Manhattan – where the national color is black and the diversity is abundant. You can tell the tourists immediately – they are not wearing black, and they aren’t wearing one of those big, cashmere mufflers that are required in the City. In an effort to stretch my culinary dollars I lived a schizophrenic food life last week, ranging from lunches of trail mix to 3-star Michelin dinners. In between, I walked as far as the snowy, slushy streets would allow and inhaled great architecture and even greater artworks. In a nutshell:
It was, other than the trail mix, the cheapest meal I had in the City.
The Modern: MOMA, despite its hefty $20 admission, delivered the goods. The Jackson Pollack room alone is worth the twenty bucks. But then so were a few choice Diebenkorns and DeKoonings. I always visit the Terrace Cafe at MOMA, on the 5th floor. Seriously beautiful food, served in an austere white room (really smart, since your eyes need a break after feasting on all that modern art), and for reasonable prices.
My lunch consisted of sliced duck, fanned out on a salad of Yukon gold potatoes bathed in aged goat sheese and horse radish ($15). A fluff of infant cabbage spouts sat at the top of the plate. A slick of Port glaze went nicely with the duck — but then, they knew that — and a little mound of fruit that had been simmered in the Port sat on the side. Raisins, cranberries, sultanas, oh my. Conceptually perfect. Add a pot of herbal tea, absolutely right for the cold weather (the high that day was 24 degrees!), and you have heaven for twentysomething dollars.
Another night I dined at Lupa Osteria Romana — another one of Mario Batali’s loud, exciting, to-die-for food palaces in Greenwich Village. Duck on a bed of braised escarole, perfect with a bottle of Aglianico del Vulture 2001, Rosso di Constanza (don’t worry, I wasn’t drinking alone. . . ), with a starter of poached octopus sauced with puree of chick pea and lemon. C’e delicioso! A cheese course of caprino, gorgonzola dolce and robiolo de due latte came with candied kumquat and prunes. Inspired.
At lunch the next day, I tried out The Bar at the Modern, one of those breathtakingly chic lunch spots that attracts people so well-dressed and so fantastic to look at that you want to scream. Understated to the max, the Bar features yes, a busy bar, plus a small dining area. Other than long room dividers of black faux leather, no decor. Oh, except for $5000 worth of tomato-red roses crammed into squares of crystal. Great food, which I almost forgot to eat I was so absorbed in the sea of Prada all around me. I tried to get behind a glass of Merlot from Raphael, made from North Fork of Long Island, 2003 grapes. But the low alcohol, high tannin wine just refused to open. My lunch of walnut-glazed quail on a ragout of organic shell beans, shiitakes and applewood smoked bacon was choice ($16). Quail outstanding, beans not completely tender. A narrow dusting of coriander set off the flavors. Breads included celestial baguettes, fingerling size, which arrived with a large “coin” of unsalted butter, that had been dusted with sea salt. A glamorous little conceit, salting the unsalted butter. But hey, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
And for dessert I tried something called a Café Noix, which turned out to be a cappuccino lightly dosed with pecan liqueur – like a refreshed version of an Irish coffee. It was served with an impeccable biscotto. That little lunch set me back around $40.