New York

bacaroWe ate some wonderful Venetian bar food at Bacaro last week. Tucked away on adorable Division Street that runs on a slant between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bacaro unwinds down the stairway from the busy bar to the brick vaulted dining spaces below.

Dining in Venice can often be disappointing because so many of its restaurants are shamless tourist traps. It’s been that way since before the Renaissance. It’s the only town I’ve been to in Italy where there are more bad restaurants than good. But the crafty gourmand can eschew restaurants completely and eat and drink quite well in the many wine bars around town. They serve snacks on little plates — cichetti — along with a small glass of wine Venetians call un ombra, a shadow. I think the reference is to the art of taking the edge off the day.

Bacaro celebrates this particular style of Venetian eating and drinking — it’s bar food, but a bar with a very good kitchen in the back.

Sardines in saor is the classic cichetti. Bacaro’s version with its sweet and sour sauce napping the fried sardines and wine-soaked raisins makes your mouth immediately call for another glass of Verdicchio. The same with the spicy fried meatballs, which I mistook for fried olives on first taste. That shows what an educated palate I have.

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ImageIt’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.”

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danjiext1mike tucker glasses1I had an experience the other night that was right out of Larry David’s universe or Seinfeld’s. A classic. I’ll try to describe it for you.

It was around 9:45 and I was at Danji, the wonderful Korean fusion restaurant on West 52nd Street, waiting for Jill after her show. Our friends Florence and Richard Fabricant were seeing the show that night and we were all going to have dinner. I know that mentioning Florence Fabricant is name- dropping – I apologize — but her position as a famous food writer for the NY Times is part of the story.

So, I’m sitting at the bar, sipping a nice white with a Japanese name from Alsace. Yeah, a Japanese wine from Alsace – or an Alsatian wine with a Japanese owner – whatever – it’s very good.

I get the manager’s eye and he comes over.

“I’m with the Fabricant party. I’m the first to arrive,” I say.

He looks into his book, shakes his head and says, “You know, we don’t normally take reservations.”

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crownheightsI went to New York recently to visit my daughter Lena, see her apartment and meet her dog, Fabio, a rescued Mexican Hairless. She lives in an area of Brooklyn known as Crown Heights? That’s supposed to be said with a bewildered Southern California interrogative lilt.

Frankly I’m appalled that my daughter has chosen to stay in New York after college. When I did my 5-year stint in New York as a Not Ready For Prime Time Player, that Trade Winds’ lyric “New York’s a lonely town, when you’re the only surfer-girl around” often played in my head. I suppose the writing was on the wall when Lena, a third generation Southern Californian, never learned to drive.

Naturally I’m proud of my daughter for countless reasons but one in particular is that she’s actually making a living in New York with little financial help. I have to admit to being a little suspicious and having frightening fantasies of her being a pot messenger amongst other morbid scenarios that say more about me than anything else. She lives in a gorgeous but admittedly run-down, vintage 4-story walk up which explains why the rent is so cheap but the apartment is big by any standard. A few of its tenants sit out front all day playing the dozens. Some are drunk, some are dentally challenged, but they all know her and they all look out for her.

When she gave me a culinary tour of her neighborhood, I got the second clue as to how she managed to live so frugally.

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manana.jpgFor someone who considered “nursery food” buttered tortillas with Jalapenos or cheese enchiladas, it is with more than just a foodie interest that I seek out Mexican restaurants wherever I live.  It is an emotional imperative! I am not Latino, for if I were I would probably have had a far more sophisticated concept of comfort food – Enchiladas de Mole Poblano for example– but being raised in Southern California coming from Texas roots, it is natural that Mexican food was a staple in our family’s diet. Well, more to the point Mexican restaurants were a staple in our weekly routine. I could count on my buttered tortillas with jalapeno bits most Thursday and Sunday nights.

So, to find the muy cool Mañana just off Madison Ave on East 61st Street, less than two blocks from our apartment was reason to rejoice. While Mañana has a decidedly un-traditional look, the subtle and authentic flavors filled my heart with memories of Puebla, Mexico City, Vera Cruz and my local storefront café in Toluca Lake. Greenies will enjoy the eco friendly décor and if you are of a mind, there is a tequila and mescal menu, which includes a Don Julio 1942 at $650 and the old standby Amateur del Mexcal, “Fresh green apple muddled with Canton liqueur, fresh lime. Juice, guanabana fruit shaken with Del maguey crema del mescal and scorpion mescal completed with a cactus and lemongrass salt rim” neither of which we ordered.

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