Dinner and Chili Lights

Had a fabulous dinner with family recently.  A place in the East Village called Panna II Indian Restaurant.   According to the scuttle, the place is owned by brothers who were cooks on a freighter who abandoned ship and never looked back.  No idea if it’s true, but it makes the place even more fun, don’t you think?

First thing you see upon arriving at 93 First Ave, is three restaurants in the space of well…one.  One is downstairs and the other two are upstairs.  They all immediately try to get you to choose theirs, but we stuck with the one on the right upstairs as that’s where our group was meeting.  (I also heard that most people believe that there’s really only one kitchen for all three restaurants and like the brothers’ story, it makes for conversation.)

Inside it’s like entering a dimly lit cave festooned with literally hundreds of chili pepper and
twinkling lights.  Very cool, but definitely requiring a bit of ducking for those of us over 5’5”.  Tables are crammed together, as is often the case in Manhattan restaurants, so if you sit next to the wall, once you’re in—you’re in.   Which meant I couldn’t rise to greet folks when they arrived, but no matter, it was well worth being landlocked, so to speak.

There’s no liquor license so those in the know, not me—but fortunately I was eating with people who were regulars—bring their own beer and wine.  There’s apparently a great store next door, although I never actually saw it.  (Another three doors down is supposedly one of the best Indian markets in town).  Anyway, once everyone arrived and drinks had been poured it was time to study the menu.

I learned to eat Indian food when I was living in Vienna and have loved it ever since.  And I not only eat it out, I cook it in.  So I know my way around a menu, but I’ll have to say that this place had some fabulous new entrees I hadn’t seen as well as the old familiars.   We started with poppadoms and then ordered a round of samosas which arrived hot and perfectly fried (meaning once you’re finished you don’t feel like you’d dunked your head in a vat of grease).   The pastry was tender and the potatoes and peas spiced perfectly.

I ordered chicken Kashmir, which also arrived fragrant and hot.  And I must say I savored every bite.  In addition, I’d asked for it mild and it did in fact arrive without the spices that make my lips tingle.  I love Indian food, but what can I say, if it’s too spicy it doesn’t love me.  Everyone else was oohing and ahhing their entrees as well.  Not to mention sharing bites.  And the festive atmosphere made for a perfect evening.

And one of the best parts of the meal—in a crazy NY way—was the moment when the hundreds of chili peppers dimmed and a disco version of “Happy Birthday” broke out over the loud speakers.  The twinkling lights went on over-drive and I wanted to break into Saturday Night Fever mode.

The moment passed however, and it was back to good food and great company.  A perfect evening.

I’ve heard that it’s crowded on weekends so reservations are a must!

Panna II Indian Restaurant

93 First Ave.  (Between 5th and 6th Streets)



(all photos from Panna’s website)

The Importance of Being Earnest

For most of the time I was growing up, we spent our summers in Creede.  An old mining town in southwestern Colorado, it is now days noted for its fly fishing, and somewhat surprisingly for its repertory theatre company.  And since I have loved the theatre from the time I could first recite a line, I was delighted whenever my parents took us to see a play there.

And of all the plays I saw over the years, by far my most favorite was a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  As the years have passed, my passion for the play has not diminished.  I have seen several other versions and always laughed just as loudly at the antics of Algernon, Jack, Cecily, Gwendolen and the inestimable, Lady Bracknell.

I even suffered through the movie (okay, Rupert Everett is in it, so there really wasn’t much suffering).  So you can imagine my joy when the Roundabout Theatre announced a new production of Earnest.  And to make it even juicer, internationally acclaimed actor Brian Bedford was slated to both direct and act—playing the part of Lady Bracknell.

Needless to say I was among the first in line to purchase tickets.  And when the reviews arrived—most of them stellar—I was even more excited.  There’s something wonderful about a favorite play. Seeing it again is like visiting old friends.  Sometimes with new faces, but nevertheless people you already know and love.  That said, there is also the anticipation that maybe this time somehow the magic will be lost.

Fortunately for me, the production at the American Airlines Theatre was superb.   And I fell in love with Wilde’s comedy of errors all over again.  Every word is brilliantly written (Wilde is one of my absolute favorite writers), and in the hands of this cast, they literally sing out across the stage.

Santino Fontana (most recently at the Roundabout in Sunday at the Park with George) played Algernon with just the right glint in his eye.  Although he lacked the suave sophistication that Everett brings to Wilde’s characters (he was also in a wonderful movie adaptation of the Ideal Husband) he still captures the essence of the character with a wry playfulness that endears him the audience.

David Furr playing the role of John/Earnest Worthington was spot on as the stick-in-the-mud dying to break out and totally infatuated with Gwendolen.  Both Jessie Austrian and Charlotte Parry playing the women with whom John and  Algernon besotted were well-cast.  The scene with the tea and sugar cubes was excellently choreographed and wonderfully played.  Especially when it finally culminates with the two women on the steps, arms linked, casting “the look” over their shoulders at their befuddled gentlemen friends.

And of course there’s Lady Bracknell.  I was honestly afraid that Mr. Bedford would overshadow the rest of the cast.  The character has that potential all by herself.  Add to that an actor of such superior caliber and the potential is there.  But instead, Bedford simply inhabits Bracknell, breathing life into her effortlessly. Although each and every word and gesture was letter perfect and there were definite moments when he stole the show, he was still very much part of the ensemble, which made for a wonderful performance overall.

The scenery was whimsical and yet accurate to period.  The costumes were fabulous.  Especially Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell’s.   And yet, it must be said that in the end—it was all about the writing.  And of course—The Importance of Being Earnest.

A Lovely Night

Okay, one of my favorite things about living in Manhattan is being able to come out of a late running play or movie and still be able to find a great place for a drink or bite to eat.   Recently, after seeing the fabulous Million Dollar Quartet, my husband and I stopped by a restaurant on west 44th called Osteria al Doge.   Billed as featuring Venetian cuisine, the restaurant offers a quiet, spacious ambiance that’s perfect for winding down after a night at the theatre.

We opted for space at the bar and initially were planning only to have a late-night drink but after being seated and seeing other couples around us with mouthwatering food, we decided to give the food a try.   The people next to us had some fabulous looking bruschetta, and there were other delicious sounding appetizers like rosemary focaccia,  carpaccio, and a spinach salad with goat cheese and walnuts.  But in the end we opted for the Pizza Margarita.  Now one would think that pizza with basil, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes would be a no brainer for any chef, but I have to say that I find that often times it’s not as good as it should or could be.

So you can imagine our delight to find that the pizza delivered to up was to quote Mary Poppins “Practically perfect in every way.”   The crust was both crisp and tender, a must for me.  The cheese freshly melted, with the basil and tomatoes adding bright, fresh flavor.  To complement the food, I had a glass of excellent cabernet and my husband had an Italian beer.  And the service was superb!  When we came in they cleared a place for us at the bar,  offered our drinks immediately, and then when the pizza came, divided it ahead of time onto two plates to make eating at the bar easier (and to keep my husband from eating more than his fair share.)

And then as the perfect topper for the evening, the bartender brought us a plate of biscotti, sugared nuts and little meringues.  The biscotti—almond vanilla—was amazingly delicious, and my husband made short work of the meringues.  It was a delightful surprise.

All in all it was a lovely night.  Million Dollar Quartet was great fun.  The renditions of songs by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cark Perkins were spot on, and the thinly woven plot was fresh and interesting.  And then the food and charm of Osteria al Doge provided the perfect setting for a little after theatre magic.

If you’re over on 44th check out Osteria al Doge:

142 w 44th street between 6th Ave. & Broadway, 212 944-3643

I promise you won’t regret it!  What’s your idea of a perfect evening out?

A Maze of Italian Goodness

So last weekend, in the mood for a little adventure, we boarded the N train and headed for Mario Baltali’s Eataly.  Located in the Toy Building at 200 Fifth Ave. between 23rd and 24th streets, Eataly is a sprawling 50,000 square foot market hall style emporium where Italian food lovers can shop for imported ingredients.  Owned by Batali and partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti, the market is modeled after the original in Tuscany.

Now I’m a big fan of food halls.  Or at least one in particular.  Harrods in London.  A mecca for all things epicurean, I can think of nothing more delightful than spending a morning picking out delicacies to make a picnic of.

Eataly is a bit more congested and certainly not laid out in as linear a fashion as Harrods Food Hall, but it is every bit as entrancing. Especially if you’re fond of Italian food.  The space is arranged sort of wheel like, with the five restaurants forming the inner part of the wheel and the various food departments at the end of the spokes.  While finding your way around can be a bit of a challenge.   It’s worth the effort, with an end result of some pretty spectacular food options.

Departments include pasta (fresh and dried), bread (organic), cheese, meat, seafood,  produce, olive oil along with sauce and condiments, wine, coffee,  beer and housewares.   Boasting over 700 regional Italian wines, and over 400 diverse varieties of cheese, the market also offers Felipe Saint-Martin, head chef pastaio, from Piedmont and Organic stone-ground flour from Don Lewis’ Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corner.

We decided on a simple menu for our first time out.   For our main course we chose agnoletti stuffed with pork and veal, as well as some quattro formagi agnoletti to mix in for variation.  On the advice of a friendly patron in line, we also bought some of the butternut squash ravioli, topping them all with a brown butter and sage sauce.

To accompany our pasta, we bought lovely heirloom tomatoes and fresh bufala mozzarella to make a caprese salad.  We already had olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but had we needed either we would have had a plethora to choose from.   A little pan rustica finished off the meal.  And I have to tell you everything was amazingly delicious.

Partly, I suspect, because of the fun we had ‘forming the menu’ as we walked amidst the fabulous foods of Italy—at Eataly.

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010

info@eataly.com, T: 212.229.2560


So our latest venture on the boards involved the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, home to among others, A Streetcar Named Desire and an Ideal Husband, and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.  I confess that we probably wouldn’t have seen the play at all if it hadn’t been for a friend who raved about it.  And am I ever glad she did.

Two stories in one, Arcadia is a masterpiece in storytelling.  “In  April 1809, … a gifted pupil, proposes a startling theory well beyond her comprehension.  Two hundred years later, two academic adversaries are piecing together puzzling clues, curiously recalling those events of 1809.”  Now first off, as
indicated by my three time travel novels, I’m a sucker for stories spanning time.  And this one is so beautifully done that at times it literally took my breath away.

The play first opened in London in 1993 directed by Trevor Nunn.   This outing the director is David Leveaux, a five-time tony nominee, including Fiddler in the Roof and Nine.  And he does a superb job, the choreography of past and present ever growing closer as the two stories intertwine.

photo: Carol Rosegg

Bel Powley and Tom Riley are especially wonderful as the gifted student Thomasina and her tutor Septimus.  Septimus in particular captured my heart, with his seemingly stoic take on life and the simmering heat just below the surface.  And his pivotal role in the drama/comedy is the lynch pin that holds everything together.  A lesser actor than Riley would have been a disappointment.    Margaret Colin (who for me will always be Jeff Goldblum’s girlfriend in Independence Day) was solid as Thomasina’s mother.  And the rest of the seventeenth century players provided pertinent background characters.

In the present day (1993 actually), the two battling historians played by Billy Crudup (immortalized for me in Big Fish) and Lia Williams also performed admirably.  Crudup as a blustering overly zealous academic was a delight.  And Lia as a woman looking for her next story rang true for me as a writer.  And playing off of each other they were wonderful.  But the real highlight of the modern day cast was the amazing Raul Esparza (whom I discovered last year in Mamet’s Speed the Plow).  Playing an aristocratic math geek he was so good you almost wanted to hear the lines again.  And in a wonderful surprise, I was treated to Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer, whose older sister Mamie I fell in love with this spring watching Off the Map.   I predict great things for both girls.

Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage

The setting was simple, but deceptively so.  In a drawing room at the country estate of the Coverlys, bits and pieces of the past slowly begin to occupy the same space—a turtle, an apple, a computer, and even a journal, with pages being turned simultaneously in both time periods with a synchronicity that was truly amazing.  I don’t want to spoil the story, because that’s half the fun.   But believe me when I tell you that the ending is so bittersweet and beautiful that if even if you aren’t one to cry easily, you’ll be tempted.

Eight more weeks.  I urge you to go.  Go.  GO!