Friday, September 30, 2011

The (still?) white hot Meatpacking District

Last night TLOML and I went out with our favourite New Yorker to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. We are not Jewish, and she is not especially observant, but it's a certainly a great excuse to go out for a nice dinner. She may not have a seat for the High Holidays (which can run to $'00s), but she had a reservation at a quality Japanese restaurant and that's good enough for us.

We dined at Matsuri which was the hottest restaurant in town in 2004. That's how we like our fancy restaurants - about seven years after they were too cool to get into. Although they insisted we couldn't move our reservation - perhaps they thought it was still 2004? - the cathedral size space was half empty. Still, it's gorgeous in there, and we were distracted enough by the food not to mind the absence of buzz. A surprising sort of yuzu granita on our kumamoto oysters stopped us in our conversational tracks.

Matsuri seven years ago when every table was full

We ate well and drank even better. And so we emerged, all excited about the Jewish New Year, all warmed up with sake and sushi, on the border of the Meatpacking district.

Like Matsuri, the Meatpacking was pretty hot in 2004. TLOML and my favourite New Yorker reminisced at length about drinking there in the early '00s, when a night out in the 'white hot' Meatpacking was an essential ingredient of any weekend in NYC. Edgy times.

I reminisced about those episodes in S&TC when Samantha moved here and had that big fight with the tranny hookers. Ah, season three, those were the good times.
Samantha in the Meatpacking

Nowadays, the Meatpacking is pretty solidly packed with fancy shops and restaurants. I understand the tranny hookers have moved to a different part of town. Judging by the twenty-something Jersey girls I see tottering around in miniskirts on a Saturday night, I assumed the hotspots have moved on too.

So we figured the Plunge bar  at the Gansevoort Hotel was safe. The Gansevoort was a beacon for urban chic when it opened, around the same time as Matsuri. Hopefully by now, like Matsuri, it would be half empty. Probably full of suits too. Perfect for a quiet tipple!

Not so. Plunge was pumping, jumping and other partying verbs. The crowd was young, good looking, and if they weren't hip, they were at least trying. There were a couple of suits, but they wandered around looking bewildered but happy to discover that the hotel their PA booked for them has a bar full of hot young things gyrating. Sure, some of them may have travelled from the other side of the Hudson but a little bridge and tunnel spice sprinkled in the general melee was no bad thing. (A side note: my Manhattan was watery and served in a plastic glass, though there were several doors between me and the pool. Beer next time, I think.)

Judging by my sore feet this morning, I'd say we marked Jewish New Year fairly emphatically. Shana tova!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ham and cheese

There's jamon y queso:
There's ham...

...and cheese:

There's jambon.... fromage:

And then there's American ham and cheese:
In case you can't read the label, you have the option of Yellow American Cheese or White American Cheese. So hard to choose!

Just one question. What kind of pig is so big it can render a piece of ham that is this large (it's about a foot long), in a perfect oblong shape? Quite convenient for stacking, the Europeans are missing a trick here.

(I know, it's not a fair comparison. We had some excellent American hams at Hog and Rocks a few months ago. The aged ham from Kentucky was delicious and not remotely oblong. But when I see monolithic foodstuffs like this I just can't resist posting...)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Techniques of Milk Steaming

Any one inspired by my post on Joe coffee will be glad to hear they just released their class schedule for Autumn.

I love the fact that Espresso Level 1 is a pre-requisite for Milk Steaming Level 1. They aren't kidding around...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene damage

Maybe I was a little flippant about Hurricane Irene's impact on Manhattan.

I just came across this picture I took of the Thomas Pink store the morning after the storm. (Guess I forgot about it in all the excitement of surviving Irene).

The 'P' had been stolen by opportunitistic looters. Dark times.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Baseball cap essentials

Yesterday I went for a run in the rain (tch! New York in the fall... not quite what we were promised). I wore my favourite Nobu Malibu baseball cap, and TLOML objected that I would sweat into it.

'No problem', I said, 'I'll stick it in the wash.'

'You can't!' He remonstrated. 'We don't have a baseball cap washer.'

Obviously I took it to be a joke, and laughed my silly head off. 'Surely there's no such thing?'

Oh, yes there is.
Talk about a niche item. It's a product you'd never imagine existed till you had that very specific need. I couldn't see the guys on Dragon's Den investing in a business that made these things. But perhaps the US version, Shark Tank, would (or did), since there's clearly a market for them, here in the land of the baseball cap.

When I first moved in with TLOML and commandeered half his closet, I made a couple of trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond for coathangers. It was there that I first encountered the baseball cap rack.
I chuckled. 'Who on earth has 18 baseball caps?' I mused. Maybe Tiger Woods does, but I'm guessing he has a fancy closet with baseball cap-sized shelves for them. Anyway, like the cap shaper, there's a market, so I guess there are a lot of people in this country with 18 baseball caps.

TLOML and I have just the two caps between us. Which suggests he may not be a true American, and I certainly am some way off full assimilation.

Come to think of it, they are kinda beaten up. Maybe we need a cap washer and a (mini) cap rack after all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Adventures in the mayo aisle

The excellent Euro, with her eyes always alive to ridiculous food stuffs, sent me a photo of this nonsense, spotted on the aisles of the big Whole Foods in Venice, LA.

I see your vegenaise, Ms Hemingway, and I raise you some bacon.

That's right, baconnaise. A filthy tryst between mayo and bacon. (At least they have the decency to keep a double 'n' in the spelling - I winced a lot more typing 'vegenaise'.)
I came across this bobbins in the mayo aisle of Gristedes, our nearest supermarket. Gristedes should be famous for being the supermarket Patti Smith stole steaks from when she was a starving artist living in Chelsea in the 70s. Instead it is better known for brazenly selling fruit and veg which are already mouldy. There's often a nutter wandering around in there shouting to themselves too. Actually, the Gristedes Megastore sometimes has two nutters, I suppose on account of its larger size.

So what was I doing wandering the mayo aisle of Gristedes? Looking for rouille, for that night's bouillabaisse. (Just buttering TLOML up so he missed me even more as I went on my Geek world tour). Not tempted by the baconnaise, I went home and made my own rouille.

When will I learn? Almost two years of living here and I'm still optimistic about finding slightly obscure gourmet French foodstuffs in my local supermarket.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Geek Assessments (Oh the Funny Things Foreigners Say)

I'm in Brazil this week. Thanks to Big Corp I flew to Sao Paulo on an overnight flight - 4 hours sleep courtesy of an intentional Dramamine overdose - in an economy seat in the middle of a row. (Damn the United Continental merger! 1k means nothing anymore...) Suffice to say this is not how I imagined visiting Brazil., which has been on my 'to visit' list for a while. I was picturing something more along the lines of a business class lie-flat, and a couple of weeks in Rio.

Still, I'm here now. I'm locked in the Big Corp tower in the heart of Sao Paulo, which is a big 1970s concrete monster of a building, where 4000 Brazilians come to, um, mend computers and stuff.

I'm here as part of a panel of Expert Geeks interviewing dozens of Trainee Geeks, to assess their skills in moving post-its around and writing on a flip chart in different coloured markers. If they meet the grade, they get certified. For your understanding: they really want to get certified. Getting certified is a big deal.

I'm the worst person to be on these geek assessment panels, as I'm such a soft touch. All the Trainee Geeks are so nervous, and anxious to do well. I really just want everyone to pass and get their certificate. I want it so badly that when the Trainee Geek answers the question incorrectly, I ask it again in a different way. And again, in a different way. All the while I'm smiling and nodding enthusiastically like an overeager counsellor.

My fellow panellists roll their eyes and tell me to be a little tougher. We should be hard on these guys, and maintain a high standard for certified Geeks. Well, of course. We don't want just any old Tom, Dick or Harry waving their Big Corp Certified Geek certificate around, do we now?

But not only am I naturally a soft touch, in any Geek assessment panel. There's also the Brazil factor. Specifically:

1.  An attractive man wheels in a trolley with little cheesy choux pastry buns, tiny flower shaped shortcakes and good espresso, every couple of hours.

2. The candidate Brazilian Geeks are all of above average attractiveness. (Sometimes racial stereotypes are rooted in robust observations, okay?)

3. Love is in the air. Or, to put it another way, all my Brazilian Big Corp colleagues kiss and hug each other when they meet in the corridors or lifts. Isn't that a nice way to start your working day? I feel like I'm at a big party, albeit one where everyone is wearing bit business casual.

4. The girl Geeks all have perfect manicures. Which is quite distracting as they gesture towards their presentations. I find myself wondering what shade of burgundy that is, when I should be checking out the standard of their powerpoint.

5. Foreigners say such cute things! And in the most adorable accent, in Brazil's case.
There's been a lot of talk of Helpdesk tickets in these panels, and when our Geeks talk about tickets, they say 'chickets'. 'Ticketing' becomes 'chicketching'. I melt. And pass them all. Even the clumsy English is endearing: one of our candidates yesterday talked about 'preparating' for a workshop. Passed him too.
And the Brazilian who explained 'You know, we have this saying, I don't know if it translates, we say, "Look at the cat! Watch the cat! The cat is by the wall!"', just destroyed me. I didn't have the heart to say it didn't translate. Instead I squashed my giggles, nodded as if I knew exactly what she was talking about, and passed her too.

Copacabana can wait. In my three days in Sao Paulo I am making a lot of geeks very happy. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adieu Heidi, gone but not forgotten

Our slow but inexorable move East continues. And so, the shedding of stuff goes on.

When we left Malibu we jettisoned some belongings which just didn't make sense outside of the Malibu beach life. The Weber grill, for example. Apparently Rabbit Hutch Towers frown on indoor barbecues. And TLOML's fun, foamy longboard. The Subaru, so handy for TLOML's dive gear, surfboards, or a big shop at Ralph's, was sold to a kid who likes fishing. And the pizza stone and paddle were bequeathed to The Euro, for we would have no need to make our own pizzas in New York City.

A softer line was taken on items with limited practical value but which, frankly, we love enough to have constructed elaborate fantasies about how useful they will be. The 6'5" Becker old school fish I gave TLOML for Christmas, for example, was referred to in many conversations about surfing on Long Island this summer.

And Heidi. Ah, Heidi, the true love of TLOML's life, in all her late 80s, aircooled splendour, with her cute bug eye headlamps and flashy whale tail spoiler. Heidi was made for Malibu: cruising along PCH with the afore-mentioned surfboard sticking out of her back seat; parking up outside Nobu next to 3 other black 911s and deciding she was the prettiest; carving up the canyon roads with a blissfully happy TLOML at the wheel. Those were her glory days.
Heid at her finest, on PCH

We had visions of cruising out to the Hamptons, or into New England, with Heidi a lot this summer. But aside from a weekend in Remsenburg, and one in Newport, RI, she has spent her summer languishing in a multistory carpark just north of Times Square. It's no life for a fun loving girl like Heidi. And yes, I know it's weird that I talk about a car as if it's a woman, but spend five minutes with her and TLOML and he'll infect you the same way.

Heidi in the Hamptons. It aint Malibu.

Not only has she had a pretty lacklustre summer, but things are about to get worse. Keeping our beloved Heidi in a city where there is only street parking, and we'll be getting the bus or walking everywhere? No, London is no place for her.

So this weekend we took a sad drive to Syosset, where beautiful cars go to find new homes. We hope she finds an owner who will treasure her and take her out for fun drives often. Or at least, that the profit TLOML has made thanks to the appreciation in value of rare 80s 911s will take the edge off the pain...

I miss her already.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The dawn of political advertising

Even though by my reckoning the next Presidential election is over a year away, the lunatics are working themselves up already, spluffing their gazillions of dollars making sure everyone's heard their crazy ideas. I generalize, but if you just skim the news like I do, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable point of view on the whole shebang. (I continue to skim the serious news because, frankly, I don't want to know any more about these weirdos than I already do.)

The whole American election machine seems to operate in soundbites and cheesy overblown adverts. When serious politicians in Britain appear with straight, white teeth and good TV presentation skills, we fret that the whole country is going to the dogs, and personality politics is holding us all in thrall. But as long as voters back people like Boris Johnson or Margaret Beckett, I think we are safe.

La Beckett

These British uglymuglies wouldn't even get on the radio in the States. Image is everything over here. And funnily enough, it has been for a long long while.

When we were in Atlanta we visited the Cyclorama, which is a big painting of the Battle of Atlanta. That's the one in the Civil War when Scarlet helped Mellie deliver her baby and then they fled to Tara against the backdrop of a burning city.

The Cyclorama is painted on a huge cylindrical canvas, about 40 feet tall - to view it, you sit in the middle in a platform which slowly rotates while Darth Vader tells the story of the Battle of Atlanta. It's pretty cool. The painting is incredibly detailed, and apparently pretty accurate too. Soldiers are advancing or fleeing over every field, bodies lie sprawled in the near ground and puffs of gun smoke show the reach of the battle across the brows of hills and far distant forests.
The creation of the cyclorama was quite an undertaking, and cost a fortune. It was originally commissioned as part of a presidential campaign. One General A Logan, commander of the Union Army of the Tennessee has himself featured very prominently, and looking ever so handsome, riding bravely into battle, with his running mate James Blaine behind him. Unfortunately Logan died in 1886. He probably never saw the finished painting, much less got to use it in his Presidential campaign.

That's right, 1886... This painting was commissioned for use as a presidential image booster over 120 years ago.

So I guess this post is a long and circuitous way of saying that the obsession with image, and the manipulation of the media that we see today has very very deep roots.

Ooh, so political! I'll be back on cocktails and food soon, don't worry.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Emperor's New Bar

There's a fine line between a stripped down, edgy, no frills bar and just a crap bar, as we discovered this weekend in the West Village.

The very hip Little Branch straddles that line. Which side it ultimately lands on probably depends on whether you're a jazz-shoe-and-braces-wearing 20 something or, um, not. We are not. We are in our late 30s, and perhaps not truly hip. Sorry TLOML, just saying... Also, we are bar snobs. If we wait in line, as we reluctantly did, by an unmarked door, we expect that once we pass through that door we will be in a beautifully (or at least wittily) decorated space with fabulous cocktails and impeccable service.

I know, I know, we're a tough crowd. But come on! This is New York! Blame the likes of Employees Only and Weather Up for spoiling us. Even Bathtub Gin, though it's not our scene, has that brilliant 'secret entrance, fantastic interior' thing down pat.

Little Branch certainly does the secret entrance, unmarked door thing well. The door is so skanky looking - and the wait to get in so long - that I was sure the interior would be a veritable palace.

Sadly not. The NY Magazine review describes the decor as 'a warm color scheme of mustard-painted walls and low ceilings made from orange-painted sheets of corrugated steel'. I think they're being generous. I'm pretty sure the space hasn't been repainted since its former life as a dank, damp basement. That corrugated steel just happened to be there. As for the cocktails, I'm sure they're excellent - Little Branch is from the same family as Milk and Honey - but our patience wore out too quickly for us to order.

Anyway, no harm done. We bailed and headed to our favourite West Village bar: Fedora. The neon sign is visible from a block away, and there's no line to get in. But don't let that put you off: it's just a good old fashioned bar, with a killer cocktail list. A bar that has a cocktail named after the Honey Badger is one which does not take itself too seriously, and for that, Fedora, we salute you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


This two week hiatus is  the longest break I've taken since I started blogging. Needless to say there has been a huge public outcry, and due to overwhelming demand I thought it was about time I got back on it.

I have a good reason for my absence. Four reasons, in fact.

Reason 1) The Parental Visit
My parents hit NYC for two days only, on our way to Atlanta. Two days is not long to see the world's most exciting city but I have to say I pretty much nailed it. I'm considering selling tours,  I did such a great job.

On Day One we did all the posh stuff on the Upper East Side and Midtown. We checked out the Museum of New York, Central Park, Lord & Taylor, the Rockefeller Plaza, Bryant Park and the excellent Morgan Library. It was Mr Morgan of JP Morgan fame's personal library, built specially for his incredible collection of rare manuscripts and first editions. Nice to be a Morgan. Now it's lovely museum. On Day Two we took a boat trip from Chelsea down to Battery Park City, checked out the Financial District and the brilliant, engaging Tenement Museum. We walked the High Line and had a slice of pizza.

So in two days I think we can safely say they saw a good chunk of the city. The key is to chuck money at the problem and just cab it everywhere.

Reason 2) Touring Atlanta
TLOML, my parents and I went to visit TLOML's dad and his family in Atlanta, Georgia. Again, we had just two days to get a flavour of the South. Again, thanks to some excellent itinerization (thanks this time to TLOML's dad), we nailed it. We brushed up on Civil War history, checked out the Gone With the Wind museum, and most importantly ate at a Waffle House and a Chick-Fil-A, two of the South's culinary icons.

Reason 3) 5 Days of Meetings
Yeah, not much to blog about there. 5 days in London, 5 days of windowless meeting rooms. Least said the better.

Reason 4) The Hamptons Substitute
This weekend we, along with our favourite New Yorker, welcomed our favourite West Coast rascal to NYC for a weekend of Big Apple eating and drinking. The Hamptons was originally mooted but we decided to save the megabucks a Montauk hotel would have cost and spend our money instead of cocktails and gourmet delights in the city. Our weekend was carefully structured to ensure we ate and drank in the West Village (Friday night),  Tribeca (Saturday afternoon), the East Village (Saturday night) and Uptown (Sunday brunch). Unfortunately by the time Sunday rolled around we were so exhausted we had to just chill out and watch NFL with Gotham Pizza at Rabbit Hutch Towers.

So during my two week hiatus I generated enough material to write a post everyday - well, except maybe the 5 days of meetings - but just not the time. So brace yourself: you can expect a torrent of posts as I catch up in the next few days.