Scenes From Manhattan

West Village, Sunday 6:00pm.  I’m at Employee Services, a former speak-easy down in the West Village.  There is no signage on the front to let you know this is even a bar except for a neon sign with PSYCHIC written in cursive.  The inside is a dimly lit luxury shotgun room with a fireplace.  An array of candles is on the marble bar, and the 20 small tables in the dining section are designed for couples only.   My current drink is a Billionaire made up of Baker’s Bourbon shaken with fresh lemon juice, EO Grenadine and Absinthe Bitters.   The one before that was a Manhattan made with Rittenhouse Rye stirred with Italian Vermouth, Grand Marnier, and AngosturaBitters.  I describe these drinks in detail to make a point.  This is a serious place… one that cannot exist here in Dallas…yet.  Not for lack of trying.  I’ve seen similar ones open, only to close in 4-6 months or do a complete 180 degree change. However, I’m not sure Big D is ready for a bar that makes its own Grenadine, grinds its own bitters, and serves up Bone Marrow Poppers.  But this is New York, and it was ready for this business concept back in 2004.  And business is booming.

Chanel, Monday 11:30am.  My brother is every Retail Sales Person’s worst nightmare.  Price tags are just the starting point for negotiations.  His motto is similar to mine in that you always ask for the deal, much like we at Multiview always ask for the sale.  However, his ability to distract the Sales Person and then come back with “Now, you DID say the price was ___,” while knowing full well that was NOT the price the Sales Person quoted is borderline uncanny.  Of course, this isn’t any store.  We’re on 57th Street inside Chanel.  I’m watching him pull off a scheme to get a $3,000 purse down to $2,400.   Due to the fact there are no matching wallets in the right color, he has a good chance of success.  He even uses me as a decoy.  “Hey, John, do you think Ashleigh (his wife) would like this purse?”  I quickly reply, “She would like it a lot MORE if they had a matching wallet…”  I make sure to use my Multiview classroom voice.  You know…the one where anyone in a 20 yard radius can hear.  And then, he pulls out his credit card and says the line that every Multiview Sales Rep knows so well, “Look, I’ll buy this right NOW if you just…”  We all know the end to this story.

Chinatown, Monday at 1:00pm.  We are checking out a seafood stall with the fresh catch of the day.  While I’m trying to explain to my brother the difference between cuttlefish and squid he notices a tank in the back with Mud Crabs from Sri Lanka.  These are BIG crabs, and currently there is a battle royal going on for the dominant top space in the tank.  At this moment I’m reminded of a story from Sri Lanka concerning the war, flood victims and burial rites.  You see, not only are Mud Crabs bottom dwellers, but they are meat eaters as well.  They are also not picky on what meat they consume.  They mainly dine on clams, but it’s quite POSSIBLE they may have found and devoured some ‘long pig’.  Hey, it COULD happen.  Flash forward to one of these crabs being caught and ending up in New York where two unsuspecting fools walk by who think they are a bit adventurous when it comes to eating seafood.  For a moment I consider it, even knowing what I know about the history.  I quickly dismiss the opportunity.  Knowing my current standing with all things being Karma related I’ll most likely end up turning into Patient Zero and bring forth the Zombie Apocalypse.  We turn away and keep walking…worldwide disaster averted for now.

Marea, Sunday 10:00pm.  This is the world of Mario Batali and Michael White.  I’m abit lit up, what with all the cocktails in my system before ordering another Irish whiskey on the rocks, but this is my usual routine with both air travel and restaurants owned by celebrity chefs who should really think twice about letting my brother and me in the door.  Supposedly, Bono is here right now having dinner.  I’m skeptical of this until I go downstairs to use the bathroom, and I pass a private room with glass for walls. The glass has an elaborate design pattern so you cannot see through it.  Lots of places have these, but they usually don’t come with the two bodyguards on either sides of the door.   I have enough whiskey in me to knock on the door because I have courage and I’m invisible, but I also have enough coherent brain matter in me to notice the shoulder harnesses of the two guards.  My survival instinct wins over my bravado.  “Next time, Bono…..there WILL be a next time.”

Marea, Sunday 10:30pm. We just got seated at the table, and the waiter has given us ‘the look’.  We’re used to it.  My brother is dressed to the hilt while I’m dressed in black wearing a cowboy style shirt with shiny skulls on either side of my chest and another one on the back.  I swear our waiter is John Malkovich’s cousin due to his remarkable resemblance to the actor and him having an accent that can only be found elsewhere on Masterpiece Theater.  Let’s call him Mark.  I know Mark despises us at first glance because I recognize that ‘look’.  It’s the same one I got once at 211 South Oak in Telluride before the waiter found out I could say Foie Gras correctly.  Mark probably thinks a hillbilly skull wearing redneck doesn’t know anything about Crudo.  It’s ok, because we have a strategy for waiters in places like this.  “We have a problem with your menu, “my brother says.  Mark, the waiter, raises his eyebrows.  Now it’s my turn to jump in.  “We want to taste everything.  Now Mark, What can YOU do to help us achieve that?”  At Multivew we call this a buying signal.  Like a pro Mark immediately responds “I can put together whatever you wish.  Would you also want a wine pairing?”  My mind says “Hell YEAH, Mark!  Hook us up!” while my mouth says, “Yes, Mark, that will do nicely.  Thank you.”  For the first time (but not the last) Mark gives away a semblance of a smile.  Everybody wins tonight.

Marea, Sunday 11:00pm.  The list of what we had that night is extraordinary long, so I’ll only go over the high points.  We started off with Uni (sea urchin) with Lardo and sea salt.  This is as fabulous as one bite gets.  It’s like….No.  It IS tasting the ocean with a thin layer of fat.  Next up, the Crudo flight with Geoduck Clam (with fresh chilies, lemon, hearts of palm), Big-eye Tuna (with oyster crema, crispy sunchoke), and Marinated Razor Clams (baby fennel, pepperoncino).  At this point the table next to us is pointing at us and wanting to comment.  One of the braver ones finally gives in and says in a stereotypical New York accent “Oh wow.  You two are going for it.  I feel like such a tourist staring at your food”.  The irony of that statement is not lost on me.  However, the meal is far from being over.  Mark is on his A-Game.  He knows it, and so do we.  Like a dedicated boxer Mark delivers a blow of Lobster (with burrata, eggplant al funghetto, and basil beads).  Again, perfect.  I’m almost knocked out of my seat on how good this is.  The wine was probably a factor in that as well.  However, the best thing here is the Fusilli (with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow).  The pasta is handmade and fresh, the octopus is soft but not chewy, and the bone marrow melts on my tongue.   This dish alone is worth the price of the plane ticket, and it exceeds all expectations.  As the progression continues I see my brother giving in to his food coma.  The voice of Howard Cosell begins echoing through my head “Down goes Frazier!  Down goes Frazier!”   I carry on like a trooper until the last plate is taken away.  There will be minor consequences of this later back at the hotel, however for the moment I have won.  I have defeated Mark’s challenge, and have kept the honor of our family name.  Marea is now mine.

West Village, Monday 1:00am.  We’re back at Employee Services.  The cocktail in my hand is called a Quiet Storm.  It’s made up of Bulleit Bourbon & Red Bush Tea-Infused Bianco Vermouth served tall with fresh lemon juice & Ginger beer.  I’m standing by the short staircase when suddenly a red light comes on and focuses to an empty chair at the top of the stairs.  A Burlesque dancer comes out from the kitchen and proceeds to pull an ex-military man from the bar to put on an impromptu show for him and the rest of the crowd.  This is not a stripper.  Not by any means.  This is an artist. She is devoted to the craft of the tease, and everyone in the room is mesmerized.   No laws are broken because nothing is shown unless you count feathers and lace.  Frankly, I’ve seen more skin at a Multiview Halloween party.  However, that’s not the point.  This is about style and substance.  For a short period of time she is the Queen of the World, and the world only exists in this bar.  Her wish is my command.  If she deems me worthy I will follow her into oblivion and never look back.

Little Italy, Monday 2:00pm.  We’re in red sauce country.  Seriously, that’s what they call it here.  I did not make that one up.  Walking down Mulberry Street my brother and I are accosted by every Italian restaurant owner within sight.  They are practically begging us to come in try their food.  This is actually the first time I’m seeing true desperation from the economy in people’s eyes.  I assumed this would be like the North End in Boston, but I’m proven wrong.  In Boston, you feel privileged to be able to walk down the street just to see the places and smell the food.  In Little Italy you almost feel like you are at the state fair walking down the midway.  It’s not that the area isn’t wonderful, but the predatory looks from the owners are giving me the sense that we are painted targets, and we have no chance of escape.  We finally settle on a place a block down from where THAT mob guy got shot by THAT mob guy in front of THAT place.  The place is Lunella’s.  We choose it because unlike the other places there is a big Italian family having lunch right there in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk.  Locals know best….plus they have Lobster Fra Diavolo on the menu.  And it’s good….REAL good.  The pasta is homemade which makes all the difference, and the place seems to light up with our mood.  They are happy because we’re happy….and happy customers spend more money and tell stories.  Enough good stories and maybe they can weather the economic storm of things to come while their competition sinks to the bottom of the Red Sauce Sea.

Little Italy, Monday 3:00pm.  Our driver pulls up to Lunella in a black SUV.  He is a little early to take us to the airport, so he gets a spot right in front and proceeds to wait.  My brother and I finally wrap up and head towards the car.  The driver opens the door for me and I get in.  The moment the door closes I hear chatter coming from the family table.  They are all looking and pointing at our vehicle.  I don’t speak a word of Italian, but the Absinthe still lingering in my head tells me they are talking about a brush with greatness.  Two of the girls even get close to the window and start to try and figure out who is behind the tinted glass.  They wave and smile at us, and we wave back.  As the car pulls away from the curb I’m still trying to figure out who the family thought we were.  In my version they think we are big shots, and the girls want to get into the car and ride off with us into the sunset.   Or could it be that we are just two rubes with a little extra cash that didn’t see the waiter prompting to the table?   “Ok, just like we planned….Wave at the nice men and maybe they come back with friends.  Girls, you two get closer to the window…”  Nah…  I like my version better.

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