Saturday, February 5, 2011

Get Lost in Butter

NP wanted to cancel our reservation, but I couldn’t let her. At that point, our dinner reservation was all that was holding me together. It had been a harrowing week for the both of us and it was only Tuesday.

Without going into further detail, I will just say that we had some maintenance issues in our apartment. It would be days, maybe weeks until our apartment was back to normal. But because of the wonderful thing that is New York Restaurant Week, we would be able to escape it for a few hours and regain our sanity just for a little while.

New York Restaurant Week is run by a NYC and Company, self-proclaimed “The Official Guide” to New York on their website, and sponsored by American Express. During these two weeks (January 24 to February6), some of the finest restaurants in New York offer a special menu for a $24.07 lunch and a $35 dinner (plus tax and tip). The menu is prix fixe for a three course dinner, and there are usually a nice amount of choices for each course (or, in my opinion there should be). After spending literally hours online trying to figure out which menu we were most interested in, we eventually chose to have dinner at Butter, a restaurant near Astor Place. Because reservations for Restaurant Week fill up fast, we wound up with a 9pm reservation but we didn’t mind—supper is oh-so-chic and all the rage these days, don’t you know (heehee).

Butter Restaurant, Photo Courtesy of

I knew I had heard the restaurant name before, but I didn’t know exactly where. I remembered later that I had seen it on the Food Network, on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, right next to the face of Food Network host Alex Guarnaschelli. She is Butter’s head chef. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I knew many of the Food Network chefs had their own restaurants, but I had never actually been to any of them. And, as NP tells me, it’s kind of a big deal because it’s been mentioned on Gossip Girl a few times.

Butter opened in March 2002 and is owned by Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva. According to the restaurant, its cuisine is “French in style and technique, but all-American when it comes to the ingredients.” Many of the ingredients are from New York’s Greenmarket, a market whose mission is to promote local agriculture and give New Yorkers access to locally grown food. The menu looked delicious. I was excited.

That night, we initially missed the restaurant completely. Two glass doors lead out to the street, but appeared dark because of the initial coat check area. Once inside, though, we passed through those doors and entered into a beautiful cavern of honey-toned wood and modern furniture. A bit early for our reservation, we stepped up into one of the restaurant’s two dining areas and sat at the curved wooden bar. An image of birch trees lit from behind enveloped the back wall, mimicking the feeling of eating in a forest during the day. Young and young-ish looking people smiled and happily conversed in curved beige booths sparkling with the occasional cluster of white Christmas lights. It was really a pleasure to just look at it.

At 9pm we descended to the stairs to the other dining room, which looked similar but had dark tones instead of light ones and a wall of tree branches curved over the walls and ceiling. From the menu we ordered all at once our appetizers (Mussels in White Wine with Smoked Trout and Roasted Garlic for NP, Butternut Squash Soup for myself), our entrees (Braised Creekstone Farms Short Ribs with Crispy Hominy, Chopped Olives and Fresh Parsley for both of us), and our desserts (Dark Chocolate Torte with Whipped Sour Cream for NP, Empire and Braeburn Apple Crisp with Bourbon Pecan Ice Cream for myself). One by one, each course came and delighted our tastebuds. The Butternut Squash Soup was softly sweet and creamy, the Short Ribs tender, tangy and juicy, the Apple Crisp crunchy and candy-like.

As much as I enjoyed dinner, I would have to say my favorite part of the evening was the experience of being far away from our problems. It was nice to spoil ourselves a little and to really enjoy the evening out. I think that’s something really easy to do in New York for me because everywhere I go is like a little adventure, a little vacation. I’m not sure I really even know what “normalcy” is here—there’s none of this come-home-from-work, sit-and-do-nothing- because-you’re-so tired-then-get-up-the-next-day-and-do-it-all-over-again business. Every day is different here if you’re willing to let it be that way. That night, even for a little while, we were able to escape our troubles and get lost in Butter.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Steelers Fans in Jets Country

“Fan” is a special title that has to be earned. You don’t watch one or two games and call yourself a fan—“fan” comes after die-hard observation of game after game after game, throes of passion upon victory, stunning heartbreak upon defeat. That being said, I am not a Pittsburgh Steelers “fan” and I know only a smidge about football, but there's a special place in my heart for the team from the city where I went to school, the place known as “a drinking town with a football problem.”

Pittsburgh Steelers fans, especially those from Pittsburgh, are delightfully rabid supporters of their home team. I’m sure there are innumerable cities out there whose support for their home team is similar, but I’ve never personally experienced it. Coming from a state where pro sports teams have mostly fair-weather fans if any (Florida), being in Pittsburgh was a completely different experience. Inflammatory remarks toward the Steelers caused violent fights to erupt, while a kind word endured you to a Steelers fan for life. As any Pittsburgher will tell you, Pittsburgh is the Steelers. That’s just the way it is.

So now, with this special place for the Steelers in my heart, a roommate who is a die-hard fan and has threatened to disown her little brother for liking another team, and a bunch of people I went to school with all now living in New York, Steelers love is the only love to have. We are certainly not Jets fans.

Last Sunday, with a herd of other New Yorkers who are certainly not Jets fans, we crowded into Public House, a Steelers bar just outside of Grand Central Station. The patrons were a sea of black and yellow, proudly wearing jerseys of players like Troy Polamalu and Heinz Ward. That day the Steelers were to play the Jets in a game which would give one team entry to the Super Bowl, the other team a sad end to their season.

Steelers fans lined up four-deep at the bar and filled every table, except one table of Jets fans there just to cause trouble. Every “J-E-T-S” cheer was thwarted or booed by the Steelers crowd with a hearty “Here we go, Steelers, here we go! Pittsburgh’s goin’ to the Super Bowl!” Every happy pro-Steelers interception, every amount of yardage gained, every touchdown was cause for similar celebration. It was that same sense of community I missed from college that isn’t so easy to find in New York. But people like these Steelers fans had made their own community here in this bar, all watching the multiple screens with rapt attention.

In the first half of the game, the Steelers were on fire, but in the second half the Jets began catching up. Shouts of happiness from that lone Jets table began to increase, much to our dismay and annoyance. Would our precious Steelers not make it to the Super Bowl, and would those Jets fans finally shut up?

But, of course, they did. Bartenders stood on the bar and poured champagne into patrons’ empty beer glasses and mouths, celebratory dance music filled the bar as fans who didn’t know each other when the game began hugged, took pictures, and even exchanged phone numbers. Yes, they would be back to this Steelers bar once again to see their team go for yet another Super Bowl victory.

After the game, my friends and I headed for a pizza nearby, surrounded by post-game Jets fans. My friends in Steelers jerseys got sneers and Jets towels waved in their faces, but they smiled on through. I wonder if being a Steelers fan in New York is like being a Jets fan in Pittsburgh—it’s just not something you do unless you want to have your head handed to you. We fared just fine since we weren’t too up in anyone’s faces about our oh-so-recent victory, though. However, I think it’s a lot more acceptable to be a Steelers fan in Jets country than a Red Sox fan on Yankee turf. I won’t even bother testing the waters with that one.