Thursday, August 09, 2007

I don’t think Nellie McKay would have approved of my steak

August 9

Alain Ducasse pulled out of operations at The Essex House late last year, but the hotel still has a restaurant. The space that used to be Alain Ducasse at The Essex House is now merely The Restaurant at The Essex House and features the food of the hotel's Austrian executive chef, Christian Gradnitzer.
The abstract brass-instrument themed sculptures on the walls are gone, but the restaurant still boasts a grand central flower arrangement and other quaint but nice trappings, such as the antechamber where Andy Battaglia was reading his advance copy of The Onion when I arrived last night.
I was coming from The Mandarin-Oriental, which was having a cocktail party so we journalists could meet with the publicists from the hotel group’s different properties. So I had a couple of hors d’oeuvres, a glass of Chardonnay and a cocktail featuring passion fruit, strawberry, lemon, lime and Champagne. I was there just long enough to kiss a couple of people on the cheeks and ask after Eric Ziebold, the chef at CityZen in DC, and Joel Huff at Silks in San Francisco. Then I headed to The Essex House.
Andy is the city editor for The Onion's New York edition. The Onion, as you may know, has a satirical news section wrapped around a serious arts magazine, called The A.V. Club, that includes music, book and movie reviews, interviews, astute observations about pop culture and, starting last year, a city section that observes the goings on about town. Andy, who also writes music and book reviews, is in charge of that section (this week, my friend Howard Helmer of the American Egg Board is featured; he holds the world record for the most omelets made in half an hour and according to Andy makes for a terrific interview).
I had an arugula salad with grapes and Parmesan, followed by a T-bone, and Andy had lobster salad and the grilled seafood special.
Christian sent out a giant portion of foie gras for each of us, with a balsamic reduction, an apricot jam and, inexplicably, lemon sorbet with a raspberry on top.
Dessert was a dark brown globe called a "chocolate surprise" that the chef presented to us himself and doused it in warm chocolate sauce that melted the top of the globe, revealing its contents. Surprise!
Lately in this blog I’ve mentioned friends who have been like surrogate family and friends who make the world seem less lonely. Andy’s neither of those. Andy makes me feel cool.
Not in the way that dorks make you feel cool by comparison, but in the way that people who are plugged in to interesting parts of the world and let you come along make you feel cool.
Years ago he took me to what I think was the introduction to the New York music scene of mash-ups, which at the time were being referred to as bootleg — when DJs combine tracks from two different songs, perhaps different genres, often using the vocals of one and the music of the other. Wise and artful juxtaposition can make for interesting implicit social commentary as well as good music.
Tonight after dinner we went to Joe’s Pub to see Nellie McKay. She’s less avant-garde than mash-ups were when we went to Apartment to listen to those, but she’s awesome, with an amazing stage presence, a voice that’s remarkable in its range and beauty, and quite significant game on the piano.
Andy observed that she was no slouch on the ukulele, either.
She apparently is vegetarian, too, but nobody’s perfect.
Her style actually reminded me very much of cabaret singers I’d seen with cousins Leonard and Stephen in the Catskills, but with irony and amused anger.
Andy had given me a Nellie McKay CD awhile back, and her music still has its place on my iPod, but I had no idea she was the one playing the piano in her songs. I also didn’t imagine her as a blond.
Andy has had her write some things for The Onion, including something on Frank Sinatra when a box set of his music was released. He said he’d noticed in her bio that she lists The Onion before The New York Times as publications in which her work has been published. He liked that.

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