Fall Dining: Marta and White Street

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Halfway through October! Seems a good time to take stock of the autumn arrivals to New York City’s dining scene. After four visits — out of an eventual 93 — I can report that I still adore Lower East Side newcomer Dirty French. Only Dirty French regret so far: not yet having tried either of the for-two entrees, the chicken with crepes or the côte de boeuf. On the latter, a cadre of friends have expressed interest, so we’ll make that happen in November, when the cold rains come. On the chicken with crepes side, if you want in, hit me up and let’s get this done.

September saw several other heavyweight openings, none bigger than Danny Meyer’s East 29th Street newcomer Marta and the return of Chef Floyd Cardoz at Tribeca’s White Street. Here now, the exclusive LS.com report on both.

MARTA

I’ve been to Marta twice now, both for lunch. The restaurant, the latest from Danny Meyer, is situated in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel on East 29th Street — and, wouldn’t you know, it feels like you’re dining in a hotel lobby, albeit one with two huge wood-fired pizza ovens at the rear. And pizza is very much the thing here. But not just any old pizza. No, chef Nick Anderer (also of Maialino) and his team are aspiring to Roman-style thin crust pizza. Or, as Meyer likes it, Thin and Crispy!

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The menu divides the pizzas into two classes, Rosse and Bianche, and switches out seasonal ingredients on the regular. The two pizzas we consumed in my first visit, above top, squash blossoms and zucchini, a truly excellent pie; above bottom, tomatoes and corn, which tasted of the season but had so much on the crust that one couldn’t accurately describe it as Thin and Crispy. Both pizzas are now off Marta’s menu.

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Second visit, we again went one rosse, one blanche, this time opting for, above top, the Salsiccia (mozzarella, pork sausage, crimini), a solid take; above bottom, the Patate Alla Carbonara (potatoes, guanciale, black pepper, pecorino, egg). This second pizza appears to have emerged as Marta’s signature pie — check out Eater’s photoessay on its creation with Chef Anderer. It’s definitely cool that it tastes like carbonara on a pizza. But that’s a lotta toppings for any crust to support, and the middle of our pie was defiantly soggy.

Which is my only issue with Marta — that in piling up the pizzas with toppings makes for pizza that is quite delicious but not always thin and crispy. Also note that it’d be easy to have a great meal at Marta without ordering pizza at all. There are some very good salads, including the lovely Marta Salad seen at the very top of this post. And rabbit meatballs, because you’re not a new restaurant in fall 2014 in New York City if you don’t have rabbit on the menu, #factsonly. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the service is crisp, professional, and friendly. This is always harder than it seems.

Final pro-tip: haven’t yet been to breakfast here, but I’m reliably told it’s out-of-the-park fantastic. Which makes perfect sense if you know how good the breakfast at Maialino is.

WHITE STREET

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Service was the big problem at Floyd Cardoz’s new restaurant, White Street, on West Broadway above Franklin in Tribeca. From a sheer looks perspective, the place is spectacular. And on the rainy Monday night we were there, nearly ever table was filled with your typical cross-section of fancy Tribecaites. Wouldn’t expect more or less from a restaurant co-owned by Dan Abrams and Dave Zinczenko, among other dudes.

Cardoz worked with Danny Meyer for years, first at the long-shuttered Madison Square Park Indian restaurant Tabla, and lately of North End Grill in Battery Park City. Here, he’s saddled with a less experienced service team, and it shows. Wrong dishes brought our table, confusion over our wine order, and the like diminished our enjoyment of a more straightforward menu from Cardoz than one might expect (including, the night we were there, white truffles over gnocchi, above). I’ll let the kinks get ironed out for a spell before giving it another go.

Slack Down!

Yesterday, for the first extended period of time, Slack went down at Vox HQ. And, apparently, down too at the HQs of every other company that now uses Stewart Butterfield’s chat platform. The feeling felt like nothing so much as the Fail Whale of yore: people in our office looking at each other with eyes that seemed to say, “Well now what are we going to do?” Until someone near our desk pod said out loud, “Slack is down. Now what are we going to do?”

The importance of Slack at this moment in time at the companies that have fully bought into it can’t be understated. (Literally: the platform is expensive on a per-user case, as captured wonderfully by Mat Honan’s chronicling of Gawker’s Joel Johnson in this Wired essay on Slack.) At a Vox Media offsite last week, Slack came up as the solution to a bunch of thorny problems, and was citied as the savior of several more. For a far-flung company like Vox — with big teams in New York and Washington DC, and employees in spots ranging from Austin to Los Angeles to London — a comprehensive chat-and-chatroom product like Slack that people actually love has been a true gamechanger.

But what of Campfire, HipChat, or plain old Gchat? I’m not totally sure, but there’s something about Slack that seems to click with everyone. Back at Curbed, we tried multiple communication tools over the years but none caught on with every team, so groups ended up isolated on islands of their own, unreachable by the rest of the company except via email. Slack nearly instantly won over everyone — to the point we all sat here yesterday, when Slack went down, and wondered what the hell we were supposed to do next. (At least I’m still on AIM.)

In the Wired piece on Slack, Mat Honan writes, “Slack’s well-designed chat function is a trojan horse for bigger ideas. Its ambition is to become the hub at the center of all your other business software.” Alright, fine, but I think Slack’s next opportunity is simpler. It is to replace email. Not all email, of course. I have concluded that there will always be email. But the amount of email that has disappeared at Vox Media since the conversion to Slack is nontrivial — and there’s the promise of much more. The day I can Slack a meeting with people at Gawker Media instead of emailing them to set up a call will be a very good day.

Meantime, Slack: no more Fail Whales, please, yes? (AIM: lockloct)

From today’s NYT article The Chicken Wings Boom, by Jeff Gordinier:

Chaz Brown has dreams. Strange ones — sort of like the dreams Kevin Spacey’s character had in “American Beauty,” except that instead of rose petals hovering in the air, Mr. Brown has visions of ethereal flocks of crispy chicken wings. “I’ve definitely seen wings flying out of people’s heads,” he said.”

Image of a Photoshop created by Meredith Katz for a 2010 matchup between our respective Fantasy Football squads:

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Always the visionary.

Closed for the Season

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My family’s house in Maine, called Eastways, has been in our family since 1944. It’s still very much the same house it was then, when it was already somewhere around 60 years old: a big old rambling shingle-style house, architect unknown, perched far enough from the sea to escape the waves but not so far as to elude the salt air, which is of course why we love the place as we do. It’s a house where my father spent all his summers growing up, as my brother and I did, too, and hopefully our children too someday.

Eastways, built as a summer cottage in the parlance of the times (and, later, of Richard Ekstract), isn’t winterized. The house literally stands on old tree trunks, teetering as if the next breeze will blow it over, though it’s actually solid as a rock. It’s got a water heater and furnace in the dirt-floored basement, which is open to the elements except for the wooden slats that enclose the house’s bottom — and which the furnace and heater share with a fresh cord of wood stacked by my brother a few weeks ago.

The furnace blows hot air through three vents in the first floor only, with the rest of the house’s heat coming from two fireplaces on the first floor and one in the master bedroom on the second floor. This setup works wonderfully in the middle of summer when sometimes the Maine air is so damp that a fire is called for, as well as in early October when the wind is crisp and the air cool and a roaring blaze turns the whole house cozy.

But Eastways lacks insulation, and the water main runs along the surface of the ground. Which means that before the first hard frost comes, the water must be drained — toilets emptied, sinks too. And the whole house shut down.

For our family, Columbus Day Weekend is always the weekend of putting the Maine house to bed for the winter. This means draining the water from the pipes but also cutting down the perennial garden, stacking the porch furniture in the telephone room, and mothballing (literally) the beds and sofas and chairs. Those and a thousand other tasks that my brother and I used to bitch and gripe about but now get done automatically.

We’ve snuck the occasional winter weekend in the house over the years. When I was young, we did one Christmas there, keeping huge fires stoked in the fireplaces, closing off all unused rooms, filling pots of water at our neighbor’s house, then sleeping under three comforters and waking up with the water glass on the side table frozen into ice. All part of the fun. But not the kind of thing you can or want to do on a regular basis.

This summer, for the first time awhile, we started thinking about making upgrades to the house. Most of the changes would be unsexy but long overdue. Parts of the electrical system still run on knob and tube (Wikipedia: “an early standardized method of electrical wiring in buildings, in common use in North America from about 1880 to the 1930s”). The roof needs replacing. The foundation needs shoring up. Etc.

As part of these conversations, an old question arose: should we winterize Eastways? There’s a certain logic to it, especially if we’re gearing up to do all this associated work as well. It’s a conversation that we haven’t yet finished as a family. But the contractor who came and took a look at the place last month who seemed to get it best told us, “If you wanted to winterize the place, you’d be better off tearing it down. But of course you’re not going to do that.” Which, he’s right. We’re not.

I think the odds favor us not winterizing the house. For me, the ritual of opening the house in the middle of April, when the lawn is wet and bright green and the air raw, then closing it down in October, when the long-finished peony leaves have turned red along the flowerbeds and the final monarch butterflies fly through the yard, is intrinsic to my entire love of the house, and Maine itself.

This season is now over. We wait for the spring to come and the cycle to begin again.

RIP Zelda

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There are many magical things about living in downtown Manhattan, but today there’s one less. Zelda, the wild turkey of Battery Park, has died.

The news hit the Curbed tipline today courtesy of the good people at The Battery Conservancy, the group which first spotted and named Zelda back in 2003. (The genesis of the name, per DNAInfo: “The conservancy named Zelda after the wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, because she, too, was found wandering the park, supposedly after a nervous breakdown.”) It rocketed around a group of Curbed writers including myself, Joey Arak, and Sara Polsky, all of whom had served time on the Zelda beat at one time or another.

Curbed caught Zelda fever early on. Joey Arak’s headline on a post about another wild turkey up in Morningside Heights, “Turkey Trots Around Like He Owns the Freakin’ Place” became a favorite Curbed headline trope, appearing on Curbed each time another reader sent in another Zelda sighting. The bird became a fascination for other local NYC media outlets, too, like Gothamist and DNAInfo.

Even as fears grew over recent years that Zelda’s lifespan would naturally come to an end sooner or later. But then Zelda survived Sandy, and seemed indestructible.

Alas, she wasn’t. A car hit Zelda near Pier 11 last week, as she strolled along like she owned the freakin’ place. RIP.

Find Your Beach

I was sitting at a sports bar on Third Avenue near 38th Street on Saturday afternoon, a bar I’d never been to before that Harryh recently discovered as part of his residency in Midtown East. Harry and Lindsey were there to watch the Flordia Gators. I was too, though despite my burgeoning fandom I still can’t hold a candle to either of them, especially given what a crappy football game it was. So I was finishing up a club sandwich — the food at this sports bar was better than it had to be, a trend in more bars around the city — and scrolling through Twitter when I saw “Zadie Smith” and “gentrification” and clicked, and I was down a wonderful rabbit hole for the next 15 minutes.

Smith’s essay, Find Your Beach, published in the New York Review of Books, is really about work and money in New York City — a topic of endless fascination, even moreso when in the hands of a virtuoso writer like Zadie Smith. Like this, from near the end:

Under the protection of a university I live on one of the most privileged strips of built-up beach in the world, among people who believe they have no limits and who push me, by their very proximity, into the same useful delusion, now and then.

It is such a good town in which to work and work.

Smith’s essay brought to my mind Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, which to me is the ur-text on New York City and money and work. Miller captures a similar ambivalence as in Smith’s essay, albeit with a rather different stylistic form. I pulled the book off my shelf last night and found this passage that still resonates with me:

Again the night, the incalculably barren, cold, mechanical night of New York in which there is no peace, no refuge, no intimacy… To have money in the pocket in the midst of white, neutral energy, to walk meaningless and unfecundated through the bright glitter of the calcimined streets, to think aloud in full solitude on the edge of madness, to be of a city, a great city, to be of the last moment of time in the greatest city in the world and feel no part of it, is to become oneself a city, a world of dead stone, of waste light, of unintelligible motion, of imponderables and incalculables, of the secret perfection of all that is minus. To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?

Monday morning. Back to work.

A Defense of Schiller’s

Well, he was.

I am duty-bound to respond. Which I did immediately with a Schiller’s playbook tweetstorm. But the more I thought about it — and the more the Eater team prodded me — the more I realized I had more to say on the matter. So I wrote a blog post intended for publication in this space.

Under new terms and conditions recently negotiated with Eater’s Amanda Kludt, however, I offered right of first refusal on the Schiller’s blog post to the Eater NY team. They accepted. Which is why my Defense of Schiller’s now appears over there, my first blog post for the Big E since relaunch.

You mad? Stay mad.

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Tuesday’s List, Mostly Restaurants Edition

DAILY BLOGGING
Harder than it looks. Fell off the wagon hard last week in the depths of Eater bug-crushing. Still trying to find a rhythm to this practice. Typing this while on a conference call (suboptimal).

URBANSPACE
They’re the main competitors to the Smorgasburg team, and far lesser known from a brand perspective despite having been at it for a whole lot longer. (This NYTimes story comparing the two is a nice balanced read.) UrbanSpace opened a two-block stretch called UrbanSpace Garment District a block from the Vox NY office in mid-September, and it’s been nothing short of a miracle for midtown lunching. If you work nearby, because you read this blog, I share with you a top-secret research document created by the 10th Floor of Vox Media that may well change your life as it has changed ours.

ALDO SOHM WINE BAR
AKA, How to Up Your Midtown Game for Fall. Across the courtyard from Le Bernardin, its longtime sommelier (and great guy) Aldo Sohm gets his own wine bar. The space is midtown to the core — high ceilings, cool metallic finishes, everyone in suits. But the seating options are nicely varied: there’s a large central sofa that wraps around the middle of the room; high boys on the sides, and a wine table/bar at the back of the room. Night we were there, Eric Ripert was roaming the room, greeting the crowd. That’s because there’s a small menu, too; the $6/per chicken drumsticks, coq au vin style, highly recommended.

BIRDS & BUBBLES
Is Sarah Simmons’ new eatery, tucked into the subterranean space that used to be Grotto on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side. We’ve known Sarah since before she started CityGrit, so can’t possibly be even-handed about this, but our group dinner at Birds & Bubbles a few weeks back blew our group away. Nothing remained in the two fried chicken baskets. The challenge here will be overcoming the space, which breaks Ben Leventhal’s rule of subterranean dining (namely, that people don’t want to do it, for some unnatural spidey-sense reason). Perhaps, like Lure, Birds & Bubbles can break the mold.

ATERA
Ryan Sutton gave it four stars today on Eater; I’ve never eaten here and can’t imagine wanting to, despite the convenient Tribeca location. (Okay, maybe the Lounge Burger for $20. Maybe.)

MICHELIN STARS
It’s reckoning day in the world of NYC restaurants, as establishments find out their Michelin stars, or lack thereof. Amazing to me how huge a deal this remains in the industry (and, sure, the media). That said, surveying this year’s list, I’m on board with Blanca’s elevation to two, very happy to see a group of places I love get one (La Vara, Betony, Pok Pok, The River Cafe), and on board with the Sushi Nakazawa shutout (am I the only Eater staffer ever not to love my meal there?).

IPHONE 6
Don’t own it yet. Calm down, people who keep seeing me and asking me if I’ve upgraded yet since my public proclamation to do so. It’s standard operating procedure to wait a month to ensure against (a) critical early hardware problems; (b) critical early software problems. I’m targeting a trip to the West Coast in mid-October as ideal upgrade time. Stand by. Meantime, full credit to Fred Wilson for this. Intrigued to see the outcome.

Eater’s Critics, Now in HD

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I’ll stop writing about Eater after this, promise. For a few days. But there’s one more thing I want to highlight. (Well, okay, two.)

One of the biggest changes to Eater in 2014 came last spring, long before yesterday’s relaunch. That was the hiring of Eater’s first-ever restaurant critics, the power trio of Robert Sietsema (late of the Village Voice), Ryan Sutton (who joined us from Bloomberg), and Bill Addison. They’ve each been filing stories for months now, but it’s in the redesigned reviews templates that debuted yesterday that their work truly shines. I’d go so far as to say that Eater’s review pages are the single most beautiful pages of their type on the whole damn internet. For proof, check out Sutton today on Keith McNally’s Cherche Midi, and Sietsema at a new Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown, Pho Vietnam 87. (For more: the Eater reviews homepage.)

Now, Bill Addison. Addison, who lives in Atlanta and previously worked as food critic for Atlanta Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, is the man we hired for the craziest job we’ve ever advertised for: a roving restaurant editor tasked with spending 40 weeks on the road this year eating everywhere and everything, then spending the last month of the year synthesizing it along with Eater’s editors into Eater’s first-ever National 38 list of the Best Restaurants in America. Eater calls his dispatches The Road to the 38.

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As great as the Road to the 38 has been, as part of Eater’s redesign the team upgraded all of Bill’s dispatches to the new templates, so now they’re available in all their glory. Among my favorites: his visit to Al Forno, my favorite restaurant from college in Providence, RI; a recent return to Alinea in Chicago; several make-you-want-to-go-now San Francisco reviews like Bar Tartine; and, last week, a journey to Portland, ME and the Maine coast. Check out all of Addison’s Road to the 38, and this interview the Chicago Tribune did with Bill to understand how in the world he’s pulling this job off. (Actual question: “How are you not dead?!”)

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When Eater’s National 38 debuts in December, it’ll be grouped into another new technology debuted with Eater’s relaunch: the Eater Mapstack. Readers of Vox.com might recognize the concept from Vox’s cardstacks, which were developed by the team for persistent storytelling on major stories such as this cardstack on Isis. At Eater, mapstacks offer an easy way to scroll through lists like Eater’s Manhattan heatmap. Give ‘em a whirl.