It’s 10 p.m. in New York, the bars are crowded and you’re looking for a place to drink with Playboy chef Judy Joo, a fellow visitor from London.
Where do you suggest?
As dilemmas go, that’s not bad. It’s an easier question than where is my next meal coming from or even how big is my bonus? I’m in a taxi with Judy and some colleagues and we end up at the Spotted Pig, where I know U.K. chef April Bloomfield.
“We’ve just had a call that a party is coming in,” the woman at the door says apologetically before we are led upstairs to the third-floor inner sanctum. This room is by invitation only. It’s so understated, you wonder why.
We settle in, and the other group of about 20 people arrives. It’s led by Jay-Z, the multimillionaire rapper. Behind him is a beautiful woman. It’s his wife, Beyonce. She’s wearing a red dress, and I’m wearing a smile.
A couple of hours pass. The other group, surprisingly polite and friendly, is seated around a long table, chatting quietly. Husband and wife are as engrossed in each other as childhood sweethearts.
By this time, a member of the group has taken a fancy to Judy, and explains that everyone is waiting for Bono. On cue, he receives a text from someone called Bono saying he mixed up his dates and won’t be coming. Oh, well.
As quickly as it arrived, the entourage moves on. Large black vehicles pull up in the rain outside. Judy is invited to come to the next location and I join her in a taxi to the Darby, on West 14th Street. “We’re with Jay-Z,” she tells the doorman, and in we go, down stairs and behind a velvet rope.
(The next time I see Jay-Z after this chance meeting on May 10, he’s performing before more than 20,000 people in the O2 Stadium in London on May 18.)
The top prize, for outstanding chef, is won by Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. We head -- via Bar Boulud -- to the after-party at the restaurant. By 1 a.m., hundreds of people are dancing, several of them on the tables. Boulud is there, jiving on a counter with Humm like a couple of teenagers.
New York Mix
If only life were always like that. For a visitor, New York is the usual mix of experiences and for me most of them are positive. Staffers greet customers in stores, the taxis are cheap compared with London, the food is great, there’s a new branch of Century 21 where I stock up on clothes, and when I have trouble buying a subway ticket, the people in the line that builds behind me offer to help out, rather than complain.
(A friend who has moved to New York says she is reluctant to get out a map because people are so quick to offer help.)
The negatives are minor. I’m used to more parks in London and I’m baffled how those friendly folks I meet everywhere turn animal when it comes to hailing a taxi. Is there no etiquette? Are there no ground rules? Plus, it’s hard to grasp why so many drivers appear to change their shift at the same time. I’m also used to talkative London cabbies and find the silence weird.
Over nine days, I ate and drank my way around the city, from a no-reservations counter in Brooklyn to having Jean- Georges Vongerichten cook for me at Nougatine.
My worst meal? There wasn’t one until I boarded the British Airways business-class flight home. The menu was unappetizing, I settled for a staff tuna sandwich wrapped in plastic.
Welcome to London.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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