Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Friuli Tasting Menu

So Mario Batali has a new(ish) restaurant, Del Posto, his shrine to Frank Bruni at the New York Times, who he's hoping will one day crown him with the only four stars ever received by an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

At 11:00 p.m., we breezed in and ordered the eight-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Did they squirm and refuse? Only squirmed. A little. And in an entirely classy way. But did they capitulate? At those prices ... of course they did.

And how was the most expensive meal I've had in my lifetime?

Very, very good. But knock-my-socks-off good? Not from start to finish, no. (The wine, however? Holy moses. I wanted to crawl inside of every glass and bathe in that stuff.)

The highlights? The fish course, where they took a scallop and cross-cut it diagonally so it fanned out in this beautiful flower. They then set it on top of a "Salsa di Caffe" ... an espresso salsa, peoples. It was mind blowing. Transcendent. And if every other course was like that, I'd call Frank myself and beg him for that last missing star (he gave them three in his review ... and he's right. It's excellent but not extraordinary.)

Mario is a celebrity chef, who actually gives a shit about the quality of the food as much as he's concerned about establishing himself as a brand. And that's possibly the downfall at Del Posto. (Though this is nitpicking, kids. go there, and you'll have great food, amazing wine and astonishing service.)

But in creating world-class dining at Lupa and Babbo and Esca and Casa Mono, and in raising the bar every time, he's wound up having to compete against himself. And that just might not be possible this time.

That scallop, though? Amen, brother. Amen.

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous ... and Back Again

Another day in New York.

Started off with lunch at Lupa, went shopping for tea at Ito En, saw Zoe Caldwell and Denis O'Hare in A Spanish Play, and finished with an eight-course tasting menu at Del Posto with the reserve wine pairing.

Crazy. If I lived life like this every day, I'd be dead in six weeks. But what an exceptional way to go. Hell, I didn't even have time to get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, for heaven's sake.

Lupa makes a saltimbocca that will make you weep. Veal cutlet pounded within an inch of its life is layered with an ethereally thin wafer of prosciutto and sage leaves. Then they pan fry it in extra virgin olive oil until the prosciutto and sage are welded into the veal. It's served on top of a bed of wilted greens and more olive oil. It's a salty, oily, herby orchestra of tender baby cow deliciousness.

While Lupa is like an old friend, Ito En is a new find. My Peety McPeetniks at the new(ish) gig have hatched a plan to turn me into a tea freak. And I have to say they're doing a fine little job of it. So I saw in Zagat that there's a place on the upper east side that is slavishly devoted to artisan tea. The best of the best, they universally proclaimed.

And damn if they weren't right. Tucked away in a little townhouse right between Cartier and Dolce & Gabana (wha?) is Ito En, where Tomoko the tea purveyor and I got a little giddy over the leaves.

The greatest thing was watching her realize I wasn't just wandering by looking for something, as she said, "with mango in it." Because once she decided I was a fellow traveller, the really good shit came out.

Now if you've been drinking Lipton's and thinking that's tea, people ... I have something to tell you. That shit is dust. It's brown water.

Ito En is tea. TEA. Lovingly crafted, foraged out like truffles and gold and diamonds and saffron and really good olive oil. And so full of pride, it's giving Peet's a run for its money in the fanatical employee department.

Go. Now. If you're anywhere near Madison & 69th Street, walk or crawl or run. Do whatever you can, but buy some tea. (Or buy our stuff, which would give 'em a run for their money, I believe.)

Ask Tomoko to pull out the 20-year-old Iron Goddess. It's aged for five years before being roasted once a year for another 15 years before it's sold. Can you imagine? Twenty years before they think it's worth putting hot water on top of it and pouring that into a cup.

That's love, people. Love of craft and love of quality. And it's all so sublimely ridiculous.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Another Winter in a Summer Town

I'm coming to you from New York City this week. How's the weather, you ask?

Well. Use the following in a sentence: It's cold.

As in ... Holy fucking shit, it's cold. Sweet Mother of God, it's cold.

In the immortal words of Thornton Wilder, the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks.

Kicked off the whole thing with a stop at John's Pizza in the Village. As in ... Sweet Mother of God, that's good pizza.

And kicked off the theater (seven shows in four days, kids) with Grey Gardens, the new(ish) musical about Jackie Kennedy's aunts who went from society doyennes to nut jobs. Living with Jackie will do that to you, I suppose.

So the show is daring but not ultimately that successful. Still, I'd pay double just to watch Christine Ebersole tear up the f'in stage again. God love that woman. She's the talk of the theater community now and for good reason. As my fellow theater junkie, Miss Virginia, likes to point out, Christine doesn't take any of it home with her; she puts all of it out there on the stage. When at the end she realizes she'll never escape the mansion and her mother no matter how decrepit either becomes, and the tears don't just well up in her eyes but come in big, heavy rain-like drops, you're taken to your own most scary, vulnerable place.

And that's what really good theater is all about, peeps. So my scarf's off to Christine. Word. Engrave the Tony, because it's hers.

Here's a clip of her performing the second-act opener at the Drama Desk awards. She's a flippin' genius, and I want to have her babies.

And at an ASCAP Foundation peformance, she trots out "Around the World" from the second act as well. Note that she's singing the hell out of this thing while maintaining a nearly impossible New England accent.