Falling in love with New York in the fall...
Restaurants, movies, theaters, recs for reading and watching, and links ...
In a long ago column, the writer Russell Baker said that fall in New York is like spring everywhere else—a dormant sleepy world comes alive, with all the excitement attending the arrival of so much life. And that’s just how it felt when we dropped Ann’s youngest child, Annabelle, at college and headed to our teensy apartment in the West Village.
One of the great things about Greenwich Village, and particularly that plot of off-kilter and confusing streets called the West Village, extending from Sixth Avenue west to the Hudson River, is that it feels like a neighborhood. A neighborhood within the world’s most busy, concentrated metropolis, but not consumed by it. All but in defiance of it.
True, it has gentrified into one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in, and you will hear in the background din, “It ain’t what it used to be.” Well, of course not. Every place evolves. But thanks to preservation rules put in place throughout the city after the monstrous destruction of Penn Station in the 1960s, it’s likely to remain as it is. Here is a place where there remain houses with actual siding, amongst the gorgeous brick and mortar Federalist buildings and high-stooped brownstones.
But really the great thrill about living in a neighborhood within a city is that you can walk out your door and in 15 minutes be at a Broadway show (Into the Woods, most recently), or an off-Broadway show at one of the great small theater companies in the city, MCC, the Vineyard Theater, or New York Theater Workshop (we spotted Mandy Patinkin in the audience there not long ago).
You can see the most recently released films without having to wait for them to come to your mall. Or see films that will never come to your mall (such as Carnal Knowledge, Mike Nichols’s film about sex in the 50s, 60s and early 70s, with Art Garfunkel, Jack Nicholson, and a stunning Ann-Margaret, which we saw at The Film Forum).
And, of course, eat. On Sunday we took the #2 train to Fulton Street to check out Jean-Georges’s Tin Building, once the site of the Fulton Fish Market, now an emporium of restaurants and markets, including a gorgeous butcher case, a fish market, and green grocers and so much more.
I wanted to try JG’s first foray into casual French food at his T. Brasserie. I love the French classics, such as onion soup and frisée salad with lardons and was eager to see JG’s take.
Can’t wait to try his Chinese restaurant, The House of the Red Pearl.
After the meal, we took a ferry to Governor’s Island to listen to our friend Major Jackson, one of the country’s finest poets, give a reading along with the bawdy and excellent Pulitzer-prize winning Sharon Olds. Then, on returning home, we prepared a summer meal of corn, tomatoes and green beans we’d bought at the Abingdon Square Greenmarket the day before. Falling in love with New York in the fall.
It’s still that time of year, when tomatoes are fat and basil is plentiful, a time to make a tomato pie, specifically Laurie Colwin’s tomato pie. This is a favorite of my wife’s and while she has been known to make five tomato pies in a day, I have never tried my hand at even one.
On a Wednesday when Ann was teaching her fiction glass to New School MFA students, I made the biscuit crust, sliced tomatoes and decided to add fresh corn to it.
I love to remind people that the way to become a better cook is to do the same recipe over and over. It’s there you discover the nuances of a dish and the behavior of one ingredient relative to another. And Ann basically has a Ph.D. in Tomato Pie.
Because Ann once made a tomato pie in Chamonix, using what she could find on French grocery shelves (no cheddar, thus gruyere, no mayo, thus a Dijon-mayo hybrid), which she deemed to be pretty good, and because I have an internal motor that prevents me from following a recipe, I added the corn and added some Dijon to the mayonnaise.
I thought it fine, indeed. Alas, Ann disapproved, finding the mustard flavor too strong. As she has been making and eating this Tomato Pie for decades, I bow to her expertise. I will do my best next time to follow her recipe exactly. The recipe is on this post from last summer, but my main impetus for linking to this page is that after the recipe, I’ve published her essay, from her book Kitchen Yarns, on the subject, a masterful evocation food and love and loss. I urge you to read it.
What we’re drinking…
I’m not a huge fan of house cocktails at restaurants (I invariably go for classics, Negroni, Manhattan, or Martini). But I love it when I see lesser known classics on a restaurant menu, especially one that I’m less likely to make for myself. That’s why, when we sat down at Ned Baldwin’s Soho restaurant Houseman, I ordered a Pink Lady.
It’s a fabulous cocktail, a sour combining gin, applejack, grenadine and an egg white. I highly recommend it.
The Pink Lady, for two:
3 ounces gin
1 ounce applejack brandy
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce grenadine
1 egg white
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker and dry shake thoroughly to froth the egg white. Fill the shaker half full of ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into chilled coupes. Garnish with a brandied cherry (or lemon twist).
What we’ve been reading…
If it weren’t clear from the opening of this newsletter, I’m in a New-York-love-song phase and have been reading New York memoirs. I’m currently devouring Arthur Gelb’s newspaper memoir, City Room. Gelb, one of my mentors, was one of the great New York Times culture reporters who went on to become the paper’s managing editor.
I’ve also delved into a history of downtown New York by the late newspaperman, Pete Hamill, called Downtown: My Manhattan (a terrific read, especially if history is your thing).
I just finished My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff, about the author’s entry level post at the revered old literary agency that represented the famously reclusive J.D. Salinger. It’s a lovely evocation of literary life in Manhattan in the mid 1990s, and a sweet portrait of being broke and young and ambitious. Along the same lines but different decade (1950s), and different industry (fashion magazines), is Manhattan When I Was Young, by Mary Cantwell. Both authors lean heavily on their conflicted romantic lives for narrative drive. (The latter book is be available, as of yesterday, on Kindle for $3, a good deal.)
Know of any good writerly New York City memoirs? Please let me know in comments!
And this from Ann:
I have been waiting for seven years for Anthony Marra’s next novel after A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon and The Tsar of Love and Techno, two of my favorite books from the last decade. Finally, his new novel, Mercury Pictures Presents, arrived! Savoring every gorgeous sentence.
I also reread O! Caledonia by Elspeth Barker to teach my class. This was Barker’s only novel, and it’s a perfect little gem that I think I’ve already gushed about it. Sixteen-year-old Janet and her eccentric family live in a castle in Scotland, surrounded by strange relatives and lots of animals. We are told right away that Janet is murdered and the book unwinds from her birth to her unfortunate death.
And on audible books …
First this enthusiastic recommendation from Ann:
I am listening to the memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, and I love it. Jennette McCurdy reads it and I always think a memoir read in the voice of the writer is even better still. It’s about growing up with the most intense stage-mother you can imagine and how this basically ruined Jeanette’s life even though she was a huge success as a kid on a Nickelodeon show called I Carly. If you like to listen to books I highly highly recommend this one.
And I’m listening to American Demon, subtitled Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America's Jack the Ripper, by my friend Dan Stashower. It’s a fabulous true crime story about the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run in Cleveland, a serial killer who cut his or her victims in pieces, leaving just the torso, the body parts scattered. The story is a great exploration of the man who was Eliot Ness and an evocation of America’s Midwest in the 1930s.
What we’ve been watching…
As mentioned above, Carnal Knowledge, a fascinating exploration of two men’s sexual lives, one an earnest schlub, the other a sly misogynist, as they move from college students to young professionals to old professionals.
Also at The Film Forum, we watched Loving Highsmith, a portrait of the novelist focusing on being gay in the 1940s and 50s when it was largely hidden. It’s a good documentary but lacked the background and biographical details that would give her life context.
Ann turned me on to Bad Sisters, a terrific, funny thriller about four sisters who plot the murder of the fifth sister’s husband (a total creep).
And, yes, we’re late to this one but it only took two episodes to get hooked on Better Call Saul.
Links we’ve loved…
For the copyeditors out there (and we love you), here’s a survey of the many forms of typographical errors from the beginning of printing to present day. (From The Millions.)
We’re very eager to see this gallery exhibit of Diane Arbus photographs.
In 2019, New York’s City Council voted to ban the sale of Foie Gras. Happily, a state supreme court judge issued an injunction, preventing the law from being enforced until the case works its way through the courts.
Also from Eater, José Andreas is opening a cocktail bar on the 50th floor of the Ritz-Carlton New York at 28th and Broadway, today.
We loved these Irish folk dancers, with arched backs and clicking feet, taking on Another One Bites the Dust by Queen.
I know a lot about Hemingway but I never knew he loved a particularly odd sandwich. It sounds nasty but I’m tempted to try it!
A funny take on the anti-tiger-mom mom, by British author and Guardian columnist Emma Brockes. Call it jellyfish parenting.
My last newsletter was devoted to corn and it should have concluded with Tariq and his unabashed love of corn. It went viral. Even Kevin Bacon has posted a tiktok of himself playing guitar with an ear of corn in Tariq’s honor. Take it away Tariq!
Thanks for reading and see you in a couple weeks!
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- Paul Auster “NewYork Trilogy”
Beautiful/Disturbing and NewYork all the way….
Have you read Jeremiah Moss’s “Vanishing New York?” Not as upbeat as what you’re writing about today, but excellent.