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FORKPLAY September 23, 2014

Farewell to Bunny. Buss Up Shot @Miss Lily's. Gallic Pranks. Place Invaders. Balvanera.

Dear Friends and Family,

       You know that universal fantasy so many children have that they must have been born of royal blood and left on the doorstep of our unlikely parents? For some of us narcissists, the certainty lingers long into adulthood. Parents, too, entertain a related fantasy. "I cannot believe you're really a child of mine," my mother might say, looking away at our favorite buffet as I chewed on my frog's leg.

      Given how many physical and emotional traits I shared with my "unlikely" parents -- Nate and Saralee -- I was forced long ago to abandon my claim to royal birth. Then it all came back. Reading about Bunny Mellon's auction at Sotheby's on the front page of the Times September 12, for a brief moment I wondered if we'd shared some DNA.

      Rachel Lambert Mellon, best known to us plebeians for designing Jacqueline Kennedy's White House Rose Garden, collected everything, like me. Antique porcelains (cabbages, asparagus), import china, American paintings, baskets (antique and last  week's), and expensive jewelry (although our definition of expensive is jarringly dissimilar.)  She had her cast iron bunny; I, my cast iron birds, a rooster, a cast iron bank. Sotheby's plans a nine-day extravaganza on all ten floors to display everything from the five homes she shared with her husband. Oh, if only I'd been clever enough to have married better.

      You can see my vintage evening bags, snuff boxes and minaudières on Etsy. I've decided to dispose of  any jewelry I haven't worn in years. They'll go up on Etsy soon too. If you live anywhere near the Upper West Side, you can visit my office flea market, my faux Sotheby's, for early Christmas shopping and a preview of the treasures not posted yet. Email me for an appointment.       


FORKPLAY is green on green today to salute everyone who came out to march for the environment. And if you happen to be out celebrating in Central Park, watch out for falling tree branches and bicycle speedsters or else we'll be bidding on your iron bunny at Sotheby's.


Buss Up Shot @Miss Lily's 7A

       Last Thursday at least, Miss Lily's 7A Cafe was missing our town's spike-heeled late-night chiclettes and the goat stew of its Houston Street mothership. But it has a vibrant hop, stupefyingly beautiful servers of both genders, and a groovy beach-shack-via-the-thrift-shop look by Serge Becker.

      And it's got its own high-proof heat. With no Anna Wintour marshaling neighborhood forces like those that bumped up against the original Miss Lily's, this Alphabet City cubby has a full bar. Not that we needed booze to ignite our spirits.

      Although it replaced 7A, a round-the-clock fixture for decades, Miss Lily's looks like it's been there forever. The façade is open to the street as it would be on the  beach. Photographs of Jamaican heroes line the beams, with Crayola colors and exaggerated prints dizzying the walls. Once you stop gaping at the gawjus crew, you might even notice the checkerboard floors, and the red-spotted cat prints on the table. And then you're hungry. So click here to read what you want to eat. 109 Avenue A on the SW corner of 7th Street. 212 812 1482.


Tasty Pranks at Dirty French

       Arriving at the back door of Dirty French in the Ludlow Hotel, I brace myself. It's the house's first Saturday night. I don't have a reservation and I wasn't very kind to Carbone in my BITE. Not that I didn't get a giggle from the Torrisi crew's homage to 50s Little  Italy and red sauce immersion. I actually liked the $55 monster veal Parmesan decked out like a voluptuous pizza, but I was annoyed by sleazy waiter tricks and never went back.

      Now I'm anticipating more creative rottenness at Dirty French from chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone with their aggressive business partner Jeff Zalaznick in this spottily gentrified new playground of the Lower  East Side. "It's a roughed up Gallic bistro," they told the Times. How rough? I wonder. Already too busy to answer the phone. Already totally booked.

      On a shelf above a rustic wood wall, a lineup of heads and torsos with bruised black eyes and bloodied noses suggests possible mayhem. But no. That's art. The trio suggest the food is dirty like a dirty Martini because Daniel-trained Torrisi adds Moroccan and New Orleans touches -- fun and whimsy -- to the classic French bistro.Click here to decide if you are ready to brave any dirty tricks. 180 Ludlow Street just South of Houston. 212 254 3000.


Place Invaders

       Friends from Brooklyn urged me to sign up for a secret Place Invaders dinner one recent Saturday night. "They're friends who rent or borrow someone's apartment and use it secretly to do a dinner party." We would be a dozen, chosen supposedly for good chemistry. Tickets normally sell only in twos, but my  friend arranged that I be paired with another single: Cindy Gallop. He was wildly thrilled that she was coming. Cindy Gallop. Was I missing something? I googled. Cindy Gallop. "Make Love, Not Porn." I listened to her TED talk.

       I'm not dead yet, but there she was, blonde with bangs, a contempo voice not as amusing as my 1986 book, "Delicious Sex," but an equally passionate advocate of better sex. (Click here to buy the book.)

       Hmm...when was the last dinner party I was invited to? Could be fun. Maybe I'd fall in love. I paid my $100 and booked for the nine o'clock seating.  "Don't come five minutes early or five minutes late," the email that announced the secret address warned. I was early. It was drizzling. I got by the doorman, took the lift up, and sat outside the hall on the back stairwell till I heard voices at the elevator. The hosts -- Hagan Blount is the cook, Katie Smith-Adair does the prep and everything else. The invaders were young or very young, except for Cindy who was not that old. And me. I needed that tropical cocktail Katie was pouring.

       The chef was aiming for sweet potato chips alongside the halibut ceviche. En route to the borrowed kitchen, the chips lost their crisp but the Peruvian corn kernels made up for that. A trio of gazpachos -- corn, green tomato and strawberry with red peppers -- was the evening highlight. A generous portion of almost rare  beef tenderloin was followed by wonderful cheese -- "not South American, but with characteristics like South American cheeses," Blount explained, carrying the labels stuck to his fingers so he could remember their names.

       The brigadeiros recipe came from a brother's fiancée's best friend Maya, "The Brigadiero Queen of LA," Blount said, apologizing for the sagging chip crumble on top. He credited Katie for finding cappuccino potato chips for half of the goodies. Basically, it was a gooey chocolate finale. And chocolate delivers norepinephrine, which is what increases when you're in love. That was actually all I got for love that night. But the evening was a lark anyway. Not for snobs. Not for demanding foodies. Not for misanthropes. For easy-going adventurers. Click here to sign up.


Balvanera: An Argentine Dance

       Vegetarian friends called to say they loved Balvanera. From that I knew I'd find enough options to feed a hungry vegan. Also it was Argentine, named for a neighborhood in Buenos Aires, suggesting options for carnivores too. We pulled up outside the tall front windows in a monsoon, struggled to open an umbrella and ducked inside. The place was empty. Had I lured my fussy uptown pals all the way to this Lower East Side unknown on a flighty whim?

      We gave in to the elements and ordered papas rotas -- crispy potatoes -- to nibble while deciding if we should move out once the hail let up. They were wonderful. We spooned up the greens -- arugula and basil -- and grilled peaches atop Maplebrook burrata, finding nuggets of chopped almond, a perfect balance of sweet and fat and foliage. Thick slices of ciabatta came, lightly oiled, toasted on the grill.

      Empanadas, the inevitable savory snack of Argentina appeared -- the pastry wrap impressively crumbly, the corn filling fresh and crunchy. The sweetbreads tasted like sweetbreads. I have to say that since the innard truth of sweetbreads is so often lost in batter and grease these days. Balvanera's mollejas were wondrously soft and crispy too, a flavorful tossup with arugula and sectioned orange. The rain had let up -- a few warriors of the storm arrived to claim tables -- but we weren't going anywhere. This food was too good. Balvanera won't be empty for long. Click here to read more so you'll know what to order. 152 Stanton Street between Norfolk and Suffolk. 212 533 3348.

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See a dozen fabulous new treasures on my Etsy vintage handbag site by clicking here.

Photographs of my "signed" Eisenberg ice fan-shaped brooch, Miss Lily's 7A buss up shot and cod fritters, Dirty French's extraordinary chicken for two in two courses, the tarte tatin with dirty rum raisin ice cream, the Place Invaders with their trio of gazpachos, and Balvanera's ribeye steak and creamy bucatini with fresh favas may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. All rights reserved.