Where Celebs Go Out: Mario Batali, Mayor Bloomberg, Danielle Staub

Mario Batali at the opening of Eataly: My favorite places to eat are generally downtown in the Village: Pearl Oyster Bar, Spotted Pig, Grand Sichuan. My favorite thing to eat is anything anyone else makes! Da Silvano has an octopus salad and octopus grill that’s really beautiful. ● Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the opening of Eataly: There are 20,000 restaurants in New York City, and I try to eat at every single one of them. ● Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: wd-50, and in Brooklyn, Pacifico, the Mexican restaurant on Pacific St.

Drew Nieporent at Travel + Leisure‘s World’s Best Awards party: Restaurants that are owned my friends—Jean Georges, Daniel, Mario Batali, the usual suspects. And El Bulli in Barcelona. My favorite dish is anything that Mark Ladner makes at Del Posto. ● Bethenny Frankel at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Trump Soho, Abe & Arthur’s, STK. ● Johnny Weir at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Cipriani Downtown has the most amazing vanilla meringue cake. ● Tinsley Mortimer at her handbag launch party at Samantha Thavasa: Avenue and the Biergarten at the StandardBryan Greenberg at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: The corn, the tacos, and the margaritas at La Esquina. ● Danielle Staub at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Cafeteria for the little sliders, the mac and cheese. For dessert, their Everything But the Kitchen Sink. ● Lamar Odom at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. ● Mick Rock at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: Kenmare. ● Richie Rich at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: At the The Lion, the champagne’s my favorite. I like the atmosphere and the food’s amazing. The energy’s amazing at the Boom Room Room.

In Search of New York’s Lost Oyster Houses

New York does not bury its past; New York erases its past daily. Gone is Dakota Stables; gone is the Paterson Silks store; gone is the Corn Exchange; gone is Astroland; gone is the original Yankee Stadium; gone is the Fulton St. Fish Market, at least as it was. This is a city that never sleeps because it is obsessed with the present, entranced by the future, and only intermittently, if ever, considerate of the past. The loss of each of these landmarks was fairly well publicized and, in every case, a great blow to New York’s character, its history, its je nais se quoi. But, I’d like to add another almost unheralded, almost forgotten, almost ignored icon to the list of New York’s great and gone institutions and edifices: the lowly oyster house.

Thanks to Mark Kurlansky’s 2006 book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, the oyster houses of yore have recently resurged in the public consciousness. If you’re not familiar – and especially if you’re a New Yorker – you need to know how entwined the history of the city of New York is with its oysters. When the Dutch arrived at the island that would become Manhattan, the estuary of the lower Hudson River contained, according to Kurlansky, “fully half of the world’s oysters.” Native people ate the succulent bivalves by the bushel and left massive middens of oyster shells that still survive today. Dig deep enough into the substrata of the city and there’s a chance that you’ll strike one of these buried mementos of gluttony and shellfish.

As New York was founded and subsequently grew, its dependence on–not to mention lust for–oysters grew with it. The New York oystermen came to dominate the worldwide oyster market, shipping unfathomable tons of the crusty mollusks North, South, East, and West, not to mention onto Manhattan itself. By 1842, about $6 million worth of oysters was being sold to New Yorkers annually. That same year, the Earl of Carlisle, visiting New York, commented “everyone seems to eat oysters all day long.” It was in this economic environment that the classic New York oyster house was born. Dimly lit, dingy, smelly, reeking of beer and piss and foulness, often located in the crudest and most cramped of basements, the oyster houses of nineteenth century New York were base, bustling, and hedonistic.

More importantly, they were great equalizers. Men from all classes descended into these cellars to slurp down oysters until their stomachs quit. Commoners tucked into oyster pie, oyster stew, baked oysters, along side Charles Dickens and other notables of the day. These were humble, egalitarian, vibrant, gregarious places. But, they were not to last. By the late eighteen hundreds, rampant pollution had so damaged New York’s oyster beds that even the most optimistic lover of the shellfish had to concede that New York, as a producer of oysters, was on its way out. In 1927, the last bed closed and with its passing came, too, the passing of New York’s craze with the oyster. History has taken its course and, in the years since New York’s oyster obsession faded away, oysters have followed the trajectory of lobsters–once a common food for everyone, they are now a rarified luxury for the elite. Though once mostly slung in dingy dens of iniquity, today’s oysters are carefully peddled in upscale restaurants.

That the oyster has become an elite delicacy strikes me as a shame. Beside the sheer romanticism of the bawdy oyster houses of old, it seems to me that oysters, of all foods, deserve more mystery and excitement than a fine dining restaurant can elicit. Is there a more amorous food, a food more worthy of adventure, of risk, of a blessedly non-rarified dining environment, than an oyster? I yearned for the Dickensian oyster cellars and so I set out to find out if, after all these years, there were still any vestiges of the sodden oyster houses of old. image

A whirlwind tour of some of New York’s most well known oyster bars–Docks, Pearl, Aquagrill, and The Mermaid–was first on my schedule. I did not expect to find the spirit I was looking for in these establishments, but wanted to see what the current scene had to offer. So, I stopped by the following restaurants one evening to assess their offerings, décor, and atmosphere. Docks Oyster Bar was the epitome of the upper-crust seafood establishment. A wide open dining room, polished bar, and gorgeous wood floor set the scene for middle-management gluttony. The art-deco ceiling overlooked the multi-tiered dining room and a sumptuous raw bar. Oysters were market price. It was lovely in a not-quite-top-tier sense, but an oyster house it was not. Pearl Oyster Bar, a West Village landmark, was bustling when I arrived in the evening, and packed to the gills. The décor was white on white and the seating was cramped. Oysters were market price and delicious. I spotted their famous lobster roll, but did not sample it.

Aquagrill simply stunned with the variety of oysters it sources. The restaurant offers 25-30 types daily and, on its website, it provides a running list of the 200 varieties of oysters that it has served in the past. Prices vary, but are generally between 2 and 3 dollars per oyster. The dining room was dimly lit and warm. The raw bar was massive. The crowd was polished and well-heeled. The Mermaid Oyster Bar glistened, with a pristinely polished bar, white paint and bright, bright lights. The oyster selection was excellent, with there being about fifteen selections, more or less evenly split from each coast. Pricing was in the 2-3 dollar range. There was no sign of Zach Braff, the restaurant’s famous investor, but high quality shellfish was certainly in abundance. All lovely restaurants, but none of them was an oyster house.

The next morning, I stopped by my local seafood store in Queens. Though not a restaurant, this, I felt, might actually be the closest approximation to the original houses: filthy, smelly, wet, and cramped. The proprietor nodded as I entered and strolled around the shop. Fish, squid, and octopus were on ice, cadaverous. I headed over to a platter of crabs. They had been stripped of their shells, laying the pink flesh and neon yellow roe open to the air. The crabs’ insides were alien, full of feelers and flanges and bizarre feathery bits. I grew a little queasy and crossed over to the oysters. There they were: a tray of delicious, craggy bivalves, bursting with the flavor of the open ocean, their hearts still beating, their livers still functioning, their primitive senses still pulsing away. There is something totally animalistic about eating an oyster, but in the best sense. You are subsuming the oyster into yourself, assimilating something that is, yes, still alive, but only just enough that it signifies something fresh and right and adventurous—the open ocean, the musk of the sea, the primal aqueous environment from which we emerged.

To eat an oyster is to enact a kind of symbolism so potent that it has manifested itself physically. There in your hand is a coarse, studded shell cupping a smooth, buttery and briny little sliver of pink flesh. You put it to your lips and suck. I bought one of the oysters and watched as the proprietor shucked it before handing it over. People edged past me, nearly elbowing it out of my hands, but I steadied myself and slurped it down while standing in the seafood-y muck coating the floor. Delicious, but not a New York oyster from a New York oyster house. I knew, however, where I might find one—the Grand Central Oyster Bar, the oldest (nearly) continually operating oyster bar in New York.

Walking into Grand Central Oyster Bar, echoes of the old New York oyster scene were evident despite all efforts to scrub them away. You are very conscious of being deep underground and the lights reflecting off the dramatically arched and tiled ceilings give what I imagine is the appropriate vibe. But this is very much an upscale eatery. The Grand Central Oyster Bar opened in 1913, along with the rest of Grand Central Terminal. It pumped out oysters until 1972, when famous restaurateur Jerome Brody bought Grand Central and transformed it into a world class seafood restaurant. Today, mindful viewers will spot Grand Central Oyster Bar in the opening credits for Saturday Night Live. I spoke to Sandy Ingber, executive chef, partner, and 20 year employee of the restaurant, to ascertain whether there was any trace of the days of yore remaining at the restaurant.

Mr. Ingber was polite, professional, and charming, reeling off stunning figures about how many oysters Grand Central sells in a day–5,000, for your information–and speaking freely about the restaurant’s history. Unfortunately, it was immediately evident that I would not find much of the old spirit left in Grand Central. The restaurant purchases 90% of its oysters directly from farms in the US or Canada. Occasionally, they ship from Mexico. In the summer, they even get oysters from New Zealand. When I asked Mr. Ingber if Grand Central made any effort to pay tribute to or maintain its history or the history of oysters in New York, his answer was a surprised and decided no. Grand Central is a fantastic establishment, to be sure, and a stunning little piece of history, but an oyster house it is not. I left with Sandy’s recommendation for his favorite oysters—wild belon from Maine—and I was off to an establishment I had been told might better fit my criteria for an old school oyster house.

I stepped into Salt Bar on the Lower East Side and instantly felt that I had finally hit upon what I was looking for—thick wood everything. Thick wood bar, thick wood chairs, thick wood tables, and an evocative (if very interior decorator-y) collection of pots and pans hanging on the wall. I could imagine Dickens scrabbling for oysters with the riff raff in there. I sat down and the woman behind the bar greeted me and cheerfully began discussing the establishment. Salt Bar, it seemed, sold $1 Blue Points to entice the neighborhood drinkers. I liked the sound of that, so I ordered an oyster. The shucker carefully prepared my bivalve and slid it across the bar to me on a round, creamy white plate. I took the shell in my hand, squirted lemon liberally over the feisty little creature, and sucked it into my mouth. Fresh. Briny. Tangy. Prepared as simply as possible, and not a white table cloth in sight. There was a very faux dinginess to the joint, but I felt that I had found my approximation. Here was a dark, rambunctious, unpretentious pub squeezed into a side street on lower Manhattan that shucked oysters by the boatload and sold them cheaply. I smiled. An oyster house in New York, or as close an approximation as I was going to find.

New York has always burned its historical bridges and the oyster houses of old are no exception. The past rolls over, the future goes on, and New York pulls itself a bit further from the sea that birthed it. Luckily, there are still facsimiles to be found and, sitting there in the dimly lit Salt Bar, still savoring an oyster that had cost me less than a subway ride, I felt that I had come close. One can eat great oysters in New York and one can eat them cheaply, with gusto and without pretension. I recommend that you do so.

Industry Insiders: Kimberly Burns, Literary Maven

Sometimes the person who handles the publicity gets to be as noteworthy as the clients she peddles to the public. Enter Kimberly Burns, literary publicist extraordinaire. Mention her name at any literary event or in the hallway of any publishing house and writers cower behind their spectacles — they know getting her to hype their book could land them a coveted spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. In an era when hard copy has evaporated into thin air and settled onto the digital screen like thick condensation, rest assured Burns will make sure that the written word stays in your face.

(‘DiggThis’)How do you go about making a piece of literature something the world wants to know about? I don’t, the authors do, so my job is easy. I’m in the extremely lucky position that I only work with really good writers. They write a good book and all I have to do is call people who I think would be interested and tell them about it. What an easy gig. How’d you get into it? During grad school I was working in a bookstore at night and I realized, “Wow, I enjoy working in the bookstore more than I do anything else.” I starting running an author series at a bookstore in San Francisco. I moved to LA and started to work in film production, which paid a lot of money, but it felt like my brain was turning to mush. So, I called a friend at Knopf’s West Coast office and asked for a job. I loved doing book publicity so I moved to New York to work at Random House. I was a publicist at Random House, Pantheon and the Penguin Press before I set up my own shop in 2003. Who were some of the most exciting authors you represented when you worked at Random House? This is going back a few but Zadie Smith for her book White Teeth because she was at the beginning of a career and you knew it was going to be big. Adam Gopnik for Paris to the Moon, which is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. He is such a maverick writer and that was his first book. Another one was Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald who was with a smaller publisher before going to Random House. This was going to be his big book and it was, then he died in a car crash two months after it came out, so I feel incredibly lucky to have known him and to have helped turn readers on to his books. What about independently? I work for the PEN American Center, which supports writers and is the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization. They are vigorous in their support of freedom of speech and just genuinely awesome people. I help them with their annual World Voices Festival, which brings 160 writers from around the world to New York, so it’s a great opportunity to see how the world thinks. I worked with Salman Rushdie on his last novel, The Enchantress of Florence. A.M Homes wrote a memoir about being adopted called the The Mistress’s DaughterHardball by Sara Paretsky. How do new writers make it today? It is a very difficult time. I know I sound old school saying this but I think the bookstores and the booksellers really matter. They’re on the frontlines. You go into a bookstore and ask what you should read and the independent booksellers will find you something you love that might actually change your life. I also think word of mouth. That’s what happened with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. It got a great front-page review by Jennifer Egan in the New York Times Book Review and everybody in the industry and all the literary people were excited, but my understanding is that when women started recommending it to their friends is when it really took off. And then of course, Oprah didn’t hurt. Any big projects coming up? I’m working on a debut novel that will come out in June called The More I Owe You which is about Elizabeth Bishop’s years in Brazil. She went to Brazil for a two-week vacation, fell in love with a woman and ended up staying 17 years. The story is amazing and the writer just writes beautifully. I’m also working on New Yorker writer Marisa Silver’s new collection of short stories. The Story Prize, which celebrates the year’s best collection of short stories, is an upcoming event I’m doing the PR for. The PEN World Voices Festival again this year. And, get this, I just signed on with Natalie Merchant – her new album is free domain poetry she’s set to music. It’s her first album in seven years and the music PR people will take care of her but I’m going to try to help get attention in literary circles. Books that annoy you? What really bums me out is stuff like Sarah Palin’s book. A huge seller like that could have created the opportunity to draw people into bookstores, where they’d hopefully find other books actually worth reading, but then Amazon and Wal-Mart discount it so severely. Why would you go into a bookstore to get it? The other thing that bothers me is that it’s a product. She didn’t even write it. I bet she hasn’t even read it. It’s all that kind of bullshit publishing that really bums me out, makes a lot of noise, and takes attention that could go to read books. I’m also beyond bored with all the talk about E-readers. It’s just another format to read something in. What is inside the books or what is downloaded onto an E reader — that is the important thing to me. In the end I think all people really want is a good story that’s well told. Go-to places in New York? Sant Ambroeus or Soba-Ya for lunch. John the maitre d’ at Babbo is a big reader so I love it there. Commerce and Pearl Oyster Bar and I love Giorgione in SoHo.

Photo: Richard Koek

Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, & a Reporter Have Issues

In Freudian terms, Michael Ian Black is the id to Michael Showalter’s super-ego. The longtime collaborators and dude-buddies-with-issues have worked together on comedic enterprises such as The State and Stella. They’ve got a new gig for Comedy Central, a meta-show-within-a-show called Michael and Michael Have Issues. Not at all a misnomer, however. Because, after talking with them, it was pretty evident that, yes: issues are one thing — among plenty of others — the two Michaels have going for them.

You have seven episodes and hopefully Comedy Central will pick up more, right? Michael Ian Black: Yeah, exactly right.

And this sort of grew out of another show you worked on together for Comedy Central. Is it super annoying when you do a pilot or work for some series and they don’t pick it up? Michael Showalter: Of course.

How do you deal with the frustration? MS: I hit people. I have very serious rage issues.

What are you guys’ fights like in real life? Is it like yelling or more like angry silences? MIB: They’re very rhetorical. It’s like debate society, a Socratic dialogue.

That’s very dignified. MS: It’s not that dignified. We are trying very hard not to lose our tempers.

Have either of you actually made inappropriate calls to TV execs in real life? MS: We just did. All the time — alllll the time.

What’s it about usually? MIB: Anything. It could be about marketing, ratings. It doesn’t have to be about our show; it could be about other people’s shows: “How could you put that fucking show on air instead of our show?”

So, you guys have been doing all this press for the show? How has it gone? MS: People are generally pretty respectful and make sense. They’re journalists. [Ed. Ha.]

You guys have done everything from books to TV to sketch comedy to stand-up between the two of you. Have you ever thought of having your own consulting firm? MIB: That would literally be the weirdest question we’ve ever been asked.

I just think you must have the breadth of knowledge between you, consulting people make a lot of money, and there are tons of artists trying to break into what you’re doing. MS: I do have an international consultancy firm which deals primarily with conservative politics in various countries. I specialize in Latin American but I do a lot of European consulting, some African, and we’re just now breaking into the Asian market.

Really? What do they ask you about? MS: It depends on the region but a lot of it is about framing — the way you shape the debate — and that doesn’t change from country to country. If you control the debate you can control the message. My firm, “Poopy Pants Consultancy,” does training. You don’t get me cheap. We charge a lot of money. Our slogan is “We charge a shit load, and we’re worth it”.

Do you shy away from the corrupt politicians in Africa? MS: We embrace it. Corruption is universal. At least in Africa it’s overt. In our country it’s covert.

When you go over there do they give you a big welcome? MS: They usually give me a palace; that’s what I ask for. I have palaces all over. The upkeep is a bitch, which why I have a TV show — to pay for that.

What are your favorite bars and restaurants in New York or L.A.? MS: I don’t really drink and Michael doesn’t really drink … but Michael’s favorite restaurant, I am going to guess, is Pearl. MIB: No, but good guess. My favorite restaurant is Noodle Pudding. It’s in Brooklyn Heights on Henry Street. It’s very, very authentic northern Italian food. MS: That sounds delicious. MIB: It’s amazing. They make their own pasta. They have a lot of fresh fish. I go there as much as I can. They have a very large specials menu every day. It changes constantly.

Michael Showalter, do you have any favorite restaurants in either New York or L.A.? MS: Well, my favorite restaurant is a total guilty pleasure. It’s comfort food. It’s Mary Ann’s on 16th Street on 8th avenue. It’s totally cheap, not authentic, not necessarily even good. And I love it; I love everything about it — except the service, which is generally slow. But they have really good salsa. There is another one on 2nd Avenue and I’ve been going there since I was about 18. It’s a little bit of home. It’s where I go when I need to unwind.

Is comedy related to or like therapy? MIB: It can be. But it seems to make some comedians in need more therapy.

Who do you think would win in a fight, a black bear or a silverback gorilla? MS: Where are they fighting? If they’re fighting in a forest then I might give it to the gorilla. I think the gorilla would have the advantage to go vertical a little more easily than the bear.

What about if it’s more of a clearing? It’s more about pure strength and agility. MS: I think the bear might win.

Have you ever seen a cockfight? MS: I haven’t. Have you, Michael? MIB: I haven’t.

When is the last time either of you felt really, really uncomfortable? MS: Can I say now? Once we got into “Who would win? Bear or gorilla,” I got a little uncomfortable.

Do you still get really excited when you see your show on TV? MIB: Yeah. I freak out.

So it never gets old? MIB: Well, I have epilepsy. I think it has more to do with just having epilepsy.

So I guess you can’t watch TV alone? MIB: I need to have a buddy with me and a wallet with a big spoon under my throat.

Like a tongue depressor? MIB: Yeah, I usually use a wallet.

Do you guys have preparation or rituals before you act, or to help you get into the characters that you’re playing? MS: I have a little make-up compact that I just look at to remind myself what I look like.

Ever since Michael Jackson passed away, I’ve been worried about other celebs overdosing on prescriptions. So I just wanted to know and double-check what kind of medications you guys are on. MS: I am on the same anesthetic that Michael Jackson was on. But I think I have a better anesthesiologist so I’m not worried about it hurting me.

Why do you need hospital-grade anesthesia? Just to sleep? MS: I didn’t say I needed it.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Favorite NYC Spots, Done Right

As if winning an Oscar and having an Apple wasn’t enough, Gwyneth Paltrow is trying to steal our thunder by listing her favorite New York restaurants in her latest GOOP newsletter. That’s what we do, Gwyneth! How would you like it if we started doing yoga? When she did it for L.A., we let it slide as a mid-life crisis/nervous breakdown, but now she strikes again. Problem is, she’s not very good at it. After the jump, a list of Gwyneth’s favorite NYC restaurants, followed by her vague reasons why. Luckily, you can click on each restaurant to find out what it’s really about.

Babbo – “One of the city’s best.” ● Cookshop – “It is abuzz with foodies who come to taste the ever-changing menu.” ● Balthazar – “I love this place.” ● Gramercy Tavern – “One of New York’s most popular restaurants for a reason.” ● HanGawi – “HanGawi is a vegetarian Korean place that I have been going to for years.” ● Kelley and Ping SoHo – “Another SoHo spot that has been there for ages.” ● Lupa – “I love to go for spaghetti aglio e olio.” ● Omen – “Omen has been there since long before SoHo was trendy.” ● Sushi Yasuda – “Best sushi in NYC, hands down.” ● Tartine – “A very quaint, tiny French café on a perfect West Village corner.” ● Market Table – “I just recently discovered Market Table and I adore it.” ● BLT Fish Shack – “This is one of my most frequented spots.” ● 15 East – “One of my faves.” ● Pearl Oyster Bar – “Oh, how I love Pearl Oyster Bar.” ● Angelica Kitchen – “East Village granola heaven.” ● Momofuku Ssam and Noodle Bar – “These places became two of NYC’s hottest spots in a very short time. ” ● Aquagrill – “One of my regular spots.” ● Otto – ” A great place to bring kids.”