With every burn of my heart…

Last night I went out for dinner with J and B, very old friends who I never see often enough. J is a filmmaker I met when I was in 8th grade, and we’ve been pals ever since. There’s much about his life that has caused me confusion and conflict over the years but that’s what I value about his friendship. B is a painter, and a kind of astonishing second generation east coast artist – by which I mean her parents were a prominent painter and a well known poet, who then divorced and each remarried , a new york painter and sculptor respectively. So B grew up in the thick of NY’s art and writing worlds of the 70’s. I met her at Bard, where she also met J, who was my reason for going there. After a quite a few years of trying out other people, they decided on each other, and from my standpoint seem to have made a good match of it
Their life is a little glamorous , by my standards. J is paid well for what he does, works hard and as a consequence they have a very large loft in lower Manhattan and a house in Connecticut that is pretty durn spectacular. For all of that I love them both as committed, intelligent, artists and friends.
So when we decided to get together for dinner, they ended up picking a place on the Lower east side that proved to be so silly that we almost couldn’t stop laughing about it. Perhaps the theme was early 90’s nostalgia: every dish was elaborately explained on the menu, but when they arrived at the table they were so “architecturally” prepared that it was impossible to tell what was what – tiny blocks of one thing nestled into a foamy blob of something else, sauce drizzled at a respectable distance from a lacy slab of mysteriousness: as if a poodle clipper had designed a Worlds fair pavilion. Startling combinations ran rampant – for dessert I had the beet cake for example, served with a football shaped piece of chocolate sherbet and I think cumin was involved somewhere.
This is not to say it didn’t taste good, but the earnest “forward thinking of the food and decor” extended to our fellow patrons, who were trying to convince each other that the swinging nineties had never ended. J said “This is like a restaurant in a TV show, like a sitcom when people go into town to eat someplace fancy” Even the bathroom was the occasion for something like a joke out of Jaques Tati’s Playtime: after heading down the molded concrete stairs, a sign seemed to point me down a dim hallway towards two doors, one of which revealed an emergency exit to an alleyway when opened. The other brought me face to face with many mops. A staff person directed me to an alcove with two sinks in it – “Go ahead and push” he said, gesturing towards a laminated wood wall, that I studied, dumbfounded. He then demonstrated that it in fact had three knobless doors set into it with no outside clue as to their existence. I was left to ponder the purpose of such “arrangements”.
I want to say the food was unremarkable but the only thing it was was remarkable: striking, daring brainy, etc. The problem was it was nothing else. The lesson: one can cook and cook, and only nourish vanity. The three of us left bemused and in my case a little ashamed. I’m no rube, but that place sure made me want to be one.


  1. Very funny – I want to go there and try the Poodle Clipper’s Worlds Fair Cumin Beet Cake With Nameless Drizzle.

    Could be in Sydney, another haunt of the Nineties Dining Rube.

  2. naming names

    WD-50, right? Next time you choose the restaurant. I’d recommend heading back to Beacon: impeccable ingredients, perfectly prepared, simply, direct and no-nonsense. Meat. Vegetables. Sometimes they’re even allowed to touch on the plate.

  3. Hah! That’s the Carefully Distanced Drizzle, served with Nostalgia Tripe. To be kept at arm’s length. If it weren’t for the art, I wouldn’t mind if Canberra sank into its own fundament and vanished forever.

  4. Re: Officially scared!

    Their reputation for pretentious culinary combinations and presentation is legend already. Its “too cool” posturing even extended to its non-name, as in “let’s not even bother coming up with a name for our restaurant, we’ll just use the chef’s initials and our street number (but not the street)”. Now it sounds like they named it after a motor oil.

    And if I was faced with such purposely confusing, non-functional design as hidden bathroom doors in a moment of need, well, I’d just piss right there on the floor. They’d soon slap up a fuckin’ toilet or M/W glyph sign.

  5. yeesh, they could’ve at least put a sheet of metal on the doors so you’d know where to push.

    i don’t think beet cake is too unusual, considering how common carrot cake and zucchini cake are. of course, i’m a bit biased, having made beet/carrot ice with cinnamon…

    but food should look like food, not a page from a geometry textbook!

    ooh…parabolas! yummmmm…

  6. Believe me, I thought of you often during the meal. The problem with all of it was that the combinations and preparation did nothing to bring you closer to the qualities of the ingredients. I don’t mind a thoughtful or daring kitchen, but the result should put you in touch with food and the act of eating.

  7. Believe me, I thought of you often during the meal. The problem with all of it was that the combinations and preparation did nothing to bring you closer to the qualities of the ingredients. I don’t mind a thoughtful or daring kitchen, but the result should put you in touch with food and the act of eating.

  8. Homophone


    Yes, I know. It was wrong.

    I shouldn’t have.

    It was just too easy.

    I’m really, really sorry.

    And I apologize if I’ve offended
    anyone who collects this crap.

    (And no, I don’t know what that thing is
    in the lower right hand corner.)

  9. architectonic eats

    chocolate sherbet, beet cake and cumin … why does that sound appetizing? HOw hungry am I?

    Especially as, at the moment, I’m having very simple french toast with syrup and Souther pecan flavored coffee.

    Yesterday I spent hours (in my invalid-hood, leaning on my crutch as needed) making chicken pot pie. Everything fresh (except for frozen green beans, because Buzz hates peas, for color) every pot I have, Julia Child’s awesome bechamel for the creamy thickening agent … all ultimately marred by my naive hope that philo dough would be better than pie crust or puff-pastry as the wrapping.

    It wasn’t, and we ended up scraping out the filling and eating it as a stew.

    Oh well, cook and learn.

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