Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Glad for the E train

September 24

You’d think if you showed up at a restaurant opening and spoke to someone near the entranceway holding a clipboard and told her your name, she wouldn’t look at you dumbfounded, wondering why you were talking to her.
She might not have heard you, especially since restaurant openings are loud sometimes, but you would expect that she might have some idea that someone approaching her from the outside and uttering a few syllables might be saying his or her own name so that she could look it up on the list she was holding.
Or maybe I was already in a bad mood, having had to find my way during rush hour to the distant neighborhood that some people call Soho West, although I don’t think any name has really stuck yet. I had to let two jam-packed E trains go by before I could fit into one at the 5th Avenue stop, near my Midtown East office.
I was at the opening of Archipelago, in the space that once was Dani. The Japanese woman with the clipboard at the door seemed dumbfounded that I would speak to her. I told her my name again, but more loudly and immediately regretted it because I sounded mean.
She asked sweetly if I was with the press and motioned me to the press table, where I checked in, turned around, thanked the clueless Japanese woman (I didn't need to yell at her, but she should be able to handle an arriving guest without looking like a deer caught in headlights), took a glass of red wine from a passing tray and tried to figure out who all these people in the restaurant were.
They were mostly Japanese people. I gathered that they mostly were clients and friends of the owners. I chatted with a couple of people from the Food Network, sampled a couple of cocktails, snacked on some salmon on potato pancakes and soon decided I’d seen enough and left.
The space reminded me a lot of Dani. The food is Japanese-French fusion according to the press materials, but to me it seemed more like straight-up contemporary Japanese in New York — which is to say not necessarily authentic Japanese, but Japanese in spirit made for the audience they want to attract.
I had another opening to go to — this one near my office, also near the path of an E train. But it was a bar opening, so I popped into Ben’s on Spring and Thompson for a slice — I think it was the Pizza place in Men in Black — and then hopped back on the E train to go to Haven, a new bar where Divine Bar once was.
It’s on 51st between 2nd and 3rd avenues, and for reasons I can’t explain I walked down 2nd avenue to get there, and was struck by how very much like Murray Hill eastern Midtown East had become. It seemed so bridge-and-tunnel/fratboy. Then again, as Wall Street crumbles, I’m sure more than your average number of men in suits are filling bars to drink in them.
Haven seemed, well, very much like all the others, only on this evening it had a velvet rope and young women with clipboards doing crowd control.
They, too, had some difficulty, as you had to remember which of two women you RSVP'ed to so they could look on the correct clipboard. You'd think that could be consolidated in 2008. At any rate, I’d RSVP'ed to Jezebel, a name that can’t be forgotten.
To my delight, I was greeted by Steve Remming, the very able and good-natured general manager of Avon Bistro who now is managing Haven. He ushered me in, brought me to the bar and introduced me to the bartender, Jeff. I asked for a cocktail, he asked what I like, I told him whisky, he made me an Old Fashioned. Everybody wins when that happens.

What was served at Archipelago (food was clearly not a priority at the Haven party — the chef hails from The Four Seasons restaurant, so it might be good, but the party seemed more intended as a chance to voir la boîte, as pretentious people say):

tuna tartlet with tomato salsa
snow crab salad with cumin tuile
bonito tartlet with wasabi pickles
saikoro steak skewer
tomato, miso mozzarella and hearts of palm
smoked salmon on a potato crêpe
fluke with shrimp galette
Tahitian vanilla cheesecake


Anonymous said...

Mr. Thorn,
Having a business card at the ready can usually cut right through those annoying, frustrating and loud situations with PR people.

Bret Thorn said...

Yes, thank you, anonymous.
The whole thing really didn’t get my “pantyhose in a knot” as Cityfood indicated. And my problem wasn’t that they didn’t know who I was, why should they? What mystified me was that, although they were standing there with clipboards in-hand, they were unprepared to look on those clipboards for names people might give them as they showed up. Noise wasn’t the problem.

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