Friday, May 23, 2008

NYC Day 2 - Bolognese, live music and a side of breast at Chez Josephine

The week in NYC was crazy busy, so I've already returned to Minneapolis, but I still have 6 more days of food stories to share - here's the Saturday edition.

We started the second day thinking it would be a quick couple of hours setting the last brand in J the BF's booth at the Stationary show along with a little clean up here and there and we would spend the rest of the day playing. It ended up being a 7 hour day of merchandising, cleaning, dealing with case storage issues and a host of other unexpected time sucks (no lunch break, BTW). Not the Saturday in the city I had envisioned. I was tired and very grouchy by the time we hiked the 8 long blocks back across town from Javits Center back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We stopped at a Cafe Metro for a sandwich which stood in for a late lunch, but at 4:30pm, I dare say it didn't count.

We took the subway up to Time Square to meet J's parents for dinner at Chez Josephine. Despite having visited NYC several times, I had somehow avoided Time Square at night. Seeing the human moths drawn to the lights beaming everything commercial, tacky and sickeningly beautiful about American culture into space, I gained a new understanding for why I avoided this area. A quick jaunt through the mess got us to the infamous establishment still run by one of Josephine Baker's adopted sons, Jean-Claude, who greeted us warmly upon entry and exit (with a firm squeeze of the shoulder - you gotta love the French).

This was a unique New York experience. We were seated at the rear of the main dining room next to the piano where two elderly black women (each was at least 80 years old) were playing old jazz standards. One stood at the piano and occasionally did vocals while the other didn't miss a beat on the trombone. It was very impressive. The performers were refreshed through the evening as we enjoyed an array of "American" favorites from the menu mixed with French inspired dishes. J's mom went for the Lobster Cassoulet which was divine. J tried "Elvira's Down Home Fried Chicken" which was not earth shattering, but very good in its own right. I went for the spaghetti bolognese (billed as Josephine's favorite on the menu) which was not exceptional, but extremely comforting and led me to finish every morsel on the plate.

While trying to stay focused on the conversation with J's parents, and enjoying an incredible Australian Pinot Noir Rose from Green Point, I was continuously distracted by the nude portrait of Josephine Baker hanging over J's mother's head. I kept thinking of what it would be like to work nightly in a space with a nude of my mom hanging in the dining room of my place of business. I was taught about the "exotic" intrigue the Josephine had generated as an American exile in Europe, but spending just one meal in her restaurant gave me a new appreciation for just how revolutionary Baker was for her time. As for the food, it was definitely worth a re-visit given the unique character of the experience of eating in her restaurant.

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