header4 A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros

“A killer whale killed a trainer Wednesday afternoon, February 24th at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida, a public information officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said. A witness told CNN affiliate WKMG-TV that the whale approached the glass side of the 35-foot-deep tank at Shamu Stadium, jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist, shaking her violently. A SeaWorld employee who asked not to be identified confirmed the description of the attack…” -CNN

I have been fascinated by the killer whale story. It turns out that this is the third trainer to be killed by this whale at Sea World. I think the problem lies with calling them all Shamu. Publicly, all the whales are known as Shamu; there are probably like 10 Shamus at a time. Wouldn’t it be super fucking annoying if everyone knew you as Shamu, but your real name was like Eddie or Frank?  If you were a KILLER whale, wouldn’t you eventually freak out? Or kill a trainer? I think she probably called him Shamu and he was thinking, “If this chick calls me Shamu one more time, I am going to fucking kill her!” So she called him Shamu again, and the rest is history. Whales, like all mammals, need their own identity, and so it goes…

I moved back downtown a couple of months ago and really love downtown New York.  The energy and feeling of downtown Manhattan is unmistakable. The people, the experiences, the variety, the ethnicities, the music, the style, the substance, it is the truth. You can’t bullshit downtown and if you try to, it will smack you in the face, chew you up, and throw you out.  At no time is this “je ne se quoi” more apparent than during the spring. Finally this past Sunday, G-d heard our cries of desperation and allowed us to see the sun, the future. It’s comical because New Yorkers hibernate so much in the Winter, that fifty degrees and sunny happens, and we think it is the Caribbean.  After a long and glum winter, a day like Sunday provides hope of what’s to come for 2010, life AU (after uptown).

With that said, the day did not necessarily start as hopeful as it would become. Saturday night I attended my friend Yak’s wedding followed by late night visits to SL and 1Oak. Both were extremely busy and crowded, a good sign of what should be a strong season.  After the clubs at around 4 a.m., I stopped into a 24-hour Duane Reade to pick up some household supplies and frozen White Castle. I don’t know why I like to shop for toothpaste, baby wipes, and mouthwash at this hour, but it’s as good a time as any and these types of activities are more fun drunk, as are most. You would think that after the shopping trip I would have been clearheaded enough to get undressed, but that was not the case. I woke up fully clothed in my suit with a half eaten white castle in one hand and my blackberry in the other. Gentleman incarnate.

So I rolled out of bed and began my ritual rehydration. Vitamin drink, Starbucks Iced Green Tea, Espresso shot… BAM. As I began to break open The Post and check into the horoscopes and Page Six, I received a text message from my cousin Rob, aka the Cooz. Cooz informed me that it was beautiful out and that I should join him for a leisurely stroll, a cigar, who knows. So I jumped in the shower, got dressed, and headed to meet him in the Meatpacking District. As I left the apartment, Spring was in the air, the city seemed alive, and I had an inkling that I was in for a good day, the beginning of good things to come…

Highline Park

The city was bustling with action as I stepped out of the cab in front of the Standard Hotel. The Cooz was with some friends and we strolled through the Meatpacking district. Someone suggested we check out the Highline Park, but I was too caught up with a hangover and the shakes to realize where we were headed.  All those feelings vanished as I got my first view of the Highline Park. This is the highline park A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venierosfirst spring for the Highline Park and it was made for days like Sunday. The Highline is one of the first things that our great city has completed in some time that is quintessentially New York. The park is a 1.5 mile stretch of greenery and modern design located on a former railroad track in the Meatpacking District & Chelsea. It currently goes to 20th Street, but is supposed to eventually go to 30th and beyond. There are so many highlights including the incredible works of architecture flanking the park, a stadium-style seating section providing a view of the oncoming traffic below, a pass-through under the Standard Hotel, and a sun-lounge-styled seating area filled with all different types of people. The Highline in it’s essence is like a fashionable Times Square, a crossroads of the world, the downtown world.

The Highline is a monumental achievement that was supported aggressively by social leaders such as Diane Von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, Phil Falcone, and Mayor Bloomberg along with thousands of supporters and a $50 million grant from the city. I plan to have many incredible days there and predict that New Yorkers and the movies will make this park legendary. I am looking forward to seeing who throws the first party up there, since it would be such a great place for a festival of some type. Maybe it will be me.  Whatever your motives or your schedule, grab some food at Chelsea Market, enjoy the sun, and go sit on the Highline; it is something every New Yorker should experience this season.

Frank

After the Highline, the group dissipated and Rob and I headed East. We picked up a Starbucks and walked in pursuit of an early dinner toward the LES. We eventually arrived at Frank on 2nd Ave, where we began with a bottle of Montepulciano outside as the sun went down on the first day of the rest of the year. Conversations flowed from work, to girls, to family, but inevitably ended up back on the food we were about to eat. We headed inside and sat down at the bar to grab some dinner.frank A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros

Frank, as a restaurant, captures the essence of the Lower East Side. Every neighborhood seems to have their version of the family-style Italian spot and Frank is like the cool downtown version. It exemplifies the community’s spirit and serves a great product without taking itself too seriously. Frank was opened in June of 1998 by Frank Prisinzano, who owns, operates, and acts as executive chef for Frank and his two other restaurants, Supper and Lil’ Frankie’s (both CH favorites). I find it very interesting how this restaurant’s personality and energy has expanded beyond its core clientele, while still maintaining a very real family vibe. What I mean is that many people come to Frank and call it their “spot,” but they are all from such diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and economic classes, that the only thing connecting them is Frank and the neighborhood. It is very unusual that so many people feel this way about one place. This is a testament to how the business is run and that its owner continues to give back to his community with projects like “East Village Radio,” a non-profit internet radio station featuring local artists and DJs.

Despite all of the culture involved, the real point is the food, which is consistently high quality, flavorful, and uncomplicated Italian classics. It is not the best Italian you can get, but it combines really good, simple ingredients, prepared well, as Italian should be. We ordered a Sunday night Italian feast that started with the Sicilian Salad. This salad consists of fresh,crisp Romaine lettuce, arugula, chopped cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, black Sicilian olives, red onions, cucumbers, sliced salami, Ricotta Salata cheese with an olive oil, oregano, red wine vinegar, and lemon dressing.

We then followed that with a trio of pastas including Spaghetti Limone, Papardelle with Veal Ragu, and the old faithful of Frank and Italian American Sundays, the Rigatoni Ragu. The Spaghetti Limone is a butter-and-cheese-based sauce that is cut with pasta water and a whole lemon.speghtti limone A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros The lemon and pasta water lighten the sauce just enough to make it not too fatty. Frank’s version was excellent, with perfectly cooked pasta and a beautifully fresh lemon. I highly recommend Hot Pepper with this dish, as the pepper also will act as a way to balance the strong flavors of butter, cheese, and cream.

After that we continued with the Papardelle with Veal Ragu, a fresh long flat noodle with a tomato sauce with pieces of veal mixed in. My favorite dish at Frank, which I have been enjoying for years, is the Rigatoni Ragu with “Grandma Carmella’s Tomato & Meat Gravy.” This is a perfect Sunday Ragu with meatballs, sausage, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  If I could have one dish on the LES outside of Momofuku, this would be the one. Occasionally it needs a little salt, but it is delicious and feels just like the restaurant: homey.  As we ate, we ended up getting into a conversation with John Orozco, a neighborhood guy who customizes motorcycles and seemed to know everyone. We also spoke with a hippy-ish Argentinean girl who was studying English, the bartender (a female Asian rapper “Knewdles” who performs with her sister on Violin), celebrated John’s friend Krisan’s new apartment over a Mi Chilada (Mexican beer cocktail), and debated whether the Pacquaio-Mayweather fight would ever happen. After three hours at Frank, we departed with full stomachs, a slight buzz, some new friends, and a renewed appreciation for the everyday surprises and adventures of downtown Manhattan.

Dinner cost us about $50 dollars each with a bottle of wine. I would highly recommend Frank, but if you want to come on the weekends, plan on waiting at least 30 minutes. Additionally, there is a communal table for large groups and an extensive and reasonably priced wine cellar. For a real taste of the LES, go Sunday through Wednesday, sit at the bar, and if John’s there say hello from Alan and coozin Rob.

“Now John at the bar is a friend of mine, He gets me my drinks for free, And he’s quick with a joke and he’ll light up your smoke, But there’s some place that he’d rather be…”

Venieros

After dinner we headed outside and lit up our cigars. We walked and talked as the city began to get slightly chilly, as to say “don’t get cocky; winter is not completely over yet.” The streets were jammed with people and Cooz suggested we finish the day off with something sweet, so we headed to Venieros Pasticerria on east 11th Street. Venieros is not a new-style trendy bakery filled with cupcakes, it is an institution   ovenieros A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venierosf the neighborhood that has been open since 1894. The place is filled with neighborhood regulars, kids, hipsters, and tourists. It is a destination to many, but the beauty of New York is having 100-year-old institutions outside of your front door. People travel half way around the world to try a cannoli at Venieros or Pastrami at Katz’s, but we, the ungrateful few, get to have it whenever our hearts desire. Rob enjoyed some Rainbow Cookies while I indulged in Strawberry Shortcake and chocolate-covered cannoli.

As we left Venieros, I said to Rob, “What an incredible day. I feel like I was meant to live this day, over and over, like it is what I am supposed to be doing.” I have had this feeling at other times in my life, maybe abroad in Florence, lying on the beach in Southampton, or sitting down to dinner with close friends. It is not easily or often found, at least for me. Waking up, I couldn’t have possibly thought the day would become what it did, but when it did, it was exactly right. Ten years ago in Florence, I was infatuated with the lifestyle of the Italians: la dolce vita, the sweet life. In some ways, for years, I have been trying to get back there. Like the many Shamus, I have searched for my true identity, becoming different versions of myself along the way, sometimes striking back at the forces and people pushing and pulling me. Now though, I have found my “dolce vita,” downtown New York is my modern Florence and this, I am hoping, is my renaissance.

“Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
-Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Keep life delicious and see you next time at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.
-AP

 A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros

 A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros

 A Perfect Sunday: The Highline, Frank & Venieros