April 23, 2012 | BITE: My Journal
Out of the Closet: Clyde’s Wine and Dine
Half a court is twice as much fun for our guys at Clyde’s Wine and Dine. Photo: Gael Greene
Driving up raw and improbable Tenth Avenue in the 30s, I’m anxious. What side will it be on? Then, impossible to miss, there is Walt Frazier times 25 in a staccato of bigger-than-life panels, stretching from 37th to 38th Street. The name on the door - Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine - tickles me too. Wine and dine, not beer and burp.
It’s wall-to-wall Walt “Clyde” Frazier; cutouts of his suits hang above. Photo: Gael Greene
We enter a deserted lounge. Well, it only opened ten days ago. On our right, two young couples go one-on-one in the enclosed half basketball court. More blow-ups of the Knicks legend loom on fat columns in this contemporary Familia Sagrada celebrating the all-star guard. See him dapper in pin-stripes, cheetah spots and exaggerated plaids. Wooden cut-outs with images of his favorite custom-made suits from Mohans hang in slices from the ceiling.
Tonight it’s baseball, live on the Clyde’s 56 flat screens above bar and kitchen.
The man’s obsessions are captured. Everything is here, a Rorschach test in ten thousand square feet, exalting the voice of the Knicks by Pritzker award-winning architect Thom Mayne from Morphosis (a Knicks fan, it turns out, even taller than Frazier). In his earlier days, Mayne designed Las Vegas properties for Michael Weinstein of Ark Restaurants, the bemused and reverential corporate power here, and he couldn’t resist this project.
Spicy, hot and sticky, just what wing fans want. More than our quartet can eat.
That’s the Knicks game live on a blaze of 56 flat screens, over the bar and kitchen. Can mere food possibly compete? Guess we’re about to find out. Strolling south I see tablecloths, signaling the dining room, and a length of open kitchen, with a scattering of eaters perched at a counter inches from the action.
Chanterelle’s David Waltuck was busy behind the line when he noticed us. Photo: Gael Greene
I recognize David Waltuck in a flat black toque and chef’s whites – the “daring young man on Grand Street,” I called him in 1979, when he and his wife Karen launched the stereotype-shattering Chanterelle in Soho. Shockingly, it closed just as it was about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Now as Ark Corporation’s executive chef, this is his first splash. Expectations are high.
Impossible to eat just one, fried lotus chips to dip up guacamole are addictive. Photo: Gael Greene
It’s not easy to pin down our order. Starting with snacks. We want them all. Waltuck’s menu is a hit parade of everything Americans like, with Asian nuance and his own Chinese passion.
Here, the red stars are not a warning of spiciness. They signify Clyde’s favorites. “Our snacks are to share,” the waiter announces. As if we were born seconds ago and have never heard that come-on before. But unlike some places where sharing means splitting an egg roll, they're not fooling. Most portions are huge. Wasabi, pickled ginger and mirin does not bother me at all in Waltuck’s spin on guacamole. Could it be because I’m so taken with the heaped high fried lotus crisps for scooping?
You want to get your share of these fabulous curried onion fritters while they’re really hot.
Curried onion fritters look like a mess of twigs. A delicious mess, addictive too. I’m still dipping them in spicy tamarind sauce long after the fritters have cooled. I’m less moved by the crisp fried potato knish with sweet and spicy mustard and crème fraîche. But what do I know, I’m from Detroit.
Clockwise (sort of) from top: chili, root vegetable side, chicken with garlic, macaroni au mimolette, Caesar. Photo: Gael Greene
Sometimes I can eat the pizza crust and skip the toppings. Tonight the crust is good enough and the tomato-mozzarella balance is a triumph…as it ought to be with Waltuck guiding the crew.
His fondness for Chinese cooking shows in the delicacy of his gingered seafood dumplings. The torrid chicken wings have a Chinese barbecue edge too and could feed the whole team.
For the deviled egg hound, a Waltuck touch: Satanic eggs five ways. Photo: Gael Greene
You might not want to share his assortment of deviled eggs because you need to taste all five versions: bacon pierced, caviar coiffed, toupee’d with a curl of smoked salmon and chive. Well, maybe you can give away half the curried one with green apple, and possibly even forego the classic with a spritz of paprika. Chopped duck liver, with cracklings and crisps of onion, comes with toast triangles. Serious snacking. Only the tea-smoked pork belly buns are a disappointment. Lean pork belly, lean buns.
Panzanella means bread salad, not greens, tomatoes and a few croutons. Photo: Gael Greene
My guy and I rarely resist a Caesar salad. This one’s more than ample and nicely amped with anchovy. But the panzanella the waiter insists we must try is not the bready Italian salad I expect. It’s a tower of greens with tomatoes and measly croutons.
“Is this your first visit?” I ask a young man, clearly all by himself, enjoying the action at the kitchen counter.
“No, it’s my third time,” he says proudly. “I really like it.”
“I guess you must live nearby,” I improvise in my surprise.
“Upstairs,” he says.
The chicken is crusty and full of flavor but a few garlic cloves is not a side. Photo: Gael Greene
Yes, I’d forgotten. Tenth Avenue residential is happening. I’d be happy to have this spit-roasted chicken nearby too. Definitely too cooked, but still, crusty and full of flavor, I’m taking half of it home for lunch. Like the blackened salmon – in this case, unpleasantly spiced and almost raw – it comes naked on the plate, as do all entrees ($18 to $45). A steakhouse conspiracy to get you to order sides and spend more. Though to be fair, I’ll note that sides are just $6 and include irresistibles like potato latkes, sweet potato fries, roasted asparagus and braised romaine. The hearth-roasted root vegetables would be better if some were not still almost raw.
Waltuck’s passion for Chinese cooking shows in dumpling delicacy; those are his knishes alongside. Photo: Gael Greene
My pasta-loving guy is happier with the very good penne and its spicy tomato-tinged seafood than the scary cheese-filled meatball in his spaghetti. The “classic macaroni and cheese” is strangely uncheesey, crumbed but not crusty. Mom used Velveeta. Waltuck likes mimolette. Fine black bean chili arrives surrounded with a trio of garnishes, crème fraîche, grated cheese and fresh salsa, and could be supper for me.
Chicken salad with nuts and apples on wholegrain baguette gets a red star from Clyde.
I see Clyde’s red star next to the rotisserie chicken salad sandwich. Chopped apple and walnuts, the tang of mustard and tarragon add pizzazz, but I can hardly get the too-thick whole grain baguette into my mouth. A 10 oz. burger with cheddar and bacon is the winner tonight. This Disneyland for hoop fans and Clydaniacs is not just sexy and funnish (as one of my editors noted – of course, I was shocked by her usage). You can also eat well. Most of what I tasted in two visits was good or very good.
The game is over. The Knicks have won. The guys at our table go off to shoot baskets till the Road Food Warrior scores one off the rim and they return quite pleased with themselves.
We manage a taste of the apple tart with lavender ice cream and blueberry sauce. Clyde has no dessert favorites, I learn. “He likes fish simply grilled. He loves Cornish hens,” according to Ark boss Weinstein, who arrives in a migration of other latecomers from the Garden. Weinstein is at the next table ten days later, on my second visit. “I try to stop by every evening,” he says. “And Clyde is here every night he’s in town.” It seems that Frazier discovered eating healthy and yoga long ago. That’s why all his suits still fit. Recently he unbuttoned a jacket for Weinstein’s son Sammy, a favorite of the Knicks dandy. Inside was embroidered the date: 1995. There’s one of his red stars on the guacamole. I want to assume he actually eats it. At 6’4,” he can afford it, of course. If you linger, you might see him dipping a few lotus chips.
485 Tenth Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets. 212 842 1110. Open 7 days. Noon to midnight.