I’ve been in rehearsal this week for a reading we’re doing on Friday. It’s a fun piece called “Old Jews Telling Jokes” based on the website of the same name. All this is to say that this week I’m a working man, a nine-to-fiver, so bye-bye to my indolent life. No time now for shopping at Eataly after my caffé macchiato with the crossword puzzle; no time for noodling away at the stove in the afternoon, sautéing pretty vegetables for Jill’s dinner while hooked up to a Sangiovese drip. No. I’m a working man. Punch that clock.
But today I fell into one of those time warps that New York offers up when you have no particular place to go. I’m on my break; it’s drizzling; I have an hour to kill. Our rehearsal hall is on Eighth Avenue in the high Thirties – a bit of garment district, a bit of spillover from Forty-Second Street — tons of places to eat and not one of them calling me. I walk in the rain over to Ninth Avenue, which never lets me down. Ninth Avenue is a Baghdad bazaar — good, bad and everything in the middle. I love Ninth Avenue. I walk past this little place with a menu board out front. It’s called Capizzi, a little joint, sitting in the shadow of the Port Authority bus terminal. It’s essentially empty, some people at a table in the back – maybe it’s the staff having their lunch. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon – the rush was over. But there’s something; I walk by it three times; there’s something about this place.
Would you eat there
On a lunch break?
Would you eat there
For the earth’s sake?
I would surely eat there on a lunch break
I would surely eat there for the earth’s sake.
How could you resist—green walls and bam(boo)
When it comes to being earth friendly, Pizza by Certe says:
“Of course I am.”
Pizza by Certe, which recently received three stars from the Green Restaurant Association, is an inviting, environmentally friendly pizzeria, tucked into a nook and cranny that once was a Quiznos, on 56th street between Park and Lexington.
A generic passerby, who is in a rush, might miss this little gem, because all that marks it’s presence outside is a tiny circular sign that says “Pizza by Certe.” However, the strong smell of fresh tomato sauce and dough that is brewing from within is difficult to miss—especially, on an empty stomach. And if by chance you are in the area, and do catch a whiff of the wonderfulness that lies within, I suggest you follow your nose and step inside for not only the widest variety of food, and one of the single best slices of breakfast and regular pizza’s in town, but also for a peek at New York City’s first environmentally sustainable pizza place.
I first fell in love with Indian food while working at a company in West Hollywood and my boss, who was a true asshole with excellent taste in food, always ordered lunches from Anarkali. I would drive to pick up the large order for practically everyone in the office, and savored the few minutes I spent inside there while waiting for the food. Anarkali's low ceilings and uber-decorative booths offered a sweet escape from my days at work. And they always gave me free beer, which I would give to the head of the company because I was still 18 and not quite ready to drink on the job.
The array of foods on the table in the center of the office would bring everyone together and I slipped in and out of taste bud sensations. I had never liked Indian food, until Anarkali. Then I started eating it all the time. It worked perfectly for my family because now they didn't have to wait until I wasn't home for dinner before ordering Indian. I still remember the styrofoam platters (a rare allowance for my mother) lined up across the kitchen counter as everyone served themselves buffet style.
The word on the street is that Mario Batali has been losing sleep. He’s been seen pacing up and down in front of his various restaurants, wringing his hands and sighing – all because he heard I’ve been visiting Eataly, the Batali/ Bastianich Italian food extravaganza on 23rd St. and Fifth Avenue, and that I’m finally ready to weigh in with my considered opinion.
Well Mario, you can relax. I’m kind of crazy about the place. I actually like it more each time I go. Here are a few experiences: My first visit was two days after Eataly opened and the place was a mob scene. Mario was holding forth in the middle of it all, the cameras were whirling and I wanted out as soon as we – Jill and I and our friends, Joe and Teresa — walked through the door. We looked around as best we could but we could barely move, much less see. It seemed more like a trade-show floor than a market.
We finally managed to finesse a row of stools at the vegetarian counter, the least populated of the eating areas. I argued for the two-hour wait at the pasta/pizza emporium, but I was voted down. So there I am — all grumpy about being forced to eat vegetables, feeling crowded and bumped and stepped on, and suddenly – miracle of miracles — the vegetarian counter is fantastic.
We all know the few things in our lives that give us status above and beyond our own reality.
Our dog, Buzz (an apricot poodle that bears an uncanny resemblance to Rod Stewart), always attracts attention, is far more famous than we are – and prettier! Telling people I am a union member (OK, it’s SAG) has always given me a certain social gravitas among my political friends. Doing a book on Richard Wagner has made me a “distinguished visitor” at the American Academy in Berlin… not a way in which I am normally described. I have a relative – John Singleton Mosby – that brings Southerners to their knees in a show of respect when his name is mentioned, but white smoke rises when people find out Bill and I have a Monday night table at Rao’s – the impossible dream. Or, as they might say when you call for a reservation, FUGGEDABOUDIT!
Monday night at Rao’s isn’t your average Monday night somewhere else. Rao’s, in Spanish Harlem and in the same family since 1896, with only ten tables and one seating is ‘famiglia’, and as such is closed over the weekend. Monday night is its weekly re-birth and the crowd is always gleeful, festive and full of song. (Yes they sing at Rao’s … but that is another story.) Monday night regulars, besides the characters that look like the cast from Goodfellas – and sometimes are, have included Sonny Grasso (the real cop from the French Connection) sportswriter, Dick Schaap (when Dick passed away Billy Crystal asked in his eulogy who would inherit the table), Ron Perlman, Woody Allen, and Judge Eddie Torres (who wrote Carlito’s Way and Q and A). Also seen Monday nights, Sophia Loren, Senator Alphonse D’Amato, Mike Wallace, Sharon Stone, Martin Scorsese, Don Rickles, Pierce Brosnan – the list is endless.
I recently saw a new show on the Food Network called “Food Feuds”. I like it – I get it. It’s a simple premise: in towns all across the country there are passionate disagreements about “the best” – the best burger, the best fried chicken, the best barbecue ribs, the best ice cream. Disagreements of this kind can be fun, unlike political disagreements, which can be fraught with pain and suffering. On Food Feuds, chef Michael Symon heads to a town where rival food joints vie for supremacy; he listens to local fans make their case, samples the foods, and then declares a winner. But “the winner”, of course, is only that for some of the people, not all. And if Michael Symon came to LA and crowned In-N-Out Burger over Fatburger, I would think he was certifiable.
So let’s agree that good people can disagree.
My friend Dean, for example, is a very good person, a brilliant entrepreneur, patron of the arts and devoted family man, but when it comes to one of my favorite foods, Chinese soup dumplings, Dean and I are on opposite sides of the fence, not to mention the country.
It’s Sunday morning, and the last thing I want to hear is a discrete ringing sound, calling out from my computer, to alert me that I have mail. I ignore my computer, throw on my jeans, and catch the train into the city. The first and only thing on my mind, on this day, is an Upper West Side brunch that comes with a wonderful, delectable, cappuccino – I hope.
And it was the best Sunday morning cappuccino since Cafe della Pace nearly three months ago.
It was actually my first cappuccino in several weeks. After receiving a pay check the day before, I felt that it was ultimately time to treat myself. As I neared the restaurant, Cafe Lalo, I took note of several photos outside.
Each photo read “You’ve got mail” and had screen captures of the infamous romantic comedy which starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks nearly a decade ago.
Suddenly, the once annoying ring of “You’ve got Mail” had turned into a welcomed thought. “Oh. I will have a cappuccino where one of my favorite films was shot. At Cafe Lalo how lovely.”
I was lucky enough to snag a seat at the hallowed (and reservation demented) Momofuku Ko in New York in early October because someone had (oh my god!) cancelled and I was quick enough to grab the reservation. For those of you not yet in the know, Ko is the premier flagship in wunderkind David Chang’s gastronomic empire. In keeping with its cutting edge food and service (the chefs, like sushi chefs, do the serving but not the busing), Ko only allows you to make on-line reservations. Just like Amazon.com, you need to open an on-line account (something I had done about six months earlier) which allows you the opportunity, and some would argue esteemed privilege, to make a reservation. This system guarantees a degree of egalitarianism which, as an attorney with a career dedicated to civil liberties, I really should respect and appreciate. So even if your last name is DeNiro or Gates, you (or your assistant) still have to compete with the masses in making a mad digital dash to score a reservation. As a supreme testament to Ko’s popularity and scrumptiousness, over the last year, even as the echo of high-end restaurants slamming their doors shut reverberated throughout Manhattan, Ko rarely had a night when it wasn’t booked to capacity for at least a week in advance.
Alex and I have been dating for almost four months now. We have
shared several meals and conversations together beyond Casa Mono. As
our relationship has settled into a ‘monogamous’ place, we have both
expressed fears about reaching a ‘monotonous’ place, – when your
boyfriend lives in the same neighborhood, in my case the West side
(Chelsea/West Village), every date begins to take place within a twelve
block radius – emphasizing the potential for “monotony” (not be
confused with monogamy). And, while the dining options are both vast
and enticing, you start to feel like you are placing your relationship
On a recent Wednesday night, we ventured out. We took what to us was a somewhat lengthy cab ride to a restaurant on the Lower East Side (Allen and Rivington) and as soon as we stepped out of the cab, there was a breath of relief. I thought to myself, “We’re not old or boring…we just underestimate taxis.”
Our destination was Kampuchea, an eatery known partly for being the only Cambodian restaurant in the city. Needless to say, neither of us are exactly connoisseurs of Cambodian cuisine, but since we were brave enough to leave our neighborhood, our palettes were gung ho for leaving the country altogether.
I have yet to go on a date in New York without breaking into a mental sweat. When scouting for potential mates, I have learned pretentious is better than shallow, irritatingly intelligent better than vapid. But every time I find myself two blocks away from any appointed date destination, panic ensues. I literally go through the syllabi of every course I can remember from NYU and every legitimate news article I have come across in recent memory. A friend of mine once told me she discovered the best conversation starters from a semester seminar she took called 'The Darwinian Revolution.' To this day, I regret not enrolling in that class. I could be married by now.
Recently, I went on a second date at Casa Mono in Gramercy Park with a screenwriter. As we sat at the crowded bar, reviewing the tapas menu, all I could think of was the impending birth of the "Brangelina" twins.