Day: October 15th, 2006

The Great Read in the Park

Sunday, October 15th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Eats, Events

SYB and I parted ways after the brunch adventure: he, off to support his friend, who would be performing at CultureFest 2006 in Battery Park; I, to attend the second annual Great Read in the Park, hosted by the New York Times. Last year’s inaugural event commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the New York Times Best-Seller list; the event was such a success, that the Times brought the “extraordinary literary celebration for book lovers of all ages” back to Bryant Park for another year.

Multi-colored tents and one main stage were set up inside the Park behind the New York Public Library for the simultaneously scheduled events, which included author book signings, themed panel discussions, interviews, readings and live music and dance performances. Over 120 authors had signed up to participate, catering to a wide range of interests: from food, to fiction, to business, to politics, to college admissions, to sports, to health and wellness…

The Great Read

Last year’s lineup featured more of the performances and authors I wanted to see. I remember: the Broadway cast of Wicked; Doubt’s Cherry Jones and Brian O’Byrne; Anthony Bourdain; Nicole Krauss; Jonathan Safran Foer; Mark Kurlansky; Rick Moody; Will Shortz… none of whom were making a return appearance this year.

The Great Read

Still, there was plenty on the slate of interest. I arrived just in time for the “New York Writers, New York Stories” panel taking place in the Green Tent. At least, I thought so. As it happened, by fifteen minutes before start time, the tent was already filled to capacity and security was not letting anyone inside past the velvet rope. There’s always a velvet rope in New York City. Who knew that Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams could draw such a crowd?

A determined few, similarly shut out of the main event, resorted to eavesdropping from the other side of the tent canvas.


Not I. I gave up and wandered into the Eve Ensler interview, taking place on the New York Times Stage. Here, Ms. Vagina Monologues herself discussing her new book, “Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World.” Part memoir, part criticism, her work explores how the pursuit of security in and of itself creates an environment of insecurity, isolating individuals and thwarting opportunities for dialogue, hope, and change.

Eve Ensler

In another part of the Park, Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Gloria Estefan (sans Miami Sound Machine) was reading from her children’s book “Noelle’s Treasure Tale”:

Gloria Estefan

Not wanting to be shut out twice, I went to stand on line for the panel I wanted most to see: “Food Writing: Cuisine with Personality,” featuring New York Times writers and brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee (in glasses), and Gourmet magazine’s husband and wife columnists Jane and Michael Stern. Florence Fabricant (far right), food writer for The New York Times, moderated the panel for another capacity crowd.

Food Panelists

It was interesting to hear how the two teams approach their food discoveries differently. The Lee bothers admitted to a decidedly NYC-centric view, and they talked about the “heat-seeking culture” of the New York Times. They and Fabricant commiserated about the constant pressure to find the Next Great Thing, or the super-secret source, which by virtue of their writing about it becomes not-so-secret anymore. The Sterns, by contrast, consider themselves more food preservationists, traveling around the country, shining their spotlight on chefs and dishes that would perhaps otherwise fade away without notice or fanfare.

Matt Lee told a funny story of how in Summer 2000 he wrote a piece for the New York Times (which made its way to a National Public Radio feature) about Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City. At the time, he waxed poetic about the “secret” menu item of the otherwise unremarkable diner: the pie shake — a slice of crusty fruit pie blended into a milkshake. Pie! In a shake! Brilliant. (His favorite combination: strawberry rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream.) Perhaps obscene, but ultimately “a triumph of design and flavor — a pie à la mode smoothie — and evidence of the heartland’s inspired practicality.”

Lee’s piece created such a sensation – in Iowa City! – that the Inn was unable to keep up with the demand. Rather than do what any diner in New York City would have done, i.e., start charging $10 a shake, so that only a manageable few would continue to order it, the Hamburg Inn flat out refused to fulfill any more orders for the pie shake — which had never been on the menu to begin with. Diners who made the trek and request for a pie shake after the owner’s edict came down were told firmly that no such item existed. And so the pie shake disappeared into legend, a victim of its own runaway success. Naturally, other diners attempted to mimic the seemingly simple menu item — and don’t think I’m not going to try this at home! — but could never recapture that initial pie shake magic.

An alternate view of the Empire State Building, as seen from the north side of Bryant Park:

ESB Reflection

And on the way home, another street fair. This one along Sixth Avenue beginning at the Library, and extending uptown, past Radio City Music Hall for as far as I could see.

From Wikipedia:

Although [Sixth] Avenue’s official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, New Yorkers seldom use this term and calling the avenue by that name has even become a cliché of sorts for something a tourist in the city might do but not a resident New Yorker (such as mispronouncing “Houston Street”).

Sixth Avenue Street Fair

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Prune Brunch

Sunday, October 15th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

I was pretty exhausted from working until close to midnight last night, but managed to leave the house relatively early to brave the crowds at local favorite, Prune. I’d long wanted to try out the “phenomenal weekend brunch” at this little gem of a restaurant, christened with chef/owner Gabrielle Hamilton’s childhood nickname. Really, though, I had no occasion to make the trip, traversing the island for eggs. But what better occasion than a beautiful sunny Sunday?

En route we passed legendary club CBGB & OMFUG (Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers) on its final day. Even before noon, the grungesters and hipsters were out, paying homage to this 33-year old New York City punk rock institution which would be shuttering its doors after Patti Smith’s concert that night. A young couple was there, memorializing the occasion with a baby photo shoot in front of the “CBGB 4 EVER”-painted window, to which SYB and I had wildly different reactions. (“Awww!” and “Ugh!” — I will leave it to you to match the comment with the person.)


CBGB 4 Ever

We turned onto 1st Street and spied the brunch line from down the block. What the… I mean, they’re just eggs, right? By that point, though, we had committed to going, so I marched in to add my name to the waitlist.

Brunch Line

At the corner, Juicy Lucy’s juice bar kiosk, located at the nexus of the universe on 1st Street and 1st Avenue. The menu offered an assortment of juices, smoothies and caffeinated brews, in addition to a few vegetarian/vegan baked goods. We placed our order: two horchatas. When the young man working the stand asked, “Regular or Mexican?,” SYB and I looked at each other and shrugged.

“Uh… Mexican?” I offered.

That seemed like the right answer. (Aren’t all horchatas Mexican, after all?) The guy nodded confirmation, and continued assembling our seemingly very complicated drinks, whirring mystery ingredients in a blender, and steaming up… milk? This didn’t resemble any horchata I knew. But then again, having only discovered the drink recently, I claim no expertise.

We paid for our drinks, and cautiously accepted the pair of hot(?) paper cups. Hmm. A sip. Tasty, for sure, but not at all like what I expected. In fact, this tasted less like rice pudding and more like… hot chocolate. Mexican hot chocolate. Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like “Mexican horchata.”


Juicy Lucys

Well, that’s okay. We took our Mexican hot chocolates down the block, stopping to peek inside at famed NYC fish purveyor Russ & Daughters, and then returned to claim our places in the crowd in front of Prune.

Sooner than I expected, we were ushered in by the friendly name-taker, and seated inside.


Intriguing offerings: an “expert” Oyster Omelette, a “fantastic” Eggs en Cocotte, Dutch pancakes, the Russ & Daughters Smoked Fish Plate (essentially: items picked up down the block and arranged prettily on a platter), and a famously tempting array of bloody marys. This morning, though, I opted to keep things simple: Soft Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Toast and Potatoes. SYB went for the Steak & Eggs (poached).

Soft Scrambled Eggs

Steak and Eggs


Recently, one reader commented (off-site) that I seem to enjoy every meal I have, which for her, created suspicion that I may just be remarkably easy to please. Interesting idea — and if it were true, would that really be such a bad thing? — but I don’t think so. This isn’t intended to be a review site — more a log of the experiences I find notable… and I interpret that pretty broadly: good food, good value, good people, good times. I’m not all that interested in writing — and doubt any of you would be all that interested in reading — about the sausage kale fettucine I made at home this week, or the mediocre slice I grabbed for lunch. Also: although I consider myself pretty open about what I’ll eat, I’m pretty particular about avoiding meals I suspect may not be all that good. Because I enjoy food — a lot. I don’t have to be wowed each and every time, but I generally won’t just grab a turkey sandwich from the deli, if I know about a nearby street cart that serves amazing carne asada. All of which probably skews the food I eat more towards the “tasty” end of the spectrum… which is just the way I want it. So, friend, if what I’ve written about a meal or dish makes you wonder if the food is all that good, try it for yourself. Invite me along, I’ll go.

So the brunch at Prune: is it really that good? I say: yes. Aren’t they just eggs? Yes, again. But eggs, perfectly done. Are they worth waiting in line for 45 minutes? That’s probably up to you. If it’s a bright weekend morning, and you’re not doing much of anything else, put your name on the waitlist, and grab a coffee or horchata at Juicy Lucy’s kiosk down the block. (Just enunciate when you place your order.) Maybe you’ll stop in at Russ & Daughters and decide you’d prefer to take smoked salmon and bagels to First Park. Veselka opened an outpost there this summer: borscht and pierogis, maybe? Or hey, I just noticed that those grape leaves on display at Bereket across the street look pretty good. (They are.)

Just get out there and explore. It’s all in the adventure.


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