Sunday, February 24, 2008

A typical New York evening

Maybe it was the result of lunchtime’s disappointment, but we were really looking forward to dinner. We’d eaten at Wallsé before, and the prospect of hearty Austrian cuisine on a cold night was so tempting that we turned up at the restaurant ten minutes before they opened and had to dance around to keep warm until they noticed us and charitably let us in.

The restaurant feels like a cozy neighborhood joint, albeit one in which one wall is dominated by an
enormous Julian Schnabel portrait of chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, arms folded, scowling at the room as if challenging diners to complain about his food.

(It’s also largely underlit, so my best attempts to record the meal were foiled. Gutenbrunner!)

We started with cocktails: a bright, tart rye sour with blood-orange marmalade for me, and a blackberry sidecar for The Boy, the glass frosted with a thick rim of sugar, fresh berries floating within.

His app was a dish of indulgent, creamy spätzle with rabbit; I went for duck consommé, the clear broth soothing and nutritious and generously loaded with cubes of duck meat and asparagus spears. It felt as though it were exorcising the ghost of my lunchtime lentil lapse.

For my main, I had cod strudel with Riesling sauerkraut (the cod in thick, buttery, generous pieces); The Boy ordered steamed pheasant, which I’d considered but (foolishly) though might be bland (ha!). The meat was fragrant, succulent and moist, wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with lentils and tiny, crunchy dices of carrot and celery, with a dish of puréed potato on the side.

We were going to pass on dessert, but our lovely South African waitress did such a good job of teasing the
Salzburger Nockerl with huckleberries that we caved under the pressure (and the accent). In this version of meringue, soft pillows of egg white and vanilla-infused crème anglaise are piled in a dish and baked until brown. The layer of intense berry sauce beneath was still bubbling hot when it reached our table. We ate the whole thing.

And then off to the evening’s entertainment: a reading of Songs of Songs with power couple Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. The music was composed by creative all-rounder John Zorn; the first half of the show involved Zorn conducting (that is, sitting to one side and occasionally nodding at) harp, vibes, double bass and electric guitar through a selection of what I (in my cultural and musical ignorance) can only describe as experimental klezmer jazz. It was actually pretty cool.

The theater was tiny—maybe 300 seats in all. We were in the third row. Every now and again my eyes would stray from the stage, because LOU REED WAS, LIKE, SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW. I think everyone else was sneaking glances as well, but trying to pretend they weren’t. He and Laurie watched the first act, and then got up in interval and slipped through a side door.

Five minutes later, they were on stage, along with five young women in evening gowns. (Laurie was in a slim-fitting black pantsuit; Lou, a white guayabera and black pants and reading glasses). The women—the “daughters of Jerusalem”—sang all the musical accompaniment: high jarring notes, soft crooning tones, staccato shrieks, long harmonious chords. Zorn stood at audience-level, leaning on the stage, his score in front of him, and cued Lou and Laurie on their lines; the ladies more or less conducted themselves.

It was … well, it was certainly unlike anything we’d seen before. Musically, it was incredible—one of those moments that made me realize that while I could probably be a proficient guitarist or keyboardist or drummer with about six months’ practice, I’d never be able to equal that level of ability.

There was also a pleasantly rough edge to it, as though (on Lou and Laurie’s part) there’d been only a couple of hours of rehearsal before they went on stage (Lou stumbled over a couple of lines, and added an unintentionally percussive element when he opened his sparkling water bottle too closely to the microphone, creating a sudden hiss and causing the audience to giggle).

We came out, a little dazed, and decided to call it a night. And then we got back to the hotel and decided to have a call-it-a-nightcap at the Algonquin across the street. Their martini with lime and thyme strengthened my resolve to experiment with herbs in beverages this summer. And on the way out, we stopped to say hi to
Matilda, who consented to a brief chin rub.

Yeah, that was a good evening.

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Blogger Laura Matthews said...

the man has an unbelievable Website, too.

7:59 AM  

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