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FORKPLAY May 6, 2014

Aging Gigolos. Gotham Is 30. My Favorite Chickens. Summer Bags.

Dear Friends and Family,

       I had no desire to see "Aging Gigolos." The coming attraction was not encouraging and the reviews weren't so good either. The Times movie critic Manohla Dargis really disliked it. She especially seemed annoyed that John Turturro wasn't Spike Lee. Well he isn't young Clint Eastwood either. But my niece persuaded me to go anyway and we both fell totally in love with Turturro's reluctant, or maybe not so reluctant, gigolo.  

       Don't get hung up on Woody Allen or annoyed by the jumps in the plot but simply get into the idea of Turturro giving it to Sharon Stone and collecting $1000 plus $500 tip. Then, it's hot. And when he tumbles into bed with Stone and her knockout friend Selima -- Modern Family's stupefyingly gorgeous Sofia Vergara (or Viagra as I think of her). I found myself right there.

       Vulgar and ludicrous. No no no. Well, maybe just a little bit ludicrous.

       At the end of the movie, my niece and I, straddling two different generations, both had the hots for John Turturro. I loved his aging body. I loved his crooked smile. I tweeted that I might not pay $1000 to have sex with John Turturro, but I would definitely pay $400 and dinner was on me. So far there has been no response. No I wasn't really expecting one. I have to believe he must be enjoying something like a Burt Reynolds moment after "Deliverance." Mine must be a small click in the static. 


Gotham Bar and Grill Celebrates 30

       It was spring 1984, a moment in New York when it felt to me like everyone in town wanted to open a restaurant. My New York article "Big City Bites" noted that Jerome Kretchmer, Mayor Lindsay's former head garbologist, had caught the restaurant bug. "Even though he's a lawyer," I wrote. "Even though he's committed by day to the real estate trade. Even though he's otherwise seemingly sane." He'd told me he was inspired by the grand café Joanna, packing in toot New York at 18 East 18th Street, and by the sophisticated design of the equally grand Seiyoken at 18 West 18th Street. He'd persuaded his real estate partner Jeff Bliss and the Rathe brothers, Rick and Robert, builders of trade show exhibits, to join in. Owning a restaurant would be like having a dinner party every night, he thought.

       Jerry entrusted the design to James Biber to  transform a clumsy warehouse into an astonishment of warmth and unique detail. He hired the fussy and brilliant Barbara Kafka who had consulted for Joe Baum at Restaurant Associates. She came up with a wildly cross-cultural menu. I liked it.

       For a while, the Gotham worked. But after a time, ardent reviews brought clamorous crowds. There were problems in the kitchen and anarchy in the dining room. Jerry went off in search of a new chef. Jonathan Waxman recommended a guy named Alfred. I was worried. Jerry and his partners had agreed to host a Citymeals-on-Wheels dinner auction. Fortunately, a team of star chefs had each agreed to cook a course. The new chef would be directing traffic in the kitchen. That seemed safe enough to me. Indeed, the event was a big success.  I recall Craig Claiborne trying to get audience attention. "Will you blondes please shut up," he drawled into the mic.

       "Come to lunch," Jerry said not long after. "I think this guy is really good. He has already changed the butter. What do you think of that? He wants us to rip out the upholstery and he doesn't like the dishes."

       "Really," I said. "Those gorgeous dishes."  I loved the California patio look and the big black dinner plates.
The lunch was a pleasant shock: the best goat cheese and lardon salad I'd ever eaten in New York, warm lamb salad -- the meat rare with a savory charred edge -- luscious swordfish with a melting disc of Cabernet caper butter, profiteroles in a pool of rich bitter chocolate.
       I came back for dinner and then wrote a rave. It ran in New York on June 24, 1985. That brought The Times a few months later. And three stars, a rating the restaurant has won again and again over the years.

       During the recent month-long celebration, I came as a guest to a tasting dinner. I loved the lyrical sunchoke velouté ladled over a design of morels, spring garlic and English peas around a ramp custard - I especially salute the ramp custard because it didn't look or taste like ramp-anything to me.  Sea urchin scenting the Alaskan king crab tagliatelle made my evening. But I was also excited by the perfect cooking of a perfect sea scallop with roasted cauliflower and romesco sauce from a recipe by Jonathan Waxman. Only the bread could have been more exciting.

       There was something else going on. Yes, we sat in the back looking out at a garden full of spring flowers. There was an explosion of tulips and early blooms across the room. And the room itself was different. I  couldn't quite pin it down. Apparently over the years, Portale and his partners have touched up and repainted and revised. I remember it as a kind of speckled beige with painted green diamonds on the floor. Now it's a rich cream, the floor discreetly unadorned. The photographs are new. Not just the big color scene of the fading Mona Lisa image on an abandoned building by my late mate, Steven Richter, but others scattered throughout the room and a series of photographs of artists (Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly) leading into the ladies room downstairs. And it's quieter. The music I thought redundant decades ago is gone. The service is smart, not haughty, but not overly chummy.

       Yes. Gotham has definitely grown gracefully into its bones. I'd say four stars now.


Favorite Chicken Dishes

       I seem to have a special fondness for chicken. Making restaurant rounds with friends in search of spots worth BITING in my weekly blog, I might go for the pork chop or the duck confit, and often, the pasta, but once I've found a place I love, I seem to be going back again and again for the chicken.

       Last week I took friends to Bar Bolonat. I warned them it would be jam-packed and noisy, not all that comfortable. I knew they would see it was all worth it once we'd shared the crunchy everyday cauliflower, the fatush salad and the remarkable, mahogany crisped poussin nested in a crunch of rice and potatoes. That wondrously juicy little bird won them over. I know I'll be back again soon. 611 Hudson Street on the NW corner of West 12th Street. 212 390 1545

       I'm not saying Einhat Admony's brilliant bird is the best in town. It was just on the top of my brain when I  started writing. Probably Christian Delouvrier's luscious classic with crispy fat fries and a billowy lettuce salad at La Mangeoire aces it. 1008 Second Avenue on the corner of 54th Street.

       I also find myself again and again in the back library at The Writing Room ordering the rotisserie chicken for two, whether I can persuade my friends to join in or not. It's not unlikely we'll also share a side of the fried chicken with a big, crumbly, old-fashioned biscuit. 1705 Second Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets.

       If you too have constant cravings for that bird, check out my collection of great chickens by clicking here. And I have more I didn't list. Like the haunting fried chicken leg with baby peppers, cipollini onions and couscous with melted Adirondack cheddar at Crave Fishbar. But that's another story. 945 Second Avenue north of 50th Street.


Spring Blooms on Etsy

       Spring has filled the Accidental Bag Lady with thoughts of flowers. Wouldn't Mom love something no one else can have? A unique vintage evening bag or a summer clutch made by hand, from my collection that I'm selling now on Etsy? And what about you? How about that stunning black and white tote by Kate Spade? Perfect for  transporting all the gear you need for a weekend in the Hamptons or Pound Ridge. Or that puffy soft red leather clutch that adds a blush to your all-black uniform?

       Considering how many followers I have on Twitter  and the 151 admirers I see on Etsy, beats me we're not sold out. We're offering free express shipping all week on every purchase of $100 or more. Check out the treasures and make me an offer.




These are parrot tulip colors today.



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Photographs of Gotham's garden, young Alfred Portale and Jonathan Waxman, Gotham's king crab tagliatelle and exquisite chocolate dessert, La Mangeoire Chicken for two and the rotisserie chicken at The Writing Room may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.