Spines Hart & Air photographed by Gina Weathersby written by Sebastien Hue in collaboration with Ben Greenberg
“T his place is fucking ridiculous”
Kevin spits out between breaths. His smile and stertorous delivery remind me of high school gym class. On any number of cold mornings, a troupe of ill-fitting high school bodies and I lumbered in endless circles around our school’s new rubber track. It smelled like every Foot Locker: sweaty and pukish with hints of embarrassment and shame. It was on that maroon, sometimes steaming oval that I ran into the girl of my teenage dreams. When I arrive at the building, I park illegally across the street on Walnut. Something about the possibility of municipal reprimand is invigorating. There is a teenage kid working the security desk. The room is old-building cold. It smells like rain and expensive tobacco from Strauss’s next door and that indistinguishable mildew of an uncared-for space. The kid is dressed up for his job in a preppy uniform that isn’t all that bad. His red and blue striped tie knot falls below the third button on his oxford. Slouched, his matte 90s hair is draped on the marble countertop where his finger taps metronomically. I start talking to him and notice his tap slows. He responds “sixteenth floor.” I can tell he has a lot of opinions. To note: the library is not on the sixteenth floor. Kevin pushes open the French doors leading to the library. From now on I’m going to call Kevin “Hartsy.” Mostly because that’s how I know him. It’s a name he picked up during his time at Boca Restaurant, it rhymed with ‘artsy.’ Just so you know Kevin is very ‘artsy.’ He also knows a lot about wine. The Mercantile Library is a membership library on Walnut Street in Cincinnati founded by a bunch of merchants in the early nineteenth century, one of whom, ‘Old Tippacanoe,’ was our nation’s ninth president. Within these walls, Big Whigs, snuffheads and other beautiful people bore out a thick viscous slice of Cincinnati antiquity. But the library’s grand history belies the simple greatness of the space. After all, to be simple is to be great, to steal some blithe and most likely meaningless quotation from Emerson, a one-time speaker and guest of the Mercantile. The books, smelling only as old books do, cling effortlessly to their wrought iron stacks, towering into the recesses of the library’s ceilings. The excessively buffed wood floors, the arched windows and the minimal busts of old stodgy looking bastards give the place its proper intellectual milieu. “So, you game?”
here is definitely something in my hair and it is driving me goddam nuts. I can’t see shit, I’m upside down looking in the mirror, shaking my head, wagging my leg and trying to bite my ear or something. Maybe there isn’t enough light? I wiggle harder. Maybe last night’s Bolognese could have been less caramelized? That’s always the problem with that dish, pasta in general. I once met a great chef in Milan who told me in broken English that caramelization is a Band-Aid. I don’t 100% disagree. Hartsy and I planned the Mercantile dinner. Technically, it is a Winecraft event. Winecraft is my father’s fine wine distribution company. My dad, if you come to know him, dreams of being Italian and Jewish. I say that in the most sincere and loving way possible. His resolution to quality makes one challenge Bernard Arnaut’s. He is enamored by liberal intellectualism, the earth, olive oil, and the tin-can snare sound in the ’68 recording of ‘Parachute Woman.’ The event seems like a good idea. Maybe it seems like a romantic idea. Besides ‘popup’ restaurants are cool, I think. I mean, who doesn’t want spooned-out cold custardy scoops of impermanence and watch their life melt into sugarcoated pools? Think about it, almost everything is just stuff. The things we create are so often instantly thrown away and that just adds to the piles and piles of shit with which we surround ourselves to fill some deep and essential void. There is something primitive and romantic about a thing we cannot touch twice. Like the first time you get laid, really fucking good foie gras, or getting your head dunked into a toilet. Maybe temporality is sexual. Maybe pop-ups are sexual. We could fail huge, loose a shit ton of money. The ineffability of food and food business. No one would read a book with that title. Hartsy, let’s make it like the summer of 1991, when people craved tomes, noise solos had social currency, abstraction grew in equal cantor with the doggedly human, and albums, sixty-plus minutes of someone’s bullshit swarmed you and your drug addled looser friends, Dirty Boots, post-rock malaise, and who the fuck is El Buli anyway? Tonight we are to taste through the menu and see how far off-mark we are. I have a splitting headache. I spent the last 12 hours at Boca, staring into a screen, my eyeballs now liver-like in fortitude. We are opening new restaurants. I feel empathy for Sisyphus. Falk & company are ball-busters, restaurant junkies, devotees to the particles and dust that become restaurants. Highly functional, dangerous, and passionate. I love them for this. Hartsy pours me a tasting of the second wine. We are trying to pair Vajra’s Dolcetto. Dolcetto loves cured meats. It was the subtle idea behind our second course: veal shoulder tartar, lemon, first-growth Ligurian oil, fleur de sel. It’s a dish I repurposed from ‘Boca di Lupo,’ a great Italian restaurant in London. We slather toast-circles in liver-enriched mayonnaise and set the dish in a ring mold. I tell Chase it needs fish sauce, but really, I like everything to taste like the ocean. Hartsy bitches that the wine will fall apart with it. He’s right, so we go with soy.
hours to go. We’re supposed to borrow a bunch of plates from friends. You know the kind I’m talking about, family heirlooms, bone-white freckles peaking out behind years of fork forced corrosion. It is Hartsy’s cool idea. We want to share the emotions of inanimate objects whose semi-porous surfaces carry microscopic feasts, culinary annals: cupboard stories. Fortunately the plates don’t work out. It would be a post-coital logistic nightmare. All you want to do is fall asleep, the high exhausted. Instead, slump-backed and moaning, we manicure plates like unearthed Paleolithic bones. “I got Tatiana, I can’t believe it, she will blow your mind.” Hartsy called me 12 times that day. Food business often feels like dating people you only kind of want to date. Labored phone calls, and for some reason, many apologies. The party was beginning to feel real. A myth exploded. Tatiana was a major score. She’s a worldrenowned violinist. She’s played with people. People who make albums I own. Thank god for Hartsy, he doesn’t miss a fucking beat. The day of the event comes. We have a great photographer, an iPod hookup, Giuseppe arrives without delay, flowers and tablescapes are tended to, wine hits the ice buckets ahead of schedule, menus are printed, the library allows us to massage 100 year-old rules and we bring in some last minute convection power as Chef Chase quietly presides over the garbage-bag floored kitchen. One circuit, forty people, six courses, 264 plates, 10,000 books, 100 fake laughs, 621 real ones, 80 plus handshakes, 20,220 mastications, trillions of brain synapses, 1 potential new love, 6 wine speeches, people mouth the word yum. Domestically, 50 babies are born, Hillary Clinton is taking a vacation, the Portland Trailblazers beat the Dallas Mavericks, Mic Jagger dances in some NYC apartment.
There was a moment A Single strand of thread hanging like a load-bearing vehicle off some cliff on the Kyber Pass 6 front of house 4 back And the Russian violin sweeps carelessly by Like light and tumbling acorns Falling until they settle to become trees. Trust me, I said, There’s 44 guest and they all want. They all have the Gaul to shrug off the hell-fires Of their rituals and team together like fucking beautiful Brass figurines doing their damnedest to play parts worn thin by Seinfeld reruns and cat videos. I’m passed the hors d’oeuvres. I’m passed the People gawking and in hushed tones discussing Nervous spatial comments Waiting to be fortified by wine and strangers We were doctors, We were restaurateurs, wine makers, store managers, fashion forecasters, designers of the useful and the uselessly beautiful. Giuseppe Vajra. The wine maker. The raison d’nuit. Pregnant though his wife may be, Conversations about conversations Stewed time and he loves Cincinnati. He loves Cincinnati more than a lot of other cities because People laugh and people welcome and people do typical dinner party shit here but with less drama and less immediacy. I’m warming up the band. We’re doing Mingus. Its Bruschetta w/ tonnato | roasted bread, Ortiz tuna, lemon Call me a bastard, but I’m fairly certain I’m keeping Ortiz in business. It’s that part where I say I love you and mean it. Cuttlefish salad | citrus, Bartlett pear, winter herbs, pistachio vinaigrette Screw the little things. Veal Tartar | white bread, duck liver, shallot I pause while you put your shoes on. I leave mine off. Duck Cannelloni | offal, chestnuts, nutmeg, béchamel, soffrito Don’t mess with me. I’m dangerous. Barolo Short Rib | braised barley, porcini, hazelnut gremolata, jus There’s nothing left to say. I’ve said too much already. Blood Orange Pana Cotta | farm cream, pollen. Violets.
The Vajra/Mercantile Team Event Sponsor “of council” Gordon Hue - wineCRAFT Guest Winemaker Giuseppe Varja - G. D. Varja Pre-dinner Performance Tatiana Berman - Violinist Up Front Kevin Hart - wineCRAFT & Cork N’ Bottle Jennifer Fortkamp - Nicola’s Annie Rose- A Tavola Dominique Hue - Precinct Catherine Marie Amaro - Enoteca & the Bird House Kitchen Sebastien Hue - Boca/wineCRAFT Chase Blowers - Dutchs Jimmy Cornwell - Dutchs
Published on Feb 21, 2013