November 15, 1999 | Insatiable Critic
Swifty’s: Gimme Shelter
It’s so terrific, and the food is yummy. All of us love the new Mortimer’s. I mean Swifty’s, of course. Swifty’s after Glenn’s pug that one day, so sad, simply…disappeared. Glenn Bernbaum was Mortimer’s, of course, testy and rude, people say, but he kept the riffraff out and the prices low and he always had a table for Mumsy and moi. I can assure you that no member of Glenn’s salon refusé – certainly no restaurant critic, not even Gael Greene – appreciates what that means to people like us. Let’s see, why did he call it Mortimer’s? Tonier than Bernbaum’s, after all. Very Tuxedo Park. Babe, of course, married a Mortimer before she became Paley. Well, bless the boys – everyone calls them the boys – Robert Caravaggi, (Glenn’s former maître d’), business manager Peter Geraghty, and Mortimer’s longtime chef Stephen Attoe. They put Swifty’s together. As in Swifty Lazar, stupid; the dog was named for the agent. And don’t they look alike in this sketch on the menu.
Well, look who’s here. Brooke. And Bill. Ahmet and Mica. Isn’t that Gil Shiva? Eleanor Lambert, I do believe. Pat Buckley. Yoo-hoo. Nina, Nina Griscom, there at the bar. And Barbaralee and Carl – it’s sexily shadowed in here but not so dark I don’t see you. Joan Rivers and Orin. And isn’t that Pat and Jerry Schoenfeld? Missy, is that you? What have you done to your face? I mean, you look so rested, darling. (Ha ha. I recognize those cheekbones. Doctor X, of course.) Lighting genius, that Mario. I hear Mario Buatta and Anne Eisenhower just threw the place together on a shoestring. Pretty, pretty.
It’s such fun to just walk in and see all your pals. I can’t tell you what torture it was to be cut adrift for so long, all of us, cruelly orphaned when Glenn died and left that nasty command to simply padlock our place. How very après moi, le deluge. Some people think just because Great-Grandpa had railroads and we have these little trust funds or were clever enough to fall in love with rich men in the days before prenups that we don’t feel pain and loss. Now I know how those poor refugees in Kosovo must have felt, desperate for a haven. Kenny Lane insisted La Grenouille would be the new Mortimer’s. Not very likely. We’re not the showy sort who pay $200 for a roast chicken. La Goulue did rather well. But it wasn’t Mortimer’s. I saw people I didn’t even know eating there.
I hear the boys are saying they want to be “all-inclusive.” I hope they won’t get rash. We’re already layered in here. I mean, not even Sirio could get a shoehorn between these tables. That’s Gael Greene herself stuffed into the middle there. Are the boys suicidal putting her and three friends at a table no bigger than a plate? It probably means nothing to her to be surrounded by our crowd. I’m told she never reviewed Mortimer’s because twenty years ago Glen let her and a pal ossify at the bar while he seated his pets. And look, she’s the only one not singing “Happy Birthday” when the boys pop by with a tall, thin taper on a little cake for Dominick Dunne. Isn't that taking journalistic objectivity a bit too far?
Well, she certainly seems to like the endive salad with Roquefort, pear and walnuts and the crabmeat on tomato aspic. And why not? Tomato aspic is like lunch with Mumsy at Schrafft’s, and those big lumps of crab in mayo are yum. Her foursome polishes off the calf’s liver with the blackened onions in balsamic glaze, I see, and the wild-mushroom-and-sausage risotto. But that nasty little eyebrow twitch does not speak well for the soup du jour – a namby-pamby red-pepper puree I’m not too happy with myself – nor the mundane peppered tuna. I hear she shared her delicately caramelized bay scallops with friends a few nights ago, then snatched back the plate to devour the last two. No anorexia syndrome at that table, if I may say so. She accidentally left her notebook behind at lunch. “Artichoke shriveled,” it read. “Love the burger with its wilted watercress and couldn’t stop eating the chopped Cobb salad.” A coup for the kitchen.
But woe is me. Actually all of us who really belong here are already fighting for tables, so I can only hope that Ms. Greene-come-lately despises our beloved nursery food. The Mortimer classics: Three little crab cakes like golf balls. The wickedly prewar creamed spinach. The Junior League curried chicken salad. I’m sure she’ll be annoyed that the chocolate pudding is like no bread pudding she’s ever seen. I mean, it’s our bread pudding. And I overheard her just now objecting to how they stretch the tuna carpaccio over the edge of the plate. Granted, lingonberries are awfully sweet and come in jars, but that’s what we like with our foie gras.
I think the food is actually better than ever. Maybe it just seems so without Glenn’s growling. Nan Kempner says maybe now that that the chef’s a partner, he’s trying harder and buying better meat. Of course, Nan is our cheerleader. She and Bill and Mario and Gale Hayman and a few of the others chipped in to help the boys raise the $500,000 they needed to move into this teensy space. Kiosk, I think it was called. “I’m a one percenta yenta, and Bill is a two percenta yenta” is how Mario Buatta put it, and I quote. I talked to Mario at Lenox Hill Hospital (he got food poisoning, I think, eating a bad clam on Staten Island, and yes, Swifty’s does send him lunch). He said the boys wanted to re-create the Mortimer’s look.
“Why?” Mario asked. “That dumb brown bar. It’s ugly as sin and the wrong color brown.” He’s especially pleased with the paintings. “All fakes,” he told me. Says he bought every one off the back of a truck.
So the only problem is, no one can tell which is The Room and which is the Frozen Steppes of Siberia. The other night, it was a Mortimer’s class reunion out back and I spied no one, utterly no one, seated with the mob up front. But at lunch a few days earlier, I was sure that the front room was the place to be – Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Nina Griscom, Anthony Haden-Guest. As Robert was leading Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera to their table au derrière, I clearly heard her say, “Well, Robert, are we going to the countryside?” This discombobulation cannot last.
Mario is sure that Glenn is looking down (yes, he said down), probably thinking, “Well, you sons of bitches were right after all. It does pay to be nice.” I have to agree. Eating swell is the best revenge.
1007 Lexington Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd Streets, 212 535 6000