Brunch in Princeton: Cargot Brasserie

Ham and Gruyère Omelet Mornay Sauce

Brunch at Cargot Brasserie

Cargot Brasserie opened near the renovated railroad station in Princeton last year (2017)—a welcome addition to the University Campus’ new Arts and Transit Neighborhood opposite McCarter Theatre. Fenwick Hospitality Group, which also owns Farm-to-Table Agricola in town, has an agreement to run both Cargot Brasserie and the nearby American Dinky Bar and Kitchen, a casual bar housed in the former passenger station.

The Setting for Brunch

I arrived early today as I was planning to walk around town until the “Hearts Afire” ice sculpture event at Palmer Square in the afternoon, and I wanted a leisurely day. The entry way opens onto a pretty, easy-on-the-eyes, yes, beige room, with a large bar, a banquette lining the opposite wall facing cane chair seating at moveable tables for two in one room and a large dining room in another.
It was quiet at 9:00 a.m. when I was seated and still comfortable an hour later. Inexplicably, the flat screen over the bar was broadcasting a soundless Midwest weather report for the entire hour. As a solo diner, I notice these things.

Fusion Polite Service

Service is fusion polite. There are lots of questions—”Water, still or flat?…With your croissant—butter or jelly?… The potatoes served with the omelet are fried in duck fat, or would you prefer a salad?” At the next table, the server began, “Good morning, gentlemen, can I get you guys something to drink?” My server was training a colleague, so there was some duplication of politesse, which was endearing.
The brunch menu focuses on French classics—croissants, pain perdu…my ham and Gruyère omelette was dressed lightly in Mornay sauce. Fenwick owns a farm, and the well-presented food is delightfully clean and fresh, and the cappuccino is generous.
One note—the croissant, ordered separately from the omelet, tasted wonderful, except the texture was less flaky than one desires. I had requested the butter, which arrived nearly frozen and inoperable, so I cannot give you a perception of its taste. These are things to work on. The omelet, by contrast, was perfection as was the lightly dressed salad. The service was timely and unrushed and offered with polite smiles.

Beyond Breakfast at Cargot Brasserie

At Cargot, you can purchase pastry items to “grab and go” as early as 7 a.m. if you are rushing to the train or, on a vacation day, to the canoe or kayak rental nearby. The restaurant serves Breakfast, Brunch on the weekends, Lunch, Afternoon Café Menu, and Dinner—including raw bar, and plats du jour, plus a pre-theatre menu, all French-inspired and sourced from the owners’ Great Road Farm. Cocktails, beer, and French wines from all regions, interspersed with those of a few other nations, complement the traditional and modern brasserie offerings. Make a reservation to avoid disappointment. I will be back to explore.
Cargot Brasserie Bar

The Bar at Cargot Brasserie

A Day of Chandeliers and Awesome Food

 

IMG_0001 Chihuly at NYBG

This week’s excursion brought me to the New York Botanical Gardens for the Chihuly Exhibit, which will be on display until October 29. 2017. This site-attuned exhibit will bring the ooh’s and ahh’s to your lips. Colors and shapes, each more dramatic than the one before–Seuss-like Chandeliers, Spikes, Flora, Geological formations that tease the fountain sculptures–this is a rich experience for all ages. I spent the most time at the Fountain, where I found the beautiful icy rock-like sculptures were so organically integrated with the metal sculptures, as if they had always been there. Alas, they won’t, so go soon! If you are without a car, there are two convenient transit ways to go on the Gardens’ Directions Page here. There is plenty of nature to enjoy at the Gardens–the water lilies are in beautiful bloom right now–plan for a long visit so you can see it all!

IMG_0004 Chihuly chandelier

Not far away, I made the pilgrimage to New York’s northern “Little Italy,” Arthur Avenue, rewards the pilgrim with tasty fresh foods, made the old-fashioned way–fresh mozzarella, pasta, vegetables–markets and specialized shops to take home some. I went in quest of that creamier mozzarella, Burratta,  but, alas Calabria’s (home of the famous “meat chandelier”) only begins to make it on Tuesday so it wasn’t going to be ready on Thursday…a weekend trip back sometime will be necessary if the fresh mozzarella I had to buy is any indication of what to expect.

I dined in high deli style at Mike’s Deli in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, surrounded by all manner of Italian delicacies. Huge portions. They wrap to go!

Afterwards, I took a stroll to find bread and at least look at beautiful pastries. Purchases done, I relaxed with an iced latte at the pleasant café, The Prince Coffee House (air-conditioned or sidewalk seating). The ceiling is covered with latte pitchers–great atmosphere for this coffee lover! Sorry, I cannot tell you about the pastries.

IMG_0003 Ceiling Prince Coffee House

The Arthur Avenue neighborhood is a brief sliver of New York, so you could pass through quickly or have a leisurely lunch and an excellent stroll in and out of the stores. A New York gem to visit.

 

Learn like a Rockefeller–Vacation like a New York Millionaire

With a little advance planning, a small fee, and quick action as the opportunities come up, you can enjoy the expertise of the savvy experts who conserve and study the extraordinary art and artists represented in the Rockefeller Brothers collections at the family home known as “Kykuit,” which is Dutch for “Lookout.” (See Photo #1 above.)
I’m not talking about the public tours—I’m talking about going deeper. Some of the recent pleasures I’ve enjoyed here include a walk around the amazing gardens with the Kykuit chief gardener to learn about the how and why of the property’s landscaping; a photography course with talented NY event photographer Todd Shapera, and a special presentation on the exceptional Lachaise statues from the Gaston Lachaise Foundation. These nearly private tours often feature refreshments along with exceptional lifelong learning experiences. If concerts or arts performances are more your pleasure, you can sign up for these and enjoy groundbreaking art by funded performers. In order to be on the A-list for these events, you need to sign up for emails from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Public Programs & Artist Residencies. When you receive an invitation, act quickly! These events sell out rapidly.
Not a planner? You can take tours of the beautiful Hudson Valley Historic Homes, such as Kykuit, Lyndhurst, and Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, and I promise you that you will want to linger longer and ask a lot of questions, so becoming an insider is a real perk.
Care to relax in luxury when you are done? Tarrytown Estate House (photo #2, above–Biddle Mansion Carriage entrance), recently added to the Iprefer collection of distinctive hotels offers you a million dollar view of the Hudson River along with accommodations fit for a millionaire. They do a lot of events-especially weddings there—so quick action will help you snag a great view from the King Mansion (lots of stairs here) or a more contemporary room in the Conference Center. Dine in Cellar 49 for casual, hearty locally sourced meals with a seasonally changing menu complemented by an international wine list. The Cellar was formerly Mary Duke Biddle’s bowling alley. Breakfast is available upstairs in the Biddle Mansion—the Crystal Palace—with a gorgeous view of the mighty Hudson. If you enjoy local history, the photographs around the property will pique your interest. Meeting planners take note: this luxury hotel was the birthplace of the modern conference, handling events of around 500 people or so. I’ve enjoyed it during busy and quiet seasons—no excuses about your exercise routine given the beautifully landscaped garden walks and excellent indoor fitness center and indoor/outdoor pool. Spoil yourself. You don’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy it.

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!–Happy Birthday, Eddie Palmieri.

IMG_4397JALC View from the State

I always approach tribute concerts for elder musicians with a some trepidation—don’t ask me about the last time I saw Brian Wilson—but last night’s performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring the belated 80th Birthday Celebration for Eddie Palmieri (continuing tonight at JALC and then on tour) transcended any hopeful expectations I might have entertained. Mr. Palmieri, who turned 80 in December, took to the stage at the Rose Theater just after 8 pm, and the self-described “frustrated percussionist” delivered two hours of muscular performance energy in a dazzling array of styles, each infused with the Latin Jazz of the moment. Happy Birthday! I am celebrating, still. I sometimes like to sit behind the band to watch the organization, and last night, it was fun to watch the collaboration between Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch—a former member of Eddie’s Afro-Caribbean Jazz group—corralling their joyful anarchy into smooth sound. You can catch some of the energy at this link to a rehearsal, and I’d say run to get a ticket to some event on this tour, which is also promoting Palmieri’s newest release: Sabiduría. An apt title, the music celebrates the wisdom the Spanish Harlem-born virtuoso has gathered in a 50-year career.

 

My day began with a trip to the Museum of Modern Art highlighted by an exhibit on 1960s artists. I particularly appreciated the photography sections, led by the works of Diane Arbus. I appreciated the Picabia exhibit though sometimes the put-on’s taxed my patience. I was glad for the exhibits on the Ourslers and their interest in the occult. Strange museum site—the great hall surrounded with photographs of people from birth to age 100, hardly anyone was looking at the photos. In the center of the hall a huge, inviting seating area beckoned, and nearly everyone on it was engaged with a cell phone. We are never where we are anymore, are we? Maybe these are “un-happenings,” and we should consider the artistic moments? Still pondering that, but I can’t beat back the tide anymore.

 

Later on, since I planned to attend the pre-concert lecture at JALC, I savored an early dinner at Maison Kayser on Broadway and Columbus Circle. A quite reasonably priced and delicious prix fixe menu gave me that feeling of being in Paris for an hour and a half. Dining room or take-out to Central Park when the weather is better—this beautiful store is a find, open 7 am to 10 pm. Dinner begins at 4, and no one will rush you. Almond croissants, desserts with names like Adagio and Moccacino were irresistible. Several locations in New York City, 100 shops in 20 countries. Do not ignore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emblem of Havana: La Guarida January 11, 2017

Greenhut Outdoor Dining at La Guarida Havana (1 of 1)

The view from one side of the table, La Guarida, Havana, Cuba

“Don’t be worried. The first part of the house is not very nice looking, but the restaurant upstairs is beautiful.” We have trusted our Cuban guide this far, so we emerge from the bus expecting the best. It’s our farewell dinner, after all. The door at 418 Concordia is large and old and imposing, but we are not really prepared for what awaits us—a haunting mansion where we might not happily take our chances in any other city on earth, each floor of the magnificent staircase revealing a little more of the story of decline in the once thriving Havana. Here, we throw away our caution and try to commit every decaying detail to pixels. This early twentieth century house, owned by Enrique Nunez del Valle,  was the setting of Cuba’s 1993 Oscar-nominated film, Fresa y Chocolat [“Strawberry and Chocolate”]. The rooftop supports La Guarida, a privately owned restaurant, known as a paladar, likely the best in Havana. La Guarida lives up to its claim to be an “emblem of Havana.” It is the epitome of my experience in Cuba this week—a mass of contradictions that continues to function, if only just barely on the fumes of capitalism now seeping into Fidel’s dream of revolution. La Lucha (the struggle) informs nearly everything you try to do in Cuba. Entonces, I enjoy the drama.
Like everywhere else I went in Cuba, at La Guarida, I was drawn into the encounter by the hips of my  senses, ignoring stray warning signs. Traveling with a group of photographers, I am infatuated with this building and its drama. We are difficult to herd on a normal day, and this restaurant/residence proves the greatest challenge of our week together.  There is never enough time! The tricky light on the stairs requires attention, but so does every wall, every drop of paint, and every stick of wood I pass in this building where Fidel Castro himself is rumored to have lived. A fan has left a tribute on one landing. A red light beckons from an apartment below. At the top of the building, memorabilia and photos of famous guests cram the walls, and there isn’t enough time to look at everything. Havana. As if 1955 met 2000 and made a country. In the outdoor dining room, we are surrounded on three sides by the moonscape of ruined and reviving Havana at night, the beautiful glass stairway tower and frosted glass wall on the fourth. January 11 is the night before the full moon, and the blue hour is exquisite.
Havana. Really? While we are enjoying a delicate tasting of pumpkin soup, eggplant caviar, delicate, tiny tacos, and lobster risotto, according to a recent report, the people on the streets below may not have anything to eat. Will the gamble on tourism pay off? La Esperanza es todo.
The meal at La Guarida was flawlessly prepared, served to 15 people graciously, and capped with a delicious diminutive signature chocolate torte, topped playfully with a strawberry meringue accompanied with a crushed lemon pie. Everything is accomplished with our cameras constantly clicking—thanks to our host’s precision, we will be in time for our reservation at the bijou landmark, Cabaret Tropicana and all its pink smoke and over-the-top production values…but this is a place to linger, and we have certainly fallen in love.
But, here’s the thing. The choreography of our visits seems shaped by some unseen hands.  I have lived with and captured contraventions this week. As I offered a man in a starched white shirt a coin for his photo in front of a bell created in the 17th Century, he wept, hugged me and said, “We have been waiting for you, America.” To thank me, he exchanged one of mine for a coin with Che Guevara’s likeness. His melody I heard from many Cubans. Should I be doubtful? Another night, a Cuban woman lambadas suggestively with the men on the tour. “Check your wallets,” someone mutters, disbelieving the argument of her hips. Tourism dictates: Americans first. Cubans can wait. We are  frequently shamed into silence when we register what has happened in the years since America left. How we benefit now. Cubans are proud without arrogance, and yet we see many are hurting. Propaganda exists everywhere, but people seem more concerned with survival and creativity than politics. At least the people we see. We marvel at the artistic productions—our university-educated guide observes that perhaps people are more creative when they have to be. Necessity, that classic mother of invention. But not always of hot water. So, salsa.
School children in our government-approved sites are happy and fed, and many speak English flawlessly. Arts and sports have a place in their lives. I envy that priority. But the challenges are there. The beautiful ballet discipline of Alicia Alonso flourishes, for example, in her daughter’s studio, but Laura Alonso tells us that she hopes to have enough money for toe shoes for the company. At 94, Alicia still directs the Ballet Nacional. Traditions persist. But…The Internet intrudes with its crazy quilt of statements, fake facts, and censored sites. Nothing is for certain except for the sound of music in every corner. Everyone is selling a CD. Everyone is trying to survive. Pink smoke and rum make it all seem possible. Quizas!  Quizas?  Quizas!
 © 2017 Deborah S. Greenhut