New York State of Mind
The tiny, cast iron bistro table in front of me was overshadowed by a tower of seafood, affording me only glimpses of the top of the curly head of hair of my dining companion. As soon as the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac, we’d made a beeline to grab a late supper at Balthazar, New York City’s take on the French bistro. It was almost midnight and I was slightly buzzed from the flight eastward – and maybe also enjoying the affects of a young Dauvissat Chablis I ordered to accompany the dozens of iced Wellfleet oysters, littleneck clams, chewy snails, Maryland crab, sweet Maine lobster and piles of shrimp. Who EVER knows where shrimp come from? And if you really knew, would you still eat them?? I came to the east coast in search of primitive American culinaria for my shop, Heritage Culinary Artifacts, in Napa Valley. And I never need much of an excuse to get a little NYC air for a couple of days. We rose early the next morning to a clear, humid Sunday and easily located our Zipcar rental, a red Mini Cooper Clubman. More than a few New Yorkers gave us the thumbs up for our hot wheels.
Strong coffees and everything-bagels slathered with an extra-thick layer of chive cream cheese nourished us on the hour-long ride to outdoor antiques show in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just across the New York border. Arrived into a true slice of America: Pennsylvania’s Tinicum Park Preservation, a beautiful field tucked behind an enormous red barn and nestled against the Delaware River.
The field was teeming with dozens of antique dealers; all east coast folk, specializing in Americana. They were friendly, funny and knowledgeable about their wares. I kibbutzed with several chatty old men who had the most divine culinary tools.
The chopper on the left is hand-forged carbon steel with copper rivets and ferrule. The wood is tight and has a gorgeous patina. Dating to the mid 1800s, the piece measures 12" long and 10" high. ($245) The hand chopper on the right is made from carbon steel and wood. It has solid connections and the wood is tight. I bought it immediately, as the patina on both the wood and metal is wonderful. It also dates to the mid-1800s and measures 8" long and 6.5" high. ($92)
Finding an early butcher’s trade sign in prisitine condition is a brilliant stroke of luck! Made of bronze over cast iron, its medallion reads “Gloeklers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1887" The sign measures 20” high by 2’ across. Fabulous! ($2250)
I’m always on the look-out for good baking accoutrements. The metal rolling pin is an older industrial piece. It’s quite heavy and can be easily chilled; perfect for making all kinds of doughs. From the mid-1900s, it measures 26.5" long. ($110) These baking tins are so cool! The patina on the tin is dynamite - and will make wonderful sweet and savory (onion and bacon, anyone??) tarts. The smallest tin is 4" in diameter and the largest is 8.5" in diameter. Set of five tins. ($125) This set of six citrus spoons was produced in the early 1900s by Benedict Manufacturing Company (1894-1953) of East Syracuse, New York. The shape is quite handsome and unusual, and they are in very fine condition. ($145)
This pitcher called to me! Its bright orange hue is warm and its form unlike anything I’ve seen. The piece is unmarked by a maker, and is in flawless condition. The crazing on its creamy interior dates it to the early 1900s. ($85)
We shlepped and shlepped until the little car was packed to the gills. Now, all I could think about was partaking of a cold beer and a few salty chips. On a local’s recommendation, we tooled our bulging Mini down the narrow road curving alongside the Delaware River, taking in the late afternoon sun and balmy air. Stone houses with barns built hundreds of years ago under the shade of enormous maple and oak trees speak to my New England soul.
Sat on the patio of the historic Black Bass Inn overlooking the river. A footbridge, hung with an enormous American flag, fluttered just beyond us. I ordered the local brew, Self Righteous Ale, for my friend who was expounding upon yet another atrocity perpetrated on the planet. Seemed too lovely an afternoon to get all worked up and I was pooped. And hungry. Dinner awaited us back in the city at Babbo, Chef Mario Batali’s place on Waverly Place in the Village. The baldpated maître d’ at the front desk was just surly enough to be hot, already whetting my appetite. We sat upstairs near the Sommelier’s table, which was laid with prestigious Italian wines and crystal decanters. Their sipping station. Crunchy grilled octopus with stewy borlotti beans was followed by pasta bucatini with tomato and wonderfully salty shaved botarga. Saddle of rabbit and “Sicilian Lifeguard Style” squid swimming in a spicy red sauce were enjoyed with a 1996 Piedmontese Barbera. Lemon budino and my new favorite digestif, Amaro by Italian producer Nonino, sealed the deal. Delightful. But I wasn’t excited to return to our hotel. Well….. you should know. I fell for it: the Priceline promise. You name a price, pay for it up front and they name your hotel. I got sucker-punched into staying at the cookie-cutter Marriot Hotel downtown Manhattan. The view outside our dreary hotel room window? Ground Zero. Slept fitfully. Every night. Ghosts everywhere.
Awoke early from my restless slumber and walked the expanse of Battery Park along the Hudson River; green, clean, in full bloom and teeming with joggers, execs on their way to corporate gigs, nannies with strollers. Asian boys played take-no-prisoner handball while a generous breeze off the water kept us all comfortable. I indulged in a welcome wake n’ bake before breakfasting at Robert DeNiro’s latest Tribeca venture, Locande Verde, the restaurant tucked into The Greenwich Hotel. A strong black iced coffee and a slice of olive oil cake was as good as the service was bad. Atrocious, actually. A day of visiting dealers on Long Island yielded a few more east coast treasures.
I love this primitive piece! Elegant, simple and functional, this early cast iron cheese cutter measures 13" high and 17.8" long. The wire is strong and the cast iron boasts the flourish of a twisted handle, making it easy to hang for display when not being used. ($195)
Carved from one piece of wood, this unusual bowl reminded me of an Egyptian hieroglyphic in its curve and line. The hue on the wood moved me immediately. The serving utensils were fashioned out of the same wood as the bowl. Someone put great effort and care into the production of this truly artisanal piece. The bowl measures 27" in length. ($310)
I had to have these girls! Primitive (having gone native!), this pair of pottery salt and pepper shakers have little corks and are hand painted. By whom?? Perhaps the only question is: do you prefer your pepper or your salt reclining? Measuring 3.5" in length. ($62) Back in the city, I wandered Soho and found a tapas bar that once housed a fantastic bookstore. I remember waiting in line there to buy Maddona’s book Sex on the day it was released in 1992 and feeling surprisingly aroused just tearing into the oversized book’s Mylar wrapping.
No less sexy was our dinner at that tapas bar, Boqueria, named for the ginourmous food hall in Barcelona. An older, deliciously funky Rioja set the proper mood to graze on grilled bread smeared with tomato, translucent slices of Jamón Ibérico, blistered padron peppers with salt, fried quail eggs with Romesco sauce, and an unbelievable unpasturized Merino sheep’s milk cheese, which tasted of earth and forest. Spent the next morning wandering the West Village. Saw Sarah Jessica Parker shopping, looking carefree and happy, her big chicklet teeth chomping on gum. Had my hair cut by the very charming Bernardo, his long flat on Waverly Place filled with flowers and music. Bought bar upon bar of small producer chocolate from around the globe at The Meadow, before stumbling on a couple more treasures:
Large mortar and pestles are quite scarce. This gargantuan piece measures 12" across and 6.5" high. It is marked “Thomas Maddock and Sons, Trenton, New Jersey”. The company was established in 1861, and at the turn-of-the-century, they produced earthernware and crockery such as this fine, very heavy example. ($845) This lollipop board is a wonderful example of early, east coast Americana. Measuring a generous 20" in diameter, the wood’s patina on both sides is striking. ($265)
Eataly on Fifth and 23rd, the enormous Italian mecca to all things gastronomic, provided an afternoon snack. A partnership between Italian cooking superstars Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti, the space is an almost overwhelming Italian grocer. Browsed a bit and then grabbed a couple of stools in the center of the emporium. A hot young thing from Sicily (we asked) brought us a wooden board laid with Italian cheeses, salumi and proscuitto, luscious fig moustarda, a pile of arugula simply dressed in oil, and a loaf of fig-walnut bread. We washed it down with cold Peronis before stumbling back into the humid afternoon. The Picasso exhibit at Gagosian Gallery on West 21st Street was all that I hoped it would be. The show was devoted to the master’s many works inspired by his young lover and greatest muse, the blond, surprisingly androgynous Marie-Thérèse, spanning the years 1927-1940. The colors, the drama and the passion were all on full display.
Our last stop was Torrisi, a tiny restaurant on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. The innovative chefs are creating unique foods with a twist. Pepperoni tartare topped with an egg yolk? You betcha! If any of the items in this newsletter move you, write to me. May I be of assistance? Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be very pleased to discuss details. Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind, so when they’re gone, they are gone.
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.