Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

The sort of secret blog of Beans, a.k.a. Jules, a.k.a. "Legs for Miles" a.k.a. "Rackie the Boob Queen." Fine, ok, not the last two. Starting July 2006, sometimes "Mike," aka "fagadoccio," is a co-poster on the blog. The co-poster child, really.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sweetwater: I love you with a love my own offspring surely will not even eventually experience

Last night was "truffle pig" Lang's birthday. Thankfully Lang's birthday dinner comprised the arthurian roundtable of diners, including Sarah from Riingo, Ninja, etc. We initiated the search for a perfect restaurant at Bette-- glitzy enough to feel special, not too pricy, and while it's not like the food has everyone's panties stretched around a culinary boner, at least there was some good buzz about the mac and cheese, which is a Lang fave. But my boyfriend kept insisting that it was not only quite pricy but that the food totally blew. And since Lang's party was in Williamsburg, I figured, fuck it, let's just go to my favorite place ever: Sweetwater.

Imagine, if you will, a restaurant, where the decor is homey and bar-like, rich and dark, tin-cielinged, but not dingy. A place where the cocktails are competent and brawny, where the service is the same, and where the food, item after item, is shockingly affordable, and frequently creative, interesting, and fresh. It makes no sense. It's owned by the same people as Patois, I believe, which is a dump, so I have no idea to what we can attribute the genius of this place. But I'll tell you one thing: this place is getting a bona fide thank you letter from Beans for this one, from the COPIOUS meat platter ($12, "for two" but literally for two wolves, I mean it fed a table of 6), to my utterly fresh mahi mahi, to the complimentary champagne from our WILD FANTASY of a server, we could not have been on a more solid, elated cloud 9. The check arrived, and rather than deflating the tipsy revelry, we practically threw our fists into the air and cheered, it was so low. For those of you who will take issue with missteps from the kitched, all I have to say is that while surely they happen (the smoked trout salad needed CPR) they are fewer and further between than at places less attentive and far more costly.

Sweetwater, whatever the historical moment is that has produced you, I just want to take a minute and thank it; there will be a moment, in a few years, where maybe I will go there and the kitchen will have changed, the staff rotated. I'll hear things: "Beans, I went to that place you love and it was just not the same." Maybe it'll become like Patois and start miming a French menu with Fisher Price plastic food. But right now, it's operating on all cylinders, it's at its peak, like Domingo in the 80's, and it deserves the affectionate staccato of my arterially scarred heartbeat pounding out its name whenever there's a Friday date, a best friend's birthday, or just a Sunday stroll in hipsterville.

I love that place.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Restaurant Week at Periyali

You know, since I'm harshing on Riingo for the diaper-scrapings it threw at us for restaurant week, I should point out that Periyali, which has as high a price point as Riingo, did a very nice RW, keeping the apps simple (spanikopita, greek salad) and focusing on really great entrees (like generous lamb chops--$29 alone on the regular dinner menu.) Dessert was a walnut cake that would make excellent brick if you needed to build an especially strong fortress.

Anyway, it was nice to finally check that place out after its Bruni review provided the fodder for my personal favorite Bruni Digest ever.

One of my favorite Frank quotes came from that review, too:

“Fried rings of calamari...made all those reckless pub versions seem like so many oily bread crumbs with specious claims to maritime paternity.”

Its true, they offered the calamari as a RW app, and girl, its baby daddy was definitely something fresh-assed and maritime.

Restaurant Week at Riingo

Last night I went with the usual suspects-- "Truffle Pig" Lang and "Last Man Standing" Sarah-- to Riingo, for restaurant week. The chef there is Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit/People's 50 Most Beautiful fame. I remember going to the old Aquavit, R.I.P., as a kid; it was our go-to for fancy New York gatherings. As Finns, we felt at home among the grav lax and the reindeer and the sleek design. As a kid, I was just thankful the grownups I knew were classy enough to take me out, as my own allowance had to be spent on a passionate if parochial pursuit of Banana flavored Laffy Taffy. As if it would one day run out, and I would have to rely on my "collection."

I have mixed emotions about Restaurant Week. Firstly, every week is Restaurant Week in my world. I don't need to wait for the pistol to fire, I'm sprinting around the restaurant track in my short shorts on a permanent basis. Lunch can be a much better proposition, but dinner, which most of the really good places don't even offer, at its worst is boring food at no particular bargain. Danny Meyers is famous for his honoring of restaurant week diners with the best of what his kitchens turn out, and when I went to Tabla last year, the rumors were true. They treated us like the lady in the Sheeba commercials treated her luxurious white Persian cat, a.k.a. like a goddam queen. And the food was outstanding.

Alas, Riingo took the airplane-food route-- the restaurant week menu offered chicken, salmon, or beef. It felt like wedding food. The short ribs were pretty well done, but the fish was actually inedible and the chicken was like hitting the snooze button on my tongue. My appetizer, I kid you not, was a SALMON AVOCADO ROLL that could have come from a deli. The desserts actually kind of kicked ass, and the wine list was great and affordable, but on the whole, it would have been better to just order off the normal menu.

Maybe the restaurant was distracted? Marcus himself sashayed in at around 7:00 with a 400-foot model on his arm, was ushered to the back (I'm assuming they ate at the chef's table or something) and then emerged again a few hours later (right about when our hot green tea donuts began rescuing the night.) The model seemed like she had recently been hit very hard in the back of the head with a frying pan or a wooden plank-- frightened and confused with a hint of emptiness. Marcus seemed like a charmer, and looked like a hotter version of Carlton from the Fresh Prince. But alas, the Fresh Prince had nothing to do with that meal, at least not with the salmon.

But oh Aquavit, you live in my dreams, unscathed by your prodigal chef's skanky newer ventures.

You can kinda see the Carlton thing, no? Or do you just see the racist thing? Whoops.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ninja Part 2: The Ninja

As we sat in our little mountain village hut, giddily anticipating a violent ambush from all sides, a slender, pretty girl swaddled in ninja gear (basically black sweatpants that have been put through a Cuisinart and then reapplied to the body by Mary and Joseph) appeared with arms full of scrolls.

(All ninja literature comes in Torah format)

"My name is Kikio, and I'll be your server tonight," she said. She clearly hailed from a ninja mountain village somewhere in Long Island, or possibly Burbank, California. "You guys ordered drinks already, right?" She was distinctly sunny. I did not get the impression that she would be physically harming any of us, although she had been, as we learned, through rigorous ninja boot camp and fire safety training. The necessity of the latter became apparent when she opened a notepad to take our orders and it burst into flames. She shook the flames off of her shockingly flame-retardant notebook, apologized coyly and pencilled in the orders she had coaches us through: we all chose tasting menus, to maximize the presence of Ninja's signature "performace" dishes. Surely these would be the key to a broken clavicle, we hoped.

Not quite. The first real "performance piece" consisted of Stephanie-- I mean Kikio-- dropping an 800-degree stone in a pot full of mizuna leaves and broth. The stew heated up quickly, with Kikio applying quite athletic effort to mashing the stone up against the caulron walls. The next performance involved fire again. Kikio presented a plate of two conch shells sitting on mounds of salt. A fairly innocent-looking thread of powder extended from each shell, which Kikio, after delivering a husky chant, lit on fire. Like ACME TNT in a Looney Toons bit, the flame crept up the powder filament as we looked on, inquisitive Wile E. Coyote's about to get our faces blown off.

As you can see from the photo, it kinda looks like whatever that thin thread on fire is, that mound is made of the same stuff. Look how tickled Jon is at his impending immolation!

What actually happened, was that the fire hit a bump, flashed, and was gone, purely ornamentally, while the conch inside the conch probably had no idea of the pyrotechnics at its doorstep.

But Stephanie was a dream, from start to finish. Although her ninja charms and chants coulnd't do much about the mind-boggling, totally unparalleled in my dining experience, nastiness of the elaborate menu she would usher to us. Beginning with a gelatinized egg filled with embryotic sea things...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ninja, Part One: The Place

Like Melinda May, the little girl who for no reason said she'd eat a whole whale and then did, I declared that one day I would eat at Ninja, and I did. The world either balked or protested, but frankly, it sounded like my kind of place--a little kitch, a little raw fish, call it a night. Bruni's infamous October review made people for whom the Dining Times is about as relevant as a Spiegel catalogue take note. It was scandal, and it was fun-- for writer, readers, and mocker alike.

But Ninja, like a 5th grade fat girl with gum on her butt, stood up in homeroom among the derision and didn't find it funny. A real restaurant with a real chef, and with very real money invested in a subterranean bat lair and mini Epcot mountain village in pricey Tribeca, Ninja no doubt responded.

So we wanted to give it a fair shot. And Ho. Ly. Shit. This place is both tragic and toxic, hilarious and terrifying, kind and in the end completely and totally miscalculated. But I have to stress hilarious.


Obviously Lang came along (see Alinea), although in offering to take the 7-course vegetarian tasting menu (Saizo, $70) since no one else would, her chivalry trumped her "Truffle Pig" instincts and her food, course for course, was far worse than everyone else's (which is like saying that among bridge trolls, they were the ugliest). My friend Sarah, who recently opened a restaurant, and Jon, who appreciates weird stuff, came along. They each ordered the Sasuke (seven courses, $70), and I ordered the Hanzo (7 courses, but some fancier stuff, $100).

I'm serializing this bitch, so...

1. The Place

This little dark door couldn't be less perfectly juxtaposed with the grand, glassy front of Danube, right accross Hudson Street.

Once inside a dark little vestibule, we decided to wait in the lounge for our fourth person. Here the ninjery began. A spry little ninja pulled the classic samurai move of "coat checking" while another trained master performed the "elevator button push." When we emerged from the elevator in an underground cavern, a tiny ninja jumped up from the floor, hollered and ran away. We shrieked, giggled, and sat down in the creepily empty bat cave, all matte black crags with ropes and chains dangling from the cieling, in a way that half gave me De La Guarda flashbacks (cut to me clinging to a caged wall, white knuckled, begging a Brazilian man in a bungee-rigged diaper to please, please for the love of Mary leave me alone.)

Sarah and Lang perusing the Torah scroll/drink menu.
I have to say, for all the things ninja got egregiously wrong, the lounge could be kind of a cool alternative place to hold a bar party, and the cocktails were actually great (at $10.) The night's winner was a clean "green teani." Call 'em stupid fusion for Ruby Foo twats, I love a mean green teani. I said it.

And yes, when it was time to proceed to our table, we were indeed asked which we preferred, the safe way or the dangerous way. Shit, bitch, I'm from New Haven, try me! No doubt for legal reasons, the "dangerous" route turned out to be not so much "dangerous" as "long and winding." We were all hoping that a psycho with a huge butcher's knife would pop out of the wall but, again, I could imagine some beaurocratic red tape hindering such a plan. The best they could muster was that at one point in our long and winding hallway, we faced a pit of coals too big to hop over. The ninja chanted, a drawbridge fell, and over the smoldering Duane Reade Halloween Decoration coals we safely trotted.

We sat in our own little dining hut, in a village of dining huts...

...and awaited our waiter. Little did we know, she would arrive ON FIRE.