FORK PLAY March 30, 2010
Fried Chicken Fridays. Memoir Myopia. Mamma Mia Dona. Tomatoes for Women.
Dear Friends and Family,
Fried chicken is having its New York moment. Already it feels like a year to me even though fat, salt and sugar are my essentials. Did you read about my trek to Williasmburg's Pies and Thighs in BITE last week? (166 South 4th Street at Driggs. 347 520 6090) Still I'm game when friends suggest checking out Fried Chicken Friday at Aretsky's Patroon. Weeks ago when I learned the legendary birdmeister Charles Gabriel would lug his giant iron skillets down from Harlem to Ken Aretsky's midtown roost, The Road Food Warrior and I trekked up to 151st Street to sample the $15 all-you-can-eat buffet en situ at Charles' Country Pan-Fried Chicken. Modest, friendly situ, indeed. Gabriel himself booted in and out bringing sheet pans of fresh bird hot off the iron. (2841 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. 212 281 1800)
Now I'm seeing Patroon's dimly lit party room upstairs through the eyes of our young companions. It has that retro feel - red tablecloths, live jazz, old fashioned cocktails, sexy and romantic. No wonder it's so crowded, far from the downtown madding with its cigar vaults installed by Aretsky, his stunning photography collection and the private party Plane Room in the rear, a relic left from the days this was the popular steak house Christ Cella. (Patroon 160 East 46th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues. 212 883 7373)
Our waiter seems disturbed, congenitlally hostile or maybe just in a bad mood. "I hate you but I'll take your order" is the vibe we get. I ask if I may have dark meat only.
"It's an extra charge," he snaps.
"Well, as long as it's not more than a $1000 I'll pay it," I say. Steven, still recovering from Pies and Thighs excess can't face another fried anything. He orders from the bar menu: Angus beef sliders ($12) and Carolina-style pulled pork with pickles on soft buns ($10). Perfect with a cocktail or glass of red for a late night supper.
Our friends and I divide up the sides with extras on the mac'n'cheese because I don't want to share. We each get a choice of two and cornbread. Two thighs and a leg is more than I can eat but, darn it, I'm eating it anyway. I remembered Charles chicken as better than Thighs & Pies and I'm afraid it is. It's loveably greasier.
Ken Aretsky proudly leads the elegantly-toqued Gabriel around the room, the two of them shaking hands, taking bows. By the way, soon Patroon will serve Friday supper al fresco. "It's one of the best rooftops in the neighborhood," our friends report. Click here to read BITE on Pies and Thighs. And click here to read a 1994 steak roundup, Sizzling Steak Wars.
I don't know Kim Severson, except through her work in NY Times Dining. But her memoir, "Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Save My Life," (Riverhead Books) landed on my desk last Friday. I dipped in and then couldn't find my way out. It is ingenuous and knowing, juicy and fascinating. Marian Cunningham is one of her life-saving deities. Not surprising. And Alice Waters is another of her saviours, though revealed here perhaps more than Alice would chose. Even as Severson worships her goddess Ruth Reichl she manages to slip in a few knife cuts. "Oh ouch," I thought.
So maybe I should be glad Kim Seversen never stopped by the little church on the hill in Zena to taste my food. Amazing how myopic these West Coast fed foodies can be as if New York magazine and its unique perspective on restaurants and food never happened. I began writing dramatic narratives and quoting the diners in 1965. Click here, Kim, to read "Papa Soulé Loves You" from June 13, 1965 when New York was still part of the Herald Tribune. Recently I posted "La Grenouille: Playing the Celebrity Lunch Game" (November 10, 1969) on my website and I must admit, rereading it made me laugh. Puffed by the success of New York, Clay Felker launched New West several years later. Stodgy and formulaic restaurant criticism had already taken a hit. And Ruth was free tp review in her unique and charming style. Hard to see when the sun is in your eyes.
Mamma Mia Dona
It's one of those glorious New York evenings when unexpected pleasures converge. Mamma Maria's tomato braised meatballs are flavorful and almost fluffy, but not effetely ethereal. And there are four for our foursome to share, almost buried in fragrant tomato sauce. Mia Dona has real energy tonight, crowded, but not packed, noisy, but we can talk, and here is Donatella Arpaia herself, greeting us in a black lace mini and six inch heels. When she first split with Michael Psilakis her star-crossed partner here, she stripped away the trappings for a beige look, hung a few farm implements and got into the kitchen with her mother to produce a menu that's all in the family. Find out what to order by clicking here. (206 East 58th Street. 212750 9170) And then scroll down the same page to decide if Pescadeux, a rustic little spot on Thompson Street, is your kind of place. (90 Thompson Street near Prince 212 906 0021)
End Violence Against Women
Several major women's organizations and our friends at The Three Tomatoes have joined with the U.S. National Committee for UNIFEM to support the United Nations/Unifem campaign against violence to women.
They plan a wine and hors d'oeuvre reception from 6 to 9 pm April 6 followed by a panel discussion on women and violence, and a call to action via the "Say No-Unite" initiative. The event is at the Taipei Cultural Center, 1 East 42nd Street. Click here for more information and to reserve.