31 December 2009
30 December 2009
OK, so Gino's isn't closing on Dec. 31, as previously reported.
On Dec. 26, I picked up a report from Eater, which picked it up from the NY Post, that the age-old, red sauce joint on Lexington—which has been suffering from union and recession woes—would shutter on New Year's Eve. So I called to make a reservation for tomorrow. Only the lady who answered said they weren't closing tomorrow, Dec. 31. Just closing early. Then they would be open again on Jan. 1.
Huh? But the Post reported they would fold on Dec. 31. No, said the lady: Jan. 31. So I hung up and checked the Post article. Indeed it said Jan. 31. But I remember looking at that article, and it said Dec. 31. And Eater's pick-up article still says Dec. 31. Did the Post make an error? Did they correct it online without making a note of it at the bottom of the article?
Anyway, I'm glad Gino's is still open for another month.
Norval C. White, a co-author of the "authoritative, encyclopedic, opinionated and constantly consulted" AIA Guide to New York City, died Dec. 26, at 83. He passed far away from the city whose buildings he so wonderfully catalogued, at his home in the village of Roques, in southwest France.
I can't even say how many times I have consulted the AIA guide before making a post about the history of an old New York building. It was a priceless source in discovering the date, architect, architectural style of any significant structure in the City, with a little saucy opinion thrown in for good measure.
The guide was first published in 1968, just as the preservation movement was getting its footing in New York. White was actually a leader of the fight to save the original Penn Station a few years earlier. When he heard the beautiful edifice was to be torn down, White and several other architects founded AGBANY (Action Group for Better Architecture in New York). They picketed the station and handed out fliers in protest.
As the Times obituary writes, "the AIA Guide tapped into and fostered a growing national awareness that America had an architectural past worth preserving, a present worth studying and a future worth debating. It also offered a template for other city guides. But after four decades, it stands alone."
The book began as as a guide he prepared for the American Institute of Architects’ national convention in New York in 1967. It can out as a book the next year. For a time in the 1990s, the book was, insanely, out of print, much to the consternation of historians and New York lovers. The fifth edition is to be published in June by Oxford University Press. Elliot Willensky, the the other original co-author, died in 1990. Mr. White’s co-author on the new edition is Fran Leadon, an assistant professor of architecture at City College.
White was an architect himself and was a native New Yorker. He was born on June 12, 1926, and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, then spent much of his adult life in Brooklyn Heights. (No wonder that neighborhood gets such a thorough going over in the guide. I wish he had done the same for Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, which only get a rather cursory survey.)
The man did right by his native City. If more followed his example, we'd be in a better place.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 6:51 AM
29 December 2009
City Bakery's Maury Rubin e-mailed me today, asking if Vesuvio Bakery—the landmark, Irish-green storefront in SoHo that he recently brought back to life as Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery—might be taken off my home page tally of "Recently Lost Landmarks." Though the true Vesuvio is indeed lost forever, he has a point that the space is now back in operation, and in its original capacity as a bakery, so I agree to amend the listing.
He also sent me some super-cool photos of the coal-fired ovens built into the earth underneath 160 Prince Street. (The photos were taken by Chris Callis.) Looks like an archeological dig you might find in some ancient town in southern Italy. Love the fine pyrometer by L. Mueller of tiny Cliff Street (one block long) in downtown Manhattan.
28 December 2009
Say goodbye to this familiar yellow door.
Eater reports that the New York Post reports that the 64 year-old Upper East Side restaurant Gino's will close on Dec. 31. The word came from a union rep. The restaurant has been grappling with its union over a new contract for some time.
Reports surfaced this month that the troubled Gino would be saved as a white-knight buyer rode in to scoop up the joint, famous for its zebra wallpaper and old-school dishes like veal parmigiana and chicken cacciatore.
But Dell'Aguzzo told The Post this week a buyer has not materialized and that the Lexington Avenue eatery will not survive.
Co-owner Salvatore Doria told The Post he couldn't talk about details of the restaurant's problems.
"In a few weeks, we'll know exactly what's the story," he said. "The place is known worldwide. It's a piece of Manhattan. The problem is the economy."
Dell'Aguzzo believes the owners of Gino floated the notion of a buyer so workers would stay on for one last Christmas season before the inevitable closing.
The union and management have been fighting since October, when the workers' contract expired and they balked at a request to pay half their health insurance and pension in a new pact.
Dell'Aguzzo said he was told that because of the economy, the owners wanted to sell but couldn't because of the labor contract.
News that the restaurant is on its deathbed left longtime patrons distraught.
"There's a general sadness and disbelief; it's a great tragedy," said Allen Falcona, 77, a patron since 1957.
"It will have a huge effect upon a lot of customers, who come daily and sometimes twice a day."
I'm glad I took the time to have lunch there last week. Perhaps I will return before Thursday. I can't say. This is hard to take, and hard to believe. Is there any business in New York that New Yorkers truly care enough about to fight for? Or are we all just too defeated at this point.
Sometimes it takes an eagle eye to spot the New York history that's been covered up, built over, repainted and obscured.
I've passed by the tiny pet shop Let's Pet on Henry Street and Baltic many a time. And, despite appreciating the quasi-European, atmospheric smallness of the Brooklyn storefront, and its neighboring Chinese takeout joint, I didn't notice anything significant about the place. But a few weeks back, the setting sun hit the old wooden door at just the right angle, and I thought I saw something, near the base of the door. Some letters, almost completely hidden by several coats of paint. "Root" preceded by few more letters, including an "L" and "D."
The owner noticed I was staring at the door. "There's some words at the bottom of your door," I explained. "Wildroot!" she said. "It's a sign for Wildroot. This used to be a barbershop. You're the first person ever to notice that." Wildroot was a popular hair tonic in the early and mid-20th century. It was introduced in Buffalo, New York in 1911 with the trademark "Wildroot" registered in 1932. The company was locally owned and operated until 1959 when it purchased by the Colgate-Palmolive Co. The 1937 Wildroot office building and factory still stand at 1740 Bailey Avenue between Broadway and Sycamore Streets.
The barbershop must have been there some time ago, because Let's Pet is about 20 years old. Then I pointed out something the owner hadn't notice. Just above the "Wildroot," in small letters, were the words "Ask for." "Ask for Wildroot."
Very likely the sign was a version of the placard seen below.
Somewhat recently, I learned that the rather nondescript-looking Gloria Florist on Court Street in Carroll Gardens had a long history in the neighborhood. Before plying blossoms on Court, it used to have a storefront on the other side of the BQE, around Columbia Street. It moved to Court some time in the 1950s. So I went to look at the shop to see if I could spot any evidence of its oldness. Inside, it looked like any florist; nothing antique about it. But then I glanced down as I left. The small step leading up to the entrance contains a beautiful, marble mosaic feature the store's name against the image of a rising sun. It's easy to miss. Check it out next time you visit.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 12:52 AM
26 December 2009
The new Union Market on Court Street in Cobble Hill opened up a couple days before Christmas. Awfully new-looking and clean inside. Notable cheese, produce and meat departments. Yet more food choices in an area that, two years ago, had very few.
The comments I have received regarding the closure of Giambelli's in Midtown have been among the more heartfelt and tender I've encountered in four years of running this blog. People really do seem to have loved the place, and the owners appear to have been very caring. Check out this reminiscence from Jeff Nickell:
My mom took me to Giambelli's when I turned 16. Mr. Giambelli came by our table and told me he would buy me a glass of champagne when I turned 21. I was visiting from South Florida and I just assumed every New York restaurant was like that -- authentic, family oriented, where the owner came by and appreciated that you chose their place for a special event -- but I've never found something like it in the city ever since. About 9 years later when I was ready to marry the girl of my dreams I took her to Giambelli's and we got engaged. Mr. Giambelli congratulated us and bought us a bottle of champagne. With the closing of the restaurant something has been lost -- I will miss this place and what it represented for me.
25 December 2009
From the Villager:
After leaving Bullet Space, we ducked into Ray’s Candy Store to get out of the gale-force snowstorm and warm up our nearly frostbitten feet. Sadly, we learned that Ray’s business is really down — Belgian fries are at just one-tenth of their usual sales — and that he’s struggling to pay his $4,000 rent this month. It’s the recession, people are just spending less, he said. Actually, he said, this is the first time since he bought the hole-in-the-wall store in 1974 that he’s never paid his rent on the first of the month. “They might throw me out,” he said matter of factly. “If I work alone — no girls, no help — I will make $100 a day and pay my rent. ... And if lose my store, I lose my apartment, too. This is my only income, and it’s too cold to collect cans.” He wasn’t kidding. “I was going to collect cans — the Chinese guy teach me how to do it,” he continued. “You need a shopping cart. The guy taught me how to make a deal with the supers or in the bars — get all the beer cans.” Ray said once in the past he took a loan from the Mafia — with interest of course, and the threat of broken kneecaps; he couldn’t pay back the cash, but luckily a Turkish friend who sold him his chocolate syrup bailed him out. He doesn’t want to go through that again. But he brightened up when some of his favorite friends dropped by in the storm. Emily, the N.Y.U. student who formerly helped him, came by his window to say hi and Ray excitedly rushed over. “I love Emily,” Ray said. “I couldn’t afford her. Fifty dollars is a lot for me. If it was summer [when business is better]... .” And Ilya, the young computer guru who springs for the strippers who dance on Ray’s counter top on his birthdays, somehow biked up through the blinding snow from the Bowery, and got a free fries from Ray. Ray turns 77 on Jan. 25 — so get those tassels twirling.
(Picture courtesy of EV Grieve)
A Very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year from the folks (me, basically) at Lost City. Maybe it's my innately perverse outlook, but somehow the recession has made Christmas more precious and resonant this year than in years past.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 1:37 PM
24 December 2009
23 December 2009
La Grenouille is the last of the great French restaurants that cropped up in New York before and after World War II. The rest, Le Pavillon, Lutèce, La Caravelle, La Côte Basque, Lespinasse, have all died. (Le Veau d'Or is still around, but I think it would even admit that it is no match for La Grenouille.) And yet, the restaurant gets no respect, no attention. Until today. Sam Sifton wrote—I don't want to call it a review—more an homage to the grand old lady of French cuisine in today's New York Times. This notice nearly made me cry, the tone of respect and appreciation was so sincere and heartfelt. Every New York culinary institution should be so extolled as precious and irreplaceable. Read:
LA GRENOUILLE turned 47 on Saturday, the last great French restaurant in New York. As on its birth night, there was snow outside the old stable at 3 East 52nd Street, and this made the soft, glittering light of the brocaded interior seem all the more inviting, the flowers towering out of the corners all the more welcoming, the sheer elegance of the place all the more arresting, important, rare.
The decline of great French cooking in New York has been a subject of discussion among the food-obsessed for decades, since at least the closing of Le Pavillon in 1971. In the last decade the talk has turned funereal, with the demise of Lutèce, La Caravelle, La Côte Basque, Lespinasse.
Brasserie cooking survives in New York, even flourishes under old mirrors and subway tile. We will always have steak frites.
But the quiet opulence of the traditional haute cuisine that was first brought to New York by Henri Soulé for the World’s Fair in 1939 and which flourished at his Pavillon and other restaurants in the years that followed? The whole marvelous Tom Wolfe scene of it: blanquette de veau and Beaumes-de-Venise, and ladies in finery beside gentlemen in soft cashmere jackets and rolled silk ties? C’est fini!
A series of recent meals at La Grenouille suggests that isn’t so. Not so long as Charles Masson, who has run it since 1975, greets his customers at the door, quiet and French and welcoming. Not so long as people can take a seat on a scarlet banquette at his restaurant, sit beneath a spray of flowers and eat sumptuous food out of Escoffier. It has been this way since his father, also named Charles, opened the restaurant in 1962 with his wife, Gisèle.
The crowd is amazing. There are city patricians, upscale travelers, romantics celebrating anniversaries, cads with escort-service friends, priests drinking Burgundy and spooning soup past their dog collars. There is jewelry everywhere, evidence of plastic surgery.
There are Thackeray characters come to life in a modern age. Some have spent too much time in the sun, doing nothing much more than turning the pages of a book. Others, eyes darting back and forth, examine the restaurant and chart customers as handicappers do horses at Belmont: Are the flowers less resplendent than in years past? Perhaps, ever so slightly, yes. Is the carpet threadbare? Not in the least, though those waiters may qualify! Is that a daughter or lover in the corner with that old lion? Oh, please. Have the Montrachet to start?
Back in the kitchen, the executive chef, Matthew Tropeano, spoons forcemeat pike into simmering broth. He naps the result with sauce and gives the plates to waiters who have known no other service. They present their customers a paragon of quenelles de brochet in the Lyonnaise style, a textbook example of classic French cuisine.
The dish is executed perfectly, a kind of beige-on-beige masterpiece devoid of irony or deconstructionist camp. (Only those without heart would call it gefilte fish.) It is delicious without being overwhelming, without being much more than ethereal pike, light as mist, buttery rice, a shellfish cream sauce with just a hint of nutmeg, a dab of American caviar. It is wonderful to eat at La Grenouille.
The revelations start early. A waiter brings an amuse-bouche, perhaps more perfunctorily than is currently normal in most New York restaurants. He neither issues a greeting nor attempts to make the action dramatic.
“This is a split pea soup,” he says. The offering is roughly four spoonfuls’ worth. Each is a cloud of magnificent flavor — salt that raises the vegetal from its depths, cream that makes it buoyant. It lingers on the tongue. The tiny dish expands the mind.
It also concentrates its focus. For there will be no lemon grass foam to confuse matters on the menu of La Grenouille this evening, no huckleberry confit or magret sliders.
This is a classic French restaurant (with classically high prices; a three-course prix fixe dinner starts at $95). Its strength is still, as Bryan Miller wrote in The New York Times almost 20 years ago, the excellence of its stocks, the basis of its magnificent sauces.
Begin your meal with sweetbreads, then. They are the thymus gland of a calf, two lobes separated by a soft tube of flesh. (Someone always asks!) Here they are trimmed in the manner of miniature chicken breasts, then sautéed until crisp, leaving a creamy interior.
Accompanied by a small bit of demi-glace made piney with rosemary, they provide an instant view of a world in which plenty is not nearly so important as quality — a world in which the point is to experience small, rich pleasures, one by one by one.
In that line, there is also foie gras, of course, fattened duck liver seared beautifully and served with port, melting velvet in the mouth. There is a magnificent country terrine, studded with pistachios and served blessedly at the temperature of the room, so that it spreads easily and caresses the tongue.
On a brisk winter evening, you might begin with risotto, now served with buttery wild mushrooms, each grain separate and pliant and rich.
A slightly rakish salmon tartare arrives piled on a large and perfect blini with more of that American caviar on top to heighten the experience. (Ravioli with lobster and tarragon achieves a similar effect, plus cream.)
And a simple endive salad highlights the bitter sweetness of the green, then sweetens it with slick pear, chalky walnut, the rough, salty excellence of Roquefort cheese.
For main dishes, there are those quenelles. Also frogs’ legs sautéed in butter with parsley and garlic, a nod to the restaurant’s name (in France, une grenouille is a frog). The legs are delicate, flavorful, addictive and impossible even in this luxe setting to finish with knife and fork. (The waiter will bring you a finger bowl when you are done.) There is an excellent plate of veal kidneys, sautéed in a flash of Cognac until just browned around the exterior, served with a thick, piquant mustard sauce. There is another of sirloin, crimson beef dominoes on a plate, with creamy pommes boulangère.
There are beef oxtails of uncommon excellence, braised until sticky in red wine, a dish the late Pat Buckley once said she would choose as her last on Earth.
And for those experiencing the restaurant for the first time, or returning to it for the first time in ages, there is Dover sole. Named for the English port in which it was first popularized, Dover sole is slightly less bathmat-shaped than its relative the flounder. It is prized by diners for close-grained sweet flavor, and by restaurants for ease of filleting, which is why it’s so often done tableside.
Here, grilled and then sauced with butter, and served with soft, golden mustard sauce, it achieves a kind of transfiguration: France brought to Midtown, a vacation in a bite. It’ll change the color of your mood ring.
Let us stay happy through the end of this meal. Wise diners will, as they order the sole, also ask for the preparation of a soufflé for dessert, perhaps the one scented with Grand Marnier. (The unwise will ask for tarte Tatin and receive a wan example in return.)
During the winter of 1997, when La Grenouille was just 35, Ruth Reichl wrote in the restaurant’s most recent review in these pages that it was not for nothing that a parade of soufflés crosses the dining room each evening. “I don’t think there is a better soufflé in New York,” she wrote, and awarded three stars.
That is still the case. It is a magic-trick dessert, a dreamlike concoction from the night kitchen: perfection unsullied. And it stands, in its way, for the importance of La Grenouille. This is the bastion now. It is worth the expense to put on your best and experience it. It is part of why you are here.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 4:47 PM
I had lunch at Gino's restaurant today. Figured I oughta while I have the chance, because who knowsif it will be around after New Year's.
Attendance was sparse. A few full tables. A lady in an enormous, donut-shaped fur hat that everyone kept complimenting out of politeness. Two tables talked about how they used to go to Gino's all the time. At the bar, old men, evidently well familiar with each other, drank wine and talk volubly in Italian, occasionally breaking in Italian song. Seemed like a small family reunion. The maitre d' perched halfway on a stool gazing affectionately/dolefully out at the diners.
I asked my waiter if the white knight talked about in the press had decided to buy and save the place yet. "We don't know," he said. "The knight, his carriage, it is stuck." The hat check woman said roughly the same thing: no news. Hm. In the Times article, it said owner Michael Miele would know "everything" by Dec. 18. Jesus. Wait to the last minute, why not?
FYI, my veal cutlet parmigiana was very good.
22 December 2009
Dennet Place ain't long. The short Carroll Gardens thoroughfare, between Nelson and Luqueer Streets, hiding behind the hulking mass of St. Mary Star of the Sea, can be traversed in about 30 seconds. But the lane wasn't short on trouble, once upon a time.
The curious path, with the midget-sized houses and half-doors, has been around since at least the 1850s. And in the decades leading up to the 20th century, it saw a pack of hurt. Not only the men, but the women were tough characters. Trolling through the Brooklyn Eagle archives, I was able to pin a black mark on nearly every one of the 20 or so addresses. Here's a taste:
1 Dennet Place: Sarah Alcock, an "old rounder," was sent up for 90 days in July 1885.
2 Dennet Place: Maggie Davis was arrested April 1890 for robbing a man of $42.
6 Dennet Place: Thomas Owens, arrested April 1885, for abandonment.
7 Dennet Place: Lizzie Mack had 14-year-old brother Johnnie arrested July 1891 for stealing her watch.
8 Dennet Place: Mary Allen, burnt by exploding kerosene lamp, Dec. 1893. Later home to Giulo Rivola, who attempted to dynamite Barrett Manufacturuing company on Smith in March 1906.
9 Dennet Place: James Reardon arrested in 1902 for falsely collecting insurance payments.
16 Dennet Place: Catharine Keeney had her husband Charles T. Foley arrested for bigamy in August 1896.
18 Dennet Place: Bernard Lafferty arrested June 1889 for stabbing a man several times with a pen knife.
20 Dennet Place: Andrew Schell, arrested for assaulting an officer, Oct. 1884.
21 Dennet Place: George Phoebus, arrested Dec. 1890 for misappopriation of funds, having sold a house for Annie Ross at 21 Dennett, and never paying over the money. Phoebus was son of a clergyman, became a lawyer, then a journalist, married an actress in summer 1884, disappeared Christmas day 1885, leaving to Liverpool.
Watch yourself when walking down this street.
The Grotta Azzurra is not exactly lost. It still sits on the corner of Mulberry and Broome, where it was founded by the DaVino family in 1908. However, it shuttered for six years recently, and, when it reopened, it was no longer run by the DaVinos and is reportedly not the same. So it's a long shot that you're ever find this recipe. It's from a humble, ring-binder, cookbook self-published by John Davino in 1977. According to the introduction, all the recipes within come not only from the restaurant, but "have been handed down form father to son since the 1800's, and each dish has remained untouched from the original recipe." The book was kindly given to me by the owner of Bopkat, the great antique shop on Union Street near Columbia in Brooklyn. She thought I would appreciate it. She was right.
Being a meatball nut, always looking for new recipes for this elemental food, I turned to the recipe simply titled "Meatballs." Since I like the way it turned out, here's how it goes:
1 lb. beef, chopped
1/2 lb. pork, chopped
3 slices of Italian bread, soaked in water and squeeze dry
2 Tbls. of cheese, grated Parmesan or Romano
1 Tbl. parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine beef, pork, bread, eggs, cheese, parsley, basil, salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well. Shape mixture into 2 1/2 inch balls. Place into baking pan with oil. Bake about 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees.
I found the large size of the meatballs made a big difference. They were crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.
Previous "Recipes of the Lost City"
I was at the Court Square stop on the G line. People who take the G train regularly know how this works. A Brooklyn-bound train pulls into the station and a single half-door per car slides open to let people in. All the doors don't open until the train is ready to leave the station.
I had finished my business in Queens and, having disembarked the 7 train, was ready to make the transfer. The train came in, the half-doors opened. I looked for my narrow passage into the second car. I found it, but it was blocked. Just inside the door, rooted like oak trees, were two obese female MTA employees, facing each other. Now, I am not trying to gross you out here; I'm just telling you what they were doing. One, her hands firmly on the chin of the other, was assisting her colleague in popping a zit. Seriously.
I will give you a moment to retch before you return to this story.
Ready? OK. Now, I was standing there. And I am a tall man. Easy to see. But they moved not. Nor did they acknowledge my presence or the fact that they were absolutely blocking the only point of entrance into the car. They just continued talking and performing their minor surgical operation.
I had had a long day. I was tired. I wanted to sit down. "Excuse me," I said, and—I'll admit!—with some garden variety New Yorker brusqueness, more or less sidled inside the car.
The MTA ladies were indignant. I was simply the rudest human being they had ever met. "I'm sorry, can we please exit," said one with a great deal of tartness. She had shown no signs of planning to exit. "The word is 'Excuse me'!" And they left in a huff.
Actually, "Excuse me" is two words. Actually, I said "Excuse me." Actually you are MTA employees and you were blocking the damn door to the subway car, so maybe you should say "Excuse me."
21 December 2009
Every since I discovered that the Eileen Dugan Senior Center at 380 Court Street, on the west side of Carroll Park in Brooklyn, used to be a Norwegian Salvation Army—or "Frelsesarmeen," as is carved at the top of the facade—I've been intrigued by the hulking, cream-colored building. I knew that no aspect of the interior any longer betrayed the original function of the structure. But I had read that, in the basement of the Senior Center, which was founded in 1974, there was a full-fledged boccie court, there to amuse the center's many old Italian-American residents. Was it still there?
Recently, I worked up the courage to go in and investigate. A staff member told me that, yes, the court was still there, but—alas!—it was about to be torn down. By some chance, the director was on hand. I asked if I might see the court before it was removed. An amiable man, he agreed.
In articles printed in 1974, it was described as 30 by 8 feet and covered with pale yellow clay. A layer of green felt has been applied to the clay since then. The manager said the court wasn't used anymore because there weren't any more old Italians to play Boccie Ball. They all died off. He hopes to use the space in a way that's more appealing to greater numbers. I understand. But it's a shame. I'll wager that this may be the only senior center in the country to be so equipped.