Dining Out, Dining Up
1. AMUSE BOUCHE
First appetizer: we just want to mention that we were featured this past week in Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style. Above is one of the photos from his post. Click here to see all the photos. Thanks so much, Ari!
Second appetizer: That same blog post made it into New York Magazine.com under Best of the Style Blogs. Click here to see that. Congratulations, Ari!
2. MAIN COURSE
Last Wednesday night, we agreed to rendezvous in our chapeaux rouges by one of one of our favorite stores on Rivington Street before going to dinner at the Dumpling Academy at 67 Clinton Street (above Barramundi Bar). Regular readers will recognize our vintage coolie hats from a recent posting in which we lacquered them red. For the evening's festivities we embellished them with big white paper adhesive polka dots from Staples, while sitting on the bench in front of the store, as people around us looked on. Our mission accomplished, we strolled around the corner to meet the rest of our party.
Here's a shot of 66.6% of the group (Valerie, JR, George and Shawn) just before embarking on our evening's adventure. JR is giving last minute directions to Mark, who joined us shortly after. Ostensibly, we converged in the Lower East Side on Wednesday evening to take advantage of the Dumpling Academy's last summer session - an intimate rooftop dinner for about twenty people - before the fall semester. But because the following Friday was JR's birthday, we took advantage of the opportunity to celebrate. (Valerie says: You can see here why large hats are out of favor in the modern world - it's so easy to knock them off their perfectly pitched tilt, giving new meaning to the word madcap.)
Proceeding through Barramundi Bar to the rear of the establishment, we entered a private staircase to the roof. Artwork lined the staircases and landings. Here are two fabulous fashion drawings from around 1930. (Not our best photos, but we can't help but love the styles.)
After six flights of stairs (seven, if you count the extra set to the roof itself), we emerged, breathless, onto the beautiful decked multi-level rooftop. Here's a shot of the entry as you emerge from the stairway.
Access to rooftops or backyards or any open air spaces in New York City is an amazing perk! Of course, we couldn't resist leaning over and taking a peek at the residents of apartments in the building who were dining at ground level (seven stories below) in the back yard. (Not recommended if one has a fear of heights.) Just above us, on an adjoining rooftop, were people swinging in hammocks enjoying the evening cool. They were gone before we thought to photograph them, but we SO envied them their view, their breeze and their space - untold luxuries for city dwellers.
Our hostess for the evening, chef extraordinaire Marja Samsom (akathe Dumpling Diva), offered a prix fixe menu of dumplings: grilled mussels in lemon thyme; asparagus, asiago and chives; curried chicken and purple shiso; and for dessert, dark chocolate, hazelnut and mint. Our dinner also included a salad, prosecco and peach cocktails, followed by a wonderfully light rose and a dark red wine. Delicious!
Everything was cooked in front of us, accompanied by the chef's commentary. Each time Marja showcased a particular herb or product of the rooftop garden, Tony (our other host for the evening) located a specimen from among the extensive and beautifully maintained collection of herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary and numerous varieties we couldn't begin to identify) to show to us. The aroma of fresh herbs is heady!
Since neither of us cook, we viewed this purely as an intellectual exercise. It was the perfect venue because one could join in and participate in making the meal or simply watch and enjoy. Our party grabbed six seats together under the pergola where we could observe Marja's lesson and chat among ourselves without disturbing our classmates.
Mark arrived moments after we'd been seated.
The rooftop was well equipped. It even had its own gargoyle.
George and the gargoyle share a laugh.
Neither of us realized that we'd be dining outside and soon discovered that the constantly shifting breezes kept tipping our hats and threatening to blow them off our heads. After a couple of near-misses (near-hits?), we decided to set them aside for the duration of the dinner. Sans chapeau, Valerie ponders her next move. The evening's polka dot theme even extended to her earrings.
Our fellow diners/classmates surround the chef at work.
JR, Mark and Valerie.
Valerie, George and Shawn enjoying the balmy evening.
Besides describing the ingredients of each of the dumplings and preparing them in front of us, Marja also allowed us to come up and make our own dumplings. Mark made a "mega dumpling" that was jammed with asparagus and cheese.
Marja's teaching style is very relaxed and very conversational. In between descriptions of what she is doing and why, she entertains with reminiscences and stories. (Jean says: I confess. I made my own dumplings for two of the courses. They weren't bad! Valerie says: I'll try anything I think I will do well at, which means I avoid cooking. Besides, I'd gotten soy sauce on my white linen pants just by sitting and eating. Imagine what would have happened if I'd cooked too.)
Jean ponders one more edemame for the road.
Tummies full, we exited the pergola and headed to the door. It was bright and sunny when we arrived. As the meal progressed, the sun set, and the evening was lit by a gorgeous gibbous moon. It was a lovely end to a lovely evening which we wanted to share with you.
To check out Marja Samsom's "Cooking up a Storm" radio show click here.
You will note that while Valerie used a swirl approach to apply her dots, Jean took a more free-form application, trying to eyeball equal spacing. (And yes, eagle-eyed readers, that is in fact a tiny white polka dot adorning Valerie's lower lip [taken off before we left our bench]. There was, however, a method to our dotty madness that evening, which we hope to reveal shortly.)
Now the secret of the polka dots can be told. We submitted a photograph of our hats to The New York Times’ Street Style section when they requested photos of polka dots, but we didn’t make the final cut. OMG! Here’s a link to the slide show. You be the judge.
Jean is wearing (in addition to the hat): Revue glasses; earrings by Kirsten Hawthorne; charm necklace; vest by Ensemble; shirt by Michael Stars ; made in India pasha pants; shoes by Underground; polka socks (unseen).
Valerie is wearing (in addition to the hat): Jean's Mom's polka dot earrings; red polka dot glasses by ICU; Calvin Klein white linen suit; Pleats Please white shirt; red leather and wood brooch by Tereza Symon's Mom; red sandals by Nicole.