Sunday, January 22, 2006

Whole Lotta Fatty Hype

Over the long MLKJr weekend, Andy and I went on a long-overdue trip to NYC to reconnect with folks we hadn't seen since August, in some cases. Which is kind of unforgivable given that New York and New Haven are two hours away from each other. We arrived to torrential rain, which turned to sleet, which turned to snow and well-below-freezing cold wind. I had forgotten what the wind tunnels in New York can be like, blowing uphill from the Hudson across icy trash bags and granite outcroppings right into your bones. It makes me want to just sit down on the sidewalk and cry. But no matter. Soaking wet and fresh from Janine's new gallery space, we met up with Jonah and Louisa at the much-reviewed-and-talked-about new Malaysian place, Fatty Crab.

I had a bad feeling about this place even before we got there based on Owen Phillips' review of it in the New Yorker. He described "the best dish on the menu" as being the Dungeness crab covered in spicy chili sauce, after eating which you would "feel like taking a shower." As a native west-coaster, this sentence was hard to read without feeling a little stab in the heart. Dungeness crab is one of the lightest, most subtle, most delicate things you can put in your mouth. Sometimes a squeeze of lemon overpowers it and its sweetness. So when I read about this hotshot chef dousing the crab in chili sauce, I was bewildered. HE'S RUINING THE CRAB, I thought. HE HAS NO IDEA WHAT HE'S DOING.

When we got to the restaurant, Jonah was intent on ordering the crab, and I cringed until I read on the menu that the crab of the evening was the "Jonah crab", har har, rather than the Dungeness. We ordered that, and, on the advice of our waiter, who said that everything should be shared "family-style," several other dishes, including a chicken breast sous-vide on coconut rice, some "fatty duck", some other kind of smothered chicken thing, some pork belly appetizer thing, etc. I don't mean to be blase, but it all kind of ran together, and here's why:

1. We have a Malaysian restaurant about 100 times better in New Haven
2. A whole crab smothered in chili sauce is impossible to eat with any dignity in a restaurant, especially when the tables are so close together that (a) I could hear our neighbors' conversation better than our own and (b) in order to get up from the wall side of the restaurant, almost all of the tables in the restaurant had to be shifted around
3. The only cutlery we had on the table were chopsticks, spoons, and forks. How exactly a table of four is supposed to "share family-style" a whole chicken breast sous-vide without benefit of a knife is beyond me, to say nothing of a chicken thigh and leg ON THE BONE smothered in sauce on a bed of rice.

I left the restaurant feeling like I had been had, that the chef had nothing but contempt for his patrons, that I hadn't had such an unsatisfying meal in a long, long time. Fortunately Jonah and Louisa were wonderful company, as always, which salvaged the dinner somewhat.

The evening improved dramatically upon our even wetter and soggier arrival at the Pegu Club, where we met Siobhan and Jeff and Naomi and Doug and Janine and Nate. I had been wanting to go here since before they opened, and it was worth the wait if you can stomach the idea of $12-$15 drinks. Everything the bartenders here make is delicious, and it is so quiet and civilized and the lovely staff will accommodate you without a problem as your party expands and expands, especially if you get there early. I began with a variant on a Manhattan made with rye whiskey, Cynar (artichoke liqueur), and sweet vermouth, garnished with what looked like picholine olives but were in fact homemade maraschino cherries. Andy's "Gin-Gin Mule" made with gin instead of vodka was also incredible. The big winner of the evening, though, was Naomi's Earl Grey Martini, made with tea-infused gin, frozen lemon peel, a bit of cream and frothy egg white, and simple syrup. It was everything wonderful about England served in a single glass.

After a Southern-California-Mexican stop for those who hadn't eaten dinner, we capped off our evening in Greenpoint at a new bar whose name I don't know around the corner from Siobhan and Jeff's house on Franklin and Greenpoint Avenue. I am in love with that bar. They serve some kind of new Brooklyn beer called Six Points on tap; the space is spare and beautiful and intimate all at once; the DJs -- a very earnest-looking couple who were not at all too cool for school -- were playing truly good, not overplayed, '80s music (including one of my top five favorite '80s songs), and we stayed up until 4:30 in the morning discussing such pressing issues as whether or not "Zooropa" was really great or really bad. Usually I came out on the losing side of the argument.

In the morning we met Igor and Jonathan for brunch at DuMont, which was delicious, especially my burger (though not as good as the one at the Spotted Pig), and then Andy and I went out to the Queens Museum to see the Gordon Matta-Clark show about odd lots auctioned off by New York City in the 1970s. The walk from the Shea Stadium elevated subway stop to the museum was like walking through Gorky Park or something -- it was truly like being in an eastern bloc country. It was SO cold and SO windy and we were two of the five or six people in the park total, milling around in the shadows of 1960s World's Fair relics, train repair yards, and empty stadia looming nearby, untouched until the spring. Wow.

Andy had to go to work the next day, but I stayed over in the city with Abigail and Andrew, eating delicious pizza and drinking delicious wine at their house and gossiping, and staying up all night with their poor yowling cat in heat, and then in the morning I went to my favorite Cuban restaurant for breakfast. It is called La Rosita, on 109th Street and Broadway, and I fear that my incomparable arroz amarillo con frijoles negros y huevos fritos (I don't speak Spanish) and cafe con leche may have been my last at La Rosita forever. The rents in the Columbia neighborhood have gone astronomical in price over the last few years -- everything good and cheap that was there when I was a student is gone -- and, based on the real estate agent and two white guys that came in to the place while I was eating, La Rosita looks like the next casualty on the block. If you are in New York and reading this, GO TO LA ROSITA BEFORE IT'S GONE! Order the breakfast I just described, dump a lot of sugar in the coffee even if you don't normally like your coffee sweet, and enjoy. Or, better yet, go at lunch and get the Pollo al Ajillo (chicken with garlic sauce). It is not to be believed. I might need to go down there one night this week just to have that dish one last time. You'll keep tasting the dish for three days after you eat it, but that's a good thing.

And then I went to Kalustyan's for groceries unattainable in New Haven such as jars of roasted eggplant and cans of foul moudammas, walked past Artisanal and drooled on the sidewalk a little, and finally met up with Ryan at Coliseum Books' new location across from Bryant Park. We drank one cup of coffee for about three hours -- it always ends up that way, because we are too busy enjoying talking to each other to even drink coffee -- and I got on the train home and Andy and I had some pasta for dinner. Simple pleasures.

Simple quite unlike our weekend this weekend, which I will describe soon. Tales of inauthentic Scandinavian delights, Crispy Buffalo Wontons, and the pleasant employees of the Connecticut DMV await you on your next visit.


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Mona said...

Sounds like you had an excellent (or eventful) time in the city. Sorry about the disappointing fatty crab. I won't go near that one with a 10foot poll now. What the heck was Owen thinking?


Post a Comment

<< Home