Tonight is the sort of evening that reminds me why New York isn't always wretched in the summer. Most of the weeks between June and August are spent in a perpetual sweat, the air hot and sticky, the city smelling ripe and crowded. Every place that might be verdant and cool and breezy (Central Park, the Hudson River piers, ferries, the Frying Pan bar on a docked boat in Chelsea) is overrun with people, people, people! It's no wonder that everyone decamps to the beach the moment they can catch an LIRR train out. Come Friday afternoon, it feels like the entire population of the city is crammed into vinyl seats on the eastbound trains, drinking beers and checking their phones, until the crowd thins as everyone gets off at Southampton, East Hampton, Montauk...and so on.
But tonight...tonight the warm evening air felt lush and soft on my skin, rather than oppressive. I wore a crisp white jumpsuit (this gorgeous one from Club Monaco and it is a dream: so chic but so comfy, and doesn't wrinkle!) and high espadrilles with a striped navy ankle tie and bright red lipstick (this one in Sangria is good for when you have a touch of a tan) and spritzed my hair with a coconut-y sea spray. I met friends at the Bar Room at the Modern, which is the more casual half of the restaurant attached to the MoMA. This is the sort of restaurant that will make you feel like you're in exactly the right place: sleek and sexy but bright and buzzy and comfortable all at the same time. The room is filled with noise but not loud. The bar is gorgeous, and everything is pretty: stemware and blue slate plates and tiny copper pots of sauce that the waiters carry to your table to drizzle delicious smelling things like lovage sabayons and black truffle vinaigrettes over the plates of food.
You can go to the fancier side and have a tasting menu, or sit on the bar room side and share small plates (or have a full meal, too) along with some seriously excellent cocktails like the "No Soup For You" made with shochu, lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger, cachaca, and coconut milk, or the "Hungry Eyes" with avocado orgeat, aquavit, carrot juice, and lime.
Tonight I had a glass of sparkling wine (blanc de blancs) and we shared four perfect plates of food: half of a charred avocado sitting atop a salad of chilled peekytoe crab with dollops of something bright green that tasted like the world's fanciest, most decadent mayonnaise. A salad of thin pieces of smoked salmon slipped into a tangle of raw, thinly shaved fennel. A bowl of gnocchi, bright pea green, in a pea puree with pea tendrils and fried garlic slices. Another salad that sounds boring but sort of blew my mind: a base of creamy quinoa topped with spring lettuces, a buttermilk dressing, and crisped quinoa showered over the top.
Walking out of the restaurant, I passed the back garden of the MoMA which is separated from the restaurant by a wall of glass. There was a huge outdoor party in full swing; everyone was dressed up, sipping cocktails and nibbling appetizers, and it all looked hugely fun. Onto the street to hail a cab, and I looked up as the sun was coming down between the buildings of midtown, soaking the entire city in evening light and bathing everything in a soft glow.
I felt glad to be right there, right then. And glad to come home and shower off my shimmery eyeshadow and Tory Burch summer perfume and slip on a faded t-shirt and pair of striped cotton pajama pants. And glad to eat a handful of excellent granola from Tandem Bakery that I'd been hoarding from my trip to Portland, Maine last week. And glad to be getting in bed with an NYT crossword to work on to slowly quiet my head as my eyelids get heavy within just a few clues.
And sometimes that's enough. Being glad. Being tired. Being well-fed and a bit sunburned and tucked under crisp cotton sheets.
Some fancier restaurants (and even un-fancy ones!) suffer from the too-precious syndrome of food, wherein you can eat an entire meal or share a few plates, and still feel like you need to come home and eat a slice of cold cake straight from the freezer, or worse, an entire dinner since you mostly just had a few tiny yet perfectly composed bites of food. Luckily, this is not one of those restaurants, but sometimes you need a slice of cold cake regardless. Which is why I always try and keep cake (or brownies or cookies or YOU GET THE IDEA) in the freezer.
Case in point: one of us in our household (not pointing fingers here, but let's just say it was not me and only two of us live here) did come home and devour two slices of a peach and raspberry butter cake. I've been testing the recipe this week, and so this is the second cake in two days, hence all the frozen leftovers. I've finally nailed the recipe (it has nutmeg, fresh goat cheese, and some coconut milk!) and I'll be posting it soon. But in the meantime, I offer up another favorite summer berry cake recipe, which is loosely tweaked from a Bon Appetit recipe for raspberry ricotta cake and it is gorgeous: light and tender and just sweet enough and jammy with cooked berries.
Raspberry Ricotta Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups ricotta
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup raspberries (fresh)
Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment and butter and flour it.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and ricotta. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, then gently stir in the melted butter. Fold in the raspberries carefully (you don't want to crush them fully but a few streaks are nice).
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. The cake is much more moist than a regular yellow cake, so don't worry if it doesn't feel as dry or firm as you'd expect. Let cool for 20 minutes before taking it out of the pan.