You probably don’t remember my discovery that an old high school acquaintance, Peter Yanowitz, has become something of a rock star. He was the drummer for the Wallflowers, and then for Natalie Merchant, and now he plays the bass for Morningwood. I tracked him down on the Internet, contacted him, and after a few tries was able to remind him of who I was. We had spent a month at the same camp in our Jewish youth group, B’nai B’rith, in 1983, and then were on the same trip to Israel for six weeks in 1984. We also both ended up going to college at Tufts, where we saw each other a total of one time. So I was in no way insulted that he wouldn’t remember me right away. I remembered him because he was one of the popular kids. A guy like me remembers the popular kids.
He e-mailed me his cell phone number and said we should hook up. That was back in late October, and although the idea intrigued me, the notion of me squeeking at him in my nasally voice into his cell phone, trying to arrange a meeting after 21-years with someone I didn’t know that well in the first place and who was now a rock star seemed ridiculous, and a little humiliating. So I didn’t bother.
Then last week he e-mailed me:
hey! i haven't forgot about you and would still like to get together sometime. i am all over the place..writing for morningwod..back and forth to los angeles..writing for a broadway musical. and other adventures. i hope you are well, ready for some sunshine.
april is filling up, but maybe towards the end of the month, or may we can find some time to get some dinner.
i hope you are well!
Meanwhile, Chris Lee, the relatively new chef at Gilt, had been after me to try his food. So I invited Peter and his girlfriend Lisa to have dinner with me there.
The dress code at Gilt is “elegant casual” with jackets preferred on men but not required.
I e-mailed Peter with that information.
His reply: “u mean i cant wear my spandex leopard skin pants?”
I thought of telling him to go for it, but I didn’t want it to sound like a dare. I wanted to express support for him to wear whatever he liked while not necessarily encouraging him to embarrass himself, the restaurant or me.
So I said: “Hey, elegant casual is as elegant casual does. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could pull off the right look in spandex leopard skin pants.
Okay, I’d be a little surprised.”
I mean, who knew what kind of freak I might find myself dining with? Was he a stereotypical rock star who would order inappropriately expensive wine and yell at the staff? Would he be a pretentious lunatic with a ditzy, judgmental girlfriend? It could be a really long night.
But I was giddy with excitement. There’s always something of a thrill in becoming reacquainted with people from your distant past. And Peter had always seemed to have a certain kindness and melancholy that popular kids didn’t normally have so close to the surface.
On the other hand, he had taken the stage name of Pedro Yanowitz. He could be a complete nut.
As it turned out, he wore jeans, a button-down shirt and v-neck argyle sweater, kind of reminding me of the preppy young Guess-jeans-wearing pretty boy I remember from Israel, and a contrast to the long-haired, bongo-playing hippie type that he was when he lived in Tufts’ Crafts House.
We got reacquainted as sommelier Jason Ferris poured Champagne and Chris sent out an amuse-bouche of braised octopus with pickled Asian vegetables and chile powder.
Peter's girlfriend, it turned out, is Lisa Davies, a former model who, after ten years in that job, is now a 25-year-old nursing student with the sort of intelligence and poise you can get, if you pay attention, with a decade’s worth of exposure to the cosmopolitan world.
Peter seems like a sweet, intelligent man with the temperament of someone who has succeeded more than he expected to. He has a bit of the stereotypical entertainer in him in that he doesn’t eat meat and drinks green and herbal tea. Normally, dining with non-meat-eaters can be a drag, but it turned out to be a bonus as Chris planned an entirely different tasting menu for him and Jason, naturally, picked appropriately different wines.
Peter had taken the stage name Pedro in the aftermath of a bad breakup that somehow ended his association with Natalie Merchant (I didn’t press), but his friends have pretty much always called him Peter. He’s working on Morningwood’s second album with a major label and he also is working with Stephen Trask on the musical version of “Clueless.” I can’t wait to see it.
As the three of us ate and drank and ate and drank, we expressed joy that life had taken the nice turns it had for us.
Then, after Gilt’s brand new pastry chef, David Carmichael, sent out dessert (this was the first night that his desserts were being served there) restaurant director and tea expert Christopher Day came out, madman that he is, with a tasting of nine different teas, including a classic Chinese long jing, two oolongs, a jasmine, a couple of other floral varieties, a tea scented with lemon zest and two different earl greys, marked by their difference in age. It was enchanting.
Before we take a look at the rest of the menu, here’s a link to Morningwood. Peter’s the guy on the left.
And now, here’s what else I ate and drank:
Yellowfin tuna tartare with kimchi, rice pearls, scallion pancakes and shallot ginger dressing.
2004 Domaine Jean-Paul Picard Sancerre (Loire Valley)
Diver sea scallops with edamame, passion fruit, lotus root and winter black truffle jus
2004 Sighardt Donabaum Riesling “Brandstatt” (Wachau, Austria)
Crispy black sea bass with pipérade, chorizo, red bliss potatoes, garlic aïoli and saffron mussel broth
2004 Rudi Pichler “Terrassen” Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd (Wachau)
Long Island pekin duck with seared foie gras, rhubarb, fava beans, pistachios and black olive jus
2003 Vallete Frères Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos de la Justice” (Burgundy)
Australian rack of lamb with lamb shoulder ragoût, swiss chard, golden raisin falafel and preserved lemon jus
1998 Brovia Barolo “Ca Mia” (Piedmont, Italy)
Vanilla ice cream, cactus pear and orange flavor foam
Rhubarb crumble with honey mousse and marion berry granité
Pink muscat grape flambé with mascarpone ice cream and raspberry-dusted doughnuts
2005 Hunt County Vineyard Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (Finger Lakes, New York)
Mignardises (I had a whisky flavored chocolate and one flavored with chocolate-covered caramel, and lychee and mango fruit pastes).