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FORKPLAY October 8, 2014

The Incautious Flack. My Taco Crawl. Where I Eat Now. Geoffrey Holder. Street Eats.

Dear Friends and Family,

       Too many empty tables at 7:30 made me wary. Edith Piaf might celebrate "Panama, Paname Paname," as the song goes -- paname, a love name for Paris. But maybe this Paname, a small bistro on Second Avenue, wasn't going to be the pleasure I'd been promised.

      It was the bread that tolled the leaden funeral bell. The three of us stared at it -- the hateful cotton-stuffed baguette you used to find everywhere in the 60s and 70s before Manhattan discovered great bread. Before Eli. Before Amy. Before Tomcat.

      What good little French bistro -- "just like Paris," the press agent Miriam Silverberg assured me -- would serve this bread?

      I didn't mind the simplicity of the table setting. After all, it's the food that counts. The paintings had a certain je ne sais quoi.

      "May I see the list of wines by the glass," I ask an apparent functionary. He asks what I like. "I have a Côtes du Rhône," he offers. Whose is it? "It's a French wine," he assures me.

      "Do you think they warmed the wine before they served it?" I ask my pals.

       We had to lasso the waitress to get her attention to take the order. She grew pale when we asked to have the Niman Ranch pork scallopini rarish in its mushroom cream sauce. "Rare? Oh no. Never."  

      Peter explains there has not been a case of trichinosis for decades. She does seem impressed. On arrival the scallops are definitely not even pale pink and require sawing with the steak knife. The flesh of the roasted duck with its too sweet and sour mango sauce has a sense of history. How long in the pot? It takes a lot of muscle to cut a morsel of steak, but it was edible and I was hungry.

      That was after the pallid "pâte fait maison," the       asparagus in an anemic vinaigrette and innocuous little snails in a green sauce on potatoes. "We don't need to torture ourselves further with dessert, do we?" Peter asks.

      We kiss each other good night and my pals promise they will not hold the fiasco against me.
      Paname..."is no big deal," Silverberg had written in her third or fourth or fifth urging to me. "And nothing elaborate." Sorry Miriam, it was even less than that. It's not worth writing about Paname, I suppose, but I'm intrigued by publicist loyalty. There were many five stars review in Yelp. Were they you, Miriam?


Our colors today try to capture the blue-black and faded burgundy of autumn grapes.

Tacos Trending

      I have my esoteric money-doesn't-matter dining life. And I have my ethnic adventure, no-dive- too-low-down world. Not to mention the in-between of pursuing the best of the best eating city in the world. At least, the world I know. I've never been to Estonia.

     So, of course I was game for a taco crawl organized by Hagan Blount and Katie Smith-Adair, his partner -- romantically and professionally in PlaceInvaders, a ninja dinner site I discovered a few weeks ago. Hagan was in search of taco truth as he had tracked it in years of criss-crossing Mexico on his motorbike. They invited Lawrence, the NYCFoodGuy.

       We launched into outer space gingerly with a stop at Taqueria y Fonda on Amsterdam in Manhattan Valley before trekking north into Spanish Harlem. I didn't see much hope for snaring one of the few tables in the relentlessly florescent closet-size joint. It was already packed with local cognoscenti and a stand-up fridge chilling Mexican beer. But Taqueria y Fonda is a place for serious  taco research. Click here to discover why you might want to trek uptown too. 968 Amsterdam Avenue between 107th and 108th Street. 212 531 0383.

Where I Eat

       I eat out with friends six nights a week, mostly in search of something good enough or bad enough to write about. When a spot arrives with great  expectations unrealized, I often decide it's too soon to judge. About then I find myself longing for a place I know I'll be happy. If you follow my twitterings, you know where I've been going. If not, here's where I've been eating lately when I give myself a night off. Click here to share the addresses where you're likely to spot me these days.

The Pleasure of his Company

       My memory is selective. For some reason I remember the sexy parts better than the how-we-met parts. And I only recall the what-we-ate parts if I reviewed it. Having several hundred old New York magazines on my shelves helped me write my memoir. I could remember between the lines.

       Yet I recall vividly Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade at the extraordinary dinner we gave at tiny Trattoria da Alfredo for Paul Bocuse, Jean Troisgros and Gaston Lenôtre. It was a merci for the wild and memorable "Dinner for Women" they cooked at the Four Seasons after insulting women at the earlier "Dinner of the Century." No wonder I have difficulties remembering. Too often over-stuffed. It was a great lark being so privileged in the days before everyone became a foodie more or less.

       The Times obituary Tuesday for Geoffrey Holder reminded me what an incredible man he was. What an extraordinary collection of talents! I feel privileged to have overlapped occasionally as he was living his remarkably creative life. It's rare to find an obituary so bursting with exuberance.

       That night at Alfredo's, I remember the Yaseens of course, Roger and Janet, and Alfredo's wife, Jane White. Possibly Ariane and Michael Batterberry were there too. And of course, the unique Yanou Collart, who translated, charming everyone. Fractured English with a French accent is always more adorable than bad French with a Detroit accent.   

       At some point Geoffrey got up and danced and sang -- I try to imagine how he found the space to move his six-foot-six frame in the cracks between tables. If the French chefs had not quite absorbed how uninhibited and irrepressible we New Yorkers can they knew.

       Those closer to Geoffrey will be sad he is gone at 84 and yes, I agree, that is very young. But the triumphs and talents stuffed into just four columns of the page made me smile.

Street Eats

       No need to go to Brooklyn and queue up for memorable street eats. Manhattan is bursting with  kiosks, trucks and carts. The High Line has its eats on  West 14th and West 15th Streets. Broadway Bites has reopened on Greeley Square near Macy's. The Hester Street Fair blooms every Saturday through the end of October on land once sacred to the earliest immigrant pushcarts of the Lower East Side.

       Our reporters have been out tasting. Insatiable's Ana Lopez beat the crowds to the Garment District's new Urban Space food mart, tasting and shooting. She reports on a shredded pork gyro at Amali and is wowed by her first experience with Japanese style curry at Go Go Curry. Click here to see what she ate and how it scored next time you need a quick bite in the West 30s.

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

Photographs of Paname -- painting on the wall, the pâte maison, the sinewy pork, and the baby octopus -- al pastor tacos by NYCFoodGuy, Taqueria y Fonda's do-it-yourself-taco plate, Rafael's Neapolitan fried pizza, and Roberta's pizza at the Garment District food mart may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. All rights reserved.