this but uh
go ‘head on and break ’em off wit a lil previews of the remix

intended topics include:

– my new york vacation
– an annotated list of some sort summating the last decade in movies
– the potentially soul-reviving concert i missed on account of a friend’s birthday
– a plea for an intervention regarding my addiction to buying criterion collection dvds
– pictures and videos that will amuse and/or enlighten
– the emotional tumult of the post-thanksgiving family poker game (provided it takes place)

et cetera.

subjects such as unemployment and what it’s like being a college graduate living at home will be avoided at all costs.