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FORKPLAY September 10, 2013
River Café. Juni. Nakazawa. Maxwell's Plum.
Dino's FoodShow. More Vintage Bags.
Dear Friends and Family,

       I'm not sure I could live with a perfectionist. Well, who am I kidding? No perfectionist could ever live with me. But I do admire the hopelessly obsessed and driven. So I've always had a special fondness for the legend of Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe. I say legend because it was his story I fell for. I only knew him a bit from interviews where the reporter digs for a lead and the victim obfuscates to suit his message.
       I love Buzzy's take on his own fuss budget status. "When you have an intense desire for doing things perfectly, everyone else will think you are nuts or crazy, because the masses really don't care very much about anything. So the people who really care and want to do things at the highest level will always appear extremely eccentric."

       It took some time to shake himself out of shock after Hurricane Sandy shattered the monument that was The River Café, and ripped up his Water Club on the other side of the East River. Then the restoration began.

       I called to find out when The River Café would open. Buzzy not only has his own way of thinking, he has an odd accent too. Given my disco-damaged hearing, I had a hard time understanding him. So I suggested we meet for dinner. That's how we happened to be sitting water-side in the Four Seasons Pool Room a few weeks ago. I am positive I didn't learn anything he didn't intend to share. (How does Barbara Walters do it?)

       I discovered he loves vintage French reds. And eats for research. Just like me. He had peaches three ways and the poussin just to see how the kitchen did it. As for opening day, no one is saying. They won't even take reservations for three or four weeks. For more on the challenge of The River Café, click here. 1 Water Street between Furman and Old Fulton Street.


Just to show the Giants we're cheering for them, here's our attempt to capture their colors.


The Jewels of Juni 

       Not every chef with a Fabergé obsession finds a Russian Czar to indulge him.  (I don't say HER because I've not yet noticed a female chef gone gaga over jewel box cooking.) Paul Liebrandt had a Pope in Drew Nieporent. Now he thinks he has an even more powerful potentate in Brooklyn. Wiley Dufresne had Daddy on Clinton Fresh Foods in 1999. Now at wd~50, he is an established charismatic with devoted acolytes.  
       Michelin-starred Shaun Hergatt didn't come from Australia to gild a zillion duck breasts in the kitchens of Ritz Carltons without his own Fabergé dream lending a sheen to his sauces.  Juni, inside the Hotel Chandler on East 31st Street, is a taste of that dream.  ESquared Hospitality is his Czar Nicholas.  
       I don't mind a flutter of marigold petal on this exquisitely cooked langoustine. I enjoy perfect sprigs of young purslane accessorizing my Griggstown poussin. But a three-inch by two-inch sliver of breast meat topped with a cockscomb in an overly-intense saucy glue is rash. Say "dried paper" or pistachio dust, or microplaned cured egg yolk to me and I might laugh. Or cry. But Juni might be a real find for you. Click here to read more. 12 East 31st Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.


Nakazawa Dreams of Jiro

       Daisuke Nakazawa has a manic laugh. It's making me smile as I watch him put a pinch of I know not what into a clutch of rice and massage it with his palm. Now he sets a thin slice of salmon on top. He sets the small morsel on the speckled black ceramic service plate in front of me. The plate looks like a rectangle of the night sky, with its constellation of dots.
       "King salmon from Alaska," he says, "with lime and sea salt."

       The rice package is warm and trim, the long cold fish sliver dangles. The signature of Jiro.

       I'm at the stark, minimalist Sushi Nakazawa, in the cushy embrace of an expensive-looking black leather stool at the ten-seat sushi bar. My friend, one time restaurateur Maurizio de Rosa, lowers and raises the seat so I can climb on. This is the Jiro dream of his pal, Alessandro Borgognone, a third generation chef at his father's Patricia's in the Bronx's Morris Park.

       Instead of giggly little girls or languorous geisha leaning in behind us to take commands, men in crisp black suits seat new arrivals, explaining the drill, raising or lowering the seats. Pouring the sake. They are not quite Per Se or the Four Seasons. Not quite Brooks Brothers or a debutante's coming out ball. But distinguished. And you need to know how the omakase comes down. Click here.


Waiting for Maxwell's Plum

       Jennifer Oz LeRoy dreams in Technicolor and wide screen just like her father Warner LeRoy. LeRoy's youngest child and designated successor to the flamboyant restaurateur in 2001, at just 22, may have lost his empire to fierce debt and then, miscalculation, but she is still skipping down the yellow brick road in Warner's name. The court took away her claim to the name, Tavern on the Green. So, her homage to daddy will be Maxwell's Plum in a 21,000 sq. ft Meat Market building. And she expects to sign a contract at any moment. Will it have that same toy box clutter?  Click here to read Thank God It's Maxwell's.
       In the late 80s, as grand cafes broke out like a rash across town and fickle hordes of neophiliac New Yorkers swarmed, the once fabulous and essential Maxwell's Plum languished. A series of chef imports rotated through the kitchen, variously stumbling.

       Then the ebullient showman restaurateur Warner LeRoy brought in Geoffrey Zakarian, a veteran from "21" and Le Cirque. I was impressed and wrote a mostly positive review. Fact checkers cleared it with Warner. But by the time it appeared that Monday, he had already closed the café. Click here to read "Trio Con Brio," from July 16, 1988.


Dino's Foodshow

        Long before Calle Ocho and the new Corvo Bianco in the base of the Endicott Building, the Italian cinemaster Dino de Laurentiis had Upper West Side foodies flocking for his DDL Foodshow. It was early in the renaissance of Columbus Avenue. And we were blissed out by the $3.5 million circus of gastronomie from the arched skylight to the potato pizza.

       Dino himself could be seen handing out bread samples on opening day. (Cool heads talked him out of bringing King Kong out of storage to preside.)

       "This place is hot," cried a suave man-about-town sipping espresso at the sandwich bar. "Everyone is here. I think I'll come here every morning for breakfast."

       He was right. Limousines double-parked on Columbus Avenue north of 81st Street. A Mercedes was aced out by an aggressive BMW, provoking howls of outrage. Ed Koch was here. James Beard. Perry Ellis. Even Zabar's Big Cheese, Murray Klein, was given a tour of the 5000 square feet of kitchen.

       "Of course I went there," Klein cried.  "Didn't I read Mein Kampf? I'm a Jew. Hitler is my enemy. I should know what he's doing. Not that Dino is my enemy. It's the best thing that could happen to Zabar's. The pushing here makes people want to buy. At Dino's it's 'Don't touch me, I'm too beautiful.'"  Click here for some vintage nostalgia.


More Vintage Evening Bags on Etsy

       I was pleased when Karen Pinchin, a twitter follower, emailed that she wanted to write a column for the Toronto Globe and Mail about my decision to sell one hundred or so vintage evening bags - a collection of 50 handbag and shoes obsessed years. (The shoes were not in quite as good shape.) She's already seen the few dozen bags I'd posted on Etsy.
       My decision to sell came in a rush of escaping clutter. I had a feeling that if didn't call myself the insatiable collector, someone else would reveal me as a compulsive hoarder. Her questions really made me think. Click here to read Pinchin's column.  After her article came out I noticed that three small bags, including one of my favorites had disappeared, bought by a woman who said she was putting them away as Christmas gifts for her daughters. I love that idea.
       How about you? It's never too early to shop for Christmas. Just last week we photographed and posted several more bags on my site, The Accidental Bag Lady. Having a hard time making up your mind?  Do you see half a dozen you absolutely must have? Email me an offer.


Photographs of the view of Manhattan from The River Café, Juni's ravioli and lobster, Sushi Nakazawa's melon and tamagoyaki, Jenny and Warner LeRoy, the kelly green beaded evening bag with fringe and the vintage bag with a bakelite frame and beaded bird pattern may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Credit for the photo of Jennifer LeRoy goes to Michael King.