While the Russian Tea Room might sound light weight, it isn’t. The story goes that the original owner of this exotic Russian style restaurant found that his eating house needed renovations but lost control of the budget, especially when it came to covering the walls with works of art. He created a $38 million makeover of Russian nostalgia and went broke in the process. It reopened last year after a four-year hibernation. As often happens, the new owner picked it up for a fraction of its worth and now it is a bucket-list compulsory stop.
Breakfast is a specialty. The chef provided me with two soft boiled eggs that sat up straight in their cups with shells removed and wearing a generous hat of salmon roe. Inspired by this performance I thought a pancake would be nice. For the first time I experienced a monster serving that New York used to be famous for. Three thick dinner plate sized pancakes arrived with embedded chocolate chips and maple syrup on the side. I called in reserve mouths, but it vanquished three of us.
The Book of Mormon was delightful. Grossly politically incorrect, it hilariously offended most principles of decency and would have put its producers in court even 20 years ago. But what a show! Dancing, singing, story, humour, sets: all superb. We left the theatre still laughing. The standout performance – in a cast of high energy champions – had to be Brian Sears who played Elder Cunningham. He’d come from a two-year stint playing the role in London.
I know I’m carrying on about restaurants, but eating out is the chief leisure occupation in New York. After a recovering long walk from the Book of Mormon and a snoozette, we again fitted the nosebags for a late dinner at the much acclaimed Nobu Japanese restaurant – within a block of our AKA hotel the choice of which is a tribute to Michelle’s travel research.. Extra-large for a Japanese restaurant, the Nobu dishes were extra small but the flavours exquisite. So was the sake. In the midst of all this intake I had a strange experience. At a nearby table I saw a work colleague who had died 30 years ago. Obviously it wasn’t him, but an exact replica – like the Hellgate and Sydney Harbour Bridges. I wanted to go over and ask him how he’d managed to get back above ground, but I would have spent the night in jail as a consequence.
Yesterday we went into training for a food tour by Famous Fat Dave. (To quote Dave, “if you want to start a small personalised business in this town famous has to be in the title. Only then can you become actually famous.”) The training involved a four kilometre walk to Washington Square Park that Pete said would only take 12 minutes. If we’d managed that we were all headed for the next Olympics.
During our journey we passed a version of Fraser’s heaven – a piano showroom loaded with Steinways and other piano-exotica. In the window sat the most remarkable grand piano I’ve ever seen. It was a special order, designer, Fazioli. On the off chance that you didn’t know, Fazioli is the dearest grand piano you can buy, costing about 20% more than my beloved Steinway and made in Italy. There are arguments as to whether it sounds better, but this Fazioli certainly sounded pretty good when I played a few notes. I noticed it had a price tag, face down, hanging over the side. I turned it over: US$422,000. That would be more than half a million of our money, to which you’d probably have to add taxes and tip the salesman, of course. Then deliver it. Because of its luxury cruiser styling, Pete suggested fitting an outboard motor to the back and self-delivering it by water.
Going on a 4 pm food tour, in which you are strongly advised to ‘come hungry’ can cause a problem. An early breakfast followed by fasting would have been sensible. But we were not sensible. We didn’t contemplate breakfast until we’d arrived at a famous deli called Zabars – which has a staggering variety of everything you could put in your mouth plus all the utensils needed to prepare it. Michelle, being an artful cook, went weak at the knees. Moreover, looking at all this exotic food drove us crazy hungry. How could we wait for Fat Dave’s arrival at 4 pm? We couldn’t.
Zabars has a modest shop-size restaurant next to the deli. Full of guilt we slunk in there for a bagel. Eaters share a long bench on high chairs, there is a counter along one wall and food and drinks stored along the back wall. Then, fronted by an anonymous door on the far left hand side of the shop is a tiny room. When the door opened and a lady popped out I realised it was a toilet. I imagine it is there to satisfy restaurant regulations. But is such close proximity to the food? I couldn’t help thinking ‘in one end and out the other, all under one roof’ as people lined up for a turn.
I’ll spend some time on Famous Fat Dave’s food tour next Aprilmayhem.