It’s a blizzard. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. We land in high winds and blowing snow as passengers applaud with relief. The white-knuckle cab ride from JFK into Manhattan is two hours of slushy gladiatorial combat.
I arrive on the Upper East Side rattled and undone. I snuffle past Alexander McQueen and realize I am woefully underdressed for luncheon at Chef Boulud’s eponymous restaurant, DANIEL, where I’m invited to celebrate the Relais & Chateaux status of Maine’s Camden Harbour Inn & Natalie’s Restaurant. Innkeepers Oscar Verest and Raymond Brunyanzski are tall and handsome, glowing like two beautiful Maine lighthouses.
We’re served puffy cheese gougeres and chilled Champagne. We compose ourselves on cocoa-colored sofas surrounded by seasonal blooms. Sweet bites of lobster and tiny fontina tarts with black truffle are savory and fabulous. Chicken liver mousse with porcini and more truffle is silky, decadent — tastier than my Bubbe’s but just as nurturing. Despite the cosmopolitan crowd, I quickly forget both the weather and my wardrobe.
All smiles, Chef Boulud accepts a special “welcome” award from friends and colleagues. Relais & Chateaux‘s Philippe Gombert graciously shares his secret weapon for gustatory excess, papaya enzyme. I vastly prefer his father’s recommendation — chilled Champagne.
Later, I breathlessly describe the scene to my companion who says if I use the word “exquisite” one more time he will throw himself off the Chrysler Building. Fair enough.
Martha Clarke’s Chéri is a new musical inspired by Colette’s story of a love affair between an older woman and much younger man. This sensual fusion of theater, music and dance features the American Ballet Theatre’s brilliant duo of Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri. Sexy stuff in gorgeous light designed by Portland, Maine’s own ridiculously talented Christopher Akerlind.Photo Greg Constanzo >
Trattoria Esca‘s salmon crudo in tangerine oil is followed by “Fatty Toro” – unctuous, delicious and unforgettable. House-made chestnut pappardelle pasta blends traditional Tuscan flavor with a kiss of sage. Whole branzino (sea bass) is prepared with white truffle, sea salt and Mediterranean skill. A sensuous feast should always follow a tragic love story, yes?
Between meals we graze the Frick Collection, whose current exhibition includes Vermeer’s beloved Girl with a Pearl Earring. We’re deeply moved by brooding Rembrandts and Adriaen Coorte’s Still Life with Five Apricots. I guess you could say art makes us hungry.
Franklin Bowles gallery in the West Village has mounted an extensive exhibition of Gottfried Salzmann’s work. At 70, his bird’s-eye cityscapes are gritty and vertiginous. How grateful I am for his fascination with skyscrapers, oh my.
We hit Babbo around midnight. With the possible exception of the music, Babbo never disappoints. Our favorite dish of polpo (octopus) is served grilled, blackened to tender submission. Delicate pumpkin-filled lune (moons) are sweet and silky. Calamari á la Sicilian Lifeguard is spicy hot with sweet meat and tentacles in a tangle of caper berries, olives and tomato — as robust and tasty as a Sicilian lifeguard.
We can’t get enough sea urchin crostini at Il Pesce at Eataly. Our server recognizes us from last year and maybe the year before. Uh-oh. We attempt to diversify, savoring the mussel, clam and pumpkin Brodetto – it’s good. So is the crudo, it’s excellent, as is the wine, Vespa from Joe Bastianich. But we’re obsessed with the sea urchin, obsessively returning three times, maybe four. Mario, please send the recipe so we can enjoy the holidays.
The Mother Of Us All at the Manhattan School of Music tells the story of Susan B. Anthony’s struggle for suffrage in the pithy poetic voice of Gertrude Stein. This is authentic American history delivered via extraordinary native opera — beautifully staged, stirring and accessible.
Another remarkable journey is the new musical at the Public Theater, Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s tragicomic memoir of growing up and coming out. “I’m changing my major to Joan!” will crack you up and break your heart.
We conclude with a ramble through the twinkling Chelsea Market for Christmas cards and a bowl of Giovanni Rana‘s tagliatelle Bolognese, sturdy and delicious. Our waiter is delectable, too, with hipster glasses and a thick swoosh of chestnut hair, delzioso.
Our final pit-stop is Macaron Parlour on St. Marks Place for a bag of Christmas cheer (read: buttercream and ganache). Savory flavors include s’mores, red velvet, and candied bacon with maple cream. Bite into an Earl Grey chocolate-filled macaron for a Smurfalicious blue surprise — I love New York. •