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Saturday, November 20, 2010

American Life 6

All in the Family

Her email was cryptic. “We are going to bring in my sister's birthday at the Hearth restaurant in the East Village on November 2 and then observe the occasion on November 3 at En Japanese Brasserie in the West Village,” my younger daughter wrote. We read her message as we packed our bags to take an ungodly hour flight to New York from Delhi.

Our older daughter's birthday was a seminal rite of passage and her younger sister had chosen the restaurants with care. Our entire family including two daughters, our son-in-law, my wife and I were in the city in a rare togetherness. Several of my daughters’ friends also joined the party; to say the very least, the two events were hugely fun.

The Hearth is a special place because its executive chef Marco Canora describes the offering as “food rooted in the modern American kitchen with influences of our Italian heritage.” A celebrated chef, who has appeared on major television shows, Canora offers an “unpretentious, seasonally inspired” menu, not to mention a dry Martini that elevates the soul. All his ingredients are sourced from within a 150 miles of the city, from upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

My veal was from Lebanon County, the heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch region; it was “vegetarian fed with no hormones, no antibiotics and no animal products.” Best of all, it tasted great: mellow, creamy and delicately flavorful. Washed down with a red wine from nearby Long Island, it made for a perfect meal. What a super way to bring in a seminal birthday. It is a measure of the contwixted ties between India and America that our family celebration was in New City’s fabulous Lower East Side. Both countries are intimately bound by family ties that soar above diplomacy and geopolitics.

After dinner, we parted as the young people chose to hit the bars that light up the Lower East Side; my wife and I repaired to a quiet restaurant to listen to live Jazz over an after dinner drink. And we both left the thing unsaid, how fortunate to have a family celebration in the city that never sleeps. “I’m glad be part of it, New York, New York,” the edited refrain from the famous song kept buzzing in my head.

Next day at the Japanese brasserie was just as much fun. The restaurant features comfort food served in “Izakayas,” neighborhood pubs. But En is hardly a local diner. Housed in what was once an industrial warehouse, it a huge cavernous place where Japanese chefs have elevated simple food into a Michelin type dining experience.

Not being a huge fan of Japanese food, I sought safety in the crispy friend chicken that was totally excellent but my younger brat dissed on my “Kentucky fried chicken” and insisted I taste her pork belly dish; others plied me with helpings from the clay rice pot with salmon roe. OMG, I said to my daughters and the young people assembled there, this is fab, using my sixties idiom as a counter to their 21st century texting language.

And so we ate and talked and drank sake into the wee hours (11 pm not 3 am). For dessert, we shared some sort of an ice cream and also a cheesecake that I relished until I realized it was tofu and was forced to take a huge gulp from Siddharth's sake shot. My wife looked at me; she didn’t have to say a word for me to know she was saying, “Any excuse for booze!” But it’s Japanese, I told her, “That’s got to count for something!”

As we walked back to our hotel, my mind strayed to my seminal birthday many years ago. We had just closed on a condo in a 100-year-old building in Oak Park, a suburb that abuts Chicago’s West Side. It was indeed a happy birthday for me as we had dinner with friends and talked excitedly of our new home. A year later, our first daughter was born and the joy was unbounded. In New York on November 3 2010, our pleasure stretched from sea to shining sea. To be together as a family in the southern tip of Manhattan is a happiness that soars as high as the Empire State Building.

How lucky can you get!

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2010