Thursday, May 28, 2015


We are now closing in on finishing our list of all the Little Wisco restaurants and this time it wasn't only the food and ambiance but one invited guest and a surprise encounter that made lunch totally memorable. I'll get to the food and ambiance later but first to the surprises. We have been having a real streak of both planned and unexpected encounters with our past during this last week in New York City. It was design week and the design intercessors were out in full force making novenas and sending out karmic messages to a host of lost friends. We slid into old friendships the way you'd pull on a favorite well-worn sweater, with total comfort and ease.
Elana Frankel was one of the first in the publishing industry to champion our furniture and design work. With all the social media out there we cast out our line and hauled her in. We're realizing Facebook does have certain potential. We first met Elana when she was in her twenties and today she still looks like she's in her twenties. This was no surprise. She hadn't gained a single wrinkle or lost a bubble of her effervescent personality during our hiatus. She is currently the senior director of photography and style at One Kings Lane and rules over a company that has grown to over five hundred employees. Adding to this managerial feat is an additional list of accomplishments and credentials that include raising two boys under the age of ten, dealing with a husband too gorgeous to live, making a home fashioned out of an old Methodist church and collecting eggs from a henhouse full of chickens. I may be too tired to go on.
We coaxed her out of her work routine and into meeting us for lunch at Bar Sardine, the fourth jewel in our Little Wisco necklace. The Bar along with several of its sister restaurants sits in the Village on the picturesque corner of West Tenth and West Fourth Streets. It was a warm Friday after a not so warm Thursday. A counter runs along the outside walls of the restaurant with huge windows looking on to the street. The bar management had unlatched the windows allowing the big glass panes to swing completely open and a light spring breeze to blow in the perfect day. The three of us fell into one of those patterns reserved for friendships that are not run by the clock. We took the first ten minutes to catch up on old times and friends we were convinced had aged way more than we had and then spent the ensuing two hours gabbing and gasping about everything new between grabbed bites of what was a pretty spectacular meal.
The waitress, a beautiful brunette with the right amount of Euro sophistication sans any pretensions, had to come several times to take our drink order before we were able to focus on anything more than each other's company. We finally put the decision in her hands and had her concoct something fizzy and refreshing that would taste like spring. She succeeded to the point we all had more than one, a blend of pineapple juice, ginger beer and finished with a squeeze of lime.
After we settled down to the point where we could look at the menu we decided the best course of action was to share several different dishes, our own little Wisco tasting. We were all hoping for sardines but they hadn't made it to the menu. There's a restaurant in Madison that goes by a similar name although they dropped the "Bar" from their name and simple settled on Sardine. Emmy, Rick and I had gone there the week before for Rick's birthday and the same fate befell us. They had been known for their fried sardines but we couldn't find it on the menu. Apparently there's a shortage of sardines due to a collapse of the sardine population off the U.S. west coast. All sardine fishing for the 2015 season has been suspended. So no sardines at either place.
Instead we went for a variety of snacks and small plates. We were not disappointed. The first thing our Irish waitress brought to the table was a plate of octopus hushpuppies served with a mustard cream dipping sauce and a wedge of lemon. The only problem with this was there were three of us and they brought four balls of deep fried ecstasy. They're impossible to cut apart. Rick and I showed our chivalry and let the lady have the extra puppy.
Next on our tasting journey was a salad of mushrooms, spicy greens, and pecorino topped with a slow-cooked egg. The waitress brought it to our counter at the perfect time while the egg was still warm. When you broke the yoke it very slowly oozed out perfectly coating the mushrooms and greens adding just the right amount of warmth to the spring inspired salad.
At about this time a bearded man wearing a rackish hat stopped by making sure we were enjoying our meal. He introduced himself as Gabriel. He was the surprise.  Gabriel Stulman is the owner and creator of all the Little Wisco restaurants. This led to the discussion of our quest to hit them all and how we have loved every one so far. When we hit our first three Wisco restaurants we were met with the same refrain, "You just missed Gabriel, he was here five minutes ago". This time we caught him.
Our last plate was a local burrata served with a walnut pesto and sorrel on grilled bread points. Burrata is a tough cheese to get just right. If it's not brought out young enough it can have a skin that is too thick. This burrata was perfect.
Elana and I had no pride or qualms about ordering a dessert. We both went right for it while the svelte Mr. Rick held back. I can't pass up a sweet and apparently neither can Elana. We wouldn't even share. We each got our chocolate pot-de-crème topped with whipped cream and an aerated caramel sponge candy that tasted like toasted marshmallow. A little secret; it's not on the menu you have to ask.
We all had meetings to go to or I think we might have stayed right through dinner. The corner seats at the counter looking out onto West Tenth Street, the perfect food and drink, and most importantly reconnecting with Elana were difficult to part with, but this parting was clearly only temporary on all accounts.

It's as if we have a divining rod when it comes to real estate. We can't attribute our luck in home location to any kind of planned research. We just seem to have a nose for were to plant our roots and water our family's time on this planet. AARP has a newsletter. We received our first copy this month. Why after years of eligibility they should finally find us out I'm not sure. The lead story was, "Where to Live @50+". It peaked my curiosity. I'm always interested in these best of best articles.
I turned to the page with the heading, "Best Livable Places at 50+". They'd broken it down into sections: large cities, medium cities, small cities and neighborhoods. I started at the top and worked my way down. It was great to see Milwaukee with a number four ranking in large cities. They were all done in top tens.
It was even better when I saw Madison as number one in medium cities, 100,000 to 500,000 populations. I started to think it was a regional pot they were pulling from but then I saw places in New Mexico and California. Wisconsin started looking pretty good. I decided either they hadn't know about Scott Walker or politics weren't a part of the equation.
Small towns started off with La Crosse but then Fitchburg was second and Sun Prairie was fourth, these two Madison suburbs made the list and caused me a WTF reaction.
But it was the last category; Best Neighborhood that made me wet my pants. The number one neighborhood: Mifflin West in Madison, Wisconsin and number two: The Upper West Side in Manhattan. Where do we live: close enough to Mifflin (it is where we had our store) to claim it as our own and where is our little one-bedroom: on the Upper West Side of Manhattan of course. We didn't write this article. We don't have a working relationship with the AARP editorial staff. We're just that lucky.

Copper Shark in the Red Eye Bait Ball
Alexander Safonov, photographer

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