January 7, 2008 | BITE: My Journal

An Indulgence of Pastry at Solex

 Puff pastry wrapped sausage with remarkable salad at Solex. Photo: Steven Richter
 Puff pastry wrapped sausage with remarkable salad at Solex. Photo: Steven Richter

       Smart-looking Solex is where you want to go before you activate your New Year’s vow to shed a few pounds. It’s the capital of Carb City. And what luscious carbs. (Not that Michael Pollan will catch me succumbing to nutritionism for more than a fleeting second of regret.)  Better yet, hike down to the Lower East Side the evening you’re ready to jump off the wagon. Solex is a poster-child for New York City’s defiant lunge to gentrify the outer edges of civilization.  How bold to have wedged this certifiably French little wine bar into a spot just a block from the crush of innocents and raucous sidewalk wranglers of Little India.  If all it takes is a little class to set off a contagion, here it goes.

        Settling onto a tall stool at a stainless table framed in pale ash, happy to find a ledge for the $3500 handbag (just dreaming, actually $44 on sale) and delighted by a row of big fat red apples in a mirrored niche that runs the length of the cork wall besides us, we’re in for the festival of fat and butter:  Classic snails in meltingly tender pasty cups, with a touch of cream and a scattering of fried garlic chips.  Yes. Yes. Cream. A thin-crusted Alsatian tarte flambée with crème fraiche and bacon.  Small potato “profiterole” to dip into crème fraiche-thinned boursin (amusing use of the verb thin). A croque-madame of melted Gruyere with ham, béchamel and a sunnyside-up quail egg on each half. Saucisse feuilletée, pigs in a blanket that is, with mustard chutney and a miniature bowl of the salad we’re already sharing, the only vegetation in the house (they’ve run out of roasted vegetables). An idyllic salad too: frisée and leaf lettuce with crisp fried shallot rings and just in case we find vinaigrette wanting, there’s a ramekin of sauce gribiche (Gallic tartare sauce).

 The Solex wine bar style is hip, welcoming, French sans attitude.  Photo: Steven Richter

        It was managing partner Christophe Chatron-Michaud’s idea to enlist onetime pastry chef Eric Hubert, a friend from their Jean Georges days, and unleash him to toy with savories. That’s the charming Christophe with the stand-up top-knot, pouring our two very good $9 glasses of red:  a smooth Morgon and a Cahors named Zette.

        We had a crush on him by phone, even before his dashing welcome, because he agreed to hold a table for us a when my pal explained the hateful risk of a $20 taxi ride at a no-reservation spot.  Friday night the crowd poured in late, so no big loss.

        It’s not dark enough for headlamps – that’s a plus – but half the menu is in sand letters on ivory, so we’ve got out our pocket flashlights.  “I had the room much lighter,” Chatron-Michaud explains. “I think you should be able to read a book or a newspaper in a wine bar.  But the clients like it darker.”

        I think they’ll also want a few more pieces of chicken in the cocotte en croute of coq au vin (chicken pot pie by any other name).  And he’s already gotten the message that more vegetables dishes are desperately craved. I for one will feel like a superior human being if I can have a Brussel sprouts salad or even creamed spinach profiteroles with my foie gras tarte landaise.

103 First Avenue between 6th & 7th Streets. 212 777 6677


The Sushi Counter:  Seat of Seduction?

        A longtime friend, recently divorced, not strictly a Don Juan, rather a passionate student of women, emailed me his thoughts on sushi as seductive:

        “‘There is no place like the [French] table to reconcile mind, body and spirit to a life that is necessarily too short, too indifferent and too chaste,’ wrote Brillat Savarin, the famous 18th century food historian.  My version of that in 2008 would be ‘there is no place like the sushi counter for preparing the mind, body and spirit for an evening that will be anything but chaste.’  A great sushi bar, that’s where I would begin my evening of seduction,” he began.

        “It used to be that caviar was the signal that conveyed the ‘I want you’ message. Today it’s different. You can tell her she’s priceless and you’re in the know in one sentence. Tell her you want to take her to Kana Yama on 2nd Avenue and 11th Street and sit at the counter.  Plan in advance to make sure the chef saves you a toro rib cage, which will magically appear minutes after you sit down.  It comes raw. You first scrape the flesh off the bones and then the chef takes the ribcage back to the kitchen to be grilled.  When it’s back at the table and everyone in the restaurant is straining their neck to see where the fabulous aroma is coming from, lean over and tell your date that the sense of smell is really an important part of eating Japanese food and, by the way, you like the way she smells too.

         “Sharing a sensuous meal is sexy in every language. Somehow, doing it with sushi seems to offer infinite opportunities for your sensual seduction. How can you fail?  The sensuality of raw fish.  The knowing looks and oohs and ahs you share, together with wasabi that flies to your brain, will get the most hardened investment banker cooing and gushing within minutes.  Eating with your fingers – it’s an opening line to talk about sucking fingers - while letting your knees collide each time you turn sideways to wipe that little bit of soy sauce off your partners lower lip - are perks of sitting at the counter. Knowing the sushi chef and making him your partner in seduction increases your chances of success.  At the right moment he can offer the uni, then the fish eyeball, and ultimately soft seaweed with the suggestion that it’s tradition that you feed each other, which if not technically true, will at least seem very probable after several glasses of sake.

        “And don’t forget this: Nobody pours their own sake.  Each pours for the other.  The receiver raises his/her cup in a gesture of  'I will take what you give me.' This is followed by the reciprocal pouring and a little aside, 'I can’t wait for you to give me more.' If you’re high enough, this line will seem subtle.  Once you get the back-and-forth going, the sushi counter will be rocking. And you can take that momentum into a taxi.”


Bar Boulud Rehearses for its Debut  

 A new generation of cooks tends stove at Bar Boulud’s party. Photo: Steven Richter

           In yet another sneak preview of Bar Boulud (see "An Oink, A Squeak, and A Quack"), the usual food-world flock and friends of chef-owner Daniel Boulud  - more than 300 - turned out on an icy Friday evening, filtering through a  sad little white tent set up to discourage crashers as well as real customers. (The door may open January 9 and it may not.  The staff is still in training, I'm told.) 

        Now the ground floor tunnel with its vaulted ceiling and white oak tables is finished. Last time I tasted Bar Boulud’s astonishing charcuterie, the space was just a jot beyond hard-hat country.  The curved ceiling is high and that helps an otherwise surprisingly narrow space. The big round table in the back has already been anointed by Josh Ozersky, my colleague at Grub Street, with the headline: “Will Bar Boulud’s tasting table be the new oenophile pickup spot?"  (I’ve found it’s a challenge to distract a man tasting wine and later when he’s drunk, but no harm in trying.)

         Downstairs, party rooms extend under the Chase Bank on the corner, a storefront that could add grace and valuable seats to Bar Boulud, should it become available. I quickly grab a small saucer from under the sausage tree and shoulder my way past convivial chatterers. I can’t understand why people insist on flirting directly in front of a buffet.  Obviously they are not counting on gastronomic warriors with elbows, like me.

        Even given the small saucer provided I manage to taste a month’s allowance of pig and foie and fat, pretty heavenly barnyard stuff.  Then I discover the celery remoulade, the perfect shrimp, gem-like crudités and peppered tuna cubes.  Just when I cannot easily manage another bite (even if it is my job), someone asks, “Have you seen the kitchen?” I stumble into a vast world of stainless steel, teams of young chefs pushing navarin au Romarin, saumon au marchand du vin and St. Jacques au chou – dozens of guests discovering that all is not pig. The best I can do is taste a small snail croquette. Shockingly good.  I consider a second but exit hastily for apple-orange tart Pont Neuf instead upstairs. A better night cap.

        I notice that Boulud has invited the managers of Café Fiorello next door as well as the owner Shelly Fireman and his wife…Marilyn and Shelly are everywhere, sipping red wine, chatting with friends, in and out of the kitchen.  We move toward the coat room together.

        “Come back to Fiorello with us,” Shelly urges.

        “I can’t eat a thing but we can talk,” I agree.

        Fifteen minutes later the Firemans each have a plate of whole wheat spaghetti.

        To each his own on the block across from Lincoln Center seems like a win-win game to me.

 Bar Boulud 1900 Broadway near 64th Street.   212 595 0303

Cafe Fiorello 1900 Broadway between 64th and 63rd Streets. 212 595 0303


Ye Olde Gadgets: Vintage Kitchen Stuff and Grocery Tins for Sale

 My treasures need to find a new home.  Photo: Steven Richter

        After I sold the little church outside Woodstock where my then husband, the Kultur Maven, and I spent weekends, I stashed all my treasures in storage.  Now going through the cartons, I’m finding fabulous grocery tins, vintage kitchen equipment, hand made copper pots and nutmeg graters, old paintings and molds, items the incurable collector in me could not resist. 

        Lockley and Howland wrought-iron apple peeler dated December 16, 1856.  Nutmeg grater dated December 26, 1877.  There just isn’t room for it all.  Email me if you’d like to see what’s here for sale.