Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Anthony Bourdain Fan Club Post

Dinner at Les Halles

I recently read Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s memoir about working as a chef in the restaurant industry.  This was my first book by Anthony Bourdain and I really enjoyed it.  His writing voice sounds just like his speaking voice!  There were some funny parts and he’s very likeable, despite his disdain for vegetarians and people who order sauce on the side (I’m afraid he wouldn’t like me much because I have a tendency to do the latter).

The book received a lot of press for exposing the dark side of the restaurant business.  He does make the typical restaurant kitchen sound like a more savage place than I would have imagined, but somehow I already knew that breadbaskets are recycled and you shouldn’t eat fish on a Monday, so those parts weren’t shocking revelations.

My only gripe about Kitchen Confidential is that I would have liked to know more about Bourdain’s personal life and the gaps between his cooking jobs.  He mentions multiple times that he is a recovered heroin addict, but he doesn’t discuss this in depth.  I realize Kitchen Confidential is a food memoir and Bourdain has free rein to write about whatever he likes, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he recovered, since so few people survive heroin addictions.  I was also curious to know more about his wife (now ex-wife) who he occasionally mentions and to whom the book is dedicated.

Steak tartare

On a recent evening I was reading the book when my dinner plans fell through.  I was on the Les Halles chapter and had wanted to try the restaurant for a while, so I decided to go there solo.  Les Halles is a traditional French brasserie in Murray Hill where Bourdain worked as executive chef until the publication of Kitchen Confidential, which launched his career as celebrity chef/author/foodie extraordinaire.  He is still considered the “chef-at-large,” but I doubt he spends much time there.

I arrived around 9PM and was surprised that the restaurant and bar were very crowded, although I took the one available seat at the bar.  I’m hesitant to order my favorite French entrée, steak tartare, unless I’m in a very reliable establishment, but Les Halles fit the criteria.  I read online that they are known for making the steak tartare tableside and to order.  Since I sat at the bar I missed the show, but the bartender did ask if I wanted it hot, medium, or mild.  I picked medium and I think it was the largest portion of steak tartare that I’ve ever seen and also the best that I’ve had in NYC.  The steak tartare came with a side of French friends and a small salad.  Les Halles is known for their French fries and while I thought they were good, the steak tartare was more impressive.  After the meal the gentleman sitting next to me bought me a baby Guinness shot (Kahlúa and Baileys).  I had never had one before and while I found it a bit overly sweet, it made for a nice ending to a lovely meal.

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A trip to the Museum of the City of New York and Grounded Cafe

Museum of the City of New York

I recently went uptown to the Museum of the City of New York to see the exhibit, “The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011,” which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Manhattan’s grid system.  The exhibit features antique maps, photographs, and prints that show the commissioner’s original grid plan and its development.  The exhibit was interesting, though very text-heavy.  I particularly loved seeing old maps and photos of my neighborhood!   The show is on until July 15, 2012.

C. Bachman, New York, view looking south from Union Square, 1849.

Flatiron

Looking south on 5th Avenue from 25th Street, ca. 1904

After the Grid exhibit, I saw the show “Cecil Beaton: The New York Years,” which highlights the work of British photographer and designer Cecil Beaton.  The exhibit is comprised of Cecil’s beautiful celebrity portraits, fashion photos, and colorful stage costumes from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.  I learned that Beaton was quite the man about town and a master self-promoter.  During his time in NYC he stayed in a series of luxury hotel suites, which he decorated, used as settings for photo shoots, and stayed in at discounted rates.   The suites were marketed as Cecil Beaton-designed and rented out when he was away, so both the hotels and Beaton benefited.  I was disappointed to learn that Beaton was anti-Semitic, although not surprised based on the time period and his social circle (anyone who hung out with Wallis Simpson loses points in my book).  The exhibit is on until April 22, 2012.

The Museum of the City of New York always has great wall coverings that coordinate with each show.

Hall leading to the Cecil Beaton exhibit

Stage costumes by Cecil Beaton

Beaton's costumes for La Traviata, photographed by him for Vogue, 1966

Beaton, Self-portrait, ca. 1929 (Is this not the coolest self-portrait ever?!)

Back downtown I went to Grounded, which is a cute café in the West Village, located at 28 Jane Street.  I ordered an iced black tea rose latte because I love the flavor rose and it’s unusual to see it on a menu.  The drink was good, though not the best rose incarnation I’ve tried (rose macaroons are better!).  I really liked the cheery yellow walls, abundance of plants, and laid-back atmosphere.  If it was closer to where I live, I could see Grounded being my go to coffee shop.  As is, it’s a nice weekend walk and makes for a pleasant change of scenery.

Grounded specials

Iced black tea rose latte

Grounded Cafe (it's brighter in person)

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A Chat with My Favorite New York Poet: Monica E. Wendel

Monica at the Blue Stove

I am extremely proud and excited that my very good friend, Monica E. Wendel recently had her first poetry book, Call it a Window, published by the Midwest Writing Center as the National Winner of the 2011 Mississippi Valley Poetry Chapbook Contest.  The book is a chapbook, which is a pocket-sized pamphlet book of poems.

In celebration of the chapbook, Monica and I met up for coffee at the adorable Blue Stove bakery and cafe in Williamsburg, where we chatted about her writing process, inspiration, and favorite New York places.

iced coffee, iced chai latte, and Monica's chapbook Call it a Window

Rose: What is your favorite place to write?

Monica: I actually don’t know.  For me, the process of writing is really long because I do so many drafts.  Even if I write in one place, I always need to revise it in a quiet place.  After that, I usually bring it to a group of people for workshop, so it ends up getting written in three places.  I tend to write in the mornings first thing when I wake up, usually in my bedroom or living room.

Rose: What tools do you use to write?

Monica: When I was spending more time on the subway, I was writing in Mead composition notebooks, but now I drive to work.  As a result, I haven’t been writing in notebooks so much.  I also find it useful to switch up how I write every once in a while in order to keep it fresh.

Rose: What poets inspire your work?

Monica: My poems owe a lot to Sharon Olds, in terms of their subject matter and their autobiographical nature.  My more political poems have a humor in them that I saw in Charles Simic.  I don’t think that they sound like his poems, but the wit that he has in his poems and the biting nature of his poems is something that I aim for.  There is a clear eye in his poems.  They are honest and they cut through a lot of political BS.

Rose: I noticed a lot of your poems seem very autobiographical and also sexual in nature, to the extent that if I was you, I might be uncomfortable sharing them with my family.  How do you deal with that?

Monica: The only people who I really care about it with are my parents.  The reason I am able to not care about it so much is that I think the poems are successful.  I really respect my parents because even when I write poems that are provocative, they are able to see what is successful in them and they are also able to relate to them.  To me, they are all the same amount autobiographical.  There are definitely things that are less autobiographical.  There are things that didn’t happen to me, but the feelings are always how I felt

Rose: How did you decide to organize the poems by geographical locations?  Did you start out with that in mind?

Monica: Jon, who I dedicated the book to, always told me that I should try to write poems that take place on different streets in NYC.  That project didn’t happen, but I did make a zine called Poetry Maps, where I took poems that I had already written and placed them on a map of NYC.  Queens, Man, Long Island.  The zine never really went anywhere, but from that the idea of organizing the poems by geography always appealed to me.  Where the poems take place is really important to me.

Rose: What is your favorite way to spend Saturday in NYC?

Monica: When it’s nice out and warm, Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and maybe a ride on the ferry afterwards.  That’s a really good way to spend Saturday.  I love the whole Williamsburg waterfront.  When it’s cold out, my favorite way to spend Saturday is probably at the Met if the subway is running from Brooklyn.  I also love P.S. 1 in Long Island City, Queens for when the L train is not running to Manhattan.

Rose: In your opinion, what are the best restaurant, café, and bar in New York?

Monica: Restaurant – Candle 79 on the Upper East Side.  Cafe – Variety Cafe in Williamsburg (editor’s note – we tried to go there first, but there were no seats).  Bar – probably Grassroots.  The bartender there is really really nice and there’s always good people watching and popcorn.  Also, there’s a good falafel place next door (Mamoun’s).

Rose: I think of you as an unofficial poster girl for your neighborhood.  Can you tell me about it for readers?

Monica: I live in Greenpoint (Brooklyn), near Williamsburg.  It’s in a lot of ways still a Polish family neighborhood.  I live next door to a Catholic Church.  There’s a poem in the book called “Pope John Paul II Square.”  There’s also a ton of writers and artists who live in the neighborhood.  It’s relatively cheap, especially for NYC.  This is in part because the Newtown Creek borders it on one side and the Newtown Creek is heavily polluted.  I live with writers and artists in a house and a lot of my neighbors are writers and artists.  The neighborhood cafe, Donia used to have an open mic night and over the summer when I was working on the manuscript I would go there and read poems.

Monica, her chapbook and the Blue Stove's namesake piece of furniture

I read Call it a Window before the interview and of course I might be biased, but I really enjoyed it.  Monica is a phenomenal writer and while sometimes it seems as though she lives in an alternative fringe universe (one filled with radicalism and extreme sexual liberation), the poems are intriguing and leave you wanting to know more.  Many lines in the poems resonated with me, even if I occasionally felt outside the world of the narrator.

Monica’s chapbook, Call it a Window can be purchased on Amazon here or directly from the publisher here.  Some examples of her work can be found here and here.

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An Afternoon on the Edge of Manhattan

Recently my friend Anya visited me for a weekend.  Every trip I try to show her a different neighborhood in Manhattan.  For this visit we picked Harlem and were joined by our friend Beurre.  Our first stop was the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is the oldest house in Manhattan and technically in Washington Heights/borderline Harlem.

Anya and I at the Morris-Jumel Mansion

George Washington used the Morris-Jumel Mansion as his headquarters during the Revolutionary War.  I last visited the home in middle school and I was excited to see the addition of mannequins in historical costumes.

Cut-out George Washington looks like he's enjoying facebook

Love the historical costumes!

After doing a self-guided tour, we admired the architecture of Sylvan Terrace, which is a block of historic wooden row houses across the street.  All of the homes, with the exception of one holdout, were restored in the 1980’s with Federal funds.

Charming Syvlan Terrace

We walked from Sylvan Terrace to our first official stop in Harlem, the City College of New York (CCNY) campus.  CCNY was the first public institution of higher education in the United States and the school’s Collegiate Gothic campus is GORGEOUS.  The campus is 35 acres and runs from 130th Street to 141st Street.

City College campus is very reminiscent of the Ivies and Seven Sister schools.

We continued our walk to 125th Street, which is the most famous street in Harlem.  There are a lot of large stores on 125th Street and some signs of gentrification (MAC makeup, H&M).  We stopped at the Apollo Theater, where an informal memorial wall was set up outside for Whitney Houston.

Beurre and Anya in front of the Apollo Theater and Whitney Houston memorial wall

125th Street (Hotel Theresa was Fidel's lodging of choice on his 1960 visit to NYC, but it's now an office and school building).

By this time Anya, Beurre, and I were ready for a pick-me-up, so we headed to Patisseries des Ambassades, which is a West African/French bakery and café on 119th Street.  They had tons of delicious looking French pastries.  I asked the waitress what was the most popular (always a good way to go when you are indecisive/everything looks appealing) and she said the almond croissants, but they were sold out.  Instead I ordered a latte and chocolate almond croissant and it was the best (and also the only) chocolate almond croissant I’ve ever had (this sets a low standard, but still it was outstanding!).

Latte art at Patisserie Des Ambassades

After coffee we walked around Lenox Avenue where we passed many beautiful brownstones, the historic Lenox Lounge Bar, and other impressive architecture.  Unfortunately it started raining, so I didn’t take any photos.  We stopped at Swing Concept Shop, which was a very cute boutique with dear prices.  We were planning on checking out more boutiques, but it began POURING, so we headed to the Red Rooster for cocktails.  For those of you not in the know, the Red Rooster is a soul food restaurant owned by the acclaimed Swedish-Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson (formerly the executive chef at Acquavit).  As the site of a $30,800 per plate Obama fundraiser last year, it’s probably the trendiest restaurant in Harlem.  I read online that it’s impossible to get dinner reservations and since I’m not a big soul food fan anyway, I was happy just getting drinks there.  I LOVED the atmosphere!  The décor was lovely and it nice to see such a diverse crowd.  I also greatly enjoyed my drink (the Savoy = vodka, lemon, muddled grapes, agave), which tasted very refreshing.

Relaxing at the Red Rooster

Following cocktails we headed back downtown to change for dinner, but we were all in agreement that we want to go back to Harlem on Anya’s next NYC trip.  Hopefully it will feature better weather!  Even though I don’t love soul food, I liked the Red Rooster so much that I am now curious to try the food.  You might see it in another post soon!

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