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Playing Hard to Get


Restaurant version, that is. It’s a rare Wednesday when the restaurant reviewed by the New York Times gets zero stars. Today was such a Wednesday, so Frank Bruni’s review of the new restaurant Charles in Greenwich Village is worth a look. Apparently, Charles takes hard-to-get to a new level. The review is written in a cutesy way as a letter from a fan of hard-to-get restaurants to Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair editor and part owner of the Waverly Inn, another hard-to-get restaurant. The following passage describes some of Charles’ innovations.

And it was all so enigmatic: the nonsensical name (it’s not on Charles, or owned by a Charles), the lack of any sign out front.

Actually, there was and is a sign, but it’s for the fusty French artifact that used to have the space, Les Deux Gamins. How genius is that? When I went the other night, two people who’d apparently been fans of that restaurant were walking out the door looking exasperated, and they were muttering: “It’s some totally different place now. Who knew?”

… While Waverly doesn’t answer its phone, Charles doesn’t even have one, at least not one that’s published. To get a table I would send an e-mail message, and some unseen, unknown, disembodied reservations deity would write back. It was like I was in a “Bourne” movie, arranging a secret meet. I was the Joan Allen character, but with a better colorist.

I haven’t yet told you the wildest part, which is the restaurant’s windows — so Salinger, so Garbo. They’re covered in old newspapers and blue tape, as if the space is under construction or even condemned, and they’ve been that way for so long that when I paused on the sidewalk the other night to read the fine print, I learned that Sarah Palin had resuscitated the McCain candidacy.

See the photo above for a sense of how elusive the restaurant is, and see also the slide show that accompanies the review. As for the food, here’s more from the review: “The lamb kebabs should be called tartare. That’s how close to raw they were. The salmon, supposedly pan-seared, was more like pan-spurned, by which I mean it was nearly raw, too. Charles is as stingy with heat as it is with light. Maybe it’s saving on utilities.”

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