Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘west village’ Category

Healthy Environment Healthy Children

In children, event, nyc, storytelling, trendy, west village on May 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

On a beautiful evening in May, a tall, middle-aged gentleman stood outside an unmarked door in the West Village. He wore an oversized black coat, a gold signet ring on his left hand, and a clear plastic earpiece wired down his back. His voice was businesslike but personable when I asked him about his job.

“It’s a job. Just like any other job. As long as you know your job. But you gotta be a people person, gotta know people.”

Does he do this job full time? He laughs.

“Sometimes. Full time sometimes. I do this a lot.”

A black Expedition pulled up to the curb, and the man stepped into the street to open the door. A blonde emerged, all black leggings and chunky platform boots adorned with zippers. He firmly welcomed her and directed her to the coat check and registration rooms, both behind other unmarked doors. She thanked him and strutted away.

The scene repeated itself for the next few hours. The gentleman, along with a half dozen other bouncers, stood guard outside the brick building, hands clasped behind their backs. They looked like they could stop trouble in its tracks, but mostly they opened the doors of yellow cabs for single women tottering in their heels. Everyone was there, from pretty young things in the trendiest platform stilettos, to perfectly coiffed bottle-blonde housewives in designer dresses, to gracefully aging matrons and their mustachioed husbands of how many years. Couples smiled nervously as they approached from up and down the street, the young women gripping their dates’ arms delicately but assertively. Single men in sharp suits were hard-pressed to unglue their eyes from their Blackberry screens. Sharp jaws, cheekbones and designer labels abounded: YSL, Dior.

Against this steady stream of well-heeled guests stood another group. They slouched in tight circles, dressed in white coats and checkered pants, pinching cigarettes between two fingers and shifting their weight from one foot to the other. The men’s hands were scarred; the lone woman wore a bandana and no makeup. They laughed hurriedly, privately, with each other and didn’t linger long; there was work to do inside.

This unusual crowd had gathered for the second annual benefit for Wellness in the Schools, the nonprofit organization of Chef Bill Telepan that supports healthy public school lunches, and The Greenhouse Project, dedicated to integrating environmental science education in New York City’s public schools. The event featured twenty or so chefs from some of the city’s best restaurants (Commerce, Gramercy Tavern, dell’anima, Babbo, Hearth, Candle 79), each preparing one or two small dishes for guests to sample; a sort of free-form tapas meal.

The benefit was held in the Stephan Weiss Studio, an open gallery space, warehouse tall and twinkling. Upstairs, a brightly-lit sunroom was dominated by an intimidating table strewn with baskets of crackers and wedges of crumbly cheeses. Glass doors opened onto an outdoor patio studded with wide wooden benches and draping trees. Multiple full bars were stockpiled with fleets of glinting wine glasses and highball tumblers, which kept the customers satisfied and the bussers busy.

For an event meant to emphasize the importance of good food, the benefit did not disappoint. Dishes ranged from the expected (delightfully simply hamachi ceviche and lox bagels) to the inventive (charred avocado with a delicate peanut butter crust). Playful textures were mastered by Alex Guarnaschelli from Butter (the crisp of her flatbread pizza’s crust contrasted with the smoothness of the toppings) and Telepan himself, whose vibrant carrot and peekytoe crab soup highlighted salty shavings of both ingredients. Even SchoolFood, the organization responsible for all breakfasts and lunches in NYC’s public schools, had a table, serving up baked triangular chips and various bean salads with a south-of-the-border twist. The most memorable dish of the evening, the miniature lamb meatball sliders, came as a golden brioche bun hugging a bright red meatball, spread with cool cheese and a cucumber sliver perched on top.

Dinner was excellent, but dessert was sinful. El Diavolo, a surprisingly thick chocolate mousse sprinkled with nibs of bitter cocoa, shocked with its aftertaste of hot pepper. Udon spoons from Levain Bakery cradled monster cookies wedges, chock full of nuts and chocolate chunks; shot glasses of milk were on hand as chasers. For non-chocolate-lovers, the best dessert by far was a pop-in-your-mouth cracker bejeweled with berries and mint, with a zing reminiscent of Now And Laters; a deconstructed summery fruit salad, if you will.

The steep price of admission wasn’t the only fundraiser of the evening. A silent auction featured, among many items, a guitar autographed by Sting. A competitive live auction (but all in good fun!) held even more prizes, including a backstage package and special tickets to the New York City Ballet, a dinner party at the Fatty Crab for thirty of your closest friends, a weekend in the Hamptons with Alec Baldwin, a helicopter ride with Cameron Diaz. All fetched admirable prices.

To cap off the evening, Eric Lewis, an intense young musician with silver metal gauntlets strapped to his wrists, mesmerized the crowd with his ferocious musical stylings. I cannot recommend this man enough. He lunged at his piano, banging out Mr. Brightside, The Diary of Jane and Smells Like Teen Spirit in rich, roaring tones of rockjazz, yet still satisfied the old-timers with Sweet Home Alabama. His driving sounds carried the well-to-do, well-fed guests and their exhausted servers out of the studio space, into the cool May air and the waiting night.


SushiSamba Meet & Tweet

In fusion food, japanese, nyc, restaurant, sushi, tapas, west village on January 22, 2010 at 6:22 am

The time has come to answer that age-old question: Should you mix your seafood with your social media? After this week’s nationwide Meet & Tweet at SushiSamba, the answer is a qualified yes.

According to Urban Dictionary, a tweetup is “an organized or impromptu gathering of people that use Twitter,” derived from the word meetup. SushiSamba‘s version hoped to provide “a great way to meet other sushi lovers, while enjoying some of your favorite SushiSamba dishes on a Wednesday evening.” Using the hashtag #sstwtup, partygoers in New York, Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas could converse virtually as well as physically, detail their meals, invite friends to join them and generally squeal about the good time they were having. I dined with @sincerelysib and @jessCsims, fellow Tweeters and good friends of mine.

SushiSamba concocts fusion tapas dishes, drawing on Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences, and the decor at the restaurant’s Seventh Avenue location reflects this unusual bent. The airy dining room is warmly lit with red-orange light, accented with shades of goldenrod and green. A DJ spins Latin beats downstairs, where sushi chefs labor at the open bar counters. Upstairs, the rooftop is reminiscent of a treehouse, with wide leafed potted plants and ceiling beams the color of avocado pits. The rooftop patio is encased against the winter cold by glass walls and skylights, overlooking the traffic on the avenue below.

For the Meet & Tweet, SushiSamba offered tapas and drink specials at a third of their normally steep prices, as well as a $10 coupon for our next visit. A large flat-screen TV over the bar displayed the Twitterfeed of everyone tweeting about the four parties nationwide. @JessCsims squealed each time her tweets appeared on the screen.

Our best dish by far was the crispy yellowtail taquitos, SushiSamba’s second most popular dish (sea bass and miso skewers are the first.) Two mini tacos were balanced between shot glasses stuffed with lime wedges and layered foam of yellow and red chili pepper sauces. Their brittle shells brimmed with spicy, sweet and hot ingredients, and could be polished off in three bites. We enjoyed our tiny slices of fusion heaven with Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, a potent brew reminiscent of tequila that can be mixed with berries or tropical fruit. The expertly-mixed beverage smacked of lime and sugarcane, and was dangerously delicious.

The rest of our tapas menu was equally ambrosial. Salt and pepper squid, tender but fierce footballs of cephalopod, were coated in a breading spicy enough for KFC. Paired with barbecue-laced soy sauce or lime spinkled with hot Japanese pepper, the squid took on an added juicy kick. Rock shrimp tempura, piled high in a mountain of fried-yet-creamy coating, were topped with a mess of buttery baby greens and complimented by a strong peanut miso sauce. Japanese chicken wings, lumpy lollipops of meat falling off of bones no longer than my thumb, were tender, fatty and excellently paired with their sugary sweet dipping sauce.

In honor of the tweetup, all the proceeds from the adorably-named Twitteroll went to benefit the Red Cross’s efforts in Haiti. The Twitteroll itself, a cold, bright ceviche of a sushi roll, missed the mark, largely due to its overpowering salsita topping, piled like miniature volcanoes on the roll pieces.

We ended our evening with the warm chocolate banana cake, a layered concoctions dwarfed by the giant white plate in which it is served. The three of us were handed giant spoons and encouraged to snag all the layers (maple butter on bottom, scorching hot chocolate and banana cake in the middle, frozen vanilla rum ice cream on top) in one bite. @jessCsims, the first to balance the layered decadence to her mouth, immediately exclaimed, “Oh my god. That’s the best dessert I’ve ever had.” Her pronouncement went unquestioned by the table.

The Meet & Tweet generated lots of activity on Twitter but less so in the actual restaurant; the Seventh Avenue rooftop held thirty or so people at any given time during the night. The event wasn’t much of a meet and greet of online acquaintances; strangers kept to their own tables and mingling was almost nonexistent. Regardless, the event was a great chance to nab SushiSamba’s pricey food on the cheap while bonding with other Tweeters, if only in cyberspace. It also made my mind up to return to SushiSamba at my earliest convenience.