Month: November, 2006
Trinity Church, as seen from Wall Street:
Met CF and CL for what has been turning out to be our annual reunion dinner. Having left the final arrangements until the last minute, we were shut out of a dinnertime table slot at The Stanton Social — those AvroKO spots are popular! Plan B: ‘inoteca.
Ah yes, the Lower East Side. According to the recent New York magazine feature on the half-life of hot neighborhoods, it’s the cool place to be. No, wait, not anymore. Yes, it is. Whoops, too late.
The restaurant on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow opened in the summer of 2003, an offshoot of beloved West Village wine bar, ‘ino — which most know as the spot that launched a thousand hot pressed panini into the New York culinary scene in 1998. ‘inoteca’s larger, airier space adheres to the formula that made ‘ino so popular: warm, rustic vibe, a menu showcasing an extensive (and exclusively Italian) wine list and simple, small plates, each carefully assembled with fresh, high quality ingredients.
I met my friends at the bar, and the three of us were shown to a table downstairs, all candlelight, dark wood, and bottle-lined walls. We were the first ones there, and over the course of the evening, we could hear the crowd trickle in above us, eventually spilling below, until the noise level reached a low, rumbling roar.
The menu comprised just one page, divided into six sections: Insalata & Antipasti, Piatti, Pane, Fritto, Affettati and Formaggi. Yes, all in Italian. Hmm. I was lost beyond bruschetta and panini, so we enlisted the translation skills of CF and our server, who no doubt is used to such confusion from the restaurant patrons.
It all looked tempting, so we opted for a couple of the panini, assorted bruschetta, a cheese plate with three hard cheeses (giving the server license to choose for us from among the daunting 20+ options), the grilled calamari with borlotti beans and the antipasti plate: a glorious spread of spicy sopressata rounds, florets of grilled cauliflower, kalamata and green olives, a wedge of vegetable frittata, slices of olive oil-roasted fennel, and pickled red onion and carrot, over which were criss-crossed a pair of long, brittle breadsticks. We did not this night order the celebrated truffle egg toast — a creamy concoction of poached egg gently nestled into a thick cut of ciabatta bread, drizzled with truffle oil and shaved cheese… not unlike a gourmet version of “Egg in a Basket” — in which I’d indulged many a time at ‘ino.
The food was flawless, and the wine and ambience warming, but we could not escape the pall of sadness cast over the evening by CL’s news. We gave ourselves over to reminiscences, grateful for longtime connections and the support of old friends.
Galella is known as one of the most controversial celebrity photographers in the United States – earning him the dubious title of “the godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture” by Time and “Paparazzo Extraordinaire” by Newsweek. In his heyday, Galella was norotious for his aggressive tenacity in catching celebrities at their most unguarded and candid. Marlon Brando broke his jaw; Sean Penn spat on him; Richard Burton’s bodyguards put him in the hospital after catching him hiding in the bushes while trying to photograph Burton with Elizabeth Taylor; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (one of Galella’s all-time favorite subjects) sued and got a restraining order against him. His photographs created icons, redefined the genre of celebrity photography and have been the subject of several books and exhibitions.
Drinks by Boz Spirits’ 267 Infusions and Suntory Zen. The olive and pearl onion vodka (right) was fine, though perhaps a bit too olive-y. Pretty bottles, but I’m not sure why one would opt for this instead of an actual dirty martini. CS declared her green tea liqueur and tonic on crushed ice as tasty as a green tea slushy.
Most of the photos on display were from the gaudy, glittery Studio 54 era. From Andy Warhol to Mick Jagger to Cher to Grace Jones to Ali MacGraw’s original celebrity nip-slip (note: may be NSFW — duh)…
Galella himself was there that night, but no celebrities, unless you count host Randy Jones (a.k.a. The Cowboy) from the Village People, whom CS and I had a hard time trying to pick out from the crowd without his signature hat.
I had a bit of time before I had to meet M for our special tasting reservation, so SYB and I spontaneously decided to check out Room 4 Dessert, the tiny dessert bar on Cleveland Place from Will Goldfarb, former pastry chef at Cru. 31-year old Goldfarb, who is reknowned for his unorthodox, experimental creations, opened his NoLIta dessert laboratory in January 2006 to fine reviews. It was named #23 on New York magazine’s list of Best Cheap Eats of 2006.
We found ourselves the only ones seated at long polished wood bar. In addition to the usual wine-by-the-glass selections, R4D’s menu offers dessert cocktails (called “glasses”), dessert flights (called “tastings,” with clever-clever names like “Laissez Pear”) and dessert alternatives (like the “Project Bunway” and “Ghostface Keller” — surely the only menu item in the city to play tribute to both Wu Tang and Thomas Keller.)
Just non-appetite-spoiling cappuccino for me; SYB went for the “Choc ‘n’ Awe,” which was painstakingly assembled by the friendly bartender: a serving each of butter cookies spread with dark chocolate ganache, chocolate ice cream, cocao mousse and a white chocolate cake with a ruby port sauce.
Bill Buford, founding editor of Granta magazine and author of books on British soccer hooliganism and kitchen apprenticeship penned an engaging essay for the June 26, 2006 New Yorker about a stint he did at Room 4 Desssert, offering a glimpse into “the different planet from the rest of humanity” (Goldfarb’s words) occupied by pastry chefs. Check out the scanned version of the entire piece for an interesting read (via Snack.)
And then it was off to the Monday Room, the newly opened wine lounge M and I were cheekily calling “Public Next Door.” Last month, three-year old Public transformed the adjacent space from what had been offices, then a gallery, into what now feels like a secret hideaway, set off from the scene of the main restaurant and bar. We were there that night by invitation, to sample the menu in progress, with wine pairings. (Thanks, M!)
I was immediately struck by how design and concept firm AvroKO had completely transformed the tucked-away space: from the pristine white-walled box it was a month and a half ago to a sexily-lit club room with low tables and leather stuffed chairs. M and I were presented short menus from which we were to select the tapas-inspired small plates to sample. Based on our selections, the sommelier created flights of wine tastings (half-glasses) from Monday Room’s extensive and rotating list of 60+ bottles — each of which he sampled personally upon decanting.
Chef Brad Farmerie‘s rich and varied menu — created specially for this restaurant offshoot — offered many temptations. We began with smoky, grilled strips of chorizo in a mole-esque purée of black beans and chocolate, studded with chile-dusted popcorn. Sounds strange perhaps, but it was so delicious, we ordered it twice. Ditto the venison carpaccio, which was terrifically light, and made up for missing out on our favorite Public starter of cured wild boar. We also tried the rounds of foie gras pâté with toasted bread…
… and a cheese plate with mostly New-England cheeses. M, who as a rule, doesn’t eat seafood, did not join me in sampling the Tasmanian sea trout. (Pity for her – it was citrusy, salty and divine!)
But we both shared the squared off green mango sticks, tartly crisp and studded with chiles, arranged Jenga-like on the plate — reminiscent in form to Public’s summertime watermelon and feta cheese salad.
For dessert, a selection of dainty chocolate truffles, with unique flavor combinations like pumpkin and (more) chiles.
We spent well over three hours in the Monday Room, lounging, sipping and enjoying the fine company. At one point, Chef Farmerie himself came out to mingle with the guests. I later learned that the Monday Room takes its name and inspiration from a New Zealand man that AvroKO knew of, who set aside a special room in his offices where he would retreat on Monday evenings with a glass of wine, to smoothe his transition into the week ahead. Sounds good to me, any night of the week.
Looking forward to my next visit – if I’m ever able to score one of the 24 seats again.
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