Thursday, December 15, 2005

Body paint and tamales

December 14

Once again my assertion that the holidays are a quiet time for food writers was ripped to shreds. I decided to forego the province of Quebec's New York celebration, as well as the opening of Emperor's Roe in Harlem, and focused my energies on the opening of Gilt.
It was a wise choice: Certainly it was the event of the evening, possibly of the week.
The courtyard of the New York Palace hotel was decorated in its usual Christmastime glory, augmented by a giant clear plastic bubble with a person inside wearing very little more than metallic body paint, slowly moving from one pose to the next. I think he was supposed to be an ornament.
Inside the space that Gilt now occupies were really two parties. To the left, electronic music was playing in the bar area, the lighting was subdued and posing in the corner was another gilded, nearly naked man. To the right, a woman was singing jazz in a more grown-up setting. A gilded woman, wearing quite a bit more clothing than her male counterparts but apparently every bit as much body paint, and wearing on her head, like a hat, the capital of a Corinthian column, was also striking slowly changing poses. Everyone was drinking Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle non-vintage Brut Champagne and sampling nibbles of chef Paul Liebrandt's cuisine, which defies description.
Mr. Liebrandt combines flavors in such a way that you can taste all of the components, often one after another, which delights some diners and confuses others. It does tend to make everyone think, though.
I didn't get much of a chance to talk to the chef, but I did talk to the sommelier, Jason Ferris, who is introducing an extravagant wine-by-the-glass list — including glasses for upwards of $500. To pair with dessert he'll be offering flights of Château d'Yquem, a notion that fits well with the double entendre of the restaurant's name.

It was a good party, but perhaps not as good as the next one I went to. My friend Kenny Lao, who owns Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on 23rd St., was having his holiday staff party and he invited me to stop by. He ordered pizza and his crew made tamales, which I ate as Kenny and his managers served margaritas and vodka-spiked lemonade. I met an 18-year-old, something I hadn't done in a long time, and couldn't help giving him advice about life. I also met some NRN readers — apparently it's required reading for people studying restaurant management at NYU — and in general enjoyed watching Kenny celebrate his employees and breezily switch from English to Spanish to Mandarin. I even got to practice my Chinese with a guy from Shanghai. We talked about the rapid economic development underway in his hometown. At least I think we did; my Chinese is pretty rusty.
I got home at around 2 a.m.

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