Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Strangely New York: At Ladurée, Cookies Are the New Cupcakes

Treat seekers in New York find lines at Laduree
By Mitch Broder

When I arrived at Ladurée it was packed with two dozen people, which is why the people congratulated me for arriving at a lull.

I understood. It was a rainy day and if I had arrived when the line was longer I’d have had to open my mini umbrella and consequently figure out how to close it.

As it was, I could march right in and watch people wait for half an hour to buy imported Parisian macarons, whether they knew what they were or not.

Many of them, of course, knew what they were. This is a neighborhood with people who go to France the way I go to the Catskills. They were here because they already had a relationship with these cookies and were excited to keep it going without paying a surcharge for luggage.

Laduree cookies are in high demand for diners in New York
Others were here simply to get their hands on the latest thing, for which time was running out because Ladurée has been here a month. The cookies are something new to displace our formerly new Beverly Hills cupcakes and our recently new East Village alcoholic cinnamon buns.

Macarons sounds like macaroons, so there are indeed visitors who expect to find something like the coconut lumps that come in cardboard cans labeled Manischewitz. These aren’t those. They are soft sandwich cookies with a creamy filling. In America they are known as Oreo Cakesters.

I take that back. A store representative gave me a chocolate macaron, and I admit that it made an Oreo Cakester seem like an Oreo Cakester. The cookies were like flaky madeleines and the filling was like chocolate ice cream. Ladurée is a place for the privileged, but it bought me for $2.70.

Anyway, most places on Madison Avenue are for the privileged, and at least this new fancy boutique has some simulated old-world charm. Its décor and its furnishings mostly evoke various recent centuries and combine to make you feel like you’re in a quaint French home with a cash register.

Within the home you’ll find the colorful little cookies in fourteen flavors including fleur d’orange, cassis violette, and pétale de rose. They are about the size of a Cakester but are indeed $2.70 apiece. Or, in “prestige boxes,” twenty-four for $67. Or, in “crystal boxes,” twenty for $58.

If you want to truly live the Ladurée life, you can accessorize your cookie collection with, say, a jar of confiture de fraise (strawberry jam) for $12, or a brioche-scented candle (in glass) for $62. But no pressure. The sales clerks do not disturb you. They wait quietly in their gray vests and ties and call out “Who’s the next guest?

This unlikely empire reportedly began in France in 1862 and promises to keep expanding under its current vigorous leadership.

Ladurée already plans a tea room where it will bake its cookies here in New York.

I intend to visit it when it opens.

I will bring a golf umbrella.

Off the streets of Paris and on to the streets of New York City, Laduree serves delicious cookies to those dining in New York

Line up at Ladurée, 864 Madison Avenue, between 70th and 71st streets, New York City.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Old Season: The Beating Goes On — And On — At "Stomp"

Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Drummer
By Mitch Broder

I once took a cute little nephew to the East Village to see “Stomp.”

The cute little nephew has just been named a manager at Walgreens.

This is not to say that the show guides kids to positions with drugstore chains. It’s just to say that it has now been running long enough to have done it.

“Stomp” is the fifth-longest-running show in Off-Broadway history. It opened in February 1994. It’s not close to having as many performances as “The Fantasticks” — which ran for forty-two years and is running again — but it is close to having as many performances as Walgreens has drugstores.

This is commendable, when you consider that it has no plot, no dialogue, no music, and no lyrics, not to mention no flying, though it does have some pretty good dangling. It has stomping. It has banging. It’s ninety minutes of stomping and banging. If that gives you a headache, buy earplugs. There’s a Walgreens a block away.

Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Cast
The show photos are by one of the show's creators, Steve McNicholas.
 This is a previous cast. You can only bang for so long.
In honor of the job promotion, I revisited “Stomp.” The show’s from England, but after seventeen years it’s an indelible part of New York. It’s at the Orpheum, one of the theaters that once had shows performed in Yiddish. The show I wish I could see there now is the reaction of the Yiddish shows’ audiences to “Stomp.”

The theater is a dump. Intentionally. The whole space is done up like a junkyard, jammed with things to stomp and bang on. Surrounding you on the walls are beat-up pots, pans, grilles, grates, hubcaps, fan blades, street signs, sinks, tanks, springs, and at least one automobile bumper.

I was also surrounded by twenty-five kids from Venezuela. Groups like these tend to be the audience at shows that run for seventeen years. But I liked them. They got me in the mood for noise. And in a moment of uncharacteristic luck, the seat in front of me was claimed by a short one.

A tough-looking guy in dreadlocks walked onto the stage, sweeping. He glared at the kids from Venezuela, who responded appropriately by giggling. He was joined by six other men and one woman, and soon they were all doing synchronized sweeping. You want Rockettes, you go to Radio City. Down here you get street rats with push brooms.

The eight scrappy characters then proceeded with the performance of precision percussion played on scrap. They jiggled matchboxes. They crackled bags. They slammed metal folding chairs. They beat on sinks suspended from chains around their necks. They did a flame dance with Zippos. I inhaled the butane.

It all built like a fireworks show, until, by the end, everybody was everywhere banging on everything.

I still liked it all. But I liked the matchboxes better than the sinks. When you see a show once every decade, you can observe your aging process.

The place was nearly full on a Wednesday night, and the audience was very happy. It’s impossible, but the loudest thing I heard all night was the ovation. As he watched people rise, a Venezuelan boy near me gave the show the ultimate compliment. He leaned over to me and asked earnestly: “It’s over? Or is this the middle?”

Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Vintage Destination

Find your rhythm at “Stomp,” at the Orpheum Theatre, 126 Second Avenue, between Seventh Street and St. Mark’s Place, in Manhattan.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Strangely New York: I Wonder Whether They'd Take a Bald Eagle

Jean Romano Barber Shop New York City Zulu Parrot
Zula keeps an eye on you.
By Mitch Broder

Fall arrives next week, and everybody knows what that means:

 Jean Romano Barber Shop New York City Sunny Parrot Jean Romano Barber Shop New York City Sunny Parrot
So does Sunny.
You’d better get over to the barber’s if you want to see the parrots on the sidewalk.

The parrots are Sunny and Zula, who live outside Jean Romano Barber Shop, but only when it’s nice out, because at 50 degrees you’ve got yourself cold parrots. Otherwise they live inside with the shop’s two dozen other birds. You could always see them in there, but you’d be encouraged to get a haircut.

So this is the time to see them with no strings attached, if you can ignore the water-cooler bottle requesting donations for parrot food. All right, it’s tough in this city to find something for nothing. But it’s getting tough in any city to find parrots outside a barbershop.

Jean Romano Barber Shop New York City Vintage Destination
Jean Romano has been various barbershops since 1973, but it’s been a tonsorial aviary for only about two years. As Mike Malakov, one of the managers, tells it, they started with a pet canary. That canary marked the place as a wayside inn for the winged.

A woman who herself had to fly to London asked if they’d like to watch her canaries. When she decided to move to London she asked if they’d like to keep her canaries. A precedent established, other people proceeded to drop off their canaries. Eventually the barbers gave up and started to breed their own canaries.

Jean Romano Barber Shop New York City Bird Cages
Meanwhile, the canaries were joined by parakeets, finches, cockatiels, and parrots. The parrots, being the biggest, were awarded the best view. Still, they bite, which is why there are signs on the cage that say “Please Don’t Touch/ Birds Bite Hard.” So naturally, people stick their fingers in and get bit hard.

But they accept it, Mike says, just as the people in the barber chairs accept the fluttering little birds in the indoor cages.

“Everybody loves them, knock wood,” he says. “Nobody’s complained yet. They like having the birds around. It’s relaxing.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Strangely New York: At Last, Have Your Martini and Eat It, Too

2nd Avenue Deli New York City Martini
By Mitch Broder

Last week I brought you the new downtown place that makes food inspired by drinks.

So this week I bring you the new uptown place that makes drinks inspired by food.

The downtown place is Jane’s Sweet Buns, in the East Village, which sells things like raspberry tartlets containing gin. The uptown place is the 2nd Ave Deli, on the Upper East Side, which sells things like gin containing half-sour pickles.

The 2nd Ave Deli just opened on First Avenue, which in itself reveals something of an appetite for the incongruous. And with the incongruous address has come improbable concoctions like the Apple Latke Martini, the Dirty Pickle Martini, and the Lokshen Kugel Cocktail.

2nd Avenue Deli New York City Apple Latke Martini, Dirty Pickle Martini, Lokshen Kugel Cocktail

The premise was that you don’t see a lot of drinks based on Jewish food. The deli opening seemed as good a time as any to make some seen. Jeremy Lebewohl, who owns the deli with his brother Josh, convened a cocktail caucus, and in a few weeks had a drink list perhaps unprecedented in Judaism.

The Apple Latke is made with potato vodka, apple sauce, and lemon, and is garnished with a potato pancake, also known as a latke. The Dirty Pickle consists of gin, or the vodka of your choice, along with pickle brine, garnished with a half-sour pickle.

The Lokshen Kugel is the most complex, comprising rum with pineapple purée, peach schnapps, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon juice, and non-dairy creamer. It, too, is garnished with its namesake, which is sweet noodle pudding. The deli also serves potato kugel but that is not yet in liquid form.

2nd Avenue Deli New York City Vintage Brunch Destination
There are five other original cocktails, like the 2nd Ave Balanced Diet, which is Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda with gin and plum brandy and a celery stick. But those first three are reportedly the leaders out of the gate, which is not surprising, since between celery and pancake, which would you choose?

Your mixologist Jeremy suggests the Dirty Pickle for pastrami sandwiches and other meat dishes, whereas the Apple Latke and Lokshen Kugel, he says, would pair better with pierogen and blintzes. His co-creator David Teyf concurs, though he adds that the Dirty Pickle also works well with lox, herring, and assorted smoked fish.

I imagine that Jane of Jane’s Sweet Buns will like Jeremy’s food-laced drinks. But I have reason to believe that Jeremy will like Jane’s liquor-laced pastries. Among his own cocktails he is partial to the one made with orange vodka, Dr. Brown’s cream soda, chocolate soda, and orange juice. It’s called the Creamsicle.

2nd Avenue Deli New York City Vintage Destination

Mix it up at the 2nd Ave Deli, 1442 First Avenue, at 75th Street, in Manhattan.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Holiday Cocktail Lounge: It's Everything It Ever Was

Holiday Cocktail Lounge New York City Bar
By Mitch Broder

When you see a place with an awning that says “Holiday Cocktail Lounge,” it’s wise to assume that the place won’t live up to the awning.

They just don’t make Holiday Cocktail Lounges the way they used to.

Except that this Holiday Cocktail Lounge was made when they made them the way they used to.

Holiday Cocktail Lounge New York City Bar Interior Banquette
It’s a shadowy hideaway of tufted banquettes and wood-grain Formica tables, beyond a convivial circular bar ringed by tubular chrome-backed stools. The paneled walls sport glowing sconces that can transport you to decades past. The floors sport festive tiles that can transport you to a booth in the back.

The reason the lounge is so well-preserved is because its original owner preserved it for as long as he owned it, which was over forty years — and also because the new owner is his son, who has seen no more reason to wreck a perfectly good place than he did.

“We’re the keepers of the flame,” says the lounge manager, Jeff Tendler. “People love this place. Like they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We have fun. We mix it up. We don’t make a fortune here. We’d rather our customers have a good time.”

The original owner was Stefan Lutak, who was born in Ukraine, where he reportedly played professional soccer and later deserted the Russian army. He and his wife, Jeri, came here in 1949, and Jeri bought the bar in 1965. Stefan’s memories of the lounge are posted near the entrance.

He says that the onetime beauty parlor became a bar in 1936. “It was an all Italian place when we took over,” he writes. “The customers played cards, pool and bet on the horses.” Jeff says that it was a restaurant named Casablanca’s, which had in residence a bookie who was called Jingles because his office was the phone booth.

Holiday Cocktail Lounge New York City Bar Interior Memoir
Stefan continues: “We mostly served tough working men like Italians and Ukrainians. Over the years we have become close to the regulars and losing one is like losing an old friend.” He also served local notables like the poet W.H. Auden, along with visiting notables like the actress Shelley Winters.

He dealt with the punk era by graciously serving the punks, while simultaneously insisting upon keeping them in line. He writes that he kicked one kid out because he “came in with terrible clothes on. His face was red with anger. He left. But you know what, he came back and his clothes were better.”

Stefan died at 89 in February 2009. Jeff says that he was still lugging beer cases around late into 2008. Jeff, with Stefan’s son Roman, reopened the bar soon after. Patrons were afraid of what they’d do to the place, then relieved when they did nothing.

It’s now an official dive bar, with the attendant attractions of charm and cheap beer, along with the mandatory year-round multicolored Christmas lights. The prices, Jeff says, are a bonus, but it’s the charm that’s the draw. If patrons stray to trendy bars, he says, they usually return to his leatherette seats.

“The one constant about New York City is its changeability,” Jeff says. “People like to explore new places. But they like to come back to where they’re comfortable. Coming here is like slipping on an old pair of jeans. People don’t come in here for drinks with fruit purées.”

Holiday Cocktail Lounge New York City Vintage Destination