CaB Magazine

R.I.P. Andrew, For Realz, This Time

andrew martinSo, I’m getting kind of a re-do here. I find myself writing a little tribute to my friend Andrew Martin, a eulogy of sorts. But I’m writing it for the second time. A decade after the first time. Andrew would appreciate this, with a certain level of dark humor that we shared.

It was the late 80s, early 90s. Andrew and I shared some of the same haunts – mostly cabaret spots, often ending up more or less closing out the bar together at Don’t Tell Mama in the West Village or Marie’s Crisis in the theater district. We were young. Younger anyway. I suppose I was in my early to mid 30s, he in his early to mid 20s. I was the food and wine writer for QSF Magazine. One day Andrew came to me with a proposal – he was launching a new publication centered around the cabaret scene, CaB magazine. He wanted to include some restaurant reviews each issue, along with other content that wasn’t necessarily cabaret related, but might be of interest to those reading it. He asked me if I’d write for him, and I did, issue after issue from June of ’92 until June of ’94.

Along the way, we became friends. We even dated a couple of times, but found that our attempts at romance tended to devolve into fits of hysterical laughter rather than steamy encounters. We left that part of our friendship to the wayside. And then one day, he announced that he needed a break, was going to stop publishing CaB, and get away for a little while. He had his demons, we all did. And he disappeared from my life.

And then he died. We had plenty of mutual friends at the time, and at least half a dozen of them told me that he’d passed away. It was always a little suspicious. An illness, an accident, no one seemed to know what had actually happened. But apparently he’d spent time somewhere, far from New York City, and was no longer with us, having gone to that big cabaret in the sky. I wrote a small note in memory of him on my website on the page with the index of the various articles I’d written for CaB. Now and again, mostly when I was revising something on the site, I’d think of him and wonder what the real story was.

A decade later, in late 2005, October 22nd to be exact, I woke up to find an email in my inbox from an Andrew Martin. My momentary thought was simply that it was a coincidence, it’s not exactly an uncommon sort of name. I clicked on it, and lo and behold, it was him. Not dead. He’d come across my little paean to his demise on my website and wanted to assure me that he was alive and well, living in New York, and participating with a comedy troupe, appropriately given the moment, named Meet the Mistake. I was thrilled. I had also just moved to Buenos Aires a few months before, and was not there to run over and give him a welcome back from the beyond hug.

But I did that just a few months later on a return visit. I went to one of his performances. I waited at the door, gave him a big hug, and a flower, which he assured me he’d place on his own gravesite. We went out for drinks, we caught up. And, though not by any stretch regularly, we kept in touch, an email exchange back and forth every couple of months. Then, a few years later, Facebook hit the scene. He was one of my first connections, and we took to commenting on each other’s trivial posts, and both being night owls, having the occasional late night chat when we found ourselves online at the same time. Not every day, not every week, maybe every 2-3 months. We flirted a bit – harmless flirtation, I’m happily married to Henry, and he was dating someone.

His mother passed away last year and we had a few more regular talks at night. Somewhere in there he went back to school, planning on a new career outside of the theater world. I had my upcoming 40th high school reunion (which was last weekend, I didn’t make it), he had his upcoming 30th, this coming weekend.

It wasn’t uncommon for a bit of time to pass without us talking. We were both busy. We lived in very different worlds, both geographically and the direction our passions had taken us. He often started chats with reminding me that he was still alive and kicking, usually involving some peculiar and humorous gag related to voices or visits from another realm.

And somehow, I missed it. He passed away the first week in June, a heart attack followed by a fall and head injury, found a day or two later. There were plenty of posts on his Facebook page about it, from his twin sister, and from friends, though none mutual, which might be why it didn’t burble to the top of my Facebook feed. Much has been written about him there, and tributes to him far more eloquent than my contribution may be in other spots. Sweet and charming when he wanted to be, a razor-tongued hellion when that was the direction called for, and funny, pretty much all the time.

Today would have been his birthday. 47, 48, I’m not sure which. It’s how I found out, when I went to his page to send him a message. All I can offer is a raised glass, a toast, a “Here’s looking at you kid”, for the second time, for real. Or as he would have said, “Love ya, babydoll.”

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Most Works-in-Progress Aren’t Meant To Be Reviewed

CaB Magazine
June 1994

Theater Reviews

I am faced with an apparent dilemma. I just saw a delightful new musical work and am ready to recommend it to virtually anyone. On the other hand, it is a work-in-progress, I don’t know how it will turn out in the end, or even when (if?) it will be performed again, and friends in the business say it’s unfair to review something in progress anyway. So shoot me; nobody can be fair all the time.

We wandered down to the Under One Roof Theater in Tribeca, a nice little dive that doesn’t quite hold an entire audience. Our plan was to see Most Men Are, a new work by Stephen Dolginoff, who recently won the 1994 Bistro Award in the category of Outstanding Book, Music and Lyrics for his musical One Foot Out The Door (praised by Maryann Lopinto and panned by Andrew Martin in various back issues of CaB). Once inside, grabbing whatever space we could, we were greeted by an almost-bare stage, the only props a table and chairs. The setting – according to our program – a New York City apartment, the time – the present.

The show’s opening number, “You Won’t Die Alone”, introduces us to an attractive young couple, Russ and Scott (Joel Carlton and James Heatherly), the latter of who is about to die. This, he apparently does, quietly and without audience involvement, sometime between the first and second numbers. The balance of the show is sprawled across the weekend of his funeral, with Scott’s stifling father, Jack (Chris Lindstrom), and obnoxious, homophobic brother, Larry (Roger Seyer), dropping in to stay with Russ. To top it off, Larry and Jack haven’t seen or spoken to each other in nine years, and never got along in the first place.

The show’s tension builds between the three living characters, with Larry and Jack doing little to be civil to each other, and then only in deference to Russ’ exhortations to remember why they are there. Russ, for his part, spends an awful lot of time looking to his karma and stars for guidance, much to the consternation of the familial duo. Over drinks, the three fall into a series of vignettes, where each remembers times spent with Scott. Scott, for his part, keeps popping out from behind a black curtain to take part in the memories.

Larry leads us through their childhood together, with Scott idolizing his older brother and never quite understanding why daddy treats the rebellious Larry as non-existent and spoils Scott rotten (something we find out later in Jack’s number “When I Came Home At Night”. Perhaps the funniest number in the show is “Daddy’s Playboy Magazines”, a tribute to a discovery that many of us made in Dad’s lower nightstand drawer. We, and Jack, also get to see what not having his father’s love has meant to Larry in “Melinda”.

For his part, Jack leads us through his fantasy of the perfect son, Scott. We get to see Scott’s coming out, in the song “What If”, a beautifully-performed ballad that, for my two cents, was the best number of the show (the song is reprised later when he lets Russ know he has AIDS). Jack drives Scott towards success that never comes and drives Larry out and into the achievement that he never expected in “You Can Do Anything”.

Russ shows us meeting Scott in a bar, where he performs a seductive, if completely off-the-wall pickup of Scott, and the new couple’s search for the perfect apartment in two numbers “Something Bound To Begin” and “The Perfect Place On Christopher Street”. The seduction song is worthy of writing down the lyrics – just to try out on a slow night next time you’re feeling lonely.

The show ends with two numbers, reliving Scott’s last moments in the hospital through “My Body” and “Urban Legend”, and a post-funeral scene with the entire cast considering “Maybe Next Christmas” as Larry and Jack seem to find a provisional truce.

The music and lyrics are good, at times great, and with no particular sour notes. No doubt there will be some changes to look forward to here and there that will only improve what already works. James Heatherly, playing a moody ghost of a character, is a delight to watch as he bounces from one emotion to the next. His soft, lyrical voice is perfect for ballads, and he can sing one to me any time. Joel Carlton, despite his bold, dark-haired, incredibly blue-eyed looks and powerhouse voice, manages to pull off being a bit of a space cadet rather well. Roger Seyer has captured that special spot in life that is reserved just for homophobic brothers who also happen to love their gay brothers, and still manages to be a defiant brat at the same time. Chris Lindstrom (who looks a lot like the guy who played the dad in the TV show ALF), plays both disappointed and proud daddy impeccably, at the same time.

Is it fair here to point out the negatives? Probably not, for this is a work-in-progress. However, I only have two criticisms of the show, and both are in the staging. First, all four actors need to figure out what to do with themselves when they aren’t “active”. There was a little too much lookign around into space, thumb-twiddling, and looking bored while their co-stars were up performing numbers. The second not is one of volume. The Under One Roof Theater is a small venue, and the singing voices of the four need to be modulated to fit it (or wherever they end up playing). Joel Carlton belted out most of his numbers in a voice that no doubt was heard by folks passing through the nearby Holland Tunnel, while at the other end of the spectrum, Chris Lindstrom, who is operatically trained, was holding his volume back to the point where at times he was drowned out by one of those same cars exiting at the New Jersey end.

The question in this day and age is, do we really need another show about someone dying of AIDS? Probably not, but in truth, this show is more about remembering someone’s life before they were dying of AIDS. And that, is something we all need. Admittedly, the show is uneven, but that’s what a work-in-progress performance is for. It is well-written, well-cast, and, well-destined, in my opinion, to be another hit for Stephen Dolginoff.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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Cafe Mogador, El Quijote

CaB Magazine
June 1994

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

Repeat after me; I’m not going to pay a lot for this Moroccan food. And at Cafe Mogador, you’re not. This is one of those quiet little finds that you discover yourself going back to over and over again. Or at least, I do. I first found this place shortly after moving into the neighborhood. There I was, wandering along enjoying the ever-changing pageant that is St. Marks Place. Up ahead, a small sidewalk cafe beckoned, and soon I found myself somewhere between Casablanca and Marrakech.

The place itself is about what you’d expect from a small, East Village-y cafe. Yes, there are touches of Morocco all around – the artwork, the rugs, Bogie and Bacall… Well, perhaps not. Regardless, those touches that are present serve merely to suggest a far-off land, though the cafe itself remains firmly planted…somewhere. We turn to the menu with its reassuring words, “Everything on our menu is made fresh in our kitchen daily.” Words for a restaurateur to live by.

The selection is short, but representative. Couscous, tagines, bastilla, kebabs, and those standards of New York-Middle Eastern fare, humus/falafel style combination plates. Start with a plate of mixed appetizers – marinated mushrooms or beets, babaganoush, tabouli, humus, herbed potato salad, cucumber yogurt, spicy carrots – on my part, I’m virtually always happy with a good-sized helping of spicy chickpeas and Moroccan cured black olives. Occasionally, a Greek salad with tahini dressing is in order, at other times the house salad with endive, beets, cucumbers and red onions.

Let’s face it, we can get falafel and humus at any of a couple dozen places in Manhattan. Cafe Mogador may serve some of the better of the genre around, but that’s not what they specialize in. The couscous is the real hit here. Light, fluffy grains of semolina pasta perfectly steamed over broth. Your choice of vegetarian, chicken, lamb or merguez sausage, or even a combination of these are added in. And on the side, a melange of turnips, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, pumpkin, chickpeas, and onions and raisins that have been simmered in honey. Add a touch of the spicy harissa sauce – a fiery blend of red peppers, olive oil and garlic – and your tastebuds will think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

But perhaps one night, we’re not in a mood for coucous. A delicious chicken or lamb tagine – long-stewed with spices, vegetables, and a touch of lemon seems more fitting. My personal favorite is the bastilla – a layered chicken pie of crisp phyllo pastry, lemon-flavored eggs, almonds and cinnamon – that generally leaves me wishing I was just a little bigger so I could fit another piece in. The only disappointing note for me personally, and not all my friends agree, is the merguez sausage. This is a spicy beef sausage that unfortunately just isn’t spicy here – though I admit it’s still pretty tasty.

Desserts change on and off, but we can generally count on some interesting fruit pies and I recently had a delicious raspberry and almond tart. But the real winner here is the melt-in-your-mouth, super-sweet, super-rich, out-of-this-world baklava. I honestly don’t think I’ve had better here in New York. Topped off with a thick, steaming cup of sweetened Turkish coffee (why not Moroccan coffee?), this place is a delight.

Cafe Mogador, 101 St. Marks Place (at 1st Avenue), (212) 677-2226. Open 7 days a week for dinner, Monday through Friday for lunch. Cash only, delivery available. $15 – $25 for dinner.

Somewhere in the back of my mind a haunting voice starts singing “little bird, little bird…” Perhaps it’s because my eyes have lighted on the entrance to this establishment’s back room, labelled “The Dulcinea Room”. We are in tre, or should I say mucho, Man of La Mancha territory. No windmills in sight, no charging knights on donkey-back, we venture forward into El Quijote.

This is one of those places that someone took me to early on in my New York residency, and I fell in love with it right off the bat. How can you pass up a place where the menu assures you that Manny (the owner)’s family has been passing down their secret recipe for not only Spanish Coffee, but Sangria, for generations! How can you pass up a place where you can get a platter of luscious, whole broiled lobsters at a price that even Uncle Scrooge would pry open his wallet for?

A pitcher of Sangria on the table, perhaps some “regular” wine from the cellar too (a couple of my favorite Riojas grace the short list) and we’re ready to wade into the menu. The garlic soup is a must – rich chicken and egg broth, seasoned with sweet-roasted garlic and saffron. For the sausage folk amongst us, a platter of sizzling grilled chorizos. I like the Serrano ham with cured Spanish olives (you can have it with melon if you prefer). Then, we look at the list of main courses.

Some of us will, of course, order a broiled lobster or two. Maybe a small little one-pounder, or if hungrier, perhaps a two- or three-pounder. The full selection of proper Spanish seafood dishes is present. Shrimps, scallops, clams, mussels and lobster are graced with green, white, garlic and egg sauces available. You want a little chicken thrown in? No problem. Some sausages? Ditto. Maybe a little extra lobster? Okay. The classic paella twins – Valencia and Marinera – are available with, respectively, chicken and sausage or a mix of seafood.

Some nights we’re just not in the mood for seafood and garlic. So, okay, in truth, we’ probably would just go somewhere else, because those things are why we come here. But the menu does include some truly tasty veal and chicken dishes. I have to admit, with the exception of one time when we managed to split a flan four ways at a table, we’ve never had enough room left for dessert. So I can’t even tell you if it’s good, though I’d bet it is. Top the night off with that secret Spanish coffee, and head off into the night ready to tilt at your closest windmill.

El Quijote, 226 W. 23rd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues at the Chelsea Hotel), (212) 929-1855. Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Cash and major credit cards. $25 – $35 for dinner.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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Veselka

CaB Magazine
February 1994

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

It’s three o’clock (where do we get the expression “o’clock” from, anyway?) in the morning, and we have to have pierogi. Not just any pierogi, but a fresh, hot fried dumpling with tender onions and butter on the side. A nutritional nightmare, without a doubt, but at three o’clock in the morning, who cares? Besides, we just want one apiece… We bundle ourselves in defiance of the elements and trudge our way up Second Avenue to Veselka.

We enter the brightly lit (perhaps too brightly lit…) coffee shop atmosphere and quickly wend our way past the lunch counter, past the kitchen where Polish and Ukranian specialties are sizzling and bubbling away, past the wait-station, and plunge into the back room. At times in the past, this haven of quiet was kept dimly lit, now it glows with the rainbow of colors from the neon “24-hours” sign on the window. We settle into our favorite corner and prepare to argue over the selection of meat, cheese, potato and cabbage-stuffed delicacies that are the object of our quest. Shortly, finding ourselves deadlocked, we agree to order a plate of each.

We barely glance at the menu, but of course, the potato pancakes catch our eyes. Mentally, we halve our order of pierogies and throw in some plump, crisp, golden brown latkes. A moment later, still not really looking, we remember how we all enjoy the soups. Besides, it’s cold outside – a bowl of vegetable, split pea, or mushroom barley wouldn’t hurt any of us. Our waitress has yet to arrive, so we decide to peruse the rest of the well-memorized menu. Just in case, you understand.

One of our number remembers fondly a recent devouring of the combination platter, laden with kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, a bit of this, a bit of that. Our vegetarian comrade counters with the vegetarian combination, a platter of much the same, though, somehow, meatless. Bigos, a rich hunter’s stew, is a special of the day and suddenly becomes tempting. My personal favorites, the stuffed cabbages, both meatless and meatful(?) are ordered on a mixed plate, much to our waitperson’s consternation. These are, you understand, just side dishes to our pierogi.

She returns soon, laden with plates bearing enough food to feed the populus of both Poland and the Ukraine for a week. Piling them atop our table, she announces she will return with our main courses shortly… We dig in, remembering, of course, to save room for dessert. As always, Veselka provides homestyle cooking at reasonable rates.

Midway through this orgy of degustation, we know that dessert is not a possibility. This is a shame, since we could have sampled a scrumptious carrot cake, chocolate pie, fruit pies and ice cream. Well, perhaps next time. We waddle our way back down Second Avenue, our pierogi urge completely satisfied.

Veselka, 144 Second Avenue (at 10th Street), 228-9682. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Cash only. Anywhere from $5 on up, depending on just exactly how may pierogi and “side dishes” you think you can eat.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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Windows on India and Oyster Bar

CaB Magazine
January 1994

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

For some time now I have been convinced that there is only one kitchen in Little India. If you’re not familiar with the region of our city, it hangs about on a one block section of East 6th Street stretching between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and trailing off on each of them for a block to the north and south. It shouldn’t be confused with the other Little India up near Gramercy Park. Regardless of which of the couple dozen dens of Indian cuisine we have entered over the years, the menu was nearly unvaried, the plates arrived the same, and the same waiter could often be found in a rival establishment on another venture. We were quite sure that they merely ducked out the back door to a communal kitchen in mid-block and ducked back in to whichever eatery struck their fancy at the moment.

Decor often seems the most differentiating factor, with the gamut run from handwoven rugs, saris and sitars to one upstairs eatery that looks like a warehouse full of Christmas tree decorations exploded across its walls, ceiling, and yes, even floor. Over time, we’ve paid little attention to one enterprise on the corner of 6th and 1st, as it looked more like a chi-chi bistro than a Bengali beanery. However, on a recent, rainy night, we ventured inside this sanctuary of Indian haute cuisine, Windows on India.

We settled in a back corner and began our usual perusal of the menu. To begin with, the selection is much farther ranging than the usual Sixth Street fare. Selections from all over the Indian subcontinent are available, the most interesting, which we haven’t seen elsewhere, are those from the southern tip of India. Even a short list of Indonesian dishes make it onto the back page. The English descriptions of dishes actually make sense, another novelty.

Beginning with a sampling of breads and appetizers was, of course, a must. There are the usual nans, pooris, parathas, papadams and chapatis, with the addition of versions like mint and roasted garlic, but also a tempting whole wheat rooti and a mouthwatering spring onion, clay oven cooked kulcha.

Hot and cold appetizers abound, from basic salads to a spectacular dal papri, a cold salad of potatoes, yogurt and tamarind sauce topped with crunchy diamonds of fried lentil fritters – almost as addictive as goldfish, the cheddar cheese variety, of course. Hot dishes include banana fritters, eggplant fritters and vegetable fritters (somebody in the kitchen must love that word…). Pakoras and tikkas and kebabs vie with lentil donuts and sauteed chicken livers.

A large selection of main courses come from the tandoori, or clay oven. These are always among our favorites, and here they are done to perfection. Not only that, but in addition to the usual chicken, lamb and beef, there are delectable steaks of salmon and swordfish and even marinated shrimp. Vegetarian dishes are not shirked, with a list that will keep even the most jaded grain and bean fiend in your clan happy. Tangy curries, madras, kurmas, kashmiris, bhunas and vindaloos are only the start to lists of chicken, lamb, beef, fish, shrimp and lobster dishes. The Indonesian sampling is heavy on coconut, but a winner nonetheless. And to top it all off, Windows offers a half dozen combination dinners that allow you to sample several dishes at once!

Although we make it a practice to avoid desserts in Asian restaurants, as New York versions are rarely worth saving a trip down to Little Italy, this place goes beyond (though includes) the usual firni, or rose water pudding and ice cream to show off some traditional desserts like fried sweet cheese balls in rose water syrup, rice pudding with fruit and cardamom, and a homemade pistachio and saffron ice cream.

We’ll be back, we’ve been back, and you should give it a try too. It’s worth walking all the way to the end of the block.

Windows on India, 344 East Sixth Street (at First Avenue), 477-5956. Open 7 days a week, lunch and inner. Cash or credit cards. $10-20 for dinner, depending on just how far you want to go.

When I first moved to New York City I began hearing about this place in Grand Central Station. The station itself was worth the trip, back in those days we still had the giant Kodak photo mounted in the main waiting room. It’s a shame that all they could find to replace it with was a parade of musical artistes panhandling with the city’s blessings. Not to knock some of the talent, and the acoustics are great, but I miss the view. Anyway, I used to hear about this “little place” down in the depths of the station called Oyster Bar. It was years before I got around to checking it out, all I could envision was a lunch counter with a bunch of commuters slurping down oysters on the half shell and washing them down with cold beer. Not bad way to head for home, but who wanted to go down in the basement for that?

Happily, I finally got around to checking this place out. Now, it depends where you walk in on Oyster Bar as to what kind of impression it’s going to make. I happened on the saloon entrance first, a dark-wood paneled stairway leading down into a just as dark-wood paneled, well, saloon. A huge L-shaped bar dominates two sides of the room, the tables are covered with red and white checked cloths, there are swinging saloon-style doors on the entrance and the only thing missing is sawdust on the floor. Of course you could enter into the room with the giant lunch counter that reminds me of nothing so much as a floor plan of the Atlanta airport. And indeed, there are folks sucking down mollusks and quaffing ale. Or then there’s the tile bedecked dining room…Need I go on? This place is huge. Oh, I forgot, there’s this long table displaying the desserts of the day laid out to dazzle the eye. It does.

The menu is something of a chore. First, it’s the size of a page from a large tabloid, say, The National Enquirer. Second, while basically the menu itself never changes, what portion of it is actually available does. What I mean to say is, well, and nobody else will tell you this (our first time in we ordered half a dozen things that weren’t available before the waitress explained), the only things available are the things that have prices next to them. And those change daily. Not just which things have prices, but what the prices are. Yup, they just handwrite in the prices of the day next to the catch of the day. And catch of the day is right on target because the menu is fish. This is not a place for steak or fried chicken. Fish. Okay, and shellfish.

Soups are winners here. Unanimous thumbs-up for the New England and Manhattan clam chowders, mixed reviews on the she-crab soup. The cold poached trout with horseradish is a big hit with our entire clan, but even better, the oyster pan roast, my personal favorite. However, the keys to Oyster Bar are the oysters. While not cheap, ranging from one to three dollars apiece, this is the place to sample those raw delicacies from all over the world. It gave us a chance to really begin to appreciate the diversity of flavors and textures that these things come in. My own preferences lean towards those from the cooler waters around Alaska and Washington states, where they grow plump and juicy so slowly that some of them have probably been there since Cornelius Corneliszoon invented the wind-powered sawmill (look it up, he really did).

Fish is generally prepared simply. You select which of the half dozen to dozen species came in that day, the chef fillets it, cooks it, and serves it to you. No fancy, schmancy sauces or phallic towers of gewgaw perched amidst a moat overrun with flotsam and jetsam. Just delicious, simply prepared, fish.

Oh, and for years, this place has had one of the best American white wine lists in New York, if not the country. And to make it even better, they’ve just opened a wine bar – sixty plus samplings by the glass. Can’t beat that with a grapevine.

Finish up with a trip to look at the dessert table. If nothing catches your eye, your stomach, your heart, you’re probably comatose. Get thee to a surgery. When they have it, I love the fig forte. Give it a try. Head for the depths of the station, and please, at least give a smile to the musician plugging away outside the doors.

Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, 490-6650. Open Monday to Friday only, for lunch and dinner. Cash or credit cards. Lunch $20-25, Dinner $30-40.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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SoHo Kitchen and Bar

CaB Magazine
November-December 1993

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

There are places that we go to where we don’t go for the food. That’s not to say that the food isn’t good, it just isn’t what we’re there for. On those nights when we’re feeling like drinking a bit of wine, we head for the closest wine bar. For us, that happens to be SoHo Kitchen and Bar. Located on Mercer, a couple blocks south of the Angelika Film Center, this cavernous establishment is a must stop for anyone interested in sampling the basics of wine.

The decor is modern bar, and indistinguishable from any of a dozen other places, with two exceptions. A massive hundred bottle dispenser for wines by the glass dominates the center of the space, a polished wooden bar encircling (well, actually, en-ovaling). The other is a huge relief mural just inside the entrance of what appears to be a Spanish village, with matadors, bulls, food, drink, and the like intertwined.

When seated, either at bar or table, we are presented with the standard menu, the specials of the day, the wine list and the beer list, all stuffed neatly into a standard plastic menu cover. The food, for us, is secondary to the wine, but consists of a nicely prepared selection of salads, sandwiches, pastas and simple entrees. We’ve never had anything we didn’t like, but we’ve never shouted “Eureka” either. The pastas tend to be our favorites, my personal one a penne with prosciutto and peas in a light cream sauce.

We turn first, and I suppose last, however, to the wine list. The hundred wines offered are organized into “flights”. That is, they are grouped by either region or grape variety, or some criterion that the owners judged appropriate. Each flight contains anywhere from three to eight wines. You can order any wine by the bottle, or by the standard glass (5 ounces), or by a smaller tasting glass (2½ ounces), or, for those who are serious about their sampling, by flight. For the flight, you get a small amount of each wine (1½ ounces). From our samplings so far, we have yet to have a wine we didn’t enjoy, and each flight has contained at least one outstanding wine.

Examples of flights – a Pinot Grigio (one each from Italy, the U.S. and Alsace); French Chardonnays (7 white wines from Burgundy); and Italian Reds (4 top contenders from all over the country). If you’ll indulge me a moment, and hopefully without intruding too far upon our wine columnist’s arena, I’d like to take you through a sample flight.

One of my favorites has been the French Chardonnay flight I mentioned above. It’s a great way to see the difference that both the style of winemaking and the climate and geology of differing areas make when using the same grape. The seven wines arrive on a placemat with adorable little circles on it. Our waiter places a glass in each of the first seven circles and lets us know that from left to right they follow the flight list.

The first wine is a 1991 Domaine Dampt Chablis, from perhaps obviously, Chablis, in the north of the Burgundy region. The wine tastes of peaches and a buttery flavor, and just a hit of stone (Chablis aficionados look for a “flinty” character in the wine). It is light, refreshing, and a nice start to the flight. The second wine we sample is the 1992 Georges Duboeuf Coupe-Dailly, from Saint-Veran, in the southern Maconnais region of Burgundy. This wine is light, refreshing and tastes of apples, with a “woodsy” character to it. Continuing on, we sample 1991 William Fevre Montmain Chablis Premier Cru – now back to the northern end of Burgundy, and a higher quality Chablis, tasting of the obligatory flint, along with oranges and a touch of nutmeg. We move on to the 1990 Vaudoisey Les Vireuils, from the Meursault region, down at the south end of Burgundy. This wine tastes of pears with hints of hazelnuts and toast.

Moving to the 1989 Domain Chauvo from Chassagne-Montrachet, we find the peach and hazelnut flavors combined, along with an earthy or mushroomy character that is typical of this southern Burgundy area. The 1990 Joseph Drouhin Les Folatieres from the next door Puligny-Montrachet area is our favorite, with an immediate aroma that reminds us of banana-pecan waffles, and then hints of mint and pepper. We end with the 1992 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse, a trifle on the light side with flavors of raspberries and honey and a hint of rose petals.

Okay, now I admit that all the flavors and aromas are purely subjective, that you might taste something totally different, and that you might think that all this wine stuff is too silly for words. Just order a bottle of your favorite whatever and enjoy the atmosphere. Or drop by the table and join us in the fun…

SoHo Kitchen and Bar, 103 Greene Street (between Prince and Spring Streets), 925-1866. Open 7 days a week for lunch and inner. Credit Cards accepted. Figure on your meal running around $10 to $15, plus whatever damage you do in wine…

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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Beatrice Inn and 103

CaB Magazine
September 1993

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

I received a call the other day from our very own Count James de Szigethy, letting me know about this incredible Italian, nay, Ligurian inn ensconced in the West Village. A quick look at the wall map found Liguria located up in the north of Italy, home to the city of Genoa. A “must try” he said. Who am I to argue with a Count? A quick call to owner Elsie Cardia and our trip to Beatrice Inn was set in Italian marble.

Our trio arrived a few nights later. We wended our way down the flower-banked steps from the sidewalk to enter the comfortably elegant dining room billing itself as a stronghold of the Bohemian Greenwich Village mystique. Well spaced, lightly starched, white-clothed tables in a casual brick-walled, wine bottle embellished dining room beckoned us to sit. The inn has drawn many a famed face, from Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Woody and Mia – a scene from Another Woman was even shot in the dining room.

We started our repast with a decent-sized cold antipasto platter laden with olives, roasted peppers, anchovies, prosciutto and other northern Italian delicacies, while we contemplated the menu. As Ms. Cardia’s suggestion, she took over the selection process and, after a suitable wait, presented us with a sampling of her favorite pastas. I must admit, the pesto sauce was good, though not a cut above the average. On the other hand, her putanesca sauce, brimming with anchovies and olives, was out of this world, and to top it off, her intensely savory tomato vodka sauce with fresh peas, ladled over perfectly cooked penne, may just be the best I’ve ever had.

We progressed on to a triad of plates loaded with delightfully tangy veal piccata, melt-in-your-mouth Chicken Francaise, and the Beatrice’s own specialty, Seafood Beatrice, a cornucopia of clams, mussels, octopus and fish in a rich, piquant tomato sauce. A bottle of 1986 Ruffino Chianti Classico, rich with the essences of berries and just a hint of fresh tobacco, was the perfect accompaniment to this profusion of flavors. Sighing with contentment, for dessert we chose to split a house specialty. We were rewarded with an absolutely delicious tiramisu – initially nibbling, and finally devouring each crumb of coffee-chocolate creaminess.

Needless to say, there turned out to be no reason to argue with our Count, and we seconded his “must try” opinion.

Beatrice Inn, 285 West 12th Street (8th Avenue), 929-6165. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner $25-35.

It was a brunch Sunday. Not all Sundays are brunch Sundays of course. Some of them are reserved for toast and coffee over a paper and heavy repasts in mid-afternoon. Others are spent at beaches, parks, museums or theaters. But this one was definitely a brunch Sunday. We promptly headed for one of our favorite brunch spots, 103. Depending on whom you talk to, this place is also known as Jerry’s 103 and 103 Second – we’ve opted for brevity.

If I were going to design a restaurant, I think this is the one I’d design. Expansive windows look out onto Second Avenue and East 6th Street. We sit in the simple white, black and grey decor, surrounded by formica tables and banquettes, each with a simple flower display. A cute mural spans the wall next to the well-designed and even better stocked bar. Cute waiters with tight T-shirts and just a modicum of attitude (though, watch out at night when energy and attitude levels get raised) drop by for a bit of a chat and offer coffee. We worked our way down through the list of cappucinos, cafe-au-laits, and espressos, and settled on one of each, combined and administered intravenously. Our waiter smiles with understanding, but demurs, and fetches a cappucino and a cafe-au-lait.

Brunch is an a la carte affair. The menu begins with juices and other appropriate mid-day drinks containing champagne and vitamin C. We sample the fresh squeezed orange juice and move on to our main selections. Delightfully crispy waffles topped with pecans and warm syrup adorn one plate, poached eggs on a bed of fresh ratatouille another. When one of us is in the mood for more lunch-ish fare, the 103 Club, piled high with a selection of proper club sandwich delicacies is a favorite choice. Specials are always available, usually an omelette of the day, sometimes a pasta. My own preference is the Eggs Benedict, with zesty jalapeno mayo and thick slices of fresh tomato.

If you still have room, and we try to make sure we do, the dessert special of the day is always a good choice. On this recent venture a mouth-watering warm blackberry and peach deep dish pie arrived, with vanilla ice cream melting slowly down the sides. For those who want something a little lighter, the sorbet plate is always an enjoyable choice. Drop in on this place on your next brunch Sunday and drop over to the table and say hi.

103, 103 Second Avenue (at 6th Street), 777-4120. Open for lunch, brunch and dinner seven days a week. Visa, Mastercard, American Express accepted. Brunch, $10-20.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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Villa Amalfi and Sun Hop Shing Tea House

CaB Magazine
Summer 1993

You Are Where You Eat
Restaurant Reviews

The date was July 29, 1982. A truck, my best friend’s boyfriend Steve, and myself rolled into New York City. The Big Apple. Life in the fast lane. The next night I went out on the town. I don’t remember anything but the name of it, I was too excited to be here. A Midwesterner does Greenwich Village. Villa Amalfi.

I still get excited being in Greenwich Village, but that’s another story. Since that time I have, however, managed to pop myself back into this long standing Italian eatery enough times to get a handle on the food. The place has a glassed in “porch”, faux marble walls, and a maitre d’ beckoning you in from the street. This looks like a setup for a bad meal, if not a bad movie. Luckily, it’s neither. For classic Italian fare, correctly prepared with minimal tinkering, this is the place to go.

During the summer we sit ourselves down in the little 2-3 table outdoor alcove where we can watch the flow of life in the streets. Unless we’re feeling fancy a round of the house white wine to sip on while we look over the menu is actually a pretty good choice. Sampling the appetizers gives us more time to think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of good dining. Baked clams oreganato are tasty and an occasionally available antipasto platter is good, though a bit hefty. Our favorites lean towards the refreshingly delicious prosciutto and melon, with large slabs of honeydew draped with this salty ham (ask for the aged balsamic vinegar to splash on it rather than the lemon wedges), and the huge platter of fried calamari, perfectly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and a mild, but zesty, dipping sauce.

The main course selection is exactly what you’d expect by this point in your adventure. Chicken and veal dishes, piccata, marsala, saltimbocca are cooked just the way you want them to be. Light sauces with clean, clear flavors, the meat tender and juicy. Pastas with red sauces, white sauces, cream sauces, and wine sauces. The flavors of herbs permeate the dishes, the pasta cooked just a touch al dente, all arrayed on platters the size of Aunt Sadie’s seder plate. Our favorites are the carbonara, with tiny bits of smoky bacon, fresh peas, and a cream sauce that’s richer than Ross Perot, and a recent night’s special of fusilli with grilled shrimp, sauteed chicken, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes, in a light jus created from the juices of all these little delicacies.

The decision must be made midway through the main course. To save room for dessert or not? Villa Amalfi serves up a solid array of New York classics, like cheesecake, fruit tarts, and creme caramel. All are, as might be expected, properly prepared and tasty. It is, however, a shame that there aren’t more classic Italian selections on the menu, except as specials. We often opt for espressos and glasses of grappa or Averna to end the evening. All in all, next time you’re in the mood for good Italian food a definite couple of cuts above the spaghetti and meatballs at your neighborhood pizzeria, make the trip here.

Villa Amalfi, 84-86 7th Avenue (at West 4th Street). Open 7 days a week. All major credit cards. Dinner, $30-35.

For those of you who are regular readers of this column, you know that one of my favorite things to find is a “hole-in-the-wall” kind of place that serves good food at low prices. In this category fall almost, though not quite, all dim sum restaurants. I’ve seen somewhere around two dozen different translations for “dim sum” into English, but my pick of the batch comes out something like “a little bit of the heart.” The tradition of dim sum started in the old Chinese tea house, a place where businessmen came to negotiate and strike deals. You sat down, ordered and paid for a pot of tea. As a courtesy the proprietor would often bring around small plates of snacks whipped up in the kitchen. Of course here in the US of A, we’ve turned it around – we pay for the food and the tea is free.

New York has dozens and dozens of places one can go for dim sum, ranging from cheap to pricey, bad to good, and small to immense (at one place I’ve been the waitstaff actually use walkie talkies to communicate with the maitre d’ and the kitchen). My hands-down favorite though is a little place on lower Mott Street called Sun Hop Shing Tea House. This unassuming little, okay, let’s face it, dive, serves a tasty selection of dim sum, and doesn’t take more than a nibble out of our wallets at the end of it all.

The process of eating dim sum is half the joy of eating it. Waitresses (almost always waitresses, rarely waiters), often motherly looking, wheel carts piled with dishes of generally one to four different dim sum on them. They come and stand next to your table with the cart and start talking very fast in what I’m sure is an obscure dialect of Chinese, meanwhile pointing at the various dishes as I’m sure they’re extolling the virtues of each. If you’re lucky, you can get the words “beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or vegetable” out of them. You point at the ones that you’re not quite convinced you can’t live without, and they place a plate on your table. You then eat and wait for the next cart and its delicacies. If you have favorites you can ask, and be assured that the next time that cart is available, but not before, they’ll remember you asked for the dish.

Dim sum is generally an early afternoon tradition, and in New York is often limited to weekend lunchtimes. Luckily Sun Hop Shing serves dim sum daily, and usually from mid-morning to late afternoon. Since I know none of the Chinese names for anything you might eat, and each restaurant calls them something different anyway, I’ll describe the gang’s favorites here. There are little rich noodle dumplings, usually called siu mai, that come in absolutely delicious beef and shrimp varieties. Then there are long rich noodle rolls, looking something like an uncooked extra large egg roll, the best of which are the ones stuffed with vegetables and peanuts. Definitely try the taro root cakes, among the best I’ve tried in Chinatown. their beef meatballs with scallions are pretty darn good, and there is a wide variety of deep-fried turnovers and dumplings, especially the chicken ones, that are outstanding. However, the one “must” each time we go are the steamed pork buns. Tender, rich, succulent bits of barbecued roast pork in a steamed, slightly sweet dough (don’t be surprised that it’s not browned), these are not be missed, make sure to ask for them if they don’t come around. There are also some good dim sum desserts, including custard, sweet bean cakes, and “almond” tofu in honey. What more can you ask for than this little bit of heart?

Sun Hop Shing Tea House, 21 Mott Street (at Mosco St.), 267-2729. Open daily, dim sum service roughly mid-morning to mid-afternoon. No reservations. Cash only. Lunch $5-10.

CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!

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