I have a confession to make. I am not proud of what I am about to say, but I feel compelled to tell you who I really am.
I watch Bravo’s “Princesses of Long Island.”
I know this makes me seem horribly shallow. The show, focused on the lives of six obnoxious Jewish women in their twenties, is an example of every stereotype that I despise. Jewish women as selfish, materialistic, spoiled, and only interested in finding husbands. Take these traits and add ingredients from the “Housewives of Wherever” franchise, and you also get high drama in the form of weekly catfights.
Each episode begins with a Jewish proverb along the lines of this one: “There is this old Jewish proverb: love your enemies, just in case all your friends turn out to be schmucks. Except on Long Island, the line between enemy, friend, and schmuck is thinner than a piece of matzah.”
Oy Gevalt. Yet, I can’t help but chuckle at a show that features a Shabbat dinner in the Hamptons, a visit to an Orthodox rabbi (to discuss why one of the “characters” can’t find a man), dinners at Kosher restaurants, and lots more shtick than you can possibly imagine. Yes, readers, “Princesses of Long Island” is my very guilty pleasure. I only hope non-Jews aren’t watching this and validating any preconceived notions about Jews.
This is a long introduction to a restaurant review, I know. I can’t help but contrast this television debacle to my own recent trip to Manhattan. Picture sixteen Jewish women in their fifties heading from Bethesda, Maryland into NYC on a bus. A museum, an art tour, two Broadway shows, three restaurant meals- all in less than 40 hours. It’s a whirlwind. You might imagine high drama, kvetching, and whining. But you would be wrong. If we were on a reality television show it would be a bust.
Admittedly, it isn’t always easy coming up with a restaurant to meet the group’s needs. In fact it can be terrifying. Not everyone is as focused as I am on having the best possible food. Location matters. Our group includes a number of women who keep kosher, and thus only eat fish or dairy in a non-kosher restaurant. We don’t want to spend a fortune. And of course, the restaurant must be able to accommodate 16 people, usually split into two groups of eight. We select Boulud Sud near Columbus Circle for a luxurious lunch, designating it as our major meal of the day.
Chef/owner Daniel Boulud’s restaurant features Mediterranean flavors from a variety of countries. Once seated we are delighted to learn that it is Restaurant Week, a happy coincidence. You can’t really beat a three course meal for $25, particularly since this is a highly regarded restaurant.
Each course offers several options. I begin the meal with a cool heirloom watermelon salad with arugula, saltwater feta, and aged balsamic. It is perfect for a hot day. We are seated at a long table and there are echoes of satisfaction over our first bites. Andalusian gazpacho elicits a similar reaction from those who have chosen the soup to start.
Most of the group is going for light fare such as summer corn ricotta ravioli or dayboat albacore tuna. But not me. I choose Marrakesh spiced flank steak with red pepper couscous, carrot, cumin, and cilantro. This is a dish with fragrant spices and zesty bold flavors. If I was on “The Princesses of Long Island,” I could face condemnation for ordering such a meaty entree. This is a show where one genius comments that she has heard that eating yogurt helps you lose weight.
Friends offer me bites of their dishes, which I gratefully accept. Ah the perks of writing a food blog. I am particularly taken with chicken tagine with cauliflower, Moroccan couscous, and preserved lemon. This is another dish with strong flavors that leave a lingering impression.
The decadence continues with dessert. Lemon-blueberry gateau with goat cheese Bavarian mousse and limoncello sorbet is light and delicate. It’s a perfect follow-up to the stronger flavors that precede it.
A friend says that we can’t leave without sampling the grapefruit givré, Boulud Sud’s most popular dessert. I love food that surprises in one way or another. This hollowed-out grapefruit filled with sorbet, halva crumbles, and topped with a whimsical caramel-orange tuile astonishes and intrigues us all.
While the Restaurant Week menu and pricing certainly enhances our experience, it is clear that this is a restaurant worth returning to any time. Service is impeccable, with a flurry of servers descending on our table to present each course. This all feels refined and very New York.
We’re drinking wine in the middle of a weekday afternoon, eating delicious food, and enthusaistically engaging in interesting conversations that drift from kids, to jobs, to travels, as well as mah jong and knitting (we are in our fifties after all). There is no drama, no enemies, no schmucks. The reality is that this is a portrayal of Jewish women that will never fly on television. Fortunately, it’s more realistic than anything you’ll see on “The Princesses of Long Island.”
Boulud Sud, 20 West 64th Street, New York, NY
New York Times review