Eat your heart out, buddy

Serge Dansereau vis­its some of his favourite haunts on a whirl­wind stay in the Big Ap­ple

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

INOW get Sex and the City . Stay­ing in New York’s SoHo dis­trict in the lus­cious apart­ment of a gen­er­ous Aus­tralian friend, I fi­nally see the great set­ting for what it is. Lifestyle and the com­pe­ti­tion to be no­ticed is all around us. It does help that the mai­son mere of gourmet chain Dean & DeLuca is on our street, at the cor­ner of Broad­way and Prince Street, giv­ing us the chance to buy ex­otic jam for break­fast ev­ery day, white tea for our af­ter­noon drip, Brazil­ian cru choco­late for a pick-me-up and bio­dy­namic yo­ghurt and fresh ber­ries.

Soon we are up to our usual tricks, try­ing to get into one of New York’s small­est but busiest restau­rants, Lupa, at 170 Thompson St. In my best French ac­cent, with the most po­lite approach pos­si­ble, I in­quire if we can get a ta­ble, with the prom­ise we will be done in 45 min­utes. The girls at the door ponder the re­quest, look in­tensely at the book­ing sheet, look at each other, look at us and our shoes (luck­ily we have just pur­chased a new set of ‘‘ in’’ shoes with the H for Ho­gan large enough to send the right mes­sage), and we are in.

The large, red Ital­ian slicer at the back of the restau­rant is more than just a nice tro­phy; it is used to pre­cisely slice our first an­tipasto se­lec­tion, a Parma ham served on a lit­tle wooden board that is ob­vi­ously a sig­na­ture of the place. The roasted beet­root, as­para­gus and oc­to­pus sal­ads we’ve se­lected from the small menu are served in tiny bowls that barely fit on the ta­ble, but we are ready to sac­ri­fice the min­eral wa­ter to have them with us.

I guess big hair and drip­ping gold jew­ellery is still very much in vogue in NYC, but the wo­man at the next ta­ble, who oc­ca­sion­ally rests her el­bow in my side plate, is quite ap­prov­ing of my choice of tur­bot with wild as­para­gus and morels, de­spite my clear lack of bouf­fant hair and hav­ing left my gold chains back in the late ’ 70s. She has the same dish served to her be­fore our 45 min­utes are up.

I prom­ise my­self that this time in New York I will make it to Balt­hazar, for no rea­son other than that I have the restau­rant’s gor­geous cook­book in pride of place in my home of­fice and drool over it ev­ery day, and now that Balt­hazar, at 80 Spring St, is our lo­cal. (New York­ers love to say this is their lo­cal even when they live in Queens, one hour away.)

There is some­thing pre­dictable and kitsch about this so-called French bistro, but maybe that is why it is so loved and pop­u­lar. The wine list is fo­cused in a bi­ased way: full of gems such as Bur­gun­dian cor­ton and Nuits St Ge­orges, and chi­non from the Loire Val­ley, and de­void of wines from any other recog­nised wine coun­try. The food choice is over­whelm­ing. In my trav­els in France I have never en­coun­tered such a large menu, with ev­ery French clas­sic con­cen­trated in one place: it is mad­ness, a folly, but it works.

Ev­ery­one is clearly happy: cus­tomers, wait­ers, man­age­ment, sup­pli­ers and maybe (a big maybe) even the chefs. My steak tartare is de­li­cious and the chicken a la creme my com­pan­ion or­ders is ev­ery­thing we could wish for. The same ap­plies to the seared or­ganic salmon. (How do they get or­ganic salmon? Are they fed on pe­tite laitue de Madame Alice Wa­ters?)

If you like to have your meal on the hop or work in the area, then Balt­hazar Bak­ery is an op­tion. This is where I learn not to take pho­to­graphs of pub­lic build­ings, po­lice sta­tions, sub­way plat­forms, un­der­ground car parks or tiny bak­eries, as all this could be the next tar­get of a foodie ter­ror­ist, or that is what I am told by the con­cerned cashier, who serves me a stun­ning break­fast pas­try.

We eat lunch at Bou­chon Bak­ery at 10 Colum­bus

Gourmet spread: Dean & DeLuca of­fers ev­ery­thing from white tea to fresh ber­ries and serves as a handy cor­ner store for a healthy start to a New York day

Fu­tur­is­tic shop­ping: The Whole­foods Mar­ket Cir­cle, the sis­ter of Bou­chon Bistro in Yountville, of Thomas Keller fame, and the long-lost cousin of French Laun­dry. It is worth a visit just for the view over Cen­tral Park, and the char­cu­terie plate and ni­coise salad do not dis­ap­point. Colum­bus Cir­cle is the an­swer to Lon­don’s Trafal­gar Square or the Place de la Con­corde in Paris.

In the cav­ernous space of the Time Warner Cen­tre there is the most lux­u­ri­ous Wil­liams-Sonoma store full of kitchen and food fetishes, and be­low ground the most amaz­ing food shop I have seen for a long time. To the left is the fresh pro­duce and a se­ri­ous at­tempt to bring or­ganic and bio­dy­namic pro­duce to the masses. The enor­mous queues at the su­per-ef­fi­cient cash reg­is­ters are ev­i­dence of its suc­cess.

The Whole­foods Mar­ket, at 10 Colum­bus Cir­cle, blows me away. Here, or­ganic ev­ery­thing is af­ford­able and marginally more ex­pen­sive than its non-or­ganic cousin. This is a true revo­lu­tion. I have seen the fu­ture of shop­ping and it is here. This is the new metropoli­tan mu­seum of food, but with the dif­fer­ence that you can take the stuff away.

The gi­ant Food Net­work television stu­dio is based at Chelsea Mar­ket, the 1890s home of the Na­tional Bis­cuit Com­pany (from 9th to 10th av­enues and 15th to 16th streets in Chelsea), but our fo­cus is at the quasi-se­cret lo­ca­tion of Google east­ern state head­quar­ters op­po­site. More specif­i­cally, its cafe­te­ria and guest chefs pro­gram for its on­line staff, pre­par­ing the per­fect duck sausage or show­ing how to cook fish at bio­sphere tem­per­a­ture. It’s all a bit too im­pres­sive for me: or­ganic this, bio that, with small grower and lo­calised food pur­chas­ing pol­icy.

Talk about a re­laxed and pam­pered work­force: free dis­pensers of po­lit­i­cally cor­rect snacks and a few in­cor­rect ones, a full-time sushi chef, a lit­tle Ra­zor scooter avail­able to all to travel, and a strate­gi­cally placed drum kit to re­lax the body and get the creative juices go­ing if the or­ganic al­falfa drink does not do the trick. It’s so­cial en­gi­neer­ing on a grand and com­mit­ted scale. My re­ac­tion, when I leave, is to stop at the hot­dog busker on the street cor­ner and promptly eat two dogs with sauer­kraut and mild mus­tard.

To re­pent, I walk to Bal­ducci’s of Chelsea, a gen­tri­fied sis­ter of the much-loved orig­i­nal food shop that started the trend in food em­po­ri­ums. The in­te­rior of the build­ing on 8th Av­enue (at 14th) is beau­ti­ful, even if it looks like a Ma­sonic Hall out­side. The food choice is here but I miss the orig­i­nal with its stackedto-the-ceil­ing prod­ucts.

A New York visit for me is never com­plete un­less I at­tempt to blow the bud­get on a big night out. In the past I have eaten at Du­casse at Es­sex House (amaz­ing), Le Cirque (the name says it all), Daniel (busy in the restau­rant and even more on the plate), Le Ber­nadin (hushed so­phis­ti­ca­tion), Gramercy Tav­ern (my kind of ev­ery­thing), Gotham Bar and Grill (for lovers of art deco) and many oth­ers. This time I gaze in at the new Du­casse restau­rant, Adour, at the St Regis Ho­tel, but for fear of be­ing dis­ap­pointed af­ter the near per­fect ex­pe­ri­ence I had at Es­sex House, I agree to try my New York friend’s rec­om­men­da­tion of Chanterelle.

Chanterelle is se­ri­ous, plush and in a sense quite un­adorned. It feels as if the staff take them­selves se­ri­ously, which clearly they do to have re­mained at the top of the heap in a tough city. The menu is beau­ti­fully hand­writ­ten, or is there a new soft­ware pre­tend­ing to be a creative soul?

I guess our down­fall is that we are a rowdy bunch of Aus­tralians ready to have a great time with great food and great wine. Our col­lec­tion of Aussie bankers, New York-based Aus­tralian wine­maker, gourmet food re­tail­ers, glo­be­trot­ting chef and gen­eral gour­mands and gourmettes make a volatile bunch who ar­rive at var­i­ous times and are not re­spect­ful enough of the pre­cise restau­rant pro­gram.

We even­tu­ally or­der from a beau­ti­ful se­lec­tion of en­trees and mains (seafood sausage, ravi­oli of spring greens, roasted pi­geon, tur­bot with peas) and also or­der some se­ri­ous wine from a well-in­formed som­me­lier, but for some rea­son thing just do not work in uni­son.

The food is beau­ti­fully pre­sented but is out of sync with the ar­rival of the wines. Still, we leave happy and a bit wiser on the pit­falls of a kitchen se­ri­ously fo­cused on its art.

Re­turn­ing to do­mes­tic­ity the next morn­ing, we have to pre­pare our break­fast: or­ganic four-berry jam with wood-fired sour­dough, our Gun­pow­der Im­pe­rial tea, and free-range scram­bled eggs with French but­ter and Sar­dinian sea salt. We must wash our sheets, iron the pil­low cases, vac­uum and leave ev­ery­thing in pris­tine con­di­tion, as there is no room ser­vice in the beau­ti­ful apart­ment of our friend. Still, it has been worth all the foie gras in the world.

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