someone’s in the kitchen with asperger’s

After three and a half hours of picking and poking – not to mention parsing and photographing – the 20-odd meticulously composed plates that comprised our extravagantly theatrical meal at Atera, my friends and I were asked if we wouldn’t mind repairing to the lounge for a digestif and some treats. Another party, it seems, had booked our seats for the second dinner seating of the evening. Though it’s hard to imagine anyone turning up at 10pm for a meal of such Brobdingnagian proportions, it’s even more difficult to refuse the personal request of the chef, Matthew Lightner, the latest critics’ darling staking a claim on our little island by way of Portland, Oregon. (cf. Andy Ricker, Pok Pok NY, et. al.) His menu-free $150 nod to the sublime, the ridiculous, and the foraged is not only one of the hottest tables in New York right now it’s also one of the smallest, hosting just 17 diners at a time – most of them seated Teppanyaki-style around a poured concrete bar. (It’s a look evocative of a very particular mindset: sort of Soho by way of Stockholm and Shinjuku, i.e. unconsciously self-conscious or, some might say, pretentious.) To stubbornly stake one’s claim to a seat seemed unsportsmanlike, tantamount to not giving up your seat on the subway for an old lady, so the four of us gladly took chef Lightner up on his request and followed the host out of the restaurant, past the Water4Dogs canine rehab center, and into an elevator which soon descended and opened to reveal a slick, leather clad bolthole with us as the only occupants. The chef arrived soon after with ice cream sandwiches and a crate of truffles cleverly masquerading as tartufi. As a henchman appeared by his side, pouring from a bottle of Nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, and expounding on “the beach of life,” I was suddenly overcome with the sneaking suspicion that we were under observation. (Was it because I took notes throughout dinner? Or because one of my companions happened to be a West Coast food critic? When my photographer friend suddenly pulled out the Canon EOS-1DX and start snapping was it obvious? More to the point, why were we the only guests in the underground bat lair?) Freed from the intense intimacy of the restaurant we thought we’d be able to relax and speak at leisure about the imaginative cocktails (spot on, and with proper ice, too) the exquisitely presented food (imaginative, yes; though thoughtful to a fault) and the vast effort undertaken to find, let alone create, every forkful just consumed (equal parts Sherlock Holmes and Hercules, there’s a case to made for Asperger’s Syndrome in the kitchen) but that was well-nigh impossible with a man in black studiously at attention nearby. Waiter or warden I wondered? We could leave if we wanted, right? Comfortably uncomfortable, we called it a night. With alcohol and tip it came to a cool $300 per person. Together we quickly chatted outside on the sidewalk, grateful for an unobserved breath of fresh air. Consensus was quickly reached: the yumminess factor was noticeably absent from tonight’s extravaganza. Formally exquisite, cerebrally engaging, Atera is nevertheless like so many Nordic films - emotionally stunted. Still, if money were as easily foraged as oxalis articulata, I’d be back on my perch for a second show – in disguise, of course - quicker than you can say green almonds, yuba, fringed rue, cucumber, & fresh almond milk with a side of rock lichen crackers.

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it’s not unusual

Instead of the same old same old weekends this summer, what if you went for something a bit more memorable? B&Bs, for the most part, are the very definition of unusual. From Victorian and rustic to urban and Queen Anne, bed and breakfasts come in all sorts of quirky shapes and curious styles. Some even make a point of ratcheting up the unique factor: how about diving into breakfast on the deck of a tall ship or choo choo chewing the morning meal inside a former railroad caboose? Not only are there benefits to be had from wallet-friendly amenities like guest pantries stocked with free snacks. complimentary internet, and breakfast included, but you’ll also take home a  singular travel experience. Get ready for a summer of surprises with these five one-of-a-kind inns:

Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast Resort  – Nice, CA: All aboard at this special, one-of-a-kind bed and breakfast where you’ll be able to stay in one of nine specially themed former railroad caboose cars including the “Orient Express,” “Casablanca,” “Wine Country” and the “Tropicaboose” with its second-story cupola seating for two. Relax in the cars’ Jacuzzi tub or take a short stroll to the beaches and piers of Clear Lake for some boating and fishing.

Thyme for Bed – Lowell, IN: No, you haven’t stepped into a scene from Star Wars. The monolithic dome that houses this 3-room B&B was built from scratch by owner and engineer Donald Bainbridge and his wife, Sherryl, in 1998. Its concrete and steel shell is fireproof and can sustain winds of up to 300 mph. Enjoy bird watching, fishing, hiking trails and horseback riding on their 10 country acres.

The Cajun Village Cottages – Sorrento, LA: The shotgun houses that make up this B&B got their name from the idea that if a shotgun was fired from one end, the bullet could travel straight through and exit out the other side. These structures date back more than a century and have been restored with authentic antiques and furnishings. You can shop for hand-crafted antiques, pottery and artwork at The Cajun Village and grab a bite at The Coffee House, both located next door.

Vertical Horizons Treehouse Paradise Bed & Breakfast Inn – Cave Junction, OR: Sleep amongst the birds and soar to new heights at this B&B located close to the spectacular southern Oregon coastline and the Redwood National Forest. You can immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature in any one of the three uniquely themed treehouses. Recreational day and night tree climbing is also available.

Schooner Manitou – Traverse City, MI: Prepare your sea legs and head for the open waters on board this 12-cabin mid-1800s style windjammer that can accommodate 24 guests. Spend the night in one of the built-in bunks or roll out a sleeping bag and catch some shut-eye under the stars. Sign up for a specialty cruise including wine and beer samplings or live entertainment on the high seas. A full breakfast cooked on a woodburning stove will greet you topside in the morning.

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coffee klatch: rbc

I’m so tired of hearing people bemoan the lack of quality coffee in New York City. No, we are not Portland, people; I get it. We can barely even afford to live within the five boroughs, yet you think an artisanal, single-origin, fair-trade, organic coffee roaster has the deep pockets – as well as the chutzpah - to set up shop here? Blue Bottle aside, get over yourselves. This city is too vast, too commercial, too fast to support that kind of college town kaffee kultur. (Good luck finding your 3AM bulgogi fix in Portland, by the way.) Still, if you know where to look there is some really good brew to be found. Which is why I’m starting an occasional post on the best joe joints in town.  First up: RBC, an unassuming – almost missable – sliver of a shop on Worth Street. Not enslaved to the output of a single roaster means new batches of micro-roasted beans arrive every few weeks. (San Francisco’s RitualRoasters, Grand Rapids’ MadCap, and Coava out of, yes, Portland, are just a few of RBC’s culti suppliers.)  Some are for hand-crafted pour-overs, others are destined for the coveted Slayer espresso machine. The $20,000 toy is the only one in the city – and the object of many a java fetish. The extreme control and variable brew pressure of the Slayer allows baristas to use seasonal, single-origin coffees that wouldn’t ordinarily be prepared as espresso. Which means at RBC a cappuccino arrives with perhaps the rarest flavor of all: nuance.

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