FORK PLAY: July 24, 2012
Porter House Erotica. Pepperhead Alert. Caesar Salad. Farewell Sylvia. Brooklyn Diner. BouludSud.
Dear Friends and Family,
In my determination to make my erotic novel "Blue Skies No Candy" - Fifty Shades of Blue - as essential as "50 Shades of Grey," I got chef-owner Michael Lomonaco to plan a dinner-reading in the private dining room at Porter House last Tuesday. The kitchen was wildly extravagant, starting with the roasted marrow on toast with black truffle vinaigrette and climaxing _ if I may use the metaphor - with Wayne Brachman's cheesecake alongside melting chocolate cake plus sorbet and cookie plates.
Of course, I opened gently, reading from my 1981 sex guide, "Delicious Sex," explaining why Catherine the Great, empress of all Russia, had her lovers killed after one night of sex. The answer obviously: She couldn't stand the empty feeling when a lover didn't telephone the next day. Download "Delicious Sex" now.
But then, between rib eye and dessert, it was time for "Blue Skies, No Candy." I had skimmed the entire book, looking for a really hot scene, hoping I'd be able to read it aloud without giggling or succumbing to the heat myself. It was an even bigger challenge with Kathleen Turner sitting just a king size bed and a half from my podium.
"Bed is where I'm making it these days," my reading began. "There is so much of his mouth, so much softness and pressure, so much insistence of tongue. I cannot remember how we got across the room to the bed, how he got out of his clothes. Did he fold them, hang them neatly, throw them? I don't remember.
"There's a scar on the back of his neck. I feel it under thick curls of hair. The hair on his chest is curly too and flecked with grey. It grows in a line down his stomach, dark blond, brown and grey. Submission fantasy cock, enormous, feel the hardness pressed against my thigh. Tongue and mouth everywhere, teasing, biting, sucking, insisting. His hands kneading, pressing, hands that hurt, soothe, caress, hurt again, using my breast in some new merciless pattern of pleasure and pain. Fingers playing me. And Kate, a simple predictable instrument, tuned to pure erotic response..."
At the end there was one giggle, provoking a second. And then, when I finished, almost in a swoon myself, wild cheers and applause. My hair was soaking. Not so bad, I thought. Fifty books sold. I must do it again. Want to read Blue Skies now? Click here to download. Porter House at 10 Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Building.
We've tried to capture in this week's colors the bright green of watermelon shell and the intense rose hue of its flesh. July is so rich in fruit, I can scarcely see the my breakfast yogurt underneath these days.
I'm a fool for chili heat. I wouldn't say I'm a fearless freak on the Scoville scale of piquance. For me, the burn is not all. I like a dance, a forward thrust, some afterburn, a tapestry of flavors in between. As a critic, I feel it's only fair to see if a restaurant boasting peppery cuisine has enough milder options for friends who can't take the heat.
But after my first tasting-à-deux at Legend, thrilled by the shell-on heat of giant prawns in a dry sauté with bell peppers and peanuts, and gentled by the $5 early bird Manhattan, I just wanted to experience a full throttle pow from chef Ding Gen Wang's Chengdu repertory.
I confess that my review in BITE this week after three outings is not totally a success. The menu is so vast and baffling, I can't offer you a crib sheet. I only know what we ate and whether I want to eat it again. If you're craving a radioactive evening of new era Sichuan cooking, click here to know what to order. 88 Seventh Avenue South between 15th and 16th Street.
My restaurateur friend emailed asking my thoughts on the Caesar salad. He certainly chose the right person to ask. I find it hard to resist Caesar salad on any menu. In some weeks, I might have three or four different versions. The thing about a Caesar is that it's sort of good, even when it's not great. Like sex.
"In today's world," my friend wrote, "where there are so many variations of Caesar salad, with so many different toppings, etc - how necessary do you think croutons (with butter and oil, baked or fried) are?"
I like croutons in a Caesar, sautéed in garlicky olive oil, not so crisp and hard they threaten to break my teeth. But I can accept a long slice of toast or two of grilled country bread with grated parmesan instead.
Everyday canned anchovy filets should be offered as an option, though fresh white anchovies are even more elegant and usually less salty. The dressing must have anchovy paste in it and a coddled egg. A Caesar definitely does not have pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries or any other modish ticks.
I love a Caesar when it comes in long crisp leaves...but chopped is acceptable. At my Porter House dinner-reading Tuesday it was a perfect balance of green and white romaine, classically dressed, a rarity that made me want to salute the cook straight away. Minced and overdosed at an otherwise first-rate burger supper in Fairway Café Thursday, it was sent back uneaten.
The best Caesar I have ever eaten is April Bloomfield's at The Breslin. I swooned at the first tasting.
But it was only when I returned for lunch with my most serious gourmand cook-friend that I realized - we both agreed - it was probably the best we'd ever eaten
. "The Caesar is gorgeous," I wrote then. "A couturier ball gown on a plate, long crisp leaves of the best romaine, only the perfect leaves, with millions of small indentations to catch the dressing, tangy from lemon and who knows what. It sits on frilly shreds of parmesan studded with anchovy flavored crouton crisps and deep fried herbs." 16 West 29th Street in the Ace Hotel.
It was good to see the newspapers giving Sylvia Woods her due as the city's beloved Soul Food Queen and a keeper of Harlem's political salon. I didn't realize she'd met the man she would marry, Herbert Woods, picking cotton in the fields of South Carolina. She was 11, he was 12.
I was surprised the Times gave me credit for discovering Sylvia in her narrow little luncheonette on gritty Lenox Avenue in 1970. It's so easy to forget. But Sylvia always thanked me. She had seen how my March 12, 1979 review, "Harlem on My Mind," in New York magazine brought downtown uptown at a moment when few white people ventured north. Click here to read it.
Editor Ed Kosner was worried about sending readers to 125th Street. "You just jump in a cab and don't say where you're going till the meter drops," I told him.
But I had doubts too when my friend Harley Baldwin insisted we get into the BMW and drive to Harlem for ribs, three of us. I wasn't sure a duo of aging blond preppies would be all that welcome, ribbing and fried chicken-hopping beyond what was then a great divide. But there she was, behind the counter, grinning. "Look who's here," Sylvia cried. They hugged. "What you want to eat, Harley?" she cooed. We settled at the counter for the moist and sassy ribs, fabulous collard greens and candied sweets.
When I learned that she had died at 86, I thought of the astonishing renaissance in Harlem we've seen and the huge family she left behind, the children and grandchildren running all her businesses, and the Woods Foundation for scholarships. I got down the plaque she engraved for me from the evening she and Herbert hosted a benefit for Citymeals-on-Wheels at the new grand, expanded Sylvia's. It sits next to my keyboard as I write this.
"Thank you for putting Sylvia's Restaurant on the map," it says.
328 Lenox Avenue between 126th and 127th Street.
Brooklyn Diner Delis Up
Quite frankly, the Brooklyn Diner has for a long while been our occasional after-movie hang and the place I send people with young children in tow. (Yes, the Fireman Group is our advertiser, but I'd never tax a supporter by holding back a compliment.)
Shelly Fireman is a friend as well, but I was still surprised when he called to tell me about his new obsession with pastrami and corned beef, as reflected on a revised menu. Usually he is mum about his doings when I'm around. I was surprised how much I liked the burger, where a layer of crisped pastrami eases out any ill effects of bacon denial. The frizzled onions are still crucial accessories.
Best of all, my favorite Chinese chicken salad, slightly gussied up, is as wonderful as ever. And the 15 inch hotdog - a spicy, garlicky exaggeration - still amuses the Road Food Warrior. Click here to read more. 212 West 57th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
Time Shares @Boulud Sud
My friend Harriet practically claims a window table at Boulud Sud where we often land when it's just the two of us for dinner. Last week she was slightly on a diet - we shared my favorite chickpea and eggplant starter with house-baked crisps, pitas and two little falafels. That is, she nixed the falafel and I ate one and a half even though I found them very salty. (Yes, I just reread that sentence. I definitely lack conviction.)
I can easily make a dinner here of just small sharing plates: I love the sea urchin and crab tartines, clams and chorizo picante, and Sicilian Sardine escabèche. Or I might have the soup de poisson with its garlicky rouille or, as I did this week, octopus a la plancha with marcona almonds, arugula and sherry vinegar.
Since I'm not working I don't need to taste dessert. I can sign out feeling almost virtuous. (Bread-eating denial.) 20 West 64th just east of Broadway.
Connect to me at twitter.com/GaelGreene.
Photographs of the fish in red sauce and pork shank at Legend, Breslin's Caesar salad, Brooklyn Diner's Chinese chicken salad and pastrami burger, and the octopus at Boulud Sud may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. All rights reserved.
Fork Play copyright Gael Greene 2012.