Swimster sent me the once-in-a-blue-moon e-mail that he’s famous for. He was coming to New York for a week on business and wanted to see me one night for dinner. To any new readers, Swimster is the ex-man. If we’ve been broken up for two years, is he still considered an ex? I’m going to say yes since I haven’t had a serious boyfriend since.
I was excited to see him, and more importantly, to share a great meal with the London resident. I was a little disheartened, however, when he left the restaurant decision entirely up to me. I had hoped for at least some guidance or direction. It was too much pressure to pick an excellent spot for the guy who lives in a city where the dining scene is grade F compared to New York’s grade A.
A long time ago, Swimster and I compiled a list of restaurants we wanted to try. Consider it our version of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” but with restaurants. Craft was a part of this list. I’ve heard a lot about it since I’ve lived here, and more so within the past couple of years with the burgeoning popularity of “Top Chef” and its star Tom Colicchio, who has become a sort of poster boy for culinary success mixed with celebrity.
I was back and forth with a few close friends that week, trying to have the best collection of recommendations. I believe it was TheDude who called me out via e-mail, “Jesus, Mona, you sure are putting a lot of thought into this. Are we sure Swimster’s just an ex?”
I laughed out loud at work. I think I snorted my diet fountain Sprite. TheDude was half right. I do consider myself a thoughtful person, especially when it comes to either recommending restaurants or choosing them for myself. As for the ex part, I had to think about it.
The last time I ate with Swimster was disastrous. It wasn’t the physical type of disaster where the food was awful, plates were flying, sauces were spilling and glasses were breaking. It was the emotions that welled up inside of me like lava in Mount Etna. Upon leaving Swimster that night I wept. I wept all the way home on the subway and well into the early hours of the morning. I was really, truly afraid this would happen again.
How can this be? I’ve had my share of boy stories, some good, some bad, since Swimster, though none have had any sticking power. My uncle put it best, “Your love life just about has no credibility whatsoever, Mona.” It’s a constant revolving door with me and I’m patiently waiting for that door to slow down to a stop.
I had this fantasy in my head. I thought Swimster would come back to the U.S. a new man. I half expected the Korean version of Jude Law to show up and sweep me off my feet. Swimster said he lost weight, I thought he might have picked up a slight British accent and that he’d be sporting a Huntsman suit straight out of The Sartorialist. On top of all this, he is a working professional now. I dated him for two years and he was a poor grad student. I know, how ridiculous. But I was worried if any of these things were true, I would fall for Swimster all over again.
I showed up early and sat/fidgeted for a few minutes. Why was I so nervous? My heart rate was sputtering like I’d just sprinted a 50 freestyle and I could hear the sweat yelling, “Let me out, let me out!”
I liked the big and airy feel of Craftbar (I picked Craftbar because it’s more casual than Craft), but most of all I liked it for what it wasn’t: romantic. That would have been slightly awkward. There is a large bar on your left when you walk in and right above it are enclosed racks of wine. It reminded me of an old library with the ladder that slides along a brass pole that you climb atop to find that dusty first edition “Pride and Prejudice” you didn’t know you had. Above the bar were hundreds of bottles of wine and I imagine Craftbar and its patrons don’t let them go dusty.
The room in the back is enormous, almost too big. It’s like a hotel conference room. We sat somewhere in the middle of the bar area, which had several tables next to it, and the dining room.
I saw Swimster push open the big glass front door and I smiled. In front of me was the same boy I walked away from two years ago. Everything from his clothes, to his hair to his cheeks looked exactly the same. After a big bear hug and a few moments of reacquainting ourselves with each other’s presence, we moved to our table.
I went right for the booze. I ordered a ginger martini (Stoli, ginger and lemon) that I hoped would knock the wind and nerves right out of me. Instead it knocked the breath out of me. I could barely drink it. It was pure vodka. I felt bad returning it so it sat lonely and unloved on our table, covered in brown cardboard paper, undrunk.
The sweetbreads and the fritters were the runaway favorites. I would go back to Craftbar just for the sweetbreads. I liked how they were served and presented. The mushrooms were a good pairing and the sweetbread texture was just perfect. When you know what sweetbreads are, there’s huge potential for the gross factor, but this was hidden very well at Craftbar.
I love prosciutto but I decided I don’t like duck prosciutto. It was sliced too thick and tasted too tough for me.
I chose the dourade as my entree. I think it may be my new favorite fish. The skin was the best part and the veggies underneath. Oh man. I don’t know what English pea agnolotti is but if someone can send me the recipe, not to mention that the chanterelle is my favorite mushroom. The dynamic duo was made to go with this fish.
I figured I’d share the good news first. The service was great. My entree was awesome. I am not even a huge fish eater, but I loved it. Now for the bad news. Swimster’s orecchiette was mediocre, at best. I’ll go so far as to say it was barely edible. How could Mr. Colicchio let this happen? The pasta was embarrassingly overcooked, the fennel sausage was bland, even the cheese had no taste. It was like it was cooked in some sort of taste vacuum. I may as well have been eating cotton. What a disappointment. I felt terrible for Swimster. I almost made him send it back, but he just ate and smiled. He never gets fired up about anything. That’s why we get on so well. This firecracker blows up enough for the two of us.
And what made it almost all better? Why, a huge ice cream sundae, of course. How old are we? It didn’t matter, the ice cream was delicious, but it only partially made up for Swimster’s sad pasta. I appreciate the simpleness of the sundae. It’s refreshing when a chef isn’t too proud or snobby to put what kids of all ages can enjoy on the dessert menu.
Craftbar, like my experience with Swimster, was good and fun, but lightning didn’t strike. Swimster and I had a really good time catching up. Rather than sitting across from an ex, I felt like I was eating with an old friend. As much time had passed between us, not much had changed. I thought I might meet a man that night, but Swimster is still the boy who broke my heart, only he now has a paycheck and lives in London.
A part of me was disappointed, but most of me was relieved. After you go from what you thought was “the one” to nothing for two years, you end up wondering if you made a gross mistake and if you’ll ever find something as good again. After our brief encounter that night, I was reassured that I made the right decision. Swimster is so deeply connected to working hard and proving his legitimacy in this world that he has no room for emotional bonds.
We hugged goodbye.
“It was really really good to see you, M-.”
I know he meant it.
I still love Swimster, but in a weird, childlike sort of way. I used to walk away from him, often with tears in my eyes, over things neither he nor I could control. He once said to me he didn’t think he could ever make me happy, and I’d look at him like he was crazy. That night as I crossed the street in front of Craftbar, I had a huge smile on my face. I even snuck a few inexplicable giggles. Swimster just did make me happy, and why, he may never know…
900 Broadway, near 20th St.