dimanche 24 mai 2009

Lucky in New York City

Saturday in NYC
Wake up late, grab a coffee, hit the road. Since we’re staying in Greenwich Village and had to get to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, we had to think about the SW to NE crossing. Luckily, it is a straight shot on the D line. The D line goes uptown on the west side of Central Park before cutting to the East at Harlem. This meant just a short walk from our apartment (we are staying in a truly fabulous apartment whose owner is away), with a stop at Bar 6, a charming Moroccan restaurant recommended by Laurent, a French musician we met in the elevator. As we were waiting for the elevator and considering our options for lunch, we heard a man and a woman speaking French and saying their goodbyes. I asked if we should hold the elevator and the answer was a surprised yes. So Laurent and I had a nice chat about the respective and considerable merits of Paris and NY and the dangers in both places of eating fruits de mer (shellfish) that is not 100% fresh. Laurent had been sick the night before on baked clams. Laurent is a musician – a guitarist – who was born in Paris (20th arrondissement) and then moved to the banlieu of Sarcelles (generally considered one of the poorer ones – my ex spent time there with his parents, peasants from Corrèze who came to Paris in search of work after the war). So he and I had a kind of natural affinity. As he said, you don’t meet many people outside France, even in the global city of New York, who know Sarcelles. Laurent recommended the Moroccan restaurant and then walked there with us. He told us about his four Sunday gigs, playing guitar for church services, and about his current gig doing the music for some Broadway musical (he told me which one, but I have already forgotten it), and then bid us farewell. He said we should be sure and stop by Elliette’s place and say salut. The Diaspora francophone generally loves the opportunity to speak la langue maternelle and share their nostalgia for l’Hexagone. One carries a little mal de pays around forever after spending any significant amount of time in France.

Of course, the restaurant recommended by Laurent was perfect. A wonderfully luminous space with a skylight and mirrors on a light-colored wall with light brown wood moldings. The signature dishes and wines were painted high up on the mirrors: chicken tagine, vegetable couscous, etc. I had the vegetable couscous, which is one of my favorite dishes and one I love to make. But I never quite get the couscous right. I think you have to be born in North Africa to understand how couscous works. That’s why they sell it in easy-cook packets for non-magrebines. But it ain’t the same. I heard a show on French radio once about how it is cooked and realized it was much more complex than it seems. Walt tried a croque monsieur, which is kind of like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich but way better. It was served with shavings of what looked like celeri rabe and carrots, alongside some cornichons and pickled white onions. My vegetable couscous was simple and delicious. Stewed carrots, celery, green beans, yellow squash, russet potatoes and tomatoes in a tomato-y sauce, served with a fluffy yet firm mound of couscous delicately topped with a raisin or two and an almond sliver. A small ramekin of harissa came with it. Delicious. A couple sitting in the corner was eating something that required ketchup. The woman poured a huge amount of salt on whatever she was eating. When they got up to leave, I noticed she was a few months pregnant. Geez, I thought, all that salt can’t be good. But Walt noticed they she had left her sunglasses on the table. He rushed out the front door and by some miracle managed to spot them on the crowded street. They were grateful out-of-towners. So grateful that a few minutes later our waitress presented two mimosas, a gift of gratitude from the out-of-towners.

After lunch, we made our way down to the D line, stopping to look at puppies in a pet shop window and to buy some clairefontaine writing notebooks, which I have not been able to find in Seattle, and a Cross pencil, at a fully-stocked, even overflowing, stationary shop.

That’s a lot of serendipity before 2 pm. But that’s New York.