Saturday, May 31, 2008


I think that it is about time for me to share reviews of places I have been to in the last few months and hopefully provide further valuable insights on where to go in New York on a night out. Again, I am only reviewing places that I particularly like, as I have been to well over 150 restaurants and bars since I've been here. I know that because I keep a list - very anally retentive of me, I know.

* Mercer Kitchen - 147 Mercer Street, corner of Prince Street
I was a little wary about going to Mercer Kitchen the first time. It is the restaurant of the Mercer Hotel, right in the heart of Soho, and as such the venue of choice for celebrities and models. Lindsay Lohan famously trashed a suite once and Kate Moss always stays there when she is in town. Going to this kind of places usually mean seeing no celebrities (not that I would really want to anyway) but instead being faced by a room full of poseurs and wannabees - incredibly stylish but hopelessly snooty and boring. But I like Mercer Kitchen - an underground brick walled space, quietly luxurious and bathed in candle light. The food is wonderful as well, my favourites being the steamed shrimp salad with avocado, mushrooms and tomato in a champagne vinaigrette, as well as the sea scallops with french lentils, crisp pancetta and lemon creme fraiche.

* MercBar - 151 Mercer Street, between Prince Street and West Houston
MercBar is the bar next door to the Mercer Hotel and part of the stable. It's my favourite bar on week nights, as it becomes too loud and busy at the weekends. The decor is similar to Mercer Kitchen, and again there is an understated luxurious feel to it, along with a smooth, chilled out atmosphere - enhanced by the fantastic "Hotel Coste" compilations softly playing in the background. In addition to the exposed brick walls, seats are covered in cowhide, deer horns hang on the walls and a suspended canoe glows above the bar - giving the place a very distinctive feel. They also make the most perfect Sour Apple Martinis.

* Tomoe Sushi - 172 Thompson Street, corner of West Houston
Upon learning that my friend Joe is not only as much of a sushi fanatic as I am, but also makes regular trips to Japan, I asked him what his favourite Japanese restaurant in the City was and Tomoe was his answer. We've been there together a few times and, as he is the expert, I always insist that he chooses our food.
The restaurant itself is nothing to rave about - probably about 12 white formica tables crammed in a small space, specials scribbled on pieces of paper stuck to the wood-paneled walls. It is a cash only restaurant, usually indicative of cheap food, although I have never spent less than $100 per person there.
But the queues, which start forming outside the tiny venue at around 7pm, speak for themselves. The sushi there is simple but incredibly fresh, in a melt in the mouth kind of way. I also tasted more unusual japanese dishes there, such as Ankimo (monkfish liver pate) and small fried fish that you eat whole... both surprisingly delicious.

* Ocean Grill - 384 Columbus Avenue, between 79th & 80th Street
On the few occasions that I stay in my neighbourhood to have brunch - usually when I have people staying with me - Ocean Grill is my first choice for brunch. It is located in one of my favourite corners of the Upper West Side, 79th & Columbus, opposite the Natural History Museum. I love the building itself, surrounded by old trees and a lovely arts and crafts market at the weekends, and as such always buzzing with people.
I never eat in the main dining area, which I find too formal for brunch, and instead always head to the banquettes in the bar area, with large windows looking onto the museum.
The atmosphere at the weekends is very relaxed, the bar populated by an incredible variety of people - from elderly couples, to families and young professionals. I usually order one of the few versions of Eggs Benedict they have on offer, tuck into the bottomless coffee and enjoy the soft jazz music and the company of the friends I am with.

* Barneys Greengrass - 541 Amsterdam Avenue, at 86th Street
I read about Barneys Greengrass before I actually experienced it. It is one of the most famous and oldest Jewish delis in the City and happens to be about 2 minutes walk from where I live. There is nothing fancy about the place but there is something very old-fashioned and endearing about it ... from the formica tables, to the muddy beige walls adorned with rather average murals.
The service can be either incredibly friendly or rather rude, depending on the mood of the waiters. But the atmosphere never changes: hot, almost smoky (from the kitchen) with barely any tourists - a primarily Jewish neighbourhood crowd . They, and I, come here for the amazing bagels accompanied by the simple, but tasty, eggs scrambled with lox (cured salmon).

* Lure - 142 Mercer Street, corner of Prince Street
I fell with love with Lure the first time I went there in January this year. Whenever I describe the place to friends in an attempt to convince them to go there, they look at me with disblelief - it is meant to look like the inside of a yatch, which smacks of a theme restaurant. But it really isn't.
Yes, it does feel like you are on a boat but not in a cheesy way. The sushi there is very inventive and probably my favourite thing to order in the evening, along with some of their more conventional, french-inspired, fish or seafood dishes.
The bar area, which I sometimes go to on weekend afternoons, offers delicious cocktails - my favourite being the Blueberry Gin.
My only criticism of the place is the music. They play an endless selection of Eighties songs, a little too loud for my liking, and oddly jarring with the atmosphere of the place.

* Per Se - 10 Columbus Circle
I literally fantasized about going to a Thomas Keller restaurant since reading Anthony Bourdain's "A cook's tour" a few years back, where he documents his most memorable meals around the world. Keller's most famous restaurant is located in the Napa Valley ("The French Laundry") but his New York outpost is "Per Se", in the swanky Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. Both are notoriously impossible to get into (they only accept reservations 2 months in advance of the dinner date and telephone lines are notoriously jammed) so I had lost all hope that I would ever experience his legendary art ... until the Washington Post Online invited me to an industry dinner that was taking place there.
Per Se was hands down the best restaurant I have ever been to in my entire life, with the most attentive, yet friendly service. As we were sipping champagne before sitting at our tables, smiling waiters offered us a selection of canapes - salmon tartare with red onion creme fraiche in a light as air crispy cone, foie gras mousse on tiny croutons and cheese feuillete.
Our main meal consisted of 7 courses, all paired with a different wine. We started with hot smoked sturgeon, served with picked apple slices, horseradish cream and dill infused olive oil. This was followed by caramelized endives, roasted beetroots and steamed small onions. The mains were seabass (the best I've ever tasted) with globe artichokes and then ribeye beef with fingerling potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The beef was much rarer than I would usually have it but simply sublime. We then had a very light salad with beans and rocket, before finally finishing off with desert: apricot sorbet - which reminded me of my mum's apricot jam with melancholy - and petits fours.
Everything was so simple and yet refined and executed to perfection. As they poured us a delicious 20 years old port at the end of the meal, along with amazing American cheeses (3 words I never thought I would put together), I literally thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I feel guilty about recommending this place as it is so hard to get into. But if you know you are going to visit New York in the next 2 months, make sure you at least try to get a table there. I promise that you will be blown away.

* Salt - 58 MacDougal Street, between Prince & West Houston
I have a special fondness for Salt. Not only because I wish my flat looked like the restaurant - exposed bricks, long white tables adorned with bouquets of roses, white bookshelves on the walls filled with quirky ornaments but with a very homely, lived in feel. But also because it's tucked away in an odd corner of MacDougal Street and almost difficult to find.
The menu is short, making food decisions much quicker. The quirk is that you can choose from a list of sides and a list of proteins and combine the two together to your own taste. The food is amazing - clean, fresh, tasty and very good value.

Amazingly, the City still holds an endless supply of restaurants for me to try - and I have the very hard task of sampling as many of them as I can ...

Sunday, May 25, 2008


There are two events in the year that I would never spend without my family - my birthday and Christmas. Not because of the presents but because being with them on these milestones is a tradition I am not willing to change.

And so I made my way to JFK for the former event at 6 am at the end of April, blurry eyed and craving caffeine, having woken up too late to grab a coffee before jumping into the cab.
I was less than amused when the BA clerk told me that my luggage could not be checked all the way to Lyon as I was landing in Terminal 4 in London but my onward flight was departing from the new Terminal 5, leaving me no time to transfer. My mind worked fast, despite the despicably early hour, and within 30 minutes I had called my friend Marie, arranged to stay with her in London for the night and booked myself on the first flight out to France the following morning.
The unexpected extended stop over gave me 12 hours to catch up and gossip with her over dinner - a very pleasant interlude as it were.

My family and I quickly settle into a reassuringly familiar routine as soon as I arrive home. The first few hours are usually spent decyphering what I am trying to say as my French always takes a little while to come back. After that, it feels like nothing has changed much since I left home 13 years ago.

My sister lives at home with my parents and my brother, despite living a few miles away with his girlfriend, usually takes time off when I am in town so that we can all spend as much time together as possible. And so, for a week, our family unit is intact, almost suspended in a time warp where we are somehow ageless - not quite children anymore, but not quite adults yet.

Each day is anchored around dinner, a sacred time during which everything is discussed but primarily politics - how bad Sarkozy is, the collapse of the sub-prime market, the state of the national health service ... Our extended family also keeps us busy, my mother having 10 brothers and sisters - and therefore us having a myriad of uncles, aunties and cousins - mean that life is sometimes uncomfortably, but entertainingly, close to a sitcom.

But the main theme of my holidays back to France is "bonding".

Bonding with my brother and my sister as we play squash every day - 45 minutes filled with raw energy, excitement but mainly laughter as we nearly miss hitting each other with the racket on numerous occasions, swear in a perfectly bilingual manner or giggle at my sometimes Monica Selles'esque grunting! We leave the court exhausted, high on happy hormones and ready to do it all over again the next day.

Bonding with my father as the two of us head off for our daily cross-country bicycle ride along the river and the neighbouring fields and forests. I remember the days, only a few years ago, when Dad (the man who can never sit still) had to force us to go cycling but I am now the one asking to go. I thoroughly enjoy these rides, whizzing through the small paths, hitting rocks and tree roots, jumping obstacles, crossing muddy puddles. This is when my long lost Tom boy comes out to play again.

Bonding with my mum, usually while helping her prepare dinner, trying to explain that it is normal to have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince, while never actually telling her how many frogs there are or have been ... Trying desperately to make her understand me and my decisions, while knowing she never really will as our generations are so utterly different.

Another tradition I love is my mum recounting the day of my birth on my actual birthday. While I could probably do with less of the gory details (12 hour labour without a peridural or even gas and air!), I never tire of hearing it. I am looking forward to my next birthday already ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I remember an episode of "Sex & The City" when Carrie, still coming to terms with the painful end of two significant relationships and adjusting to the single life, realises that New York is in fact her true love ... the main character in her life and the infatuation that will never fade.

This has never felt more true to me than now as I must admit that my love for gorgeous, fast-paced, complicated New York has been inextricably linked to my irrational infatuation for an equally gorgeous, fast-paced, complicated New Yorker and I have struggled to separate the two in my mind until fairly recently.

But another perfect New York weekend further helped me to come to the same revelation as Carrie.

My friend Mario was in New York for business a few weeks back and stayed with me. Late on Saturday morning, we walked to the Natural History Museum to have brunch at Ocean Grill, one of my favourite neighbourhood spots, where we sat at my usual corner banquette in the bar area (which I prefer to the main restaurant) and had deliciously lemony lobster eggs Benedict and bottomless coffee while catching up on the latest events in our lives.

We hopped on the subway to the Lower East Side as Mario works in fashion and I wanted to show him all the small vintage boutiques scattered in the area. In between shops, we stopped at Economy Candy on Rivington to pick up retro, wacky sweets and then leisurely strolled through Chinatown and its weird & wonderful food items (dried oysters anyone?), weaved through the fake goods of Canal Street and cut through Little Italy before arriving in Soho. After a quick pit stop at Lure for a blueberry gin (for me) and a passion fruit caipirinha (for him), we felt saintly for getting one of our five portions of fruits & vegetables in a single cocktail and proceeded to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where Erickson (Mario's old flatmate, who also works in fashion) had invited us for a cocktail party at his apartment.

We met Larry for dinner at Sea first, a Thai restaurant with an impressive interior - huge industrial space with candle lit indoor pool, imposing sculpture of Buddha and swing bubble chairs scattered around. By the time we left, it was packed and the atmosphere was more that of a club than a restaurant, with booming music and crowds waiting to get in. Erickson's apartment was an amazing split-level affair which makes you realise how much more you get for your money in Brooklyn. The view from his terrace was of the glittering Manhattan skyline and we made full use of his telescope to get close up views of the Empire State and the Chrystler buildings ... and to catch glimpses of his unsuspecting neighbours of course!
We ended the night at a club called Sugarland and much fun was had between chatting to a guy dressed as an angel and cutting impressive shapes to Madonna's "Vogue" - she would have been proud of us.

On Sunday, we met Erickson for brunch at the Pink Pony, an eclectically decorated bistro on the Lower East Side. A delicious Nova Scotia salmon omelette and a "why not" glass of Champagne later, we walked all the way to the West Village and the Meat Packing district for more shopping. We stopped at Patricia Field's* store on Bowery and marveled at all the crazy 80s clothes and accessories. As Mario was trying on a pair of tight gold shiny trousers (which he subsequently bought), Erickson pointed to Patricia herself, chain-smoking in the tiny salon at the back of the boutique, while having her bright red hair crimped.

It was one of these perfect days when the sun is shining brightly yet the air is cool and crisp. The kind of day when New York seems to deliberately stage itself to its best ... The city seemed about to burst with energy and happiness, every green patches of grass full of people enjoying the weather. New Yorkers were singing to themselves in the streets without any trace of self-consciousness. 80s style kids sported boom boxes and brightly coloured fluorescent trainers with matching caps. The street performers and market stall holders were back, marking the beginning of the more clement season. The prospect of the hot summer days seemed so close and a sense of hope and longing filled the air.

Men will come and go ... but the cities, the sights, the sounds, the experiences and the friendships they bring with them will stay forever.

* For the straight male readers: Patricia Field is the stylist for "Sex & The City".