Crikey. I’ve been back from the States nearly a month, and still not reported on my trip. So here’s a few brief highlights.
Les Halles: Had dinner at Antony Bourdain’s flagship Park Avenue brasserie. The food was solid if not spectacular (escargots for starter, steak and frites for the main), with the meat a little on the tough side, and ‘the best chips in New York’ no better than those I cook at home (which are spectacular, I’ll admit). The desert menu was the biggest disappointment, however. Rum Baba, anyone? Is that meant to be ironic? On the positive side, the ambiance is great; not at all stuffy, heaving with customers, and excellent, friendly service.
ESPN: Back in the early nineties my friend Adrian decided to move to the US. I smuggled him into the radio station I was working for at the time and recorded a demo tape which he took with him, hoping to find jobs in broadcasting. He progressed through the ranks of college and alternative radio, worked as an announcer for the New England Revolution soccer team, and is now a fully-fledged sports commentator at ESPN. I travelled up to Bristol, Connecticut, where the company is based, and sat in the control room while Adrian broadcast a game between Valencia and Athletico Bilbao, ably supported in the commentary box by Shep Messing, who, despite having a name like a dog with diarrhea, has an impressive footballing pedigree. He played alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbaur for the New York Cosmos, once saved two George Best penalties in a single game, was Paul Gascoigne’s US agent, currently looks after WBA keeper Tomasz Kuszczak and, most impressively of all, was a playgirl centrespread. Shep was full of scandalous stories, none of which I could possibly repeat here without incurring the wrath of at least two sets of lawyers. Performing the same role on the Spanish version of the broadcast was legendary Argentinan striker Mario Kempes, and post-game I had my picture taken with both men. It’s not often you get to meet someone who’s scored two goals in a World Cup Final.
Braza: This, in a nutshell, is my kind of restaurant. One sits at the bar drinking beer while a meat platter of vast and improbable proportions fills ones vision and subsequently stomach. Beef, turkey, pork, ham, chorizo, sausage, kebabs etc. Highly recommended for packing ones colon with thrilling, vibrant, meaty goodness.
Moscow Cat Theatre: I was a little nervous about going to see this. I’d first read about the troupe in 1999, and had harboured thoughts of seeing them perform ever since. When I arrived in NY, I switched on the local news channel, and was immediately confronted with an advert for a season of performances at the Tribeca Performing Arts Centre. Serendipity. 48 hours later I found myself a sore-thumb in an auditorium full of young mothers with children and batty-looking old ladies, watching as the cats walked tightropes, performed paw-stands and pushed prams containing dogs across the theatre floor. It’s all a bit disconcerting, but cats won’t do anything they don’t want to, and most of these proud felines looked perfectly content performing their tricks. 100%, grade-A weirdness. I didn’t take pictures, but there’s some available at Bluejake. Ooh, and there’s a photoset on Flickr.
Monkey Town: My last night was spent in Monkey Town, the kind of place that, were it located in London’s fashionable Hoxton district, would be staffed by pretentious, rude, expensively-attired idiots with foolishly sculpted hair and sanity-threatening cocaine habits. Here, a very friendly fellow called Jeff makes us feel very welcome, keeps us entertained and buys rounds of drinks. Why is it that barwork in the US is so much more an honourable profession? The tips obviously help, but the level of service is so much better, even in the ropiest of dive bars, which this certainly isn’t. Dinner for two sees us chow down on pulled pork, with basmati rice & 3 sauces: herb chimichurri, nam pla, and orange-tamarind relish; grilled striped bass with pistachio-herb crust, roasted sweet potatoes, and ginger red cabbage; for desert we sample the milk chocolate curry mousse with chickpea brittle & whipped cream and the rose-pomegranate cheesecake with pistachio cardamom crust – all very adventurous, and quite delicious. As the blurb says, “we serve experimental cuisine and classic dishes from a country that doesn\’t exist.” If you’re ever in Williamsburg, pop in and say hello.
All in all, a fantastic trip. Almost as good as Saturday’s trek up to Nuneaton.