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FORKPLAY January 29, 2014


Requiem for a Rogue. It's A Diner! Failed Juice Fast. M. Wells Steakhouse. The Writing Room. Chefs Deliver. Zarela's Lemon Torte. Stu's Cheesecake.


Dear Friends and Family,   


       I'm too antediluvian in my ways to read The Times online. I feel more secure in the world when I open the front door at 6:30 and find the paper lying there, skinny little runt that it is. I read as much as I can with my espresso and cereal before I have to leave for the office. I imagine I can see the hand of its first woman editor as I scan that front page.  


      My first shock came with a page one report on the stunning financial success of "Fifty Shades of Grey." Whoa. Submission and domination makes front page headlines.  I also nearly choked on my yogurt seeing the obituary for Al Goldstein staring up at me from the front page some weeks ago. Was that above the fold or below it? I don't recall. Never mind. Astonishing.

      I don't deny the impact of Al's costly fight for the first amendment as the editor of his raunchy weekly, Screw, which he used to torment his real and imagined enemies. But front page? Hold the presses, Hildy. As I read the jump, I thought about how Al and I shared one of the most glorious boondoggles in the chronicles of gluttony. It was 1973 when the powerful Parisian publicist, Yanou Collart, invited a dozen writers to visit the two and three star restaurants of France in the private jets of Moet & Chandon and Hennessy Cognac.  I knew she had invited Tom Wolfe, John Updike and Norman Mailer. So I was surprised, boarding the transatlantic plane, to see Al, not to mention the sister of Bob Guccione who, it seemed, preferred Coke to wine. Click here to read "Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen."


      Knowing Al, how sad and abandoned he was at the end, I have to think he would have gladly died to be on the front page of The New York Times. And so he did. And so he was.   


NFL fans will recognize today's colors. There have been two distinct races of men in my life: football fans and non-football-loving-porn-fans. Do I have to say which was more fun? 

 Empire, It's a Diner

      We are ooohing and aaahing and nudging each other last week at dinner on Tenth Avenue. A $6 side of crispy Brussels sprouts with chili jam is definitely a hit at our table. And the loaded potatoes. Do not consider loitering at the Empire Diner without staking a share in that hot little mélange. If nubbins of foie gras, lardons of bacon and swaths of sour cream on fingerling chunks don't race your pulse, bite on a jolt of jalapeño. Why are we so revved up? It's a diner.


      Chef Amanda Freitag and her team have rescued this sleek Art Moderne 40s diner  -- a threatened landmark -- just as far west Manhattan is stirring with new clubs, a surge of hungry young, starchitect high-rises, and the High Line's yellow brick road. Were we waiting for this? It seems we were. Doesn't everybody love an old-fashioned diner? Especially one with contempo style.

      Is this what you've been craving? Upscale twists on American diner food? Click here to read more so you'll know what to order.    



M. Wells Steakhouse: The Lion Roars


      Let me count the ways I love it: Live trout swimming in a tank. Old-fashioned layer cakes on a trolley. Funky nouveau riche décor. Our agreeable freshman waiter. I love a lot about M. Wells Steakhouse. I just don't like the steak.

      That won't keep me from returning. Long Island City is closer than I knew, just over Mayor Koch's bridge. Even using the GPS, we drove past the place twice on that first visit. I had to run into a residential tower to ask a doorman for directions. Sure, we knew the meatery was set up in an old auto body shop. We just didn't imagine it would look like an old auto body shop...or there would be no sign.  


      My friends and I are sitting just minutes from the bridge exit, but I feel as if I'm in a foreign land. "BBQ Mussels on a stick," the menu offers. "Geoduck A La Peacock." "Solomon Gundy."  What is that?  Potato blini batter emerges from the waffle iron to hold smelt filets with trout roe and a plop of crème fraîche -- the chef's riff on a Jamaican classic.

      Our threesome retreats to the more or less familiar. A voluptuous, singed iceberg wedge salad with candied walnuts and tangled bacon bits gets billows of blue cheese frosting. I'm not sure the average senior citizen could survive it. But we're three, happily sharing the assault. Click here to read more. You'll want to know all about the live trout tank.   



Haunting The Writing Room


      If Susy and Michael Glick had meant to revive Elaine's, I can assure you they wouldn't have taken two and a half years and spent four million dollars to open The Writing Room. Don't arrive bristling to confront the ghost of the late, departed den mother to the 80s Lit Pack.

      No need to go looking for insult or affirmation. This isn't Elaine's and it ain't ever gonna be. It's too clean, roomy, expensively decorated-and the food is mostly good or very good. Prices are right too: pasta is $12 as an appetizer, fabulous sides  are $5 or $6, and $38 buys a knockout rotisserie chicken with root vegetables for two. I take home the leftovers for my lunchtime salad.     


      Enough futzing around.  "Where's the lead?" as my late husband, the legendary editor Donald Forst, used to say. And what comes next? "Good grub, gentle prices." Some old familiars. American favorites. Not that many items on the listing of American favorites. Imagine a contemporary New York menu without octopus. And kale. I can imagine eating dinner here twice a week.  For more about how to get in and what to order, click here.


Chefs Deliver

       It was our new board co-president Daniel Boulud's dream: that once a month a posse of chefs would each prepare 100-200 meals for the frail homebound elderly Citymeals-on-Wheels helps feed. On Wednesday "Chefs Deliver for Citymeals" was launched with Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Cesare Casella and Adin Langille preparing meals in their own kitchens for delivery by volunteers. Then the chefs hand-delivered some meals together in the West Village. "It was a very moving experience for everyone," Executive director Beth Shapiro reports.


       Bill Telepan and Jonathan Waxman plan to deliver next Tuesday. Boulud has chefs lined up to deliver meals through the fall, including Michael Anthony, Mario Batali, Jonathan Benno, Richard Capizzi, Scott Conant, Marc Forgione, Francois Payard, and more. Citymeals longtime official water, FIJI Water, donated $10,000 to cover the costs of containers for all the chefs' meals and other program expenses.



Juice Fast Crackup 


      We advertised for a new Personal Assistant a few weeks ago and found the fabulous Maria who sits at the desk behind me and runs my life. During the hunt, an impressive candidate was a woman from Brooklyn named Elizabeth Nelson. But I was determined to find a local candidate. Floods and blizzards kept previous Brooklyn assistants stranded somewhere near Red Hook. I told Nelson to alert me if she had a Short Order story. She offered her eyeball-eating experience at Do or Dine. I bought the piece. Read it here. And that was the beginning of what has become our Insatiable Brooklyn report.

      This week Nelson reports on her juice fast: "Enlightenment in a Bottle or Worst Idea I Ever Pitched." Click here in case you're thinking of pursuing your own enlightenment or your lost waistline in a green pulp.  


At Home Christmas Eve with Zarela

      Christmas Eve dinner at Zarela's new perch overlooking the East River is like coming home, although the guests are not as edgy and spoiled as children and we chosen few go through pitchers of serious margaritas. Instead of my Mom's overcooked prime rib (Sorry Saralee, I know Daddy liked it well done), there is her mom's lush layered crepes, tamales with mole, and this year, delicate shrimp with avocado (we have that recipe here if you want to try). The centerpiece was a rustic lamb stew with beans and garlic. No one at the table could get enough of the cauliflower pancakes.

      Everyone still sitting straight up at the end got two slices of cake: rich chocolate hazelnut and what Zarela tossed off modestly as "frozen lemon torte." That was the thriller, my friends. Click here for the recipe.



Stu's Cheesecake 


      I am not a certified cheesecake hound. I can take it or leave it. My favorite is the strawberry blond cheesecake at the Brooklyn Diner. But I don't obsess about it. My current cheesecake moment came when a twitter follower named David Mikelberg wrote claiming his Stu's cheesecake - an homage to his larger-than-life father - was the ultimate and would I tweet it.

      "Send me a cake," I said, "and I'll taste it.

      "Can I just sent you a slice?" he emailed back.

      "No, I have to see how it looks," I insisted. We made an appointment for delivery. He said he had to bake it to order. "Is this a cheesecake business?" I asked anxiously. He would bake and deliver each cake to order, he said. That's his business plan.

      The cake -- a heavyweight round cracked in the middle -- arrived Saturday, December 21st. The enclosed press release said, "Your cake came out of the oven Friday at 1:45 am. The top of every Stu's cheesecake cracks during the baking process. There is a reason for everything. If you're on a diet, cut your slice on the crack as it has no calories."


      I tasted. It was sensational. Shockingly marvelous, in fact. I quickly tried to give away as much as I could to save myself. Between each wedge I cut for my trainer, the doorman, my super, the neighbors, I had to clean the knife with my fingers and eat the three or four ounces stuck there. Oh wow, oh woe.

      You might want to schedule a dinner party just for an excuse to order this cake. It's a ridiculously modest $45 for a round that serves 10 or 12 or more, $50 for the marble cake version, New York City delivery included. Call David Mikelberg at 646 241 2513 or email 


Photographs of Empire Diner's lox and burrata, M. Wells lobster roll, The Writing Room's fried chicken with biscuit, Chef Charlie Palmer with a Citymeals client, The chefs Daniel Boulud, David Burke, and Palmer, and the organic juice sign may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.