Sunday, March 22, 2009

Screw chronology

In grad school there isn't really spring break, but Jo and I decided to have one evening of break-like activity - a non-pasta dinner and a non-free movie - to mark the end of that which is technically 'vacation'. Thanks to some especially slow-moving weekend MTA service, I'm now a matter of pages away from the end of L'Argent! Which, for the record, is still not all that much about Jews.

So first off, the movie. The new Paul Rudd buddy flick/bromance, 'I Love You Man', was kind of a disappointment. (This from someone who very much enjoyed 'Don't Mess with the Zohan', the various Apatow productions, and other entertainment aimed at the male and immature.) Can a movie be pro-man without being anti-woman? Sure, but this one doesn't manage it. The main female role, the protagonist's fiancée, is meant to have a smaller place in the plot than her man's new best friend, but is it necessary that she have no personality whatsoever? When the protagonist asks himself why her, the audience is stuck incapable of answering the same question. Her two best friends (who of course have a Ladies' Night that they refer to as such) fit neatly into the clichés of hot-thin-wife-to-fat-repulsive-man and sad-sack, terminally-single-and-desperate, pleasant-looking but a little too chubby, a little too open about her sexual willingness to ever get a boyfriend. Snagging a man, a 'tasteful' rock, a baby, a sushi dinner, these are the ambitions of Woman, a humorless creature who is, alas, the sole possessor of the anatomy the straight man prefers.

Then again, the fault might go less to the movie than to the audience. No, a man kissing the Paul Rudd character is not cause for yelps of disgust. In the scene it's supposed to be funny, not horrifying, that a gay man thinks he's on date-date, not a hetero 'man-date'. Though the movie itself takes great pains to show its acceptance of gays, the audience (and this was on 19th and Broadway - practically Chelsea! what does this mean showings are like elsewhere? OK, so maybe it was the movie...) did not seem to have gotten that message, howling at all hints of male-male sex. (And no, to whom it may concern, the movie offers up no naked Paul Rudd whatsoever.)


The dinner preceding the cinematic experience was at nearby La Luncheonette, on 18th Street and 10th Ave. Highly recommended, although as predicted, I might still kind of prefer the nearby Thai food. (We went today, in fact, and spotted Lutz from '30 Rock'! See, it pays to take multiple weekend-service subways for Thai food.) But the Pad Gra Prow at Chelsea Thai contains, I think, some kind of addictive delicious ingredient, so it's not a fair comparison.

But, back to the dinner.

La Luncheonette is a classic French restaurant in, I'm guessing, a space that used to be a luncheonette. The food itself is not diner-y in the slightest.

The braised leek and lentil salad was delicious in just that way that restaurant food should be - lentils I understand, but I could not turn a leek from the store to what appeared on the plate without some serious effort and perhaps a different kind of pan. But I'm still planning to give it a shot.

Oh, and we had wine! Apparently something called Chateau de Haute-Serre, Cahors, is far, far better than any wine I can remember tasting, ever, and at $18 a half-bottle at the restaurant (and, says Google, the same amount for a whole bottle at a wine shop), it is not a beverage graduate students should be developing a taste for. Boo.

When we first looked at the menu, I told Jo I might just get the lentil-leek dish and another appetizer. He called me out for the fool I was, wasting our only fancy meal for months on some salad, even if it did come from Nice, so we split the lentil salad and I went for the rack of lamb, $30 (rather than the $7-$12 appetizers) and well worth it. It came with green beans that tasted nice and lamb-y, thanks to their proximity to the lamb, along with a scoop of potato gratin, which never hurts. Jo's steak with peppercorn sauce sadly did not look super amazing, and he admitted it was not that great. From the enthusiasm with which he 'tasted' my dish, I'm assuming it was quite the disappointment. (Fear not, he left me with more lamb than I knew what to do with.)

Dessert, a tarte tatin, came with something I did not want to try, that Jo thought tasted like sour cream or mascarpone, and that at any rate that is probably something delicious and French that I should be sophisticated enough to appreciate, but, err, no. Cheese I like, but anything sour and creamy is just gross. The tart itself (which has lost its 'e' now that we're speaking English) was, much like the leek appetizer, delicious in its I-could-not-make-this-at-home-without-dirtying-all-the-dishes impossibility. Which is precisely why we did not order the flourless chocolate cake.

So I was slightly nervous about eating in a grown-up restaurant while 20-something, but the service was lovely. Granted we were ultimately charged for two desserts after only ordering one, but once we pointed this out, the staff apologized and removed that charge. (I've found that in NYC restaurants you have a 50-50 chance of getting a bill quite far from the amount it should be, with a 50-50 chance each for too high and too low. Restaurants are busy. Unless the staff tells you that, surprise, your dish was actually the higher amount, despite what the menu said, which also happens and is annoying, I don't hold it against a place for what I tend to think is unintentional overcharging. It's just a good idea before paying to, you know, check.) It was still the most expensive meal we'd ever gone out to together. While I did not feel ripped off in the least, just disappointed Jo's steak hadn't been better, it was still kind of like, that didn't just happen, when we got the check. Back to pasta (and Thai food), indeed.


Jeff said...

Darn it, wish this review had been posted last week when I was in New York, I might have given the place a workout.

But I do have this NYC restaurant anecdote from last week, odd restaurant directives division: I was at Island Burgers & Shakes on 9th Avenue, which had an insert in their menu about how they now accept credit cards for a small transaction fee. Fine, except that was followed by a brief lecture on why you should not use a credit card, even if you want to.

Nick said...


-he who was concerned.

PG said...

That's an amazingly idiotic directive -- it assumes that the credit card user isn't paying her bill in full each month. If you can afford to pay the full amount every month, you benefit from using a credit card, not only because of the time-value of money but also because most cards offer cash-back, points and other rewards based on how much you spend (not on how much you pay interest on).

Well, OK, it's not so much idiotic as assuming customers are idiots. It's very much to the benefit of a business to maximize its cash transactions and minimize its credit card ones. And getting any non-chain establishment in NY to accept Discover (my favorite for being the card that pays you back) is almost impossible. Pretty much the only way to have credit cards work to an establishment's benefit is to have a credit card minimum that's just a little higher than what most customers would otherwise spend (e.g. a deli that has an $8 minimum when the average sandwich is $7.50), thereby creating an incentive for the customer to grab a small item she otherwise wouldn't have purchased in order to get within the minimum.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Pretty much the only way to have credit cards work to an establishment's benefit is to have a credit card minimum that's just a little higher than what most customers would otherwise spend (e.g. a deli that has an $8 minimum when the average sandwich is $7.50), thereby creating an incentive for the customer to grab a small item she otherwise wouldn't have purchased in order to get within the minimum."

But doesn't it also benefit establishments in that allowing those without cash on them to still buy something means more customers, even if each customer provides less profit than if paying in cash? If I have $3 on me and the coffee and pastry I have my eye on add up to $4, I skip the snack rather than hit an ATM that's far from the cafe or that has surcharges. So, perhaps cash-only urges customers to spend (and eat!) less, but it also sends customers over to the place (ahem, Starbucks) across the street that does take cards.

PG said...


Good point -- I was assuming my usual situation, which is to carry cash but be stingy in using it (and also to feel like I should be consuming less anyway). So I suppose Jeff's cafe actually has the ideal self-interested policy: accept credit cards so you don't lose the business of people who don't have enough cash on them, but make people feel bad for using credit cards when they could use cash instead.