Friday, October 16, 2009

Lying low, in public

October 16

Sometimes it’s simply more work than I want it to be to find someone to join me for dinner. Maybe I’ve been invited to something at the last minute, maybe I can’t figure out which of my friends would be most suitable to join me at a particular restaurant, maybe I don’t feel like strong-arming someone into joining me in Queens. But twice this week I’ve dined solo.

I have no qualms about eating alone. I enjoy my own company, and it let’s me focus on the food or my surroundings, or to stare out the window and watch the people go by.

Actually, yesterday I didn’t watch people go by, I tried to piece together the drama that seemed to be unfolding across the street from ’wichcraft on 20th St.

That unit of Tom Colicchio’s fast-casual sandwich chain has been serving dinner, full-on dinner with servers and beer and wine and cloth napkins, since April — quietly, for regular customers, to see if it would work.

It seems to have worked, because they’ve decided to go public with it and will likely be offering dinner at some other ’wichcraft units soon.

They got a good turnout for their press dinner. I arrived early, at 6, because I was tardy in RSVPing to the invitation to dine there and was told that all the prime time tables were booked.

Dinner is being served upstairs at that ’wichcraft, and I was seated at the window. I had a micro-brew pale ale from Maine and sampled an avocado-and-radish salad as the sun set. It was getting pretty dark by the time I was having my anchovies and gruyère on grilled bread, and by the time my pork and pickle had arrived (pulled pork with slightly sweet dill pickles and brown grainy mustard on thick bread), I had become fascinated by the activity in the building across the street, where everyone apparently belongs to a religion whose practitioners don’t believe in curtains or window shades of any kind.

One window was the locker room for the Equinox gym, so that was fun, and the other seemed to be some sort of office, but with bookcases and a couch. Not only was it lighted as though it were a stage, but everyone in there gesticulated like they were on stage. One woman walked in and dramatically plopped herself in a chair that looked like it was at a desk with a computer, although I couldn't be sure. A guy walked in and spoke using grand gestures, and laughed big laughs, leaning back for dramatic effect. Another guy walked in and got the first guy briefly in a playful fake headlock in the way that they do in TV and movies but not very often at all in real life.

I was fascinated, and continued to watch as I ate my walnut-apple crumble with vanilla ice cream and drank my espresso.

I was sorry to leave, but I imagined my table was reserved for someone else soon, so I got up and chatted briefly with Matt Lee, who was two tables away with his wife and five-week-old son, Arthur, who was resting peacefully in his stroller in the way that babies usually don’t.

My colleagues Elissa Elan and Ellen Koteff had RSVPed earlier, and so they had just recently sat down and were snacking on shishito peppers as I was leaving. I joined them briefly to give them ordering advice and to discuss Balloon Boy Falcon Heene (or I guess, really, Non-Balloon Boy, since the kid was never in the runaway balloon to begin with).

Two nights before that I went to Cávo, a 10-year-old restaurant in Queens (Astoria, to be more precise) that had recently hired a pretty big gun to be its chef, Richard Farnabe.

Farnabe was the chef of a restaurant that Drew Nieporent opened in Midtown about 10 years ago called Berkeley — serving California cuisine and playing music from the 1960s. It only lasted for about 10 minutes. But Farnabe landed on his feet as chef of Lotus, which was one of the hottest tickets in town in the pre-9/11 era. He then worked at Bruno Jamais, and was also corporate chef for Milos.

I hadn’t heard about him in awhile when I was told he was at Cávo, and it seemed reasonable to check him out on a quiet Tuesday night.

Cávo’s big and beautiful, with a lounge that’s like a glamorous cavern and a spacious, dark-colored, big-shouldered dining room in the back. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I find grand and beautiful places in Queens, and it just shows that I am a parochial boob of a Brooklynite, because I was surprised.

Manager Jesse Normand entertained me between courses of fried stuffed zuchinni blossoms, a chicken-and-leek pie that was Farnabe's take on Spanakopita, and a grilled, pepper-crusted tuna loin that tasted just like steak au poivre.

Dessert was cheesecake with sour cherries.

I noticed sour cherries were served with the chocolate dessert on ’wichcraft's dinner menu, too. I think that just might be the fruit of this autumn.

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