September 4, 2012 | BITE: My Journal

Foraging at Foragers City Table


I expect to hate fermented tea leaf salad but it is surprisingly complex and good.

I expect to hate fermented tea leaf salad but it is surprisingly complex and good.


          MomAppetit is not supposed to drink.  She orders white wine anyway. We’ve got a Forager’s Market table with a wide-open window view of 22nd Street and an eye into the open kitchen. Our friend Kitty, outspoken memoirist and blogger, is late.  I probably would have ordered a cocktail anyway. Keeping up with the times, I tell myself. But I’ve rediscovered the Negroni and I’m cultivating  a taste for bourbon, starting to like getting high. I order the Manhattanite, bourbon with blood orange liquor and bitters. It’s seriously boozy.


Just as the commercial warned, it’s impossible to eat just one chicken fat potato chip.


           “Choose a snack,” I urge my companions as Kitty settles in. I can’t wait to order. I notice Foragers is not serving bread.  Is this a trend?  “Let’s have a snack with our drinks while we decide what to eat,” I say. It’s a tailored menu plus a few specials. And already we have issues. MomAppetit can’t eat anything too spicy and is avoiding fried. Kitty won’t eat pig.


I love the urban view from our table on one side, the kitchen view on the other.


          “You choose,” they say, properly put off by the outright fattiness of the snack category on the menu. It’s a choice of spicy peanuts and cashews, panko fried shishito peppers with crème fraîche or potato chips.   “You probably want chicken fat potato chips,” says Mom, AKA Lauren Bloomberg, my personal assistant.  Does that mean she just needs me to be the villain and would join in a potato chip freakout? I wonder. 


          These might be the most beautiful potato chips I’ve ever seen, perfect with my two-fisted drink -- gorgeous curlicues with deep fried sage leaves and an uber-enthusiastic dose of yuzu salt.


          “I like salt,” Lauren says.


          “I like salt too,” I admit. “But there is nicely salty, wooo-that-is-salty and too salty. Chefs lean toward if it’s just salty enough, salt it again.”


          Kitty likes the look of the greenery at the next table.  “They’re eating pork crepinettes to wrap in lettuce leaves,” says the waitress. So we’re not having that. And I don’t dare lobby for Heritage Farm red wattle pork porterhouse with lemon verbena caramel.


The special char salad of the evening. Not a lot of char and not a lot of bucks. Just $13.


          I’m pushing for crispy whole prawns in prickly ash. But it won’t do for MomAppetit since it’s spiked with hot chilis. How about fermented tea leaf salad? Our waitress says it’s her favorite.  We’ve got to agree on something and it’s pork free. It arrives divided into ingredients like a classic Cobb salad. “Toss it yourself,” says the server.  Lauren does the honors. The chopped little gem lettuce with dried shrimp, sesame peanuts, crispy garlic and split pea come together with verve.


It’s called Foragers Table so yes, we’ll try the harvest salad, grateful it doesn’t include twigs.


          A pickled rhubarb toss with palm, apricot, strawberry and almond in herb lemongrass vinaigrette, is okay too. And a special starter of sautéed cubes of char comes tossed with both fruit and veggies, not a lot of fish, but just $13. Odd and oddly pleasant.


The chili makes these sticky cilantro chicken wings taste even saltier.


          Seems like I’m the only one here eating the chicken wing -- $12 for three. Guess my pals can’t handle the chili-cilantro sauce. It’s not all that fierce. Kitty is so caught up reporting the tortures of trying to write a novel, she only eats half of one tiny wok-tossed Berkshire pork short rib. Agreed, the ribs are peppery too. Mama barely nibbles.


          I recount how I was almost paralyzed at the MacDowell Colony three decades ago, trying to figure out how to write “Blue Skies, No Candy.” I read the first page of Carson McCullers’ “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”  That gave me the idea my book should start with my protagonist in bed at The Algonquin.


          “I’m having a problem naming mine,” Kitty confides.


A nine o’clock dinner crowd fills the tables and the counter overlooking the kitchen.


          “I always wished my name were Kate,” I said. “So I called mine Kate.” Kate Alexander. “Guess that was a Kathryn Hepburn influence.” I’m eating the last of the ribs. It’s very salty. Didn’t we order noodles too? I don’t see any noodles.  Someone mentioned smoked lamb belly adobo –but I don’t see that coming either.


Tiny ribs, short indeed, and sticky, falling off the bone. Am I the only one eating them?


          Is this all we ordered?  I know we talked about the tea smoked black cod, remembering our first taste of black cod at Nobu. I guess I’m lucky they didn’t insist on  black pepper tofu with eggplant and kale.  At 9, the room has become noisy, window tables turning, tall tables alongside us filling up. The new demand occupies our waitress and I finally forget I was going to order the butcher’s steak – from a quartet of “mains” $24 to $27 -- even if no one else is still hungry.


These rich little financiers cupcakes, runny at the core, come with Vietnamese coffee.


          It’s the conversation that’s distracted us. Conversation can be nourishing too. Three women talking with no men listening.  Laughing.  Confessions. Sexual confessions. Maybe if you open your mouth just to breathe or interrupt or gasp often enough, it’s filling. You feel like you’ve eaten.


Sorry about the shadow on this semifreddo shot. I’m not near the photographer my guy was.


          I’m glad I can’t taste tarragon in the honey semifreddo since I have never been happy with lawn cuttings in dessert. And I love the tiny cupcake-like chocolate financiers almost runny at the heart – there are five of them – two for me, I decide -- and three little shot glasses of Vietnamese sweetened coffee.


          To be perfectly frank, I’ve not tasted anything here that would lure me back to 22nd Street from the Upper West Side.  But l would welcome a market table like this in my territory and if I lived nearby, I’d certainly be back for lunch.


300 West 22nd Street on the corner of Eighth Avenue. 212 243 8888. Breakfast Monday to Friday 9 am to 3 pm. Dinner 6 to 11 pm, Sunday till 10 pm. Saturday and Sunday brunch 10:30 am till 2 pm.


Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2012. All right reserved.


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