With the World Cup of Soccer, FIFA, getting underway, it's impossible to avoid the currents in the air. Then again you read it everyday on blogs. New York City is dying or already dead. Good Bye To All That. It's all been Trumpified, strip-malled out, gentrified into a wasteland. I'm sure this is true of too many parts of the city. So many people long for the old classic New York of the, what, 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's? Which decades to what people? There is and will always be that dynamic of change for better or worse. After all, NYC isn't called money-makin' Manhattan for nothing. It is the epicenter of capitalism. Walking around the streets of Chelsea after dinner on a warm Saturday night, it seemed as if the whole world was on the streets. The city is not dead. I believe it is transforming itself, again.
"It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young."... New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu."
I am not sure that I agree with all of what Joan Didion has said about New York City, but she conveys the spirit of place in her own unique style.
Maybe my mood was colored by the afterglow of the dinner we had just enjoyed at Aldea. Chef George Mendes opened his gem of a restaurant a little over a year ago. We finally made it there for K's birthday last Saturday night. There has been lots of good press about the place, but I prefer to go on word from people whom I trust like Doc John Sconzo. Doc suggested we reserve seats at the bar that faces the open kitchen. It's the best seat in the house. We sat mesmerized by the energy, pace and exactitude of the dance of the crack kitchen staff as dishes were prepared, assembled, plated and flown into the dining room. I am not going to go through the litany of everything we had, both ordered and graciously comped. I will say that this is one of the best restaurant meals that we have ever had. Everything was prepared with great skill, revealing Chef Mendes' artistic ability to combine well sourced ingredients in unique ways. The textures and colors on the plates enhanced the savory flavors shimmering through each dish. These are some of the plates that were outstanding: the lobster gazpacho (tri-star strawberries, cherries, wild herbs, mini croutons?), the shrimp alhinho (garlic, coriander, pimenton, pressed jus), Wellfleet oysters with trout roe, octopus a la plancha (squid ink-citrus puree, olive oil, balsamic), the sea salted Chatham Cod (braised chickpeas, tomato confit, nasturtium-parsley coulis), Monk fish (stew of tomato, leeks, saffron, mussels) and the dark chocolate/espresso (vanilla poached mango and cardamom ice cream). "Happy Birthday Kathy" was written in beautiful script in chocolate on the plate with one candle standing with its light flickering. I did not request this. There is sincere style here and a warmth that comes from the people who prepare the food with care and poetry. A meal like this is difficult to describe and words can not really approach its soul and essence. Doc Sconz is the one to go for an extended in depth exegesis. He knows his stuff and writes clearly and succinctly. Anyway, we were so engrossed with the generous flavors that I forgot to snap some pix. Or maybe it was the wine, a red Douro called Meandro do Vale Meao. Lest I forget, the service was very efficient and friendly without being overbearing or stuffy.
After thanking Chef Mendes, we took to the streets of Chelsea to walk a bit before we made our way to Birdland to hear BossaBrasil Festival 2010. Reminder to self: never have a meal at Aldea and make plans to go to a music venue afterwards. Had the music and musicians not been as good and infectious as they were, I would have cut short our stay.
I have to give Land Thai another round of praise. Our Friday lunch was superb. Satay sampler, shrimp in red curry sauce and wok shrimp with garlic and ginger. All good and delivered to your table at warp speed by very friendly staff.
Saturday took us to the excellent Essex Street Market where I saw Kenny Shopsin. I told him that I has seen "Killing Flies", the documentary on him. He asked if I liked it and I said yes. At the end of the film there was mention of the death of his wife, a sweet person. I offered my condolences to Kenny. He said laughing that it was so long ago that he had forgot all about it. That gave me a chuckle. Out the door we made our way to the Hester Street Fair on the recommendation of Lux Lotus, who knows what's happening. It is filled with vendors of spices, clothing, jewelry and food. Not too ungainly, just about the right size fair. Then on Ming Tsai's authority, we then went to Vanessa's Dumplings. He's right and so are the dumplings. 4 for $1 now. Then, 9/09, 5 for $1.99. Sesame pancake filled with fresh coriander, carrots, cabbage. Two can eat for less than $6. Bargain of the weekend.
On Sunday morning we made the obligatory stop at Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market for Lipari capers, cheese and a couple million Scoville units of hot Calabrian peppers. Amy's for a roll with 9th St. Espresso cappuccino and some pizzettes to take home.
Then on to Locanda Verdefor brunch. K. had a zucchini frittata that was quite good. I opted for coffee only since I was not hungry. We would like to make it to dinner there on our next visit for autumn in New York.