New York, New York

Monday, May 4, 2009

I love little hotels in big cities. Please note the view from my room at the Colonial House Inn in Chelsea. I'm in New York for the 2009 James Beard Awards Gala. The event was last night. Mike Lata from Fig in Charleston won in my division. I'm disappointed but not sad. I was a nominee in good company. There were lots of parties and fancy meals in connection with the event and I got caught up with lots of old friends in the food world. Many members of the Southern Foodways Alliance were in town. Their company is always the best part of any event. Ann Cashion of Johnny's Halfshell in Washington, DC hosted a really wonderful lunch party at Butter for the membership. It would be hard to pick my favorite item, but the warm fiddleheads dressed with lentils, the grilled fresh sardines, and the calamari with a crust that tasted like fried chicken in a sauce that resembled macaroni and cheese would be on any list. The restaurant is really beautiful as well.

On the night before we had gone to another beautiful restaurant near my hotel called The John Dory. The interior is all aquariums and Victorian mirrors that reflect them, reminding one of the Nautilus in the Walt Disney film of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The menu is mostly seafood, assertively prepared. This means strong flavors. The excellent soupe de poisson was like the kind you get in Marseille, fishy, salty and almost granular at the bottom of the bowl. Even the rouille had been laced with fish essence. There were cracklin's made from cod, squid stuffed with chorizo and a whole roasted sea bream, whose organ cavity had been filled with lemon slices and fennel fronds. If I can persuade my camera to disgorge them, I will later add some photos of the place. At this posting, it won't cooperate.

The Gala over (pictured, me with my sisters Deborah and Julie), this morning I had time to kill before I left for the airport, so I strolled around the neighborhood. I decided to have a second breakfast at the Casa Havana (190 8th Ave.) I had had lunch there earlier in the week, a nice little paella, that was that day's special. I love all the small Caribbean-Hispanic places found in certain parts of New York. They are often quite good and a good value for the money. This place is a delight. Behind the counter is a big steam table filled with regular rice, yellow rice, black beans, ropa vieja, and mashed plantains (which I had for breakfast with ketchup and red onions). The cooks and waitresses were all talking loudly and remarkably indiscreetly in Spanish about their boyfriends.When I settled my bill in that language, there was silence, then the whole staff collapsed in helpless laughter. This isn't the first time that something like this has happened to me here. Once I had a cab driver, who had one of those mobile phones that attach to the ear, vile apparatuses if you ask me. A few minutes into this very speedy ride, I was alarmed to realize that he was engaged in some sort of phone sex, albeit in quiet Spanish.

I once more find myself in one of the A Gate terminals at Newark Airport. I don't know what it is about this place. Anytime I have anything to do with it I can count on having something late, cancelled, lost, overpriced, or served at the wrong temperature. Today, I can add security personnel who need to attend charm school to that list. Once, I was stranded here long enough to read most of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. I really loved that book, so perhaps this is a plus. At left, soupe de poisson from The John Dory.

posted by Bill Smith at 6:55 AM


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