Before living in New York, I imagined that everyone who lived there (here) automatically knew What To Do and Where To Go. Shows like Sex & the City made glittery promises of a nightlife filled with men and martinis. The first year I lived here, I actually lived in Hoboken. So I blamed the derth of glamorous invites on New Jersey (our nation’s favorite domestic scapegoat). By the second year, however, I had moved to a cozy five-floor walkup in Hell’s Kitchen and impatiently waited for my transformation into some sort of celebutante It Girl society fixture. I watched a lot of television while I waited.
Many years later (last week), I finally got a taste of being hip and with it (phrases which those who are would never utter of course) when a benevolent friend invited me to sup at a speakeasy restaurant where she “knew the chef”. This was all imparted in a very cool, very nonchalant way. As expected, I ruined it by yelling, “Holy shit yeah, that’s so cool!!” and then trailing off into senseless gurgling. Luckily, said friend did not rescind her offer. And so it was, I got to dine (devour) a chef’s tasting menu at the underground Mulberry Project.
We were seated in the secret garden, next to a giant sneering anime girl painted on the picket fence. Our friendly waiter explained their bespoke cocktail experience: describe the flavors you like, let the experts behind the bar create a unique drink for you, have final approval. I was game. With the parameters “martini with a twist but not as alcoholey,” I ended up with a clean gin cocktail with hints of citrus, bitters and basil. Well met, sir bartender. My bubbly companions were equally well matched with champagne/St. Germain concoctions.
Soon, gorgeous plates started arriving at our table. Hot, crispy wonton sticks filled with mild Swiss cheese and paired with creamy guacamole. Lobster roll sliders made of fresh briny seameat and subtly sweet mayo stuffed into pillowy bite-sized brioche buns.
Just as we cleared those dishes, the second round appeared. Luscious tuna tartare with the taste of ceviche, served with tortilla chips. Perfectly al dente quinoa in a salad with crunchy croutons, feta squares and pleasantly bitter arugula.
Contemplating the soon-empty platters, we heaved satisfied sighs. On cue, the third course arrived. Double helpings of golden pan seared scallops, large and tender, with slightly caramelized crisp edges. Herbed miniature potatoes masqueraded as scallops, surprising us as our teeth sank into an unexpected texture. Bold green asparagus topped with a garlicky aioli provided a bright counterpoint, both in color and taste.
We leaned back in our chairs, our ravenous eating noticeably slower. That didn’t stop our friend, the chef, from sending out one last showstopper. Tender slices of salty pork tenderloin served with a fresh juicy salsa, a smooth creamy sauce and a pile of petal soft lettuce leaves.
After a puzzled moment, we realized this plate was interactive and busily assembled our warm lettuce wraps. The first bite released warm savory jus into my mouth, chased quickly by the tangy sauce and acidic salsa. We chewed in silence, eyes almost closed, enjoying the varying tastes and textures.
We made our way out quietly, lost in individual reverie. Between the garden and darkly gleaming bar, we stopped to thank the chef and study the framed pictures which lined the walls, depicting a high-class prostitute in various stages of committing murder. After years of waiting, my fabulous New York experience, as promised by film and tv, lived up to the hype.