My favorite thing about Jill being a working actress is that I get to be a Stage Door Johnny. I have it timed out perfectly to arrive at the theater ten minutes after the curtain call, just as Jill is emerging from the dressing room to greet her adoring fans. I stand proudly in the background and give her all the space she needs to receive her accolades, and then when she’s fully feted, we all go out to eat and drink. This is my favorite moment in show business; it’s why I became an actor to begin with.
And because Jill is doing her play at Ars Nova, a wonderful theater that’s so far west on 54th Street it’s almost in New Jersey, I get to check out the restaurants and bars in a whole new neighborhood, which maybe we can call Hell’s Kitchen Extended. It’s essentially 10th Avenue in the Fifties. Have no fear – I’ve already found two fantastic places, destination places. Well, they’d have to be – who casually strolls down 10th Avenue in the middle of the night?
This could turn out to be one of my favorite Italian restaurants in the city. That’s a big statement, I know, but I have very particular criteria and Il Melograno and its owner-chef, Alberto Tartari, meet my standards in fine fashion. It’s real, number one. You can smell Italy when you walk through the door. Number two, we can speak Italian with the owner and he’s gracious enough to pretend we do it well. That’s big for us. Alberto comes from Brescia in the north of Italy. He had a fine restaurant there until he came to the New World to seek his fortune. He imports his products from Italy – except for the freshest ingredients he finds locally. Jill’s desire after a show is the freshest of greens and veg and Il Melograno delivers. They will also substitute whole-wheat pasta and that suit’s Jill as well. My pasta was extremely satisfying – bucatini alla ciociara. That name was new to me, so I researched it. I think it comes from Ciociaria, which is a region southeast of Rome, northeast of Naples. I researched twenty-two recipes and they were all completely different. Alberto’s features pancetta – smoked, I believe, cut into dice and sautéed with onions; tomato sauce; oregano, maybe. Anyway, it was perfect with a glass (or two) of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
On 52nd Street, between 10th and 11th, — a mostly residential block without all that much street life — Ardesia glows like a briquette. On the advice of knowledgeable friends, we headed over there after the show last Thursday night to get a drink and maybe a bite and … wow. First of all, it was packed – with well-dressed, nice-looking people, making a buzz. We lowered the level, I thought, bohos that we are. But the host welcomed us warmly, anyway.
Ardesia is a wine bar with food, which can mean many things. In this case, with the talents of co-owner Mandy Oser and chef Amorette Casaus, it means a very high level enterprise, indeed. Mandy’s day job is working side-by-side with Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin; Amorette made her reputation at El Quinto Pino; together they’ve created the perfect wine bar synergy. A wine bar is about pouring wine that one might not get to taste every day – that’s the fun of it – and Ardesia has one of the city’s most enticing and approachable lists, many available by the glass. It’s separated into Old World and New World and draws from pretty much everywhere. There’s a good list of bubbly, as well, and an offering of beers. The food can be described the same way – enticing and
approachable. And fun. From pretzels and mustard to deviled eggs with crispy chicken skin to a duck banh mi to a cheese selection to a plate of her house-made charcuterie, Amorette Casaus’s menu offers a tasty palette for food/wine combinations. We stuck with the specials the night we were there – a farm-fresh salad for Jill with lemon, avocado dressing and chicken sliders for me, with all sorts of piquant flavors hidden under the bun. Delicious with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Alto Adige.
And all at great prices, too.
No wonder the place is packed.