[ fiction - may 11 ]
It was 4:00am. The snow that was gently falling, but not sticking, enhanced the quiet of that hour. To ease his jetlag and induce sleep, Chris went down to the kitchen of his townhouse for a glass of warm milk with honey and a melatonin. Tomorrow, or today, rather, was Saturday; he could sleep late and then make preparations for the special dinner tonight.
He slept until ten thirty - not bad considering he had been home from Japan just two days. He popped a French roast pod into his baby blue Nesspresso espresso maker, pulled a Balthazar apple galette from the freezer, placed it in the oven to warm, and went to his door to pick up the New York Times from the hallway of the West Village Federal House he had purchased and restored five years ago.
How comforting it was to sleep in my own bed again, he thought, as he sat before the crackling fireplace in the main parlor, watching the sparkling snow lightly fall as the sun began to move in. The Saturday paper was as dull as he had expected. Dinner tonight would not be in the dining room. Rather, it would be on the lower garden level that contained the kitchen and eating area (a fireplace with a large hearth and a round mahogany table) with a view of the garden. From this vantage point one would see the snow falling. Tourists walking through the streets of Greenwich Village often looked through the kitchen in front of the house to the softly lit eating area in the rear, to vicariously experience a slice of upscale city life.
He sat back into his armchair leaning somewhat to the left, a move that occasionally resulted in a sore hip, but not too often or too painful. Chris considered tonight’s menu. He wanted it to be ritzy. Should he make his signature lemon soufflé for dessert with an accompaniment of an old Armagnac?
Now, for the main course, he envisioned an extravagant Chateaubriand.
Note: The meat is cut from a thick center cut of prime beef tenderloin. According to the best recipes he had read and already altered mentally, the meat should ideally weigh about 12 oz. Originally, the two ends of the tenderloin are cut off the main portion and roasted in the oven along with the Chateaubriand, to protect the thicker cut from burning. The two end pieces would burn and be discarded, leaving the Chateaubriand a perfectly rare or medium-rare and juicy on the inside.
This was Chris’s first try at this, but he knew that it would be easy. A red burgundy would certainly compliment this meat. As it happened, there was a very good Pomerol in his cellar. Green beans and baked parsnips could be roasted in the pan with the beef. Was a salad necessary? Yes, a small one.
Should he have sent Lavinia, his housekeeper, out to shop yesterday? Sure! That would have made sense. But Chris loved shopping for the ingredients. If one was not available or not exactly of the quality he expected, he could, on the spot, change the entire menu. So when this morning’s fire had died down, Chris - a thriving 38-year-old, good-looking, highly successful bachelor, and sometime playboy - would start off on his shopping spree to stock his larder for a dinner that would be hard to beat. “The Ritz”, he mused again.
Music! Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, one of the late ones, or/and Leonard Cohen, either Nobody Knows or the last recording when he more speaks than sings, in a gravelly voice that is almost ugly; in fact, very ugly. In thinking about this, it was exactly those strident sounds that made much of Beethoven’s music all the more moving.
As it happened, both recordings were out of the house, lent to friends - one to Janet, the other to Carl. Janet and Todd lived on 11th Street between 5th and 6th. Carl had just moved around the corner to 12th to a garden duplex with Fred, his new boyfriend, whom Chris had not yet met. Good idea! Since he would not have time during the next few weeks for real visits, this errand presented a great opportunity to stop by for a quick visit and a look-see at Fred. Hopefully, Cohen had not got lost in Carl’s move. Face it - records left for too long get incorporated into other collections even though neither borrower nor lender ever intended this result.
Both friends were to be at home, arrangements made for the pick-ups and Chris was off. And what a great day and evening this was to be. (If only jetlag didn’t kick in later.)
Having retrieved the music, the first stop was the butcher, a plump Frenchman. Jean-Marc and his wife greeted Chris warmly. Madame Marie ran the business with two Korean assistants. He ordered the beef tenderloin for the chateaubriand, larger than needed so as to allow for leftovers and had the “chain meat" from the ends ground for hamburgers, to be kept in his freezer. It was put on his bill and sent around to be deposited in the delivery box on his front steps. Chris enjoyed and sought out these touches of small town living in a big city.
Left were the matters of flowers, of course, vegetables and bread. Walking on the sunny side of Jones Street from the butcher, Chris began to feel tired and too lazy to make dessert. Maybe buy dessert instead of making one? Tart or cake? Cookies? Fruit and cheese with Grappa?
For a lighter finish, he considered Gelato and thin butter cookies - always light and refreshing. Chocolate gelato and thin butter cookies were both in the freezer; Amaretto, a good accompaniment, was sitting in the basement with the Pomerol, unused. Good! Convenient! Another decision made!
The meat ordered; now for vegetables - will get them for the week. No restaurants for a while. Chris was happy to be home, and looked forward to being there for the duration of the winter. He headed to the Chelsea Market, a large indoor cavernous alleyway cut into the old Nabisco Factory on Ninth Avenue that contains a fish store, butcher (not the one Chris uses), several bakeries, a few restaurants, and well stocked Italian import food store, and of course, the Manhattan Fruit exchange where one could get many items or find a reasonable substitute. Pak choy onions and garlic greens and other necessities were purchased in addition to those needed for tonight.
Oh! Unthought-of - chanterelle mushrooms as an appetizer, or just on the side of the main plate? Using the latter format, there would be no need for a starter per se, saving the effort of jumping up and down from the table. Oops, a sourdough bread from Amy's.
In retrospect, it would have made sense to get the flowers first on Bleecker Street, but then Chris would have had to carry them to and from Chelsea in the snow; therefore, on his way home, he decided to stop at the fancy little florist to get carnations - simple and dependable flowers that last the week. The somewhat extended walk would, in any case, do him good, since he would not have time and didn’t want to go to the gym today. He could miss a day, now and then, and still stay in fine shape.
Cranking open the door to the little flower shop, Chris was struck by the prime condition and vibrancy of all of the flowers. This instantly inspired him to change his plan and to buy flowers for almost every room in the house except for the guest rooms. He bought carnations for the library, orchids for the parlor, lilies for the main dining room, tulips for the dining area downstairs and roses for his bedroom. Fortunately, he was allergy free.
Dominick, the co-owner of the shop, an affable slim and elegant young man with very white skin, blue eyes and contemporary jet black hair, wrapped the flowers meticulously and offered to deliver them himself; but Chris insisted that he would negotiate all of his packages without danger to the flowers thereby avoiding 1) not being awakened from a nap and 2) not having to invite Dom for a drink to thank him for his kindness. Another time!
Delighted that he had not run into anyone on his walk (as usually happens when one does not want to), Chris arrived home to find the meat where it should be in the delivery box, went inside, breathed in, breathed out, and was overtaken by that wonderful “it’s good to be home” feeling. After he put the groceries where they should go and leaving the meat out so that it could be started at room temperature. Chris, deciding that the flowers would wait until after his nap headed upstairs, as sleep was descending upon him.
It was a quarter to seven when Chris woke up - a little groggy. Had to make tracks. Dinner at eight. Remember: get the wine and Amaretto from the basement soon so that the Pomerol can breathe. He did a quick run to the basement, and then back up to the third floor after depositing the bottles in the kitchen and opening the Pomerol.
Back in the bedroom, the sheets were still fresh and did not need a change. The large down comforter was returned neatly into place and the pillows fluffed. It looked inviting, so inviting that Chris wished he could crawl back in for another five minutes or so. Instead, he took a needle shower scrubbed himself with rosemary soap, shaved and then went into the sauna that he had left warm. He vigorously dried himself, then, gently applied a luxurious body lotion to every part of his body, except to his face, which got a lemon-scented moisturizer. He brushed his teeth with a French whitening powder and followed with a rosewater rinse.
Tonight Chris did not want underwear. He enjoyed the feel of the rough fabric against his crotch as he slid into a pair of old comfortable Levi's that showed his contours discreetly but in a sexy way. He put on dark blue cashmere socks and a pair of penny loafers. He lit incense to promote a feeling of wellbeing in the room. Still shirtless, he selected a blue cotton turtleneck that was treated to have a very soft finish. Reconsidering the color, he changed to one of tangerine. Before putting it on, Chris gave himself a mini massage on his shoulders, top of head, face and then his chest. He repeated the treatment when dressed, wondering why when his hand ran across those same areas it evoked more sensuality and stimulation through the fabric than it did with a direct touch onto the skin. He reminded himself about his dinner party.
Chris went directly to the kitchen. He got the flowers into appropriate vases. Running briskly up the stairs, and then going from place to place, Chris distributed the vases to the proper rooms. Returning to the kitchen, he first set the table (a habit before cooking), then selected some tapered candles and lit them. He also lit the fireplace in the dining area, then started to cook.
A pause! Chateaubriand is not on many contemporary menus. For the moment, it is actually “out of style”. This recommended it to Chris as a unique and elegant main course. This being the case, the reader might be interested in a word about its namesake.
Chateaubriand, like so many other famous dishes such as Quiche Lorraine, Pavlova, Peach Melba, Crepes Suzette, and Turkey Tetrazzini, was named in honor of a celebrity, in this case, the Vicomte Francois-René de Chateaubriand, a politician, ambassador and the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Chris owned, but had not yet read, Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt and Barbary: during the years 1806-1807 and/or René, a romance; the former appealed to him because he, like the vicomte, was both a traveler and a romantic.
Leonard Cohen was singing as Chris cooked. The wine was decanted. The tenderloin was seared in the pan with butter, garlic, tarragon, port wine, salt and pepper. He placed slightly microwaved turnips (to give them a start) and chanterelle mushrooms in the pan with the meat, threw in a few carrots for color, and then added the string beans. He decided to forgo the salad. The meat would cook for 14 minutes then stand for at least another ten minutes before being cut. Voilà, dinner! The Beethoven would be played with the main course. The wine was tested. The lighting was adjusted. He did twenty push-ups on the kitchen floor and checked out the house again to be sure that the atmosphere was just right. It looked and smelled wonderful.
A couple of years ago, when a guide was giving a tour of the Village, Chris, through an open window, heard a question asked of the guide as the group stopped in front of his building: “Who lives in this wonderful house?” The answer was “a very wealthy couple”. Although Chris was wealthy, he was not a couple. Chris had long-term friends, he had had intense, but brief, love affairs, but HE was definitely not a couple. In theory and practice, Chris knew that he had the ability to make others happy, primarily because he was superbly accomplished at pleasing himself.
Tonight was Chris’s “date for one”. He ate his meal slowly, but enthusiastically. The meat was rare, tender and juicy. He was particularly charmed by the sweetness of the baked parsnips accented by ground pepper. Chris soaked up the Beethoven, without having to talk with anyone (the phone had been turned off). Lacking shame, Chris had an extra portions of gelato, but avoided more butter cookies. As the quartet concluded, he savored one more Amaretto in a comfortable chair, fireside.
The food and dishes disposed of, as they needed to be, Chris, using a remote, turned off the lights and, from below, lit the fire in his bedroom. In the garden, he saw that the snow would be sticking and accumulate during the night. It was clean and beautiful. Tomorrow, he would make a snowman.
Chris proceeded upstairs, energetically, taking two steps at a time. This evening had worked out just as he had planned, rendering him mellow and happy. Now was the moment, he knew, that he could enjoy a sublime climax to this beautiful night.