New York

ny_carmines_upper.jpg My new best friend, Laraine Newman, recently took me to Carmines here in Los Angeles, an old school Italian joint that was once the stomping grounds of the Rat pack. From what I heard, there was quite a lot of stomping that took place there. Not only rich in City of Angels History, it has terrific food and a staff eager to please. If you ever feel the need to step back in time and slip your butt into a comfy old red leather banquette that boasts the resting places– at least temporarily – of such legendary butts as those belonging to Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra, this is the place. A history of Carmines is available on this site, written by Laraine, and is well worth the read.

However, my Carmines story involves the other coast. In the early 90’s, Godfried Polistanna and partners opened what was the first new ‘Family Style’ restaurant in maybe fifty years on Manhattan’s Upper West side.  Designed to look like it had been there for ages, it was also as ‘old school’ as a new place could be. A huge space with lots of dark wood, simple tables and white linen, it was adorned with mismatched chandeliers and lamps, its walls covered with old photographs of every conceivable Italian looking man, woman, child and family. It was a revived Don Peppi’s in Queens, a throwback to the Italian joints on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and it was a huge, huge hit. Most nights the wait for a table was two hours, maybe more. People couldn’t get enough of it.

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balthazar1v.jpgI have always wanted to eat at Balthazar. After many years of fruitlessly trying to go to Balthazar, I finally succeeded. Maybe it was the way the restaurant teased me over these past few years that I had become thoroughly intrigued: The restaurant’s Parisian frontage and the crowds of diners seen through the windows beckoned me. Maybe it was the promise of la vie Bohème. From afar Balthazar has that je-ne-sais-quoi look, but from up close it seems just a bit faux and overdone. I think the restaurant tries too hard to look authentic with its crackled mirrors, dark paneling, and dim light fixtures.

To make sure I got in this time, I made reservations almost three weeks in advance, but I still could not get the specific time I wanted. Still the eventual time was suitable enough for a stress-relieving Friday night out this past week with my friend Amanda of the Undomestic Goddess. When we arrived, one of the many hostesses confirmed that indeed the reservation was made, but then told us to wait for the maître d’ to direct us to our seats. A little confusion followed in which we were stormed by a large group coming from the bar area and then another group entering. We almost didn’t get served—a somewhat sordid start to an evening meant for relaxing.

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BarRoomMy friend, Barbara and I were escaping the icy tundra of Maine for a long weekend in New York City to indulge in great food, theater and art.

We started our Sunday morning at the MOMA as the doors opened. Up to the fifth floor we flew. As I walked into the first gallery I was overcome with the ‘scent’ of a museum. I love that smell. My soul was being ‘refilled’. I was free floating in art heaven when I noticed Barbara looking at her watch so we wouldn’t be late for the lunch reservations she made. I looked the other way and thought about disappearing into the crowd. We had 2 more floors when it was time to go. I thought, today lunch is such an interruption.

Our greeting from the Maitre D’ was warm, friendly and he was impeccably attired. He led us to a nice table with a stellar view of the printed glass mural by Thomas Demand, Clearing II. I was concerned that only two tables were occupied-why was this not a popular place? At that point, I had no idea there was a restaurant worthy of a Michelin star in the MOMA and we had lunch reservations at it. Yes, it was the Bar Room at The Modern. I hadn’t asked a single question about our Sunday reservations. A simple, quick lunch and back to exploring two more floors of art was exciting enough for me.

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littlerascalsWe went to the Lower East Side the other night to see what the young people are up to. Our son, Max, was playing a gig at the Bowery Ballroom with a great band called dinowalrus. They totally killed — awesome. Jill and I were the oldest people in the neighborhood by at least thirty years.

We didn’t make reservations for dinner before the show because we always assume we can get ourselves fed when it’s just the two of us — often at the bar. I did have a destination in mind, though — Xicala, a tapas/wine bar that looked online to be properly LES. It was raining, so we scurried from the Grand Street subway across Bowery to Elizabeth Street, where Xicala promised to be and it was closed. Locked shut. I later checked their website, which says they’re “undergoing a makeover.” Good luck, Xicala. See you next time.

We were now wandering aimlessly in the rain, looking to grab a quick bite before the show. It was definitely an any-port-in-a- storm situation. We saw little orange lights coming out of a dark front window and crossed Elizabeth Street to see what was up and it was a restaurant called Little Rascal that serves Turkish food. Yeah — Little Rascal — Turkish. It made no sense to me, either. But our interest was definitely piqued — and our appetites as we’re both partial to Turkish food.

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lattny1.jpgGoing to New York is always a treat.  Like everyone else, I love walking around the city.  A leisurely stroll through Central Park when the flowering trees are in bloom is one of life's great pleasures.

A visit to a museum is also a must. This trip we went to MOMA, where special exhibits by Marina Abramovic and William Kentridge were causing a stir, especially Abramovic's use of nudes as an element of her performance pieces. For myself, I never tire of the permanent collection with its iconic works by Van Gogh and Matisse, among other masters.

Since I'm not in the city as often as I'd like, I look forward to visiting my favorite places to eat: Gray's Papaya (Broadway at 72nd) for the $4.45 Recession Special (2 hot dogs with everything and a medium Pina Colada), Piada (3 Clinton Street below Houston) for a panini and espresso, and the salt and pepper shrimp at Nha Trang One (87 Baxter Street below Canal).

A friend who is an expert on the food scene, highly recommended several dishes, especially a salad, at a new restaurant in the East Village called Northern Spy (511 East 12th Street between Ave. A & B, 212/228-5100). The unassuming space has a country feel that immediately makes you feel at home. Locally sourced produce and meats are put to good use in refreshingly simple and inventive ways.

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