We don’t often go to New York City since I retired eight years go. As much as I enjoyed working there , I find the city has changed considerably . It’s become more crowded , the buildings seem bigger and I feel more and more like a stranger where , before , I used to feel that it was MY city. Perhaps it’s just I’m growing older and need quiet and not excitement . Still , on the rare occasions we go to New York , I am reminded of why I used to like it and why the young people love to live there .
Last week, , we’d been to visit my son who lives and works in Manhattan . We stopped off at his apartment , caught up with things that had happened in our lives and walked to the MOMA ( the Museum Of Modern Art ) on W. 53rd Street. Our destination was not the museum itself but the restaurant that it operates at 9 W. 53rd St.It used to be that museums only had cafeterias but the new trend is for them to operate an attached restaurant. Fine dining options attract more visitors to the museum even as they improve the bottom line .
MOMA’s restaurant is called The Modern ( www.themodernnyc.com/ ) and the unobtrusive entrance doesn’t prepare one for the spacious dining room, divided into two parts by a frosted glass divider. The front of the room has the huge bar and a casual dining area called The Bar Room . Behind the divider is the formal dining area , called the The Modern which is quieter, the tables spaced further apart , and the dishes more expensive . I wonder though if the noise from the Bar Room doesn’t intrude into the Modern.
Because the Bar Room is noisy. Many of the walls and the columns are mirrored and, no doubt, increase the noise level. Next to the sitting area ,where patrons can sip drinks from the bar while they nibble on small plates,the mirrored side wall is decorated with a leafy pattern to give the impression of a forest glen , thus making the room a bit more restful , less hectic. In the dining area , the tables are close together ; we thought the resulting cacophony would be bothersome but that is not the case; it felt so very much like The City and pretty soon we added to the buzz. The chairs in the Bar Room are functional rather than fancy but they are surprisingly comfortable.
Both the Bar Room and the Modern are the brainchildren of restaurant impressario Danny Meyer, who owns several other successful restaurants in NYC. The kitchen is run by Gabriel Kreuther , a Frenchman from the Alsace . The food can be described as an eclectic mixture of French and German with stong Asian influences.
I sipped on a Sehr Pils and my son had a mojito while we perused the menu. For appetizers ( or Social Plates as the menu describes them ), we settled on the Warm Lamb and Goat Cheese terrine with toasted pistachios and watercress, the Tarte Flambe , a thin crusted Alsatian tart with creame fraiche and applewood smoked bacon and the Foie Gras Terrine with muscat gelee and toasted Brioche. All of them were excellent but the two terrines were out of this world. For main courses , my wife had the Horseradish Crusted Salmon served on a bed of reisling flavored Cabbage ; she said it was the best salmon she had ever eaten. My son had the Veal Ricotta Ravioli with royal trumpet mushrooms and porcini sauce and I opted for the Beer Braised Pork Belly with spring pea purée and ginger juice . Both dishes were great. The pork belly was cooked just right , the skin crisped dark brown and the inside meltingly tender. I wish though that the pea purée had not been so bland and I would have liked more of the ginger jus. My wife begged off dessert and so my son and I shared the Raspberry Macaroon with almond mousseline , lychee yoghurt gelee and raspberry sorbet. It was pretty to look at and delicious but somewhat over the top. Seeing that it came with a raspberry sorbet , the raspberry macaroon was overkill.; a plain or almond macaroon might have been better.
I had been doubtful about ordering three appetizers but my son , who’d been there before , said that the portion sizes were small. He was right . After the meal , we felt full , but not stuffed . Give me quality over quantity any day. To see the menu in the Bar Room , you can go to Menu Pages NYC . There were several other intriguing choices such as Atlantic Cod with wild mushroom and leek “Brick “, with green papaya & chive sauce.
Pleasantly sated , we strolled the ten or eleven blocks to the Shubert Theater to see the musical ” Memphis “. The Shubert, with a total capacity of bout 1,400, is almost a century old , having been inaugurated in 1912. As is only to be expected, the interior is classic Broadway ; it is a little dingy and the seats are jammed together. Our seats were in the center section of the orchestra , in the second row , barely six feet from the edge of the stage . My first thought was that they were too close but I was wrong , as I’ll later explain.
Memphis is set in the early fifties and is the story of Huey Calhoun , whose love of rock caused him to frequent the black clubs where it was played . At the time , rock was considered ” black folks music” and was not played on radio ; the airwaves were full of safe southern standards. Memphis tells the story of how Huey fell in love with Felicia Farrell, a beautiful black singer , and succeeded against all odds in popularizing rock and getting it on air . However , black -white romances in those times were taboo and Huey and Felicia’s love was doomed from the start. In the bitter-sweet ending , Felicia comes back to Memphis for a visit and unites on stage with Huey for one last number in which he proclaims his love for rock and for Memphis .
Memphis won four 2010 Tony Awards , including Best Musical and the music is by David Bryan , a founding member of Bon Jovi.The music is great but the dancing … the dancing is out of this world . Adam Pascal ( wh0 plays Huey) and Montego Glover ( Felicia) are sublime and it is no surprise both were nominated for Tonys. I wonder who beat out Montego Glover . She has a fantastic voice and amazing stage presence . Anytime that she was on stage , the audience’s eyes were
drawn to her.
About the seats : When one sits further back or in the mezzanine , one sees the stage in its entirety but one loses the intimacy of he front row seats . It is almost like watching on a ( very) large screen TV. From our vantage point in the second row , we could see every expression , every nuance of the actors . Sitting this close to them one also becomes aware of what a tremendous effort it is to remember the words and the dance steps and to remain in character, with a sea of faces watching your every move . I have increased respect for those who perform on the stage and I understand why even successful big-name screen actors yearn to prove themselves on Broadway. It may not be as lucrative but it the ultimate challenge for an actor , the major leagues if you will.
Run , don’t walk to see Memphis .
There are some events that stand out in the ordinariness of our daily lives . That evening with our son , dining at the Modern and enjoying Memphis in his company ,is one of them and one that we will long remember.