Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fig Martini

Thank God I do not write for a living, because there's been a shortage of words in my literary corner recently. And that would be a gentle way to put it. Nada, zero, null come closer to reality. I've been working on this story for over a month, but words are mischievous little characters and have a mind of their own, plus it's not the easiest story to tell.

A couple of weeks ago, on March 25, Nobu closed its doors. Well, not quite so; the restaurant has moved to a new location in the Financial District, but Nobu that we all know of, Nobu at the corner of Hudson and Franklin, Nobu that defined the era and started it all, that Nobu is gone. And with it went away another piece of my neighborhood.

The first time I dined at Nobu was almost twenty years ago. It was "the first" in many ways: my first big date with Dr. V, the first visit to Tribeca, and the first dinner in New York City.

"It's a surprise," said Dr. V as we left my New Jersey apartment. "I'm taking you to the best restaurant in New York!" I sat in the car and closed my eyes, trying to imagine the treat that was about to unravel. I tried and tried, closing my eyes harder and harder, but the picture refused to materialize. Up until that day I had never eaten in an expensive restaurant and the mind's eye has its limits.

It was a beautiful spring night, the kind of night only late May can give birth to, a night scented with a new season, full of imagination and slightly flirtatious. We parked the car on a narrow dark street of Tribeca, quite close to Hudson -- I could see the New Jersey banks in the distance and a faint scent of river touched my nostrils, the scent of seagulls and ocean, but not quite so -- and for a good ten minutes we walked around in circles, trying to find our way in a part of New York we were not familiar with. Despite wonderful jobs in a wonderful research facility not very far from the city, we were still two immigrants in a search of new feature on the other side of the ocean (that would be me) and the other side of the planet (that would be V); absorbed in our work and our science, we paid no attention to cool places, hot spots and trendy destinations, and Big Apple was one Big Puzzle.

Truth be told, twenty years ago, Tribeca did not pay attention to the buzz of the Big City either. It was a desolate neighborhood of textile buildings, carriage houses, artist lofts and cobblestoned alleys, painted in graffiti and covered in dust. There were no stores, no banks, no supermarkets, no dry cleaners, not even a coffee shop. Just a maze of cobblestone streets, shining with flickering yellow lights of old lampposts, wrapped in a piece of history.

"I like this place," said Dr. V. "It feels as if we have stepped into a movie."

We finally found our way to the restaurant, only to realize that we were 20 minutes too early, so we turned around and kept walking.

"I want to live here some day," said Dr. V.

We held hands and kept waking, until the clock ticked 8pm and we went in.

I wish that I could tell you more about my first dinner at Nobu, the very first big dinner of my life, but it got lost to a blur of excitement. I do remember that we had sake, and that a slice of wagyu made its way to my plate, and that we fought over it. Pretty badly. I think sashimi was involved too. And no, we did not eat black cod miso. We did not drink fig martini either. They came about a year later, when in a bold move, Dr. V and I purchased an abandoned loft three blocks away from Nobu and moved into the neighborhood.

We dined at Nobu again when a couple of months later a blizzard -- our first New York City blizzard -- hit the City. The storm arrived swiftly, solidifying our new neighborhood under a thick coating of snow and ice, stilling the buzz, stopping the cars and subways, and canceling restaurant reservations. Dr. V and I sneaked into the empty Nobu, sat at the largest table in the house, and celebrated with warm sake, black cod, and fig martini. We were just married, Big Apple was our oyster, and there was so much to celebrate.

Since that night, we’ve been places. We’ve accumulated our share of Michelin star experiences, we’ve encountered New York Times stared restaurants, we ate in neighborhood bodegas, we munched from street trucks around the globe, in village cafes and farmers markets. Yet, Nobu, black cod miso, and fig martini remained forever in the very special corner of our hearts.

Close to two decades later, our neighborhood is still a maze of dark cobblestone streets. Well, maybe not so dark anymore, because the old flickering lights have been replaced with brighter ones, while dozens of new bars, restaurants, and stores contribute additional illumination. Artist lofts have disappeared, making way for designer condos. There is a bank on almost every corner and countless dry cleaners. A small green market on Greenwich Street, where we shopped for produce (and to this day still do) is busier than ever, because so many new residents have moved in. But the little market now competes with Whole Foods, Gourmet Garage and Target. Except Odeon, all of our neighborhood joints are gone. Many of our old neighbors left; they've sold their lofts and moved to different neighborhoods and different cities. Even the Little Mermaid, my favorite piece of Tribeca and its landmark of sorts, is not around anymore. (To make the long story short, in 1980s a string of random events brought the statue, a genuine 1830s statue from Place de La Concorde in Paris, to a stairwell in front of Urban Archeology, a home design store on Franklin Street, just a block away from Nobu. The mermaid graced the entrance to the store, and our neighborhood, for over 30 years. Alas, in 2015 Urban Archeology closed its doors, and relinquished its treasures, and the statue was sold at the auction and taken away.)

Soon, we'll have a different statue in our neighborhood. One by Anish Kapoor. And that certainly should not be a reason to complain! It will be shiny, elegant, and two stories tall -- a symbol of what my neighborhood has become. Of what V and I might have become after our two-decades-long journey. But I miss my mermaid dearly. Because, deep inside, there is still an echo of that immigrant girl who once upon a time drove into the darkness of unknown Tribeca looking for a new home on the other side of the ocean and the other side of the planet.

I hear that the new Nobu space is big and beautiful. I hear that it features a giant brushstroke sculpture hanging over the bar. I hear that the menu is big and beautiful too. I took a peek at it the other day, on the Nobu Downtown website. And guess what? Fig martini was gone too.

Fig Infused Vodka

* 1 cup Calimyrna figs
* 1 1/2 - 2 cups vodka

Cut the figs in half (or in 1/4-inch slices crosswise, I still cannot decide which method is better.)

Place the figs in a jar and add vodka, so that the figs are completely covered in liquid, and perhaps a bit more. Close the jar tightly and keep for about 3 to 4 days. (I found this to be the optimal infuse-period to achieve that light fig flavor. If you infuse longer the flavor will be too strong and vodka will be very sweet, resembling a fig liquor.) Remove the figs. Pour the vodka in a bottle. Most definitely keep the figs. They are great for snacking. Or baking cakes.

Fig Martini

* 6 parts fig infused vodka
* 1 part dry martini 

* drunken figs or orange peel (to serve)

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour the vodka and martini over. Shake gently. Well don't shake it really, as you do not want the ice particles in your martini, just give it a gentle swirl really. Strain into a martini glass, garnish with a drunken fig or a slice of orange peel and serve. 


  1. It's funny how life does that. Moves forward away from the familiar and loved. Enjoyed reading this, having never been to any Michelin star restaurants or TriBeCa. Can see it all in my mind's eye, even that little mermaid statue. Very poignant. It makes me think of our old Ottawa (Canada) neighbourhood that, now over ten years later, has changed so much. Those places that were the places of my husband's and my young relationship gone. Living in a new city, finding new places, all those ones from long ago hold a special place in my memory.

    1. You are so right... Life does that, but I guess it's a part of moving forward. But the little pieces of old stuff and old neighborhoods remain inside us, and shape us forever, so in a way they keep on living, albeit in a different form. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. Divan tekst, predivan, tako životan i topao. Sve sam zamišljala, od vašeg prvog odlaska tamo do transformacije prostora i novosti koje zamenjuju ono staro, poznato.

  3. It is so romantic and nice. I read it yesterday and today again... Your style is great, you could write for living for sure :) Maybe it is not only writing, but something inside the story...

  4. Replies
    1. Gladys, thank you for taking the time to let me know.


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