Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Guest Chef: Liza Queen!

Before I say anything about dinner, let me just say first that I LOVE LIZA QUEEN.

I think she fucking ROCKS.

The first time I went to her restaurant, The Queen's Hideaway in Greenpoint, it was a rainy Friday night. There was a small group of us, but the restaurant was very busy, so we waited out back. In the rain. With umbrellas.

We even started our dinner out there, in the backyard, under the drizzle. It was fabulous -- completely worth the wait. Even in the rain.

We could hear Led Zeppelin and Tammy Wynette playing on the turntable inside, Liza and Millicent drank PBRs while they cooked on the line, our waitress, Baby, confessed to having just taken a couple of recreational Vicodin... what was not to love?

We ordered one of everything off the handwritten menu, and then ordered repeats of the dishes that we couldn't get enough of, which was pretty much all of them. At the end of dinner, as we were leaving, Liza and Millicent were sitting on the front stoop smoking cigarettes. I told them I had just been fired from Prune, and that if they were ever looking for another server, I wanted to work there. They laughed and said, "Thanks, but we only hire our friends." I told them I could be a friend! I WANTED to be a friend! They laughed some more, said "maybe," and I left.

From then on, every time I went back, I reiterated my offer: I wanted to work at The Queen's Hideaway, and one night I got the call: Did I want to come in and see how they worked? I did.

I had a great time there, both as an employee and as a customer; I loved everything about it, especially the food. When Liza's landlord decided to be a DICK and raise the rent, forcing her to close her doors last October, I was devastated.

My last dinner there (with the ubiquitous Dapper Dan, of course) was at once beautiful and profoundly sad. It was so depressing to step out of the big black door onto Franklin Street and not know when I would get to eat Liza's magnificent cooking again.

There are soooooo many shitty, sorry-ass excuses for restaurants in this city, places where "cooks" open a can of sauce from Cisco, pour it into a pan, and from there it goes onto your plate. And these restaurants survive. They live on, somehow, in mediocrity, and yet, in this same city, someone who cares deeply and puts their heart and soul into preparing beautiful, inventive food can't.

Fucked. Up.

But, eternal optimist that I am, this post does get a little happier.

One day, as I was longing for the Queen's Hideaway, It occurred to me that I could ask Liza to guest chef a Sunday Night Dinner! DUDE! Liza might be convinced to cook In... My... Kitchen.

I asked, and she said, "Yeah, man!"

I sent out the invite, a full two weeks early, and it sold out in 23 minutes. There wasn't even a menu in place -- I told her to just let me know once she had decided what she was going to cook.

Christmas came and went, and I realized I needed to send out a reminder along with the menu. Oops! Got the reminder out, but not the menu.

Even so, and despite a couple of last minute cancellations, people snapped up the seats like Jaws chomping down on those poor teenagers' legs.

Liza arrived completely prepared and prepped, and with everything packed up tightly. I could take a lesson, there. She even brought her own beer!

She quickly went to work, and for the first time ever, I got to be (mostly) a guest at my own Sunday Night Dinner. I did love it, but it felt a little weird too. I am definitely not used to not having ten thousand things to do. I actually got to have entire conversations with people!

The menu:

Horseradish Pickled Beets with Watercress in a Lemon/Gorgonzola/Pine Nut/Duck Liver dressing...

Pickled Cabbage and Carrots with Port Soaked Currants, Parsley, and Crunchy Topping of Duck Cracklin' and Dried, Fried Corn...

Gumbo with Pork Sausage (Salumeria Biellese's Finest!), Duck, Pheasant and Hen served over Anson Mills Rice with French Bread...

and, to finish, Steamed Grapefruit Pudding Cake with Pernod Candied Zest.

Everyone was well fed and happy, a couple of savvy people even got to take a little gumbo home! I am eternally grateful to Liza, and hope she will come back again.

In January, the guest chef will be Millicent Souris-- who I also met at the QH. Yet another brilliant female chef...


Midnight Tetley said...

hey do you know if she has any plans to open a new restaurant? or an email list i could subscribe to with info if she ever does?
loved that place.

Midnight Tetley said...

for email....i had to repost