The Birthday Weekend

For those of you who remember the "scene" at Canastel's (on Park Ave South and 19th St.) in New York City, decades ago, there is an equally hip (now slightly older) crowd at Asellina.  Located in the Gansevoort Hotel on 29th and Park, the Saturday night boasted good-looking guys in sports coats, and gorgeous women wearing, truly, the highest heels and shortest skirts we've seen in awhile.  Despite the teeming hook-up vibes, there was something quite refreshing about it all.  Like the good old days, where those kinds of impulses were palpable and desirable and it made you remember what sex was once all about --because it wasn't the sex but the promise:  What was different about it all?  NO ONE was sitting with their iPhone -- chatting, texting or pretending to be otherwise engaged.  Everyone was on the prowl, looking or begging to be seen.  They were drinking, eating and talking!  No wonder I loved it.  It was so old-fashioned.  Some of the guests were from the cool hotel perched above where an indoor/outdoor pool is nestled on the roof next to their popular bar.

We wouldn't have experienced any of this if not for the 15th birthday of our daughter.  Our gift to her was an overnight in a New York hotel with a handful of her friends.  A teen-friendly place where there was a pool and a sense that you were someplace far away.  We loved telling our waitress that we had just arrived from...Brooklyn (!) with suitcases in tow.  Clearly we had come the shortest distance for such an adventure.  Despite the long wait to check into our room, the hotel staff was really accommodating and eager to please.  They outfitted the large room with a Wii for the girls to play with and encouraged their squealing and giggling at the pool.  Dinner (more about that) and a sleepless happy night amidst all those teens. In the morning we lit up a box of donuts, each with their own candle, and had a friendship circle in our pajamas sitting on the floor.  The girls drank organic lemonade and wished each other good things.  An afternoon movie, The Soul Surfer, proved that anything was possible. Not a bad message when you turn 15.  Happy birthday, Shayna.

But here's an unexpected nod to the food at Asellina.  It was delicious.  It didn't matter at the time; we were there and we needed someplace to eat.  But it was some of the cleanest, most authentically, Italian-tasting, unadorned, spot-on food we've had in awhile.  A great eggplant tortino with fresh ricotta and and cheese fonduta; top-notch meatballs with cannellini beans, culatello (prosciutto-like) and fontina, simple grilled calamari with sauteed asparagus and oven-dried tomatoes, and my husband's happy-making thick spaghetti with perfectly cooked clams and various bits of seafood.  Not a gratuitous piece of parsley in sight.  We imagined ourselves in Sardinia, sunny and warm, despite the teeming rain and chill in the air that evening.  The restaurant glowed with fireplaces and libidinous energy and promises of birthdays to come.