Our McDougal Street group of friends has in the past few years cultivated quite a nice array of rituals and traditions that we adhere to. Rituals that have enriched all our lives, rituals such as our regular dinner parties which have never had any specific name or theme to them. Well yes a theme in that they are All pretty much Italian Meals (99%) and we always play lots of great music. It’s just that they were never labeled anything more than dinner parties, so we have these, then we started Mojito Mondays, and now the latest one that I’m about to tell you about. So, the main theme though is that we share times at the table, this is always behind our regular dinner parties, Mojito Mondays or other. That’s what it’s all about, spending time at the table with friends and family, eating, drinking wine, and chatting as we listen to great music (No Rap, Techno, or Metal are allowed, “Never!”). These get-togethers bring great joy to all of us, making living in a city as fast paced and sometimes un-homey as New York, that much more pleasant and livable, giving us all a better sense of family and togetherness. We all have own particular circles of friends. For some reason or another some of our closest friends have never, or rarely been to any of our meals and gatherings. Such has been the case of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Mr. Raoul Marti. Raoul has been to a few of our gatherings, but not nearly as much as we’d like him to be, and for the fact of being one of my closest and long term friend. He’s a great pal who’s always there no matter what. We all love him, Jimmy, Tanya, and I, so when Jimmy ran into him a few weeks ago they talked about getting together for dinner one night. Jimmy said, “Let’s do it!” Raoul says, “Let’s get Danny to cook, that Boy can Cook his Ass off. I’ll buy the Steaks and we’ll let Danny cook.” So it was set. We decided on the following Monday night, and Steak Night was on its way. We went to Ottomanelli’s and picked up some fine Prime Aged Sirloin Steaks , New York Cut, 2 inches thick. I picked up some potatoes and some good old Iceberg Lettuce and cucumbers for salad which we had as a starter with fresh roast red peppers dressed in olive oil and one of Mr. Marti’s favorites, Assiago Cheese. I started the sautéed potatoes first, just the way Raoul likes them, ever since we had them for lunch one day when we were in Paris with one of Raoul’s ex-girlfriends who was in Paris with some other friends working in the fashion industry during the Paris Spring Prete de Porte Shows. The girls were all working during the day, so Raoul and I went to a great little Bistro that our friend John Lee recom-mended to me a few years back, “La Palette” on Rue d’ Seine in Saint Germain de Pres. It’s a great little Bistro. We walked in there one day, and the place was packed. The owner, Jean Marie, has a reputation for be a little bit of a Hard-Ass. If he doesn’t like you, simply because he doesn’t like you, it’s not good. So I was a bit worried as to whether we’d meet Jean Marie’s approval or not. We walked in and he greeted us and telling us to wait at the bar and he’d have a table for us in a few minutes. “So-far-so-good.” La Palette is a real neighborhood place. Not a tourist in sight. Other than us that is, but hey, we’re not tourist, we’re Hip New Yorkers. Ha-Ha! It was lunchtime and the restaurant was full of businessmen, secretaries, hop girls, and elderly neighborhood l adies lunching solo or with a friend. The place was full of energy. It had a great Vibe and we were excited, and eager for a nice lunch. La Palette is your quintessential Parisian Bistro. It has a warm delightful feeling, as any good bistro should. It’s furnishing and décor fit the part. You know what I mean? The food is simple, delicious, and affordable. The waiters are dressed in the trad-itional Parisian Bistro Waiters Garb of; black pants with white shirts, Black Vest ( pockets filled with Pens and Corkscrew) Black Bowties, and long flow-ing white aprons, as is the proprietor Jean Marie, he dresses just like the waiters who work for him. So we sit down and look at the menu. I’m excited to see that they are serving one of my favorites that day, Pomme Daphinoise. I explain what they are to Raoul and he’s hopped-up to try them as well. We both order a couple steaks with Pomme Dauphinoise and when Raoul orders a ham and cheese sandwich as an appetizer Jean Marie looks at him sort of funny, but doesn’t say anything. He tells us that they have run out of Pomme Daupinoise, but they have Pomme Saute. We settle for them instead. Lunch was great! Our Steaks and the sautéed Potatoes were wonderful. One of the best Steak Dinners of ever had. Superb! When we finished eating, Raoul asked Jean Marie if we could smoke the Cuban Cigars that we had bought. “But of course,” beamed Jean Marie. We ordered a couple Cognacs, sparked-up the Cuban Cigars, and we were in Seventh Heaven; in Paris, at a great bistro, with tasty food, a cool vibe, and finishing up with some fine Cognac and a couple of Cuban Cohibas, and being accepted by Jean Marie. Now this was one fine day. We had a great time and were accepted by Jean Marie, so when it was time for lunch the next day and I asked Mr. Marti where he wanted to go for lunch, Raoul was quick to reply, “let’s go to La Palette.” I said surprisingly, “You want to eat there again?” “Why not? It was great,” Raoul retorted. And indeed it was. Raoul is smart enough to know that you stick with a winner, and La Palette is just that. When we walked into La Palette again that day, and it was packed as usual, Jean Marie beamed and said, “Hello my friends, I’ll have a table for you in a few minutes.” It’s good to feel accepted and wanted. Jean Marie gave us the same great corner table we had the day before. So Raoul and I sat down for another memorable meal, a lunch at La Paltette on the Rue de Seine in the Great City of Light, Paris, France, Voila! “We had it made in the shade. Made in La Palette that is,” and all was fine in the World. Well, Paris anyway!
Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta, telling his Wife How to Cook the Steak.
See how you can bring up one subject and go on a tangent about it? I was talking about STEAK NIGHT and go off about Paris and La Palette. “Hey it’s a great little story, that is pertinent to this one about Steak Night.” So, let’s get back to our latest, greatest new tradition, “Steak Night.” It’s pretty simple and straight forward after I spent the time on Pomme Saute (sautéed potatoes). Here’s how it goes. We picked up some great Steaks from Ottomanelli’s. I make tasty sautéed potatoes, just the way my buddy Raoul likes them, as do I, along with Jim- my, and Tanya as well. Let us not forget my cousin Tony Bellino who once asked me, “How the Hell do you make the potatoes taste so good?” “Top Secret Tony.” Tony was once a little hurt and deflated one time when he asked his wife Debbie who is real Steak Lovers if she wanted him to cook a steak for her one night? Debbie said, “No thanks. Danny is coming over tomorrow, I’ll let him cook one.” Meaning, not that she doesn’t want Tony to go through all the trouble, but that she likes the way I cook a steak better than her husband Tony. “Sorry Tony, but Facts are Facts” Just kidding. In all fairness to my cousin Tony, he is actually an excellent cook. Of course he is. His mother, Fran Bellino was one of this country’s great Italian American Home-Cooks, and Tony’s Dad and Fran’s husband, Uncle Tony is as we’ve already mentioned, quite the good cook as well. But when it comes to Steaks, I cook one of the best, better than some famed Steak Houses. “No brag, just fact.” So there was a new tradition we started. We call it “Steak Night.” The participants will usually be myself and Raoul, Jimmy and Tanya will always be there, and we’ll invite one or two other guests, as well as any lady friends any of us happen to be seeing at the time sometimes. We get together with this close-knit group of friends, cook up some tasty Steaks, Potatoes, a Salad, and maybe some roast peppers and cheese. We listen to some good music, drink wine, relax, and chat about this and that, and we have the best time imaginable. It’s what we do, great times with friends and family around the table.
EXCERPTED From La TAVOLA by Daniel Bellino Zwicke