Song 3 of my Songs for Meals recording project was done at the Fall On Your Sword studios in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with my partner in Evil Cowards, William Bates.
This was a great time to do the song and have the meal, as we are releasing the second Evil Cowards album this week. Wills does a lot of the dirty work for Evil Cowards…. I just come up with some lyrics, he’s the guy who takes it all into the studio and makes the songs what they are.
So I wanted to take it easy on him for this free recording project. The song we recorded is the short acoustic song, which will be the closer on my album, so it only took us like a half an hour to do the recording.
So with that in the rearview mirror, we set off down the street for his compensation. The restaurant he chose was ISA, a newish bistro that specializes in authentic Brooklyn fare. I’ll get to what that is momentarily.
When I approached Wills about being involved in this project, the restaurant he initially wanted to go to was some sort of crab shack that you have to take a boat to get to. But that was meant to be during the summer. We’ve postponed the event a few times and now autumn has come to NYC and it’s cold up in this bitch. Wills called an audible and decided he wanted more autumnal fare, so ISA got our business. I didn’t care. I’ve been on a boat before.
I read the reviews of ISA ahead of time. I saw a whole lot of “uber-hip Williamsburg hipster hangout where the food is an afterthought” or “if you can get past the stench of hipsters, you’ll love the fois gras!”.
Enough. I get it. Yes, Williamsburg = extreme hipster fatigue, but as long you’re not there on Friday or Saturday night, you’ll be just fine. I’d happily make Williamsburg my primary residence through the week and do my weekends in Atlantic City. That would be a beautiful life. Our dinner takes place on a Sunday night, so we’ve got this.
Wills had made reservations for 9 p.m., but we decided to get there at 8:30 to see if we could get in early. As we approached the rustic faux-log cabin chateau that is ISA, we noticed it was not that crowded, so we knew we’d be seated right away. As one enters, one is struck immediately by the abundance of wood….wood tables, wood benches, wood chairs, wood-fired oven. I felt like dressing up like a woodpecker and causing a ruckus. Next time.
We were greeted by a GENERIC WOMAN who offered us a variety of seating options and we elected to sit in the bar area so we could feel like we were part of the action. We sat down and were immediately presented with this menu:
Look at this menu. Just look at it.
So it is here where I explain what “authentic Brooklyn fare” is. It’s like each of these bistros got together and decided to offer the same core entrée selections, with the same smattering of side dishes that can be mixed and matched. The entrees must be limited to:
— Skirt steak or hanger steak
— Grilled Pork Chop
— Roasted Chicken
— Market Fish – usually sea bass
— Some sort of pasta dish, either a ragu over noodles, or a gnocchi
Side dishes are limited to one of the following:
— a puree of fava beans
— sautéed greens
— baby potatoes
— sautéed leeks or ramps
Mix and match any of the sides with any of the entrees and that’s your authentic Brooklyn fare….and that’s what we are getting tonight. All Brooklyn bistros are required by borough president Marty Markowitz to offer only these entrée selections and this is the way we like it.
So what then differentiates one bistro from another?? Well….everything else. The differences are found in the cocktails, the appetizers and the desserts. This is where wheat is separated from the chaff. This is where the money talks and the bullshit walks.
As we perused the menu, we each ordered a different specialty cocktail from the bar. Wills went with the Honey Bunny, which was some sort of tequila and honey jamboree. I went with the Patagonia Rains, which was Pisco-based. Both our drinks were spectacular, each in their own pan-Latin way. I told Wills that if nothing else, he should come to ISA after a day in the studio and just sit at their bar. During the cocktail drinking phase, we perused the menu. Wills told me at this time that he hasn’t been eating mammals for close to a year, which I did not realize. You think you know somebody….
Our server was an affable kid who had the hipster thing in check and definitely was more concerned with us having a good experience than with us walking away thinking “man, that guy is really funny in a really cerebral and socially-relevant way and his wit operates on levels I’ve never even knew existed, boy it would be fun to hang out with him sometime and have him open up some social doors for us.” Maybe they save those guys for the weekend. On a Sunday night, we needed the quiet, helpful kid and that’s what we got. Well done, ISA.
Because Wills does not eat mammals, the starters were to be the deep-fried risotto balls with aioli dipping sauce and the octopus in tomato sauce and beans. We ordered a bottle of 2009 Tuscany something or other. And our entrees went the direction of Wills getting the chicken and me getting the pork chop.
The starters arrived quickly and while the risotto balls were merely excellent, the octopus tentacle was a life-changer. Understand, I am not a fan of octopus. It is normally rubbery and bland. I’ve never understood the appeal. What appeared before us was the largest single tentacle I’ve ever been served….and you could cut it with a butter knife. It had been marinated in lemon juice and once it simmered in the tomato jam, my opinion of octopus skyrocketed. This dish was the hit of the night, easily.
The wine was selected from the middle of the price range available to us, and I never asked Wills what he thought of it as we were too busy talking about other people behind their backs. But my opinion was that it was nothing special. No vibrancy, even kind of sour. Did we drink the whole bottle? Yes, of course. Would I go in another direction next time? Absolutely.
The mains arrived in due time and both were quite acceptable. My pork chop was enormous and had all the hallmarks of a big ole grilled pork chop. The pesto summer squash it was served with was forgettable. Wills’ chicken seemed to go in him smoothly as it was lubricated with brown chicken juices, to ease acceptance of the chicken down one’s throat.
Choices of dessert were fairly limited, so we went with the deep fried dough balls served with a piping hot fruit compote for dipping. Accompanying this was two glasses of aged scotch. We took it all down and felt ourselves succumbing to the effects of hard alcohol, sugar, fat and carbohydrates. That is to say, we began to feel slower in every sense of the word.
The bill came to $175 and by New York standards for such a meal, I was surprised we stayed below $200. Wills has every intention of recording a second song for this project later on when we can find the time. He told me this as we went back to the Fall On Your Sword studios to drink some mezcal and to watch the final cut of our video for “Bedford Ave. Wine Distributors” which will be out there to for public consumption soon.
Next up, I am most likely going to do my next Songs For Meals with a guy in Ottawa, sometime in 2013. That’s the plan. Maybe while I’m on tour with Electric Six someone might step up with a functional recording studio and a hungry gut. I’m always up for it.