December 3, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
More Sexy Table Games / Czeching Out Devin Tavern 
 Readers confess surrendering at a table for two at Jean Georges
Readers confess surrendering at a table for two at Jean Georges

     Last week’s essay on advanced fork play – a listing of dining scenarios for seduction inspired by the unabashed boastings of my friend Francesco, the Gourmand Don Juan, stirred quite a stew of email. Several romantics agreed with Francesco that “Jean Georges at lunch could not be more sexy.”  Francesco had cited the combined impact of great light, surprising combinations and incredible tastes from the kitchen, plus “too much wine…by three o’clock she doesn’t even remember she is in New York.”

     One woman wrote: “It’s always the same at Jean George…very sensuous, sexy. I go late, about 2 p.m. There’s such luxury, such languor, that light, the exquisite food. I always order Savennieres, a particularly sensuous Loire wine. The whole technique of service is so seductive. It makes you feel pampered as if they are conspiring for you to end up in bed.”

     Restaurant consultant Eddie Schoenfeld singled out “the sexy foods to order:  uni on toast, sensational bruléed foie gras and the classic scallops with raisin emulsion.  A reader who chose the nom de forchette, A Reformed Madame Bovary, said an especially sensuous lunch at Jean Georges had inspired her to take her husband one night for dinner.  All went well till the check came and she took out her own credit card to pay.  He froze. “He said my paying made him uncomfortable. I didn’t realize he was so old-fashioned,” she wrote. “It was a lot of bang for the buck,” she concluded.

      I emailed back, “But you said he froze.” 

     “I forgot to say by the time we got home, he had thawed.”

     Wine merchant Josh Wesson of Best Cellars emailed two top choices for an evening meant for seduction: “Esquina downstairs. Drinking boatloads of mescal in a candlelit cave brings a near certainty of hot monkey love. Or Artisanal, where I order two different fondues with two different wines.  Putting hot gooey food in someone else’s mouth is the next best thing that leads to the best thing.”

     For lovers in that uncontrollable passion stage, Schoenfeld mentioned a high-backed love seat at the sushi bar at Megu in midtown. For clandestine lovers he recommends a partially curtained-off table in the rear of Sakagura, the izakaya-style sake resto hidden in an east 40's sub-basement.

     For an investment of just $10, his “test of true lust,” means, get a bagel and lox and a coffee at the Fairway Café in Red Hook, then hang out on their deck where there’s a good-as-it-gets view of the New York harbor and later in the day, the sunset too. Half an hour here with the person you lust after and you'll know right away if it’s the right stuff.”

     “For a certain kind of nightcap, there's no place like Milk & Honey in the city, period,” writes She Loves NY.  “Also quite good are the lounge at Perry Street and, if one wants to look a bit further north, the lobby of the Regency can be very conducive to consent at a certain, late hour.”

     Adam Trident, echoing Don Juan Francesco’s philosophy, suggests “it all depends on the object of desire.”  Trident frequents Orso, where “great food, intimate atmosphere, famous friends coming to my table is pretty successful for after dinner mambo.” He likes the bar at Compass for “great, reasonably priced food, good wine list, intimate mood-lighting. And for me, a short elevator ride to paradise. Great on a wintry night.”  He confesses: “Last place I took someone was Il Buco. Successful seduction, not-so-successful relationship.”

     Lower East Side Mitch wrote: “Well, of course, there's PDT on St. Mark's Place...and if your date will eat a Chang Dog (deep fried, bacon wrapped, kimchee purée topped), you can pretty much seal the deal right there!”

     And Francesco himself who started all this emailed to say he loved his story but wished I had not characterized him as a chauvinist pig…“I would have preferred something like ‘archaic and incorrect’,” he wrote.

A Hint of Prague on the Hudson     


 Short rib goulash in golden potato "bones" at Devin Tavern. Photo: Steven Richter

     I arrived in New York from the frozen steppes of Detroit in the days when inexpensive little middle European restaurants peppered the Upper East Side – Hungarian, CZech, Viennese. For a guppy gourmand born into a Velveeta cocoon it was all exotic and thrilling.  Now except for David Bouley’s grand vision of Vienna at Danube, these dumpling-and-sour cream houses are long gone.

     So I was instantly game when our frequent dinner partner Mauritzio, a warrior in the gourmand avant garde of New York, called to invite us for a taste of Czechoslovakia,

     What had prompted this sudden rash passion for pierogies and strudel?  It seems he’d fallen in love with a Czech{oslovakian} woman –“ smart, gorgeous, sweet-natured, loves to eat, yes, yes, yes, all the usual” – and had just returned from an idyllic weekend in Prague. 

     Well, now we’re back in New York zooming down the West Side Highway to Devin Tavern in Tribeca.  Devin Tavern,
  A transcendent sandwich alongside the mushroom bisque. Photo: Steven Richter
again.  It was brand new when I last stopped in for dinner more than a year ago.  I’d found the place roomy, the design somewhat unfinished but pleasant, the food decent, not worth the taxi fare or a column. It’s definitely too dark to eat there. You can barely see the food.  But given the brick and bare wood I was surprised to find it seemed quieter. And now there’s a new chef at the stove, Derrick Styczek, whose nostalgia for home peppers a menu of current inevitables: iceberg wedge in buttermilk dressing, a seared tuna salad with peeky-toe crab, house smoked baby back ribs.  You can’t say the man has not smartly assimilated.    

     Of course tonight we want to commune with the spirit of Prague, so we’re ordering starters like crispy pork belly and short rib goulash, the tendrils of juicy beef stuffed into what could be three little marrow bones, though actually they’re crafted from potato and lapped with horseradish froth.  Is there anyone who reads me regularly who doesn’t know my hatred for froth?  And forcing a potato to look like a marrow bone is a bit cruel too.  But truth to tell, there’s a sufficient blast of horseradish and the plate is both whimsical and delicious. 

     That exercise in pork belly might better be entrée size given that it sets suckling pig ragout alongside home-made choucroute, glazed turnips and Granny Smith puree, dibs and dabs that tease.  Still, in this era where small plates are supposedly taking over, two starters here could make a grazer’s day.  Especially if one is the smooth onion bisque with a grilled sandwich of truffled chicken and cheese. Indeed, that gooey half sandwich all by itself is sheer thrill for me.

     Seeking Czech intimations, we should have ordered a side of lobster strudel and persuaded the waiter to give us a sampling of the duck leg pierogies that come with the duck breast and truffle-honey-fennel pollen sauce, a potion so stylish I feel too underdressed to be seen hovering over it.  But the three of us are already overwhelmed (even our trencherman pal) with an abundance of  deftly cooked wild boar chop with a sage “tattoo” plus red cabbage and cauliflower purée, and the first-rate pepper-crusted venison on creamy lentils.  One look at the cutesy little rounds of stuffed Cornish hen and I knew it wasn’t my thing but I had to taste anyway – that’s my job.

     Fresh from David Burke and Donatella, pastry chef James Distefano does warm apple turnovers with buttermilk ice cream and a splash of cider reduction, and a double chocolate cake with caramelized banana caramel gelato. Tempting finales. Too bad he’s not curious about the sweets of the chef’s homeland.  It would make sense I think, even in the dark.

363 Greenwich Street between Harrison and Franklin. 212 334 7337


Immersion in Chocolate at ABC Carpet & Home

 Chocoholics can find a fix weekends until midnight. Photo: Steven Richter

     Even though I am not certifiable and do not need a twelve-step program, I do love chocolate. I feel that what’s good for the chocoholic is good for the city. A source for chocolate at midnight? An emergency room where you can find White Chocolate Gelato with Ligurian olive oil and smoked salt in the event of a friend’s serious freakout. So civilization benefits from the Dessert Studio – with pastry wizard Will Goldfarb’s curious desserts, brownies bearing the William Greenberg family provenance, Michel Cluizel chocolates close by and open till midnight, Thursday through Saturday.

     In a lifetime career of excess, I had never tasted a Cluizel chocolate before the Champagne celebration launch for chefs and the teeming masses of the old and new media last Thursday. All the players were there: Stephen Fass, who ran Macy’s gourmet bazaar in the glory times of the 80s, had engineered a chocolate trifecta – bringing together Cluizel’s CEO and chocolate sommelier Richard Perl, Seth Greenberg (retired scion of the revered baking family) and Will Goldfarb, whose Room 4 Dessert won him raves and awards but was too small to handle the demand.

     I passed up bubbly so I could devote myself to dessert and was shocked to find I actually liked caviar on Indonesian vanilla ice cream with deep dark chocolate bits.  It was so unlike my cranky self that fails to see
Media launches resemble the rape of the Sabine chocolates. Photo: Steven Richter
the charm in so many bizarre matings.  “Actually it’s not that far from caviar and sour cream,” I said, urging a skeptical Road Food Warrior to taste.

     The tetchy critic inside was merely resting.  A small spoonful of white chocolate gelato with Ligurian olive oil made me gag. And I set aside the warm chocolate bubbles because it was a mouthful of insipid foam.  There are supposedly critical palates who will adore these frothings and New Yorkers who think interesting food is fun, so you can take my learned comments from 40 years as a restaurant critic with a slice of pumpernickel.

     Thank heaven Seth Greenberg came along with a buttery little chocolate chip cookie to clear my palate. And brownies to take home for breakfast.  And the chocolate sommelier was offering anything I fancied.  “I would love to invite you for a chocolate tasting,” he crooned, holding out a hand with half a dozen chocolate dipped orange slices for my pleasure.  My mind drifted off to memories of more carnal seductions.

     “May I tempt you with a smoked pecan fondant?” he asked.

     I blinked.  “Yes, tempt me. Please.”  It was extraordinary.

ABC Carpet & Home 888 Broadway at 19th Street, ground floor, 212 477 7335. 

Monday to Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday till midnight. Sunday 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. Evenings enter through Lucy’s of Gramercy, 35 East 18th Street.