September 13, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Let’s Do Dinner at Hogwarts

 Waiting for a table at Waverly Inn keeps one humble.  Photo: Steven Richter
 Waiting for a table at Waverly Inn keeps one humble.  Photo: Steven Richter

Partly I was waiting for the Prince of Vanity to signal that Waverly Inn was officially open.  And partly I was scrounging around for a way to get in without using my name. Not that I knew for sure my name would mean anything. It’s not like I used to be married to Ronald Perelman.


 But it’s almost a year that this fabled little house was been unofficially somewhat open, insouciantly “in preview.” What if I waited too long? What kind of a devoted chronicler of New York restaurants would I be? What if I conducted this Hamlet routine so tirelessly that the place had its exquisite 15 minutes and faded? What if, like 150 Wooster, Brian McNally’s artfully exclusive salon, the rarified celebrity haunt of its too brief moment in 1989, Waverly’s door was simply bolted shut one day leaving sinecures, itinerant revelers and deluded aspirants huddled in shock on West 4th Street?


Friends boasted they had access.  People I knew well said all it took was the secret email number.  But no one, not even the normally gutsiest bitches in town, had the courage to lie on my behalf.  “You have to tell who your guests are,” I am told by a friend whose sang froid is normally 15 degrees below zero. “And they might not like it if I said I was bringing my cousin and brought you.”


Well here I am at last.  Waiting at the bar and sipping a bracing $12 Campari and orange juice. Eight o’clock is the children’s hour.  How could we be such clods?  I watch a few tentative applicants leaning backwards at the maitress d’s podium in anticipation of rejection being sent to stew on the sidewalk. 


“Oh, there you are,” cries a tall, bald-headed man with a wide manager’s grin swooping down behind us. “Do you remember me from Compass?  I remember you.”


I’m a made woman.  Well, the upside is we might get a good table, whatever that is. Now I see regulars in a blur at the door, embrace, led by men in suits to the inner sanctum as everyday earthmovers, chronic voyeurs and unidentifiable wenches wait.  Norman Perlstine’s party huddles in waiting mode with suitable nonchalance.  The trick is looking like you really want to stand at least 45 minutes sipping plonk in a rush-hour subway huddle before dinner.   


I never had to fake it so I didn’t learn how.


Okay…why shouldn’t they seat Ronald Perelman and Liam Neeson before the aspiring hoi polloi? Savvy wranglers of restaurant heat want to make sure the chosen people are suitably planted before surrendering a table to mere mortals, itinerant too, just across from what could be a very important grouping under the big Sorel mural. This can’t be Siberia we’re in or is it?


Maybe I’ve been hanging around Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality too long.  It’s Fashion Week and I just know these stilt-tottering beauties are somebody but I don’t recognize anyone at this prime table though I know it’s prime when Harvey Weinstein ambles in with a brace of genetically blessed females and hovers over a plate for fifteen minutes.


I am going to stop now.


 You Googled this site, I am guessing, to find out what’s new and good to eat. Since you’re Mr. and Mrs. First Nighter you have already been humiliated or kiss-assed at Waverly. Or you’re a proud Nanook of the North and couldn’t care less. All you want is the best blubber and damn the willowy stick-thin mannequins clinging to the side of the boat with their oversize Gucci water wings.


The food. The food. Okay, the food. As everyone says, Chef John DeLucie is doing a fine job turning out this modest PREVIEW MENU” of friendly dishes that never went away over four decades of America’s food revolution -- crab cakes, Brook trout, Dover sole, Waldorf salad.  I like to imagine Graydon saying to the chef, “And I want a Waldorf salad. Puff, puff,” he exhales, with the sophistication of a no smoking outlaw.  He probably grew up in New York. I don’t remember Waldorf salad in Detroit.


I can’t swear this is Copper River Salmon now that the season is over but it’s good in its surround of Beluga lentils and kale. People really do love chicken pot pie. This one’s full of cream under a buttery pastry mantle though I’d like more vegetables. Veal chop. Salt and rosemary crusted whole fish. Creamed spinach. Vegan quinoa risotto. (That’s considerate.) The tuna tartare lush on crushed avocado is really good. I resisted the storied $55 truffled macaroni-and-cheese which is not on the menu. It’s like a secret handshake. To order it suggests you probably belong here.


The food is not fancy. It’s not show offy. It’s not taxing or immoral. There are Berkshire lardoons and an organic egg on the frisee salad because, as the menu notes, the kitchen uses “local and organic products whenever possible,”  “All drinking and cooking water is reverse osmosis.” Okay? And that is why I am standing on my head…?. Isn’t that Michael Eisner hustling back to the garden?  And my adorable young namesake, Gael Garcia Bernal?  And Graydon, of course, in his Knight’s corner, the better to snorkel at your swiveling head.  I don’t really mind all that much about the pitiful bananas Foster. This is fun. This is really wholesome old fashioned fun. We are strivers from Detroit, New Orleans, the Bronx. Isn’t this what brought us to New York?


Outside a third wave of scramblers has pretty much claimed what must have once been a genteel Village street. They perch on the steps of the stoop next door, shivering in summer off-the-shoulder, waiting out the tables’ turning.  In the street limos lurk, and Harvey is up to something with his two lovelies like bookends, laughing like a kid out of school.

16 Bank Street at Waverly Place. 202 243 7900



Leslie Kelly’s South-by-Southwest Pimento Cheese


Leslie Kelly, who was then reviewing restaurants for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, was really tough on the grits and shrimp with bacon at Momofuku when we met in May 2006.  I liked that defy-the-gods bravado. Anyway, she turned up this morning in my email box, in Seattle, now rating restaurants for The Post Intelligencer and sent me this 10 minute recipe for hot weather cool.


“I know you’ve got lots of recipes for veggies and lovely summer fruits, but I am a hero when I bring this down-home spread to any picnic or potluck. I've been like a Southern food missionary, turning my friends and family onto some of the dishes I learned to love while living for three years in Memphis. Most people in Seattle have never heard of pimento cheese! I do believe I've converted quite a few to its addictive, low-brow charms. I glam it up a bit by using homemade mayo.


“Absolutely perfect with a glass of Washington State Riesling! So South by Southwest meets Pacific Northwest.”  


1 8-ounce package of shredded Mexican blend cheese (I like Sargento's brand)
1 4-ounce jar of sliced Dromedary pimentos, with juice
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of homemade mayo (or your favorite brand... in the South, I'd use Duke's or Blue Plate), the amount depending on how creamy you like it
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon chipotle flavored Tabasco
Pour the pimentos over the shredded cheese, add mayo and blend. I start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed. Same goes for the Tabasco, start with a teaspoon and add more to taste.


Serve with Carr's whole wheat biscuits.



Remembering Toots Shor

"Toots" explores the grit and glamour of a legendary Saloon Keeper


        Before there was Graydon, before Elaine, there was Toots Shor, the fabled midtown saloon keeper who counted Sinatra, DiMaggio, Frank Gifford, Jackie Gleason, Frank Costello, Walter Cronkite, and Jimmy Hoffa among his pals at a time when drinking till you dropped to the floor was good sport. Toots was built like a bear – with a knobby mug and a big unfailing smile. And he never stopped smiling as he gambled away fortunes till the feds took everything away for back taxes and locked the door of Toots Shor’s.


        His filmmaker granddaughter Kristi Jacobson embraces the glamour and the grit, smartly weaving together old paparazzi shots, family photos, snippets of film from prohibition New York, television footage from early Mike Wallace, “This Is Your Life,” and the night Edward R. Morrow visited her grandparents’ home to document the glamour and grit. It’s a story that loves that wicked, crass, more innocent New York, ultimately sad and strangely touching. Her camera seems to understand Toots better than he ever understood himself.


        Her luck was to find an eight hour oral history Shor taped for a Columbia University researcher when he was broke and living at the Drake Hotel on handouts from his friends.


Toots” opens Friday September 14 in New York movie houses.




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