Monday, February 11, 2013

Restaurant week + Leonard Cohen new biography

Cafe Boulud
Another Restaurant Week in New York (Manhattan; January 14th to February 9th ) has just come and gone and, alas, we took advantage ... we visited the upscale Cafe Boulud (20 E. 76th St.; tel. 212/772-2600) for a mid-week lunch.  What a success it turned out to be on all counts. The Restaurant Week menu -- the 3-course prix fixe du marche, at $25. per person -- proved enticing, the food (each course!) irresistible; and the service proved equally fine, maximally customer friendly and consistently helpful (whether from the waiter, the sommelier, the servers, or the bread & rolls "vendor").

I began with a country duck pate, carefully dressed with quince chutney, rutabaga mustard, and surrounded with une petite frisee "salad."  A simple, hardy & pleasant introduction to the restaurant's offerings and a very inviting way to begin a leisurely lunch. My wife chose the radicchio & arugula salad (with shaved fennel, toasted hazelnuts & suffused with an orange vinaigrette dressing) ... providing a good-sized but light beginning. So far so good.  We  ordered a glass of Weingut Jager Riesling (Austria; 2009) each to accompany our initial luncheon plates, although, during Restaurant Week, Cafe Boulud offered two Italian "wines by the bottle" at $24. -- a Falerio Saladini Pilastri (2011) & a Chianti Melini Borghi d'Elsa. We opted, however, to continue with another glass, this time a silky, fruity, Cabernet Franc (Bedell, Long Island; 2010).

For our mains, I selected braised beef paleron, with pommes aligot, red pepper piperade & watercress, a very nicely presented dish, indeed, comprising extremely tender chunks of beef in a creamy sauce with a touch of pink-peppery spice. My wife ordered the olive oil poached flounder topped with an "everything bagel" crust, salsify, & wild mushrooms in a delicately prepared sauce "chasseur."  We both thoroughly enjoyed our entrees and soaked up the sauces to the last with broken pieces of the plentiful small, crunchy rolls. Boulud had hooked us ... and now we awaited our dessert choices and coffee.

Boulud madeleines
Shortly, after a decent interval, our coffee -- black, strong, flavorful  & robust -- arrived and the two desserts soon thereafter:  one, a caramel gateau, with carmelized apple & brown sugar biscuit accompanying a small cylinder of cinnamon ice cream; our second dessert choice, a milk chocolate mousse, equally sweet and equally appealing, came with peanut cremeux, a flourless biscuit & a side of salted caramel ice cream. The coffee and dessert we ordered emphatically topped off our lunch, along with a small bag of Boulud's signature madeleines ... all of which signaled to us that we must soon return, however cher, for lunch or dinner!  

All three courses on the Cafe Boulud prix fixe proved tasty, sophisticated, and seemingly magically blended to kindle our tastebuds, enrich our dining experience & consistently delight.

And so, fully fortified  with food & drink (replete with sweetness & lingering savory tastes), we then headed away from the silk-stockinged upper East Side way down to Battery Park and The Museum of Jewish Heritage where we would attend a book discussion, featuring the London-born, San Francisco based music journalist, Sylvie Simmons -- author of the new biography, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen -- in conversation with Liel Leibovitz, a professor of Media, Culture & Communication at New York University & senior writer at Tablet Magazine

(As a prelude to the evening's event, we, fortuitously & appropriately, heard a recent Leonard Cohen tune played in the background while we sipped our lattes at a downtown, tip-of- Manhattan Starbucks.) 
Sylvie Simmons
The chemistry between these two interlocutors proved positive & reinforcing and we were able to witness a very self-effacing biographer discuss her subject in intimate & stimulating detail. Ms. Simmons was able -- via questions from Mr. Leibovitz and from members of the audience -- to shed all kinds of light on the iconic Leonard Cohen (his songs, his women, his talent, his musicianship, his joys & fears, his personal life) with all kinds of interesting brief anecdotes, longer biographical "essay"-stories & references -- even a lyrical interpretation of one of Mr. Cohen's songs accompanying herself on her ukulele -- that rounded out, and added to, the collective memory of the audience that evening.  

And a very enlightening, entertaining & pleasant evening this all turned out to be! 

If you purchase (or borrow from your local library) Sylvie Simmons' I'm Your Man, you'll learn a prodigious amount about Mr. Leonard Cohen that you didn't know before -- about his life, his lovers, his  decades of music-making, his origins in Montreal, his volumes of lyric poetry, his songs -- sending you back to his recordings with a renewed sense of his import & his urgency (he's now in his late 70s), his artistic power, his intellect & his many talents. For, he surely remains, as the critic Bruce Eder has noted, one of the most "enigmatic & fascinating" singer-songwriters to have emerged during the past 40+ years ... still making music, still retaining a loyal audience, still concertizing ... AND still news!

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