I I I I I I I  

 

 

 

        
by C. Jeanette Tyson


One bite of the soft shell crab and you forget. Forget whatever. Why it
took thirty minutes not to park. Why, being of supposed sound mind and body, you hatched a plan that involved marching six children under the age of seven a mile and a half down Fifth Avenue (the distance between the Zoo and Grand Central Station). Why men, when they leave, can’t seem to pack their own boxes, or go fast enough.


The stunningly crisp, perfectly salted crab had been sent to us by a
just-off-the-grill-sweaty Andy Nusser. Andy’s a rock star in the New
York food world, where chefs don’t need to drop bread crumbs to
get patrons to follow them to the next great place. He just happens
to be a friend and neighbor of my great friend who happens to be a
food writer. Casa Mono, a tapas restaurant on a small corner of Irving
Place, is his stage.

It’s always better to eat where you know the chef, my friend said.

Oh yes.

We’d started the evening in search of that elusive parking space. Well,
before that even, in search of a sitter. You see, it was way back when,
in the first blush of 2007 when it seemed there would be enough days
to indulge every desire, that I arranged to go to New York.

I wanted to take my children, to challenge their vertical view, to show
them the world. I wanted to take myself there, to walk the street in the
same way someone might slide her thumb along the thin edge of a razor
blade. I wanted to spend time with my friend and her family, because
that is what we do now, try to catch up on a life in a few days.
Way back when, I bought the tickets.

There would be time to make more specific plans. We’d check the ferry
schedule, see the Statue of Liberty up close and talk about all the freedoms
this country is supposed to have. We’d have tickets for Monet. Follow
the buzz off-Broadway. We’d shop, splurge, create the plots of the city’s
zillion stories. Then leave it all behind and antique in the country, drink
wine on her porch upstate, swim in the lake. We would get sitters, and dine.

Then spring came. Jobs went away, came back, calendars morphed. A
man made his mess. The lake house we talked about was never actually
booked, neither was the theater.

Life happens before you ever actually get around to making plans. But
then you’re sitting on a train and your daughter announces: “This New
York bagel is much better than an Austin bagel.” And you remember,
you’re in New York, and you’re leaving the next day. And you find the
sitter.

First stop, when we found parking, Pegu Club.

Audrey Saunders, another friend of my friend, is one of the city’s premier
mixologists. She’s credited with bringing the classic cocktail back to the
city after the end-of-the-century shutdown of the three-martini lunch.  
She was inspired by The Pegu Club where at the end of a very different
century, British officers put an edge on those balmy nights by the Rangoon
River with a cocktail of London dry gin, bitters, lime juice and orange curacao.
Kipling wrote that the bar was always filled with lots of people either on
their way up or on their way down. The current Pegu Club also appeals
to the exotic and exacting, to the idea that a man’s cocktail is the last bastion
of civilization on the edge of the darkest void. 

A range of elixirs, inky to amber, filled vintage bottles along the bar shelves.
My bourbon arrived, the perfectly square ice cubes struck the familiar
note against the glass. Wine-red maraschino cherries were speared on the
side. The glass was chipped and I sent it back. I’m just that exacting.

I could see the appeal of the Pegu club, just reading the menu transported
you to another place and time. But Audrey was not working that night, as
rumored, and the bar was quiet. Besides that, had we ever actually eaten lunch?

We sat at the bar at Casa Mono.

After the crab there was pumpkin croquette wth goat cheese, asparagus,
fried sweetbreads, dorado fish, mussels… the artichokes, oh, so simply
and exquisitely prepared, my friend said, it’s just Spanish olive oil and lemon
and salt… if so, the salt must’ve been dried on the lips of mermaids. I love
tapas, it suits the grazer in me, but small plates could not have been more
deceiving; the flavors were large.

It was after 11 when we threw in the forks. Our chariot was soon to turn
into a pumpkin (in other words, the sitter needed to get to bed) and we knew
we would not solve all the problems of the world, or even of children and men,
that night. We offered Andy a ride.

The chef hung up his apron, grabbed his backpack and jumped into the back
seat.

We talked about Casa Mono and all the people who’d been in it that night,
and then the talk turned to other famous chefs and their restaurants and the
people who eat in them and then write about it.

But this banter was for the rock star chef and the great food writer to carry on.
We moved under the stars north along the Hudson, away from the city.

Just barely in time, but I’d gotten a good taste of what I’d come for.
_____________
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother to the well-traveled twins,
Maddy and Jackson. Her award-winning branding work can be found at
thethinkkitchen.com

Casa Mono is at Irving Place 212-253-2773
Pegu Club is on W. Houston St at (212) 473-7348.

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