[Pink Pig Time Machine by Wilfrid: September 24, 2012]
This week, we must acknowledge a startling truth. It was ten years ago, in September 2002, that I visited Sammy's Roumanian Steak House on the Lower East Side. It's a meal I'm still complaining about, a full decade later. Some things leave scars.
But I had a great dinner at Atelier that same week.
Yes, yes. And was it also ten years ago that I sat at a table adjacent to Joe Ades and his companion. Joe was a regular fixture at Union Square Greenmarket -- much to the chagrin of the market's management. He was one of the great street spielers, and his potato peelers were every bit as good as he said. Still use 'em.
What few people knew, until Vanity Fair spilled the beans in a profile, was that he enjoyed eating at the city's swankiest restaurants in his spare time. Atelier, for example.
After an amuse of white anchovies, crushed on croutons, I ate pickled mackerel in a light fish broth with cubes of potato; New Zealand langoustine, with a pineapple brunoise; poached chicken with tarragon and verbena; cheeses; and a selection of little sweet things with coffee, instead of dessert. With the chicken, a '96 Premier Cru Pommard, "Les Rugiens."
From the sublime to the outrageous, two nights later. On the subject of Sammy's, I've written:
Unlike the poisonous downtown dives of the old gangs of New York/Five Points days, you will not be set upon by vagabonds as you step through the door of Sammy's, slipped a Micky Finn, divested of your money, shoes and probably pants too, and slid unconscious through a trapdoor into the river. At the same time, Sammy's does offer about the closest legal replica of such an experience available in the city...
This was the meal which sparked that unshaken opinion. It was well-attended too, by some doyens of New York City food bloggery, including Steven Shaw and Jason Perlow, co-founders of eGullet. Tony Bourdain joined the group too, but shrewdly ate nothing (it's amazing what someone will do for television).
If anyone doesn't know, Sammy's is a cellar dining room, plastered with polaroid pictures of former victims guests. Entertainment which would embarrass the Catskills occupies a small stage the corner of the room. Servers push fantastically expensive bottles of vodka, presented in blocks of ice. The tables are set with jugs of luridly colored chicken fat. The food is atrocious, the prices stratospheric. The chopped liver is warranted good by those who should know, but can't excuse the gristly steaks, the cardboard schnitzel.
Our server asked if wanted coffee as we writhed in our seats at the end of the meal. No, we said. Good decision, she replied.
Let us set down for posterity some of the shared components of that unforgettable feast:
Plates of pickles and peppers
Brains with onion
We chose our own entrées, a tragic parade of dried-out calf's liver, limp veal chops, steaks like saddle leather. mushy latkes, leaden rugelach.
Ten years ago, prices at the high end of Sammy's menu comfortable overlapped with prices at the low end of Lespinasse, perhaps the most expensive restaurant in the city. Today, a small tenderloin steak costs $34.95, a veal chop or cutlet $35.95, and they come ungarnished ($9.95 for a plate of latkes with apple sauce).
It's a wonder, and a head-scratcher, but maybe I need to get over it.