There are times when Manhattan seems like the smallest city in the world so it was last Saturday when Lynn and I (and our friend Beth) stumbled upon the National on Rivington Street. We had never heard of this small bistro and we were extremely glad to get a drink there as it was hot and we were thirsty.
We pretty much had the place to ourselves; our exotic bartendress whipped up a crackling negroni for me and quizzed us about who we were, where we were going. She pointed us in the direction of some great markets and soon we were on our way and looking for the places she recommended.
We happened to see the very fine Irish actor Gabriel Bynre outside of a church in Soho on Saturday taking pictures o fa wedding. Not being immune to star power, we discreetly took his picture taking a picture of a wedding. I have always enjoyed his work(since way back when he was John Keats in Gothic) and he is criminally underrated in my opinion.
We went to The Mercer Hotel in Soho on Saturday for lunch which is well-known for having been the location where Russell Crowe famously heaved a shoe at an unfortunate clerk (who later did well in an out of court settlement). This connection to high profile bad behavior is unfortunate since the Hotel is a wonderful, welcoming establishment every time we have visited.
We had no wait and the host sat us at a large booth which accomadated us very comfortably. The interiors are modern, but not cold since there are large windows which allow for a lot of natural light and a sense of the vibrant energy of the city just outside on the street. Lunch was a great thin crust Raw Tuna and Wasabi pizza which had the vivid look of an artist's pallette as well as blackfish carpaccio which was razor thin and flavorful. The waistaff was accomadating and warm, leaving us little need to throw a shoe.
(The Mercer) 99 Prince Street, New York, NY 10012.
Not that you asked but is being nice the new mean? We were in NY on Saturday and were shocked in how good a mood everyone was; people on the street, retail staff, business owners, sidewalk vendors, restaraunt staff, parking garage staff (!). As regular readers of this site might know, I am from North Carolina where eye contact, familiarity and good humor are so prevelant that they resemble a kind of tic as they are constantly on the surface and constantly deployed. I often think that this kind of knee jerk niceness is a kind of ritualistic southern thing, used out of habit more than sincerity (that is just my opinion of course). On the other hand, New Yorkers are unfairly saddled with a reputation for not being all that nice. I have never thought this was the case since I moved here and have had good luck dealing with professional contacts while dealing with this site and in my other journalistic work. Still, maybe it is the recession or whatever, but New Yorkers seem to have taken being nice to a new level (notice I didn't say Long Islanders).
But, I digress, New York on Saturday was a particularly great place to be with clear skies, low humidity and great people watching....
As we sometimes do, Lynn and I had been in Manhattan all day and had put off eating lunch because a) we were too busy engaged in something b) were looking forward to something unique for dinner. This kind of anticipation acts as a stimulant to keep us going through some of the stress of being in NYC.
We had wanted to go to Red Cat but as we often do we were "famished" late in the afternoon when many restaraunts aren't open for dinner. Red Cat, for instance, has a kitchen that did not open until 5:30; an eternity in our 5pm hunger state.
Out of ideas, we walked about half a block to Tia Pol, a tapas bar which occupied an attractive, sliver of a space on 10th avenue. We got there just at the transition between very late lunch time and early dinner. We had a nice, savory selection of garbanzos fritos (fried chickpeas), and a nice carpaccio style pork loin as well as a nice sangria that helped bring me back to life after a long day of being on my feet at the Javits.
The waitstaff seemed a little spent after a long afternnoon but were courteous and attractive. We are in that area of NY often so we anticipate returning soon in the near future...
205 Tenth Ave.
(between 22nd and 23rd)
The backstory: In late 2006, a veteran winemaker worked alongside his protégé Boyd Morrison to explore the Old World traditions of winemaking while realizing a markedly New World style. Morrison used this as his inspiration to create Apothic Red, in which he blends spicy Zinfandel, America’s most distinctive grape, with smooth Merlot and lush, dark Syrah.
M & L's story: In our mind the dog days of summer mostly scream out for cold, uncomplicated white wine which helps keep the depressing heat at bay for the most part. There are some nice, light reds that provide a nice alternative to the steady flow of whites that wine drinkers often associate with summer.
Apothic is a very pleasing summer red with flavors of black cherry and cardamom and even some orange peel; a nice combo of hard and soft flavors which helped us out of our white wine stupor....
There are great eating experiences that are great because they are pleasurable and there are great eating experiences that are great because they are pleasurable and an ordeal (as well as a kind of cinematic experience). So it was dining at Indochine in my old hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina recently. The southeast was going through a heat wave that was crushing and which I had become unused to after a decade of living in the Northeast.
In any event our daughter Kristina suggested Indochine, a restaurant that has been in Wilmington many years but that we had never bothered to eat there in particular. Lynn and I do enjoy Thai and Vietnamese fare which the restaurant specializes in and we were ready for a break having eaten at the Basics downtown for several days in a row.
We (me, Lynn, Kristina, Jackson and Sloan) got there on a Saturday evening and the place was abuzz with couples, families and singles. Even though it was past 7 pm it was still hot and sultry. We were told by the hostess that we would have an hour wait to sit inside (possibly less if we took first available). Ultimately, we opted for first available despite the fact that we would have to battle the heat and dark if we sat outside. Our stomachs prevailed and after about an hour we were seated in the garden portion of the place outside. We waited in the gazebo garden behind the restaurant for about 1/2 hour until we were seated.
In the meantime, I went inside with my grandson Jackson and ordered some drinks for us and eavesdropped while four co-eds were sitting at the bar. As I was standing there I thought about how the air conditioning is so powerful in Wilmington it feels like it is nuclear powered (at least it feels that way sometimes). I also marveled at how Wilmington natives are often so unwilling or unable to censor themselves in regular conversation with strangers all around. One of the only complaints I would have about the restaurant is that the bartenders were not sharp that night; they were certainly busy but they didn't bother to apologize for taking so long to take our order and the drinks weren't anything to write home about.
Finally we were seated and we were waited on by a wonderful young waiter who said his name was something like "PJ." By now all of us were radiating heat, but were too enchanted and too "into it" to worry or fret about the heat. Sweat was pouring off of us and I had the urge to pour my icy martini over my head instead of pouring it into me (rationality prevailed and I poured it into myself). We labored to read the menu in the dimming light but we decided on the crispy calamari and dumpling sampler. Both were very good and memorably presented on platters shaped like (among other things) boats.
The appetizers were merely warm ups for us as we ordered (among other things) Scallops with Ginger (Me), as well as Buddha's Feast in a Nest (Lynn) which was a filling vegetarian dish. Truth be told, we quickly filled up on the appetizers and were not starving by the time our entrees arrived (at least I wasn't). Perversely, we ordered our food extra hot as a way of thumbing our nose at the Southern heat which was still formidable in the darkness.
So, eating at Indochine ended up being a sweet and delirious ordeal that is filtered through my sensory memory (I didn't bother taking notes, it was too dark to see and I was lucky to be able to read the menu). The food at the restaurant was very good, bordering on great.
Lynn and I often play a game which is "If we go back there." If Lynn and I go back to Indochine we will probably have our sauce on the side as a couple of the dishes we tried were soaked in various Asian sauces which were a little on the heavy and sweet side for me (this might be a kind of overlap with Eastern NC Barbecue which can easily be overwhelmed with vinegar based sauce). We may either skip the appetizers or the entrees as we ordered too much food (a typical reaction of the starving diner).
Nonetheless, Indochine is unbeatable for atmosphere, mostly good service (with patient and good communication from the hostess) and most of all with the atmospheric set pieces of being at the bar with my grandson wandering around with my family through the haze of the gazebo garden we could have been in any number of films such as The Year of Living Dangerously, Until the End of the World or The Man With the Golden Gun. For the night I felt like 007 with his grandson in tow; a pretty cool feeling.
After our January/February trip to Wilmington produced some mixed results food wise Lynn and I had some seriously lowered expectations (food wise) for our trip to Wilmington this past week. We had thought we might eat at Catch if we had time as we were looking forward to seafood.
Our daughter, Kristina, introduced us to a very wonderful eatery called The Basics. This restaurant connected to Wilmington's Cotton Exchange had been a pretty good pizza parlor in the late 90's (as best I can remember).
Lynn had great crab cakes (with a lot of nice, lump crab meat) that were lightly sauteed and somewhat uncharacteristically non-greasy for the deep south. We also had great fried okra that were more in the style of tempura than heavily fried which helped keep the flavor and savoriness of the okra front and center.
Perhaps most impressive of all was the service; a blonde waitress named Amy (I think) and a brunette who were helpful to us and attentive without being over-familiar (a typical problem with waitstaff in the Port City) They were predictably charmed by my grandson Jackson who loved the blueberry pancakes. We ate there three times and it was great and consistent three times in a row...
Lynn and I had brunch at the Breslin restraurant in the uber cool Ace Hotel in the Chelsea section of New York. The interior had all the trademarks of the kind of brawny bohemianism that places like Freeman's have stamped NY hipster culture with of late: Dark, rugged interiors, a bar that looked like it could have been in My Darling Clementine, and a clientelle with handlebar mustaches and the slim silouettes of a professional gunfighter.
Our waitress with her distinctive eyeware, cut-off jeans and white, lace leggings was attentive and accomadating to a degree that was almost humorous. We had herbed Ceasar Salad with anchovies and croutons (a savory treat to snap me awake from an eventful day and night) and Lynn had egg whites with curried lentils. Best of all was the plate of otherworldly greens that the waitress gathered up in the kitchen for us. She explained how they were so amazing by way of saying "We have a woman who goes out on her bikes and forages for these in some of the markets around."
I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember....
My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...