FORK PLAY February 8, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday. Holy Basil, It's Tulsi. Bronx Detour. Jasmine Revolution. Tiger.

Dear Friends and Family,

     It's never been easy being a man. Add it up. The pressure to be an athlete, breadwinner, sex idol, armed warrior. I'm not seri
steelersously regretting equal rights. We can be shoved out of the boardroom and die on the front lines now too. And given a shot of male hormones we can be shot putters. We didn't know how easy we had it in the days when women only had to anguish about being thin, beautiful, fertile, and a good cook. Now gender is complicated. 
        I was reading about ESPN, the Testosterone Network, in a Sunday Times piece by Bruce Feiler. ESPN i
greenbays the third-rated network on cable. The average fan watches it 56 minutes a day. That's 56 minutes a day when we don't know what they're thinking or plotting.

        Masculinity as defined by ESPN has bec
ome deeply confusing, it seems. Even scary. Men have to be manly. They have to play hurt. They're not into bizarro fashion, but tailoring counts. Feiler observes "an unmistakable obsession with the male body, clothed and unclothed."

        The network's talking heads and ex-jocks each have a wardrobe philosophy. They are obsessed with hair. Who has footballthe best hair in the NFL? "Commentators drool over other men's abs, thighs and gams," he notes. The 11 pm SportsCenter report has been called "Birth Control." Even sex has been affected by ESPN. Of course, I'm thinking repressed gay, or maybe not so repressed. I'm thankful my guy doesn't carry a manpurse. Even so, Sunday at 6:30 I am not allowed to even speak. Steven is watching the Super Bowl. It's not like it's our guys, the Giants or the Jets. Is it their hair? Their washboard abs?? Silently, I take my supper tray into the bedroom, luxuriating in my usual Sunday slothfulness. At half-time he comes in to see if I am still alive. I pretend I am dead.



        I am saluting the amazing Bill Cunningham's, anthropolgist of Manhattan's sidewalks, with Fork Play colors this week in Sunday's Times Style he focused on Park Avenue's giant roses, painted shearling and men in Hermes orange. He doesn't miss a peacock boa.


The Jasmine Revolution

        How quickly last month's revolution becomes old hat. The world's press has left Tunisia to the denouement of its Jasmine Revolution for fiercer revolutions it surely inspired elsewhere. I felt hope for the highly educated, multi-lingual, deeply frustrated men and women in their 20's andbread 30's whose homes Steven and I visited during three weeks criss-crossing Tunisia last April. Stagnating in low-paying and part-time jobs, some had talked of migrating to the United States or Canada ("where it's cheaper to live") as their only option. They did not speak of nepotism or corruption, not out loud, only of vast unemployment among the most educated Tunisians.

        Of course the world quickly focused on chaos and protest in Egypt. That has left little room for updates from Tunisia. So I emailed the man who designed the itinerary that took us from Tunis to its 2nd cities, to sea resorts fishing ports, villages and country beds-and-breakfast, to the desert and an annual Jewish festival on the island of Djerba. I reached Jerry Sorkin, head of TunisUSA tours, at his part-time home in Tunis.

        "Cafes are packed and politics is the topic at every table," he emailed back. "The television shows are having very candid discussions about the Ben Ali era and the crimes that were committed, discussions about the new Ministers who have been appointed and the nearly unanimous acceptance by Tunisians of the government in transition -- a government that will call for new elections to be held in approximately six months. People are exuberant in their newfound freedom to speak out and to participate in a transparent political process."

        He made a point of noting that throughout the revolution, there have been "no attacks, verbal or physical, towards foreigners, foreign governments, or from one segment of Tunisian society towards another" and that telephones, Internet and all means of communication operated. "Banks, businesses, public transportation and schools are all operating again." The American Embassy has brought back staff and families they sent away and lightened its security warnings.

        Of course the tourists fled. But now Americans have discovered the unimagined Tunisia that Steven and I discovered. The Tunisia so very different from Morocco and Algeria: a friend of America (and Israel), one of the world's few secular Musl
tunim countries, the first emerging nation to establish a trade area with the European Union, where education and a second language are obligatory and free till 16 for boys and girls (a third language is highly valued) and where university costs almost nothing. Nearly three-quarters of the population is literate, 40% of judges and lawyers are female and there are no veils, no burkas. Yes, head scarves everywhere and all enveloping sheets in village markets but minis and spike heels and free-flowing locks too.

        American tourism has been just a trickle compared to the millions of Europeans who come for Tunisia's "bargain" seaside resorts. Americans ---come to explore the culture as Steven and I did, to visit the extensive archaeological sites of Roman and pre-Roman origin (where often the two of us, our guide and the site keeper were the only people there) and to see the indigenous architecture of the southern desert regions famous from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg movies. And, to taste the food of course.

        Like Sorkin, I believe the brief spotlight on the Tunisians as they astonished the world and themselves, will bring more Americans. So far, Sorkin says, no one booked for his end of February tour has cancelled.


Holy Basil, It's Tulsi
        Sheer white curtains wrap three sides of our table in a veil of serenity at Tulsi, a luminous stage showcasing the solo turn of chef-partner Hemant Mathur. We've savored the Rajasthani-born Mathur's crackajack mastery only in tandem with co-chef Suvir Saran, first at Amma and then at Devi, where he is still a partner.

        Here, "tented" tables and the glow of gre
tulsien - Tulsi means "divine basil" - make the space seem larger than just 55 seats. Now the gorgeous pea foam green service plates have been whisked away and I have taken a bite of the chef's many splendored amuse, layered thrills in miniature: chickpea cake with tart tomato chutney and tangy pineapple relish. It's a dish that says do not doubt me. To know what dishes you'll want to order at Tulsi, click here.


The Son Also Rises


        Some adventurous Manhattan foodies are ready to rush off to Queens or Brooklyn by car or subway at the latest rumor of greatnespatricas. Not me. First of all, I don't go anywhere that doesn't take reservations. And then, "good" is not enough. It needs to be better. As for the mysterious Bronx, I've been there three times. Always for spectacular pizzas and old lovingly fashioned fare at Zero Otto Nove. And now I am sending you, because the new Patricia's is definitely worth the detour.


        This vast sweep of dining room with crystal chandeliers, splashy paintings and votives in brick wall niches is the two month-old makeover of a popular pizzeria. A sturdy young man with a shiny shaved head is pouring very hot and intensely truffled mushroom soup over slivers of three 'shrooms sailing a crisp parmesan tuile. This zuppa di funghi is thrilling. To know more about the Borgognone family and what you might find on scion Alex's tasting menu, click here.


Tiger in the Kitchen
        We met at Nyonya on Grand Street over very good Malaysian food and I felt her energy and charm across the table. Since then Steven and I have shared many dinners with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and her husband Mike Hale. He's a charmer too, but that's another story. I bought a camera just like Cheryl's so I could snap photos in a restaurant tigerwithout actually aiming (at lunch, when my live-in photographer is not there). Of course, it's not the camera that has the knack, its Cheryl. After reading her deconstruction of our disappointing dinner at Lotus of Siam, I decided there was no reason to add my two cents. She had said it all.

        I knew her blog had inspired a contract for a memoir and often she would disappear to Singapore, working on the book, collecting recipes, or so I thought. Now I have it in my hands, A Tiger in the Kitchen (Voice $14.95). Recipes, yes, but also a revelation of family roots and fables, unfurled like the layers of an onion, as she attempts to learn, ultimately define, Cheryl to herself. Click here to buy it now. 


Photographs of Tunisian country woman buying bread, fabulous seafood in a port side restaurant in Sousse, prawns and okra salad at Tulsi and a fabulous scallop at Patricia's in the Bronx, may not be used without permission from Steven Richter.    

Fork Play copyright Gael Greene 2011.