coming from leagues around to eat the crazy stuffed dosas at the new Hampton
Chutney Co. location, in Eastern Soho.
this stuff that sounds unlikely, and even–depending on your subconscious
equipment–nasty. According to the information printed at the top of the
Hampton Chutney menu: "DOSA: Light, crispy, sour-dough crepe made from
rice." Rice batter’s a turnoff for me. The sight of it stimulates
deep within me an amorphous distaste, a mild revulsion. Batter’s supposed
to be smooth, a supple compound of flour, sifted confectioner’s sugar and
so on, whipped into consistency by my mommy’s whisk, softened with milk
and eggs, while the kitchen radio whispers Brahms on a snug Christmasy day sometime
back during Mr. Ford’s administration. But when you think of rice batter,
you think light-brown and runny, and textured with bits, morsels, nuggets, specks,
niblets and chunks. You’re confronted with motifs straight out of some
moist, psychically buried infant anal-expulsive episode, one of those secret
repressed filthy memories on which, for all you know, a significant percentage
of your personality’s been constructed, and that will slush about in the
bilge of your mental apparatus, all putrid and evil, most likely until the day,
my friend, on which you drop dead.
the crepes that those girls cook from that rice batter down at Hampton Chutney,
and wrap around a variety of fillings, are some of the best culinary things
that have happened to that part of the city in a white–in my estimation,
since the Balthazar Bakery opened and the nice kids who work there started selling
those great fruit focaccias to me and all those leather-jacketed European sharpies
who stay at the Soho Grand, I guess. (Or else who just materialize, by some
occult process of generation, from pools of motor oil on Crosby St. And a question:
Is it me, or does the Balthazar Bakery go out of its way to hire black and Hispanic
kids? It’s hard to be sure, and I don’t really care enough to try
to find out. But if they did, it would seem to be a good thing, and I’d
like Balthazar even more than I already do.)
So what happens
is that they make a big crepe–a golden brown, crispy-chewy, sweet entity
that bears about it no trace of what I persist in imagining was its thin, ricey,
bilgewater nascency. Next they slop one of a number of fillings on it. For example:
straight-up masala, which is that mellow spicy-curried potato-salad sort of
stuff that’s impossible to hate; or roasted tomato, arugula and jack cheese;
or grilled portabellos, spinach and balsamic roasted onions; or curry chutney
chicken (whatever that is, but it sounds good), spinach and those same roasted
onions; or tuna with cilantro chutney dressing, avocado, arugula and tomatoes.
Then they wrap
the thing, but without pinching the ends joint- and burrito-style. The result
is a loose, appealingly shambolic-looking open-ended wrap, which is served to
you on a run-of-the-mill plastic tray lined with a piece of wax paper. The girl
hands it to you from behind the counter, you collect plastic knives and forks
and napkins and Poland Spring water and go sit on a stool in order to address
yourself to it.
The first time
you eat here’s kind of embarrassing, because the thing’s so big–maybe
the length of your arm, this dosa wrap, and as wide as my outstretched hand.
It flops over the edges of your school-lunch tray. People stare at it, and it
becomes a sort of conversation piece for the smartly dressed downtowners who
stand in line waiting to patronize, for the first time, this new establishment.
you for the comment, ma’am, under a variety of other circumstances, but
now I just scurried away in shame–I wouldn’t want anyone to think
that I ate a lot or anything. (It’s downtown Manhattan, after all, and
a girl has her pride.) But, in fact, these dishes go down easily. Dosa contains
no fat: it’s all light as a feather. Which means that you can eat these
inexpensive wraps all the time, every day. Which in turn means that the Soho/Little
Italy neighborhood (Hampton Chutney is located right next door to Savoy) now
contains yet another good, inexpensive eatery, to complement Rice and replace
Pepe Rosso, which became insufferable and crowded and arrogant years ago, and
is now absolutely impossible.
Chutney ambience: beach town transplanted to Crosby St. Preppie lacrosse kids
in baseball caps spending their summers handing you dosas in a wholesome environment
of clean light and blond wood.
Chutney Co., 68 Prince St. (betw. Crosby & Lafayette Sts.), 226-9996.
One sweet soft
evening this spring I’ll float right down to Reade St.–that westernmost
block where the bar throws red neon over rain-fragrant cobbles, and the chimneys
atop the warehouses are daffy and bent and cockeyed–and locate that Luca
Lounge waitress and give those big plump smiling rosy cheeks of hers a June-drunk
And get my
ass tossed, bodily, right out of the place, too, but that’s fine. Somersaulting
skyward out of the busboys’ arms, up through gravity and mesosphere and
ether, laughing–I’ll arc up over merry Tribeca rooftops and the glittering
nighttime river. The Washington Bridge will greet me with beacon-light twinkles.
Barge-whistles will moan merry greetings. Against the huge indigo world below
me the billion diamond lights of Manhattan, Jersey City, Hoboken, Staten Island,
Weehawken and Brooklyn will shine.
And all because
I’ve squeezed that waitress’ lovely cheeks.
The plump smiling
cheeks of this charming waitress at Tribeca’s Luca Lounge expressed the
explosive regenerative power of the dawning spring. And she remained charming–this
was an achievement–even while stiff-arming my dinner companions, who requested
of her an ashtray under the erroneous supposition that they could get away with
smoking à table, here in this big dead-empty restaurant, which
contained no other patrons, on Reade St., across the street from the sleepy
bar on this empty night.
I mean this
place was empty. This was weird for a Wednesday night in Tribeca. Nor,
at 7 p.m., was it that early. We spread out, easing back, kicking our
legs out–the three of us–at a table at the room’s far western
end. We had the run of the place. The space here is singular–the room’s
L-shaped. You walk in off the street, and find that you can either walk straight
down one of the L’s axes, or else make a left into the other. A long (and
under that night’s empty circumstances, lonely) bar runs perpendicular
to the street–that is, runs along the eastern wall of the right axis (locate
your compasses, consult your charts).
front facade consists of large plates of glass, in classic Mid-90s International
Lounge-Style, so you can look out on the melancholy old stage-set 19th-century
shipping-industry street. We huddled back in our little corner of the world,
peering through great expanses of dusk at beacons in the distance: the glow
of a wood-fired oven across the room, for example. A mysteriously serious figure
in chef’s whites worked it; worked at something behind the counter that
we could not see. He was a weird waxwork chef; he might have been devising anything
back there (although it was probably just a pizza). Around us in the dusk, votives
flickered from tabletops. Sometimes our nice waitress would materialize out
of the gloom, and I’d feel like clinging to her arm, just to feel her human
closeness, with that same deep scared yearning with which you want to cling
to another human being when you encounter one in a dark and lonely cityscape
when the rest of the world’s gone indoors.
is an exciting account of the food that we ate:
1. A pizza
margherita, cooked in the wood-burning stove over across the way, which you
might have noticed was mentioned previously in this present example of food
writing. I dislike eating pizza in New York: can’t generally tolerate the
soft flabby crusts and the overwhelming agglutinations of cheese that render
me dyspeptic; can’t deal with the peeling, fucked linoleum in the plywood-doored
bathrooms, can’t deal with the guys who work the counter, who are never
Italians but rather guys of other ethnicities–Croats, Poles, Finns, Letts,
whatever–acting stereotypically Italian, which seems, libelously, to involve
a neat grafting of machismo to grime. I tend to reserve my pizza-eating for
Spartina, or the great pizza restaurants of New Haven, and then to hell with
But the point
is that this was one exceptional and first-rate pizza margarita, yes indeed–man,
was it ever something special. A pizza margarita is a straight-up pizza, just
the sauce and the cheese, but this one was possessed of that crispy-chewy wood-oven
thin-crust chewiness that warms the hearts of pizza enthusiasts the planet over.
Wow, that was a good pizza. Really. Whoa. Take my word for it.
What needs to be said about this bruschetta is that it actually worked, which
is to say that the bread maintained its integrity: it wasn’t a miserable
little disc that busted into pieces as soon as you bit into it. The cooked bread
was olive oily, moist and chewy–your mouth could groove with it, could
establish a rhythm, a cadence, a meter. All in all, this was a most satisfying
dish and I recommend it to those patrons who honor this establishment with their
custom. Yes, that sure was some discerning bruschetta. Man oh man.
parmesan. It seemed to me there was too thick a layer of white cheese atop the
cutlet. It reminded me of that dried gummy paint layer that forms along the
bottom of the ass-side of an old paint-can lid you find in your basement.
4. Some sort
of salad or something, which both of my companions ordered. The salads were
served in oversized bowls. They seemed to have been enjoyed, but I didn’t
inspect their particulars.
doesn’t take credit cards. Nor, as I said, does it seem to contain human
beings. Right about when we were about to leave, two women showed up and were
seated–were seated wherever they wanted to be seated. Because we’re
talking empty. Void. Vacuum. Zero. Zip. And I think the reason for the
emptiness is that the place vibes in several ways that don’t mesh together–what
you have here is a restaurant suspended between a couple of identities. For
example, there’s the cavernous woodiness of the place, which evokes the
rathskeller at the State U., as if you’re about to settle in for bagel
dogs, Cokes and fries in the presence of aggies. But then there’s the glowing
wood oven, which signifies Flatiron ca. 1995. While the unopened bottles of
San Pellegrino on each table might be any smart Mediterranean place–Roc
right up the street, or Arqua. And also it’s called a "lounge,"
which of course evokes the dotcom era’s plush sofas, stupefying coke-binges
and morally reprehensible flavored martinis and footwear, and–I don’t
know, it’s all just a little hard to figure out, your cerebrum’s forced
to work too hard to massage the data you’re receiving into some coherent
form that will allow you to feel at home with it, to settle into it, to live
with it, see?
think the fact that Luca Lounge is tucked off onto quiet Reade St. has anything
to do with it. A lot of thriving Tribeca restaurants are hard to find. I still
have trouble finding Walker’s. I’m always one block to the east of
it, it seems.
134 Reade St. (betw. Hudson & Greenwich Sts.), 226-8928.