A friend of Caren's called to me from the steps leading to front door of the restaurant, and asked if I wanted to see something very pretty. Intrigued, I followed him into the converted Victorian house, one of the few left standing in the area. We walked through the tiny restaurant, past the stairs leading to the second floor dining room, and out to the rear.
To describe this sunken garden terrace as pretty is an understatement, thanks to the talents of a designer who is one of Caren's friend
s. Three tall trees that have for decades been growing quietly in this unused space between buildings have now met their destiny. They act as leafy standards from which are strung Japanese lanterns and white canvas sails. A standup bar, tucked right under the fire escape adds a New York rooftop ambiance. Patio stones, cedar tables and chairs made comfy with pillows complete the scene. The chrome to chrome traffic that prowls the Yorkville area seems far away. Night falls and brings with it a slight chill in the air-still no one is in a rush to leave. Particularly since Caren supplies wonderfully soft and fluffy wraps to help us keep our comfort zone.
Our gorgeous server does look familiar, and soon we learn she is an actress and one of Caren's many friends, playing her role as a waitress with a mix of extreme charm, efficiency and a few outrageous opinions.
Seafood bisque brings a wave of flavour from exotic lands. Perfumed with coconut and a blend of spices and peppers so harmonious they elude identification, this creamy green soup is further spiked with a large grilled shrimp that hangs over the side of the bowl. I like this a lot.
Who is in the kitchen here, we wonder. No doubt, a friend of Caren's, and after this initial dish, we want him to be our friend too. Fresh angel hair pasta, taken from the pot at just the right second to leave it still al dente, is plump with grilled shrimp, and tangled with spinach and peppers and lavished with white wine and garlic sauce. Superbly simple. Rock Cornish hen is artistically carved, with mango glazed legs and breasts presented in a delicious stack up. No messy, bony carcass on this plate. Two thick triangles of Ahi tuna come lightly grilled with a brisk but luscious sauce of lime, wasabi crÃ¨me fraiche and fragrant jasmine rice with freshly snipped lemon balm.
Curiosity is one of my mini-vices. I like to see what other people are eating: a burger stuffed with Stilton and sautéed in Cognac is enjoyed on my right; roast duck breast; grilled lamb chops and a gorgeous dish of Mac and Cheese made with four cheeses in a spicy sauce. The people at this table must be friends of Caren's. After dinner they open the latest model in a line of slick computers and check the Hong Kong stock market. As McLuhan said-it's a global village.
After a year, the wine and cheese menu has expanded and offers a greater array for the connoisseur as well as the novice. As well, there are lovely side dishes, so say you order some Gruyere, Chevre Noir, a bit of Stilton and a chunk of Manchego and a glass of Merlot or Pinot Blanc or Port, and you feel like munching on walnuts in the shell, fresh figs, pears or almonds, or even some cured Italian meats, you can ask for them.
The background music is Buddha Bar; the lighting is subdued with tiny candles; the mood is romantic, and the food is so good,