Still on the Covid roller coaster, but enjoying restaurants, movies, cocktails, books anyway!
Happy New Year, one and all!
As always, the quiet week between Christmas and New Years leads one to reflect on the year gone by, both the good and the not-so-good. The not-so-good part being the rise of a new variant that continues to disrupt all our lives. Airlines cancelling flights for lack of staff. Broadway shows performed entirely by understudies (bless them!); some shows, such as Moulin Rouge, announcing to the seated audience that a cast member or crew had tested positive and there would be no show that night; Hugh Jackman, anchoring The Music Man got Covid. Ann and I had to cancel a post-Christmas trip to London, mainly because we feared contracting it there and being prevented from returning home.
It all results in a general sense of exhaustion and the pervasive question, “When will this end?” I’m hopeful it will end soon, that, in the words of an ICU doc in The Times, the end is in sight; Covid will be a permanent part of our lives, that we will manage as we do the flu:
This virus will become endemic, as some viruses do, and when each winter comes, I will see a few patients with Covid-19 who are sick enough to wind up in the intensive care unit, the unvaccinated or the immune-compromised or the unlucky. We will care for them using the protocols that we have honed over the past two years. No one will react with panic or fear or anger; it will be expected, as it is with influenza or a host of other respiratory viruses.
Perhaps then we can focus on making 2022 better than 2021, which, ultimately succeeded in something astonishing: outdoing 2020 as the worst year ever for our country in our lifetime.
But on to the good stuff! The best ofs!
One of the best moments of 2021 for us was our first vaccine, a jubilant sense of elation, followed exactly one month later by a second shot, and an enormous sense of relief, and finally gratitude for the booster, all of which prevents serious illness.
Which allowed us, on April 11th, to host our first indoor dinner party. Hooray! A great moment of 2021.
Artichokes with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette, followed by grilled leg of lamb and sheet pan vegetables and feta. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the gratitude I felt being able to hug people when they walked through the door and removed their mask.
And dining in at our favorite restaurants. At last.
And this past October, a trip to Madrid, our first trip abroad in nearly two years, where we discovered one of our favorite dishes of the year, which was … I’ll get to it.
The best of…
As this is a time of best-of lists, we offer here our own lists of bests, best meals, best cocktails, best restaurants, best books, best movies and shows. I wanted, if only for my own benefit, to go back through the year and remember our personal favorites, all of which we endorse most highly. They are not all new to 2021 but they were all new to us.
Best dish from abroad that has become a staple hors d’oeuvre: button mushrooms, tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and garlic, seared with a chunk of Spanish chorizo in the center and baked for 15 minutes. If you’re in Madrid, find them at Mesón des Chapiñións. More details on the dish in this newsletter.
Best hors d’oeuvre from home, specifically from Jimmy Bradley’s home, a dish he made famous at his Chelsea restaurant Red Cat. He texted me the recipe:
8” iron skillet
Cubed Italian fontina, mounded to top or a little over
Drizzle of evoo
Salt and pepper
Heat on a high burner until bubbles. Chuck it under the broiler until dark and sizzling. Finish with finish salt. Serve with warm crusty bread. Enjoy
In case you doubt, you can even see its deliciousness.
Favorite new dish, thanks to Ann’s perpetual hunt for new recipes, the Chicken Katsu from the New York Times Cooking. And a smokey pork lo mein is a regular in our kitchen, thanks to Kenji’s vegetarian version using shiitakes.
And, of course, a potato chip omelet, courtesy of Ferran Adria:
half a bag (three cups) Lays potato chips
6 eggs, blended
Soak the chips in the eggs for a few minutes, crunching them up a bit. Heat the oil and cook in a non-stick skillet. Finish under the broiler, till just before it’s set, so that it stays moist. Ann likes to gussy it up by sautéeing diced onion in the oil first.
Favorite new restaurants…
We have long lamented that there are no really good Chinese restaurants in our West Village neighborhood. To get New York’s best cold sesame noodles and crispy fried beef, we must venture to Hwa Yuan, in Chinatown on East Broadway. Worth the trip, but, it’s a trip.
Which is why we were delighted to go to CheLi, within walking distance on St Mark’s Place. Fabulous everything and we will be regulars this spring on evenings when Ann finishes teaching at NYU. (Adam Platt reviews it in Grub Street.)
And: Angie Mar’s jubilant embrace of classical French cuisine at her new restaurant Les Trois Chevaux. She is one of the saints of West 12th Street (along with another Angie, Clevelander Angie Rito, of Don Angie, one block east, also Michelin starred), a saint not only for creating an outstanding new restaurant but also for her tenacious defense of her neighborhood and city during the pandemic. Les Trois Chevaux is very high end, so for us, a very special occasion restaurant. But she did serve us one of the best dishes of the year, her truffled croissant with a huge side of caviar. I don’t think I enjoyed any single dish more this year.
Easy: The Little Italy, a new comer in the cocktail world by the famed bartender, Audrey Saunders, which she created at her NYC bar, Pegu Club, in 2005. Sadly, the bar succumbed to the impact of Covid, but you can still make this fantastic cocktail, a Manhattan variant using Cynar, the artichoke amaro, instead of bitters, whisky and sweet vermouth. It’s exquisite, even if you don’t use the preferred Rittenhouse 100-proof rye. Recipe here.
Ann is a classicist and writes:
Best cocktail: my usual Manhattan, with the Oaxacan chocolate bitters, during a nightly game of cribbage.
Hard to fault that!
There were many excellent movies this year, and plenty of time to watch them! Here’s a list of excellent movies and documentaries we’ve loved:
The Sound of Metal, a brilliant performance by Riz Amhed of a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing.
Spencer, a dream-like portrayal of Lady Di during a Royal family Christmas.
Tick, Tick … Boom, Lin-Manuel’s filmed adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s musical about the world out of which he created his extraordinary show, Rent.
In the Heights, a filmed version of Lin-Manuel’s first play, which, amazingly, was his college thesis.
Promising Young Woman, the psychological thriller starring the amazing Carrie Mulligan.
The Father, a riveting unsettling portrayal of dementia starring Anthony Hopkins, one of the all-time greats.
C’mon C’mon, a quiet touching film about a radio documentarian (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew, a fine performance by the young Woody Norman.
In and Of Itself, a filmed version of Derek Delguadio’s off-broadway performance mixing magic and story (astonishing).
Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical portrait of 1969 Belfast during The Troubles.
Don’t Look Up, hilarious and brilliant satire about the end of civilization, up there with Dr. Strangelove.
But the best? Ann put Belfast on her top two list. I would have to say that Bo Burnam’s Inside was one of the most extraordinary creations by a single artist. Filmed entirely in a small apartment during the pandemic it’s a tour de force of writing, performing, and filming by an individual.
But the best, right now, Ann and I can agree on: The Hand of God: “In 1980s Naples, Italy, an awkward Italian teen struggling to find his place experiences heartbreak and liberation after he's inadvertently saved from a freak accident by football legend Diego Maradona.” Highly recommend this autobiographical film by director, Paolo Sorrentino. In the ranks with another such film, Pedro Almodóvar’s Hope and Glory.
Some Kind of Heaven, about the massive retirement community, The Villages.
Rita Moreno, about the iconic actress.
Truffle Hunters, about Italian truffle hunters, truly fly-on-the-wall technique and a fascinating world.
Velvet Underground, about the band and the sixties.
Summer of Soul, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
But the best, in my opinion, was My Octopus Teacher: “A filmmaker begins diving in a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa, and meets a female octopus who casts a spell on him.” How often do we have a truly compelling relationship with a wild animal, under water?
So, so many!
It’s a Sin, about young British gay culture as AIDS sets in.
The Durells in Corfu, a fabulous and sweet account of a British family relocating to Greece in the years before World War II.
All Creatures Great and Small, another delightful version of the well-known story about a British veterinarian.
Dickinson, the surreal, fantastic story of the reclusive poet.
And so many more, not all original to 2021, but original to us, such as Schitt’s Creek, Hacks, Mare of Eastown, WandaVision and Ted Lasso.
But by far, my favorite, and Ann’s, has been Peaky Blinders, whose first season was produced in 2013, the story of an actual gang in Birmingham in the 1920s and 30s. Riveting performances, especially by Cillian Murphy.
And the best book!
I can’t choose! Maybe it’s the hammock by the Westport river, in which I read both, but they are both outstanding.
The source of one of my favorite TV series, and one of the greatest memoir titles ever, My Family and Other Animals, by Gerry Durrell, about his family’s escapades in Corfu, Greece.
And the other, Mrs. March by Virginia Feito, about a wealthy New York City woman who more less loses it when she hears that her husband’s latest novel uses her as the character of a whore who is so ugly men pay her just out of pity. She is one of the great unreliable narrators.
But listen to Ann, the real reader her pick for best book of 2021:
Best book: The Lyrics by Paul McCartney, edited by Paul Muldoon
Here’s looking to even better best-ofs in the coming year!
And I leave you with…
James Cordon’s fabulous Christmas Karaoke, too brilliant.
Happy 2022! Let’s make it better than last year! (Shouldn’t be hard!)