Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Head Over Heels

Dear Graydon, I Was Wrong ...

Graybee baby, I have a confession. Don’t be cross! But I cheated on you. For a while there — and it was just a short while — I thought I’d found something better with Charles. Something cleverer. I’m a fool, I know. But I had my reasons.

The Waverly Inn was feeling so familiar. And the Monkey Bar hadn’t gone Gray yet. Now that it has, by the way, maybe it’s you who should beg forgiveness from me, my Gray goose. What were you thinking?? A normal reservations line?!? That anyone and everyone can call!!?? My puzzlement defies punctuation.

You had it right when you set up the Waverly: getting a table should mean pleading, plotting or — for the less pitiable among us — an occasional bouquet for your assistant. Speaking of which, did he get the Easter lilies? Not as many and as pretty as last year, I know, but we all have to adjust. That’s what Herbert’s been yammering at me since the bank slashed bonuses. I’ve switched from private Pilates to Physique 57 (it refers to the street, my Grayest of Gardens, the street), and I haven’t been to Dr. Brandt in eight weeks.

I thought Charles would be a balm. I thought Charles would make me feel better. I thought — oh, I hate to imagine what you’ll make of me — that Charles would be my new Waverly.

It’s just a few blocks away. And your Waverly chef, John DeLucie, helped with the menu when it opened late last year. And it was all so enigmatic: the nonsensical name (it’s not on Charles, or owned by a Charles), the lack of any sign out front.

Actually, there was and is a sign, but it’s for the fusty French artifact that used to have the space, Les Deux Gamins. How genius is that? When I went the other night, two people who’d apparently been fans of that restaurant were walking out the door looking exasperated, and they were muttering: “It’s some totally different place now. Who knew?”

I did! And it was at that moment that I thought I just might have to fall in love with it. Frannie <3 Charles!

You know me. The more reclusive the lair, the more I lust for it. But forget Rao’s. I don’t do Harlem, unless you count the Fairway, which of course you shouldn’t because it’s on the way to Rhinebeck. And La Esquina lost me when I realized that the secret “No Admittance” door was only the beginning and I had to teeter through the kitchen to the dining room. I got huitlacoche on my Prada.

Charles one-ups them all. While Waverly doesn’t answer its phone, Charles doesn’t even have one, at least not one that’s published. To get a table I would send an e-mail message, and some unseen, unknown, disembodied reservations deity would write back. It was like I was in a “Bourne” movie, arranging a secret meet. I was the Joan Allen character, but with a better colorist.

I haven’t yet told you the wildest part, which is the restaurant’s windows — so Salinger, so Garbo. They’re covered in old newspapers and blue tape, as if the space is under construction or even condemned, and they’ve been that way for so long that when I paused on the sidewalk the other night to read the fine print, I learned that Sarah Palin had resuscitated the McCain candidacy.

The newspapers are at first funny, then odd, then just sort of sad, maybe because Charles doesn’t have enough else going for it. In the end I couldn’t get around that.

I suppose it’s pretty inside, though it’s so dark you can’t tell, so dark that Bitsy and I never could decide if that was Maggie Gyllenhaal two tables away. Thank God for her, or whoever she was, because most of the rest of the crowd was male and under 40, which left me feeling a little too cougar for comfort.

The waiters were like yummy chew toys, but tough to stomach in the end. One plunked down my check before I was near ready to go, and another brought me brussels sprouts instead of the potato purée: not a fair trade-off, and maybe even an insult? Note to self: resume spinning.
The food wasn’t yummy enough.

Oh, some of it was just fine: the smoked trout; the endive with Gorgonzola; the roasted chicken, which was actually more tender than Waverly’s, if I’m to give my silly fling its due.

On the night I brought Herbert, I finished my scallops and he polished off his rack of lamb. Then I stole three bites of these adorable biscotti ice cream sandwiches he got for dessert. That’s two more bites than I would usually do, but I chalk it up to spousal altruism, given that he just had two of his suits let out.

My dinner with Bitsy was the next week, and when she wasn’t staring at Maggie, she was rolling her eyes. The lamb kebabs should be called tartare. That’s how close to raw they were. The salmon, supposedly pan-seared, was more like pan-spurned, by which I mean it was nearly raw, too. Charles is as stingy with heat as it is with light. Maybe it’s saving on utilities.

It shouldn’t have to, given what it charges for wine. On a recent list only two of about 60 reds were under $70, and I couldn’t find a white for under $60 — not that I’m scrimping! It made me wonder: aren’t the newspapers, the blue tape and the unpublished phone number velvet rope enough?

And did I really just say that? It doesn’t sound like me, but then we’re all sounding a little different since the Dow went south, Obama came east and Bernie Madoff went up the river.

The old tricks and poses don’t play quite the way they once did. I guess that’s what you’d already realized, my Gray Eminence. Hence the Monkey business.

I’ll head up there soon enough to check it out, resigned — in the spirit of the times — to seeing a whole lot of people who never breached the Waverly. Save me a booth?

xoxo Frannie

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