Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Delicious Thing Happened On the Way to Lincoln Center

This Dec. 19th, I had my first experience at Lincoln Center in New York City. I've lived in the suburbs of the city my entire life, but up until a few years ago, I had never been to a Broadway play either. I'm gradually building up my artsy experiences in the city. 

Years ago, I went with my parents to Carnegie Hall to see a cousin perform with her choir. Some years back, I went to see an off off Broadway -- or was it three offs? -- production of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters", a kind of one man play by Max McLean. I don't remember what year that was. My ticket, which I kept, yields no such information, only the day and month, February 27th. I do know it predates by a few years my experience of two Disney Broadway plays in 2009. My friend Debra used points accumulated on her Disney credit card for play discounts, and she and I saw both "The Lion King" and "Mary Poppins" that year. In 2011, I had the interesting experience of seeing The Metropolitan Opera on film in the city. So, I did not see a live performance. Instead, a friend and I sat in outdoor seats just outside the opera house and saw a free showing of Puccini's "La Rondine", projected on a large screen. I have seen several of their other films on PBS on TV, and the large screen showing so close to the opera house does have a different feel than watching the TV at home. Now, in 2015, I experience Big Band jazz at Lincoln Center.

I went with my married friends, Stephan and Elizabeth. (The names have been changed to protect the lives of the innocent.) Suffice it to say, that when I asked my friends if they minded being mentioned in my blog, these are the names they picked out for themselves. After meeting them at their home and setting off, Stephan picked up the fourth member of our party, a coworker. I think his anonymity will still be protected if I give his actual first name, Doug. Doug acted as Stephan's wing man and co-navigator.

When we arrived in the city, Stephan parked in the Time Warner parking garage, and we headed out on foot first to the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle, having a few hours to kill before our concert began.

The photos are not mine. This would have been a good time to take my own photos, I know, but my schedule has been so packed that I did not get myself quite organized. I did try to find photos elsewhere on the Internet that would help to give the appropriate visuals. For some details, you will have to let me paint a picture with my words.

We circulated among the outdoor tents and did what my friend Jin calls "eye shopping." A few impressions stood out to me from the different tents: Indian sculpture style Buddha heads that were like lanterns, illuminated all over with tiny lights sculpted into their shapes, hand carved wooden Christmas ornaments with some jointed Pinocchio marionettes among them, and some German specialty food products with a sign offering non-alcoholic früwine (spelling?) which, my Internet research seems to indicate, must be some sort of hot wine. Stephan and Doug, being gentlemanly, let the women lead the way. Elizabeth and I did stop at one tent to feel the texture of some silk velvet scarves. I love pattern, so I noticed some lovely burnout velvet. Other than that, we quickly made one circle through the tents and came back to our starting point. It didn't seem to make sense to jostle the crowd to more closely inspect things we had no intention of buying. I did notice something, which, to me, was probably the most interesting offering, as we made our exit, beautiful journals with hand-worked leather craft bindings. I love leather craft and books and, of course, writing.

We decided to have dinner, and Stephan led the way to The Smith on Broadway, which Stephan claims "attracts a hip crowd." We did not find a seat there. Stephan had tried but had been unable to make a reservation. We then went instead to the neighboring Cafe Fiorello, where the menus brag that it is a "Lincoln Center Institution." We did find seats here, although the place was well packed. Our host led us through a tight corridor between small tables filled with eating patrons on either side. If a waiter was heading the opposite direction, I turned myself sideways.

This is a view of the interior of the restaurant. We sat at a table at the right side. From my perspective, I saw those two paintings on the left wall reflected in the mirror on the opposite wall.

I ordered a personal sized hen of the woods mushroom pizza from the list of pizza blanche or white, sauceless pizzas. The menu listed the ingredients, aside from mushrooms, as parmesan cream, braised leeks and burrata mozzarella. At first, I thought "hen of the woods" was a poetic name for the dish, and then I thought, more correctly, that it was a poetic name for the variety of wild mushroom. I found a photo of it growing in the wild.

Cooked, they appeared frilly and fan-shaped.

Our waiter spoke the Queen's English, that is to say, he had a pleasant British accent. "Ah, that is a very aromatic and savory pie," he told me, when I put in my order.

The pizza had a cracker thin crust. In addition to the liberal sprinklings of frilly wild mushrooms, it had intermittent mounds of the burrata mozzarella and halved fresh grape tomatoes. I'm sure I tasted the leeks but did not find them visible. I had to agree with our waiter's assessment. It was very savory and delicious. Comparing it to a mushroom pizza I like at California Pizza Kitchen, I thought I detected some truffle oil or, perhaps, I was detecting some olive oil that, soaking in the mushroom juices, had become "truffle-like." It was a wonderful blend of flavors, and I was only sorry that I could not quite finish the whole thing. I might have done so, if I had not ordered dessert.

Doug had also ordered a personal white pizza, a sausage pizza with fennel sausage, cotechino, nduja and pepperoni. I asked him what he thought of his. I think Doug would have been satisfied with a more traditional New Jersey/New York style pizza. He did not care too much for the super thin crust. He admitted it was tasty but "like eating tacos." In order to make a comparison, here is a more traditional New Jersey/New York style pizza.

And here is a Fiorello's thin crust pizza ...

I like our traditional pizza too, but I'm also open to some of its modern, gourmet manifestations.

Stephan ordered a calzone, and Elizabeth ordered the salmon which came with lentils and an organic avocado and mint puree.

At one point, Elizabeth asked our waiter if he was "an actor acting as a waiter." He admitted he was doing mostly voice acting.

"You have a wonderful voice," I told him. "I did notice that."

Our waiter's face glowed as he answered, "Well, thank you." I think I made the man's evening.

He told us he was currently working on narrating an audio book. I wanted to ask him which book but didn't.

I even joked with Elizabeth about commissioning him to narrate my novel. I'm not sure that fits in my budget, but it's a pleasant thought.

Elizabeth decided to get the dessert which persuaded me to do the same. She ordered the chocolate mousse, and I ordered the tartufo, chocolate and vanilla gelato encrusted with chocolate chips and hiding a cherry inside.

Confusion ensued when a different server arrived at our table with our desserts. This waiter put the tartufo at Elizabeth's place. In his hands, he held an empty plate and twin side by side buckets attached with one handle. One bucket was filled with mousse, and one was filled with whipped cream. Elizabeth thought the waiter was teasing her, perhaps thinking that there was more than one serving's worth in those ample buckets and also assuming the tartufo in front of her was already a serving of chocolate mousse. Remembering the menu said that the mousse would be served table side and also recognizing the tartufo by the chocolate chip coating, I helped to straighten out the confusion. The waiter moved the plate with the tartufo to my place, gave the empty plate to Elizabeth and served the mousse and whipped cream from the buckets onto her plate.

Elizabeth and I both loved our desserts. The men's desserts consisted of refills of coffee, but they did not begrudge us our indulgence. Elizabeth rolled her eyes with enjoyment at the first bite. I offered to exchange bites with her, and she allowed me a bite of her mousse. Caution for her tree nut allergy prevented her from sampling mine. She asked me if mine had nuts, and I told her it didn't but I did not know if the chocolate chips had been processed with nuts.

Stay tuned for Part Two, the concert.

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