Last night my evening really began, at least in my own mind, at around 4pm, when I saw the following tweet from Red Cat owner Jimmy Bradley:
“Feeling bitter? Stop by The Red Cat and drown your sorrows with one of Trace’s signature cocktails.”
I wasn’t feeling bitter, nor sorrowful, but I still felt like Jimmy was speaking directly to me.
Three months ago, when our offices were in Midtown East, a shlep to west Chelsea, when I had an event to go to later in the evening near Times Square, would have seemed ludicrous.
But since Nation’s Restaurant News was bought by Penton Media and we moved offices to central Chelsea (17th Street between seventh and eighth avenues, closer to eighth), The Red Cat is now just a slight detour.
So as soon as I could extract myself from the office I sauntered over to The Red Cat and had a couple of bracing drinks — Elixir No. 1 followed by a bourbon-based one that I think was called Old Pal — refreshing but bitter, and looked at my phone to see where I’d agreed to have dinner that evening.
It seemed I'd agreed to attend the opening night of The Feast, a three-day pop-up restaurant at the soon-to-open Sanctuary Hotel (where the Portland Square Hotel was until recently).
The chef: 15-year-old Greg Grossman.
“Oh, Bret, you stupid, stupid man,” I said to myself. “You have RSVPed in the affirmative to something ridiculous.”
But I’m a man of my word. If I can possibly make it to something that I said I’d go to, I go, except when I occasionally forget.
So I paid for my drinks and walked through the rain to the E train and took it to Times Square.
I was early as I walked toward the hotel, and my heart sank when I saw the searchlights in front.
Because an event at which you must endure the silly food of a child is bad enough. Having to do it in the company of scenesters and minor self-important celebrities — well, I wasn’t going to show up early, that was for sure.
I walked to Sixth Avenue in search of time-killing amusement and, realizing I was near Oceana, I walked in for another bracing drink — whiskey-based, slightly sweeter than the ones at The Red Cat; I think it was called The Dubliner.
Chef Ben Pollinger was nice enough to send out some oysters lightly dressed in pomegranate and some escolar sashimi with mango and macadamia.
With three stiff drinks and some fortifying marine protein under my belt, I was ready for the ridiculous.
It started with a fourth cocktail, as servers were handing out rocks glasses filled with dirty vodka Marinis garnished with blue-cheese stuffed olives and truffle oil.
It was, indeed, a scenester crowd with very minor slightly self-important celebrities, and also women dressed in skimpy white outfits, clearly hired for the titillation of the guests.
I don't think I’d seen anything like that since before 9/11, and I see nothing wrong with hiring consenting adults to be eye candy, and if it helps to usher in a new age of decadence, that’s fine with me.
Also, the truffle oil in the dirty vodka Martinis worked for me. So did the fact that the Martinis were on the rocks, which meant they were not in cocktail glasses and thus not nearly so hard to keep from sloshing.
I was seated next to someone who worked at a celebrity web site. He was on my right, and on my left was originally the female companion of one of the hotel owners, but over the course of the evening various other women rotated in there. I didn’t catch their names.
The guy from the celebrity web site seemed nice enough but wasn't interested in talking to me, and the House music was too loud for meaningful conversation anyway, so I mostly sat and let the evening sort of wash over me.
The theme of the Pop-up restaurant was Pop Art — in fact it was called the Pop Art Pop Up. The place was decorated in sort of Warhol-era theme, and the dishes on the menu developed by our “Wunderkind Chef” — that’s what the menu called him, a Wunderkind — were each named after a work of pop art.
What can I say? I had a good time. The food was mostly delicious, the music was fun — between bursts of House music a diminutive singer, about my height, with great pipes sang songs from my formative years by artists such as Lionel Richie (Hello), Tracy Chapman (Talkin’ Bout a Revolution) and Cyndi Lauper (Time After Time) — and I’d already had four cocktails by the time we sat down.
But I did notice that Greg Grossman had a surprising level of poise. He came out to talk about the food, described the first dish and realized the crowd wasn’t interested. So he told them all the pictures of the art were on the back of the menu and to enjoy their meal.
I wish more chefs knew to do that.
Oh! I almost forgot: Guess who was helping young Greg Grossman prep? Don Pintabona, former chef of Tribeca Grill and then chef-owner of Dani. Remember him?
Don’s freshly back from Asia (Sri Lanka, Laos and someplace else — I think Vietnam) where he was working on a project to help communities develop sustainable agriculture and such, but he also has known young Master Grossman since he was an even littler kid, and he always has been interested in cooking.
What I ate (with photos graciously provided by the Sanctuary’s publicists):
Carrot, Stilton, coconut, cardamom and lemon grass
Scallop, potato, apple, tamarind and Thai basil
Beef, lamb, salmon and bass in monochromes
New York strip steak, foie gras, cilantro and sherry
“Flower of Joy”
Fennel, yuzu, mango, white chocolate and strawberry
And below, the back of the menu with a collage of all the works of art on which the food was based: