Norman's Cay and Lower East Side Cabaret

Bold new Norman’s Cay serves the invasive Lionfish
that is hoovering up fish populations, including shrimp and ecologically important parrotfish that destroy algae, all along the Atlantic Coast. Surely, the voracious Lionfish deserves to be caught and eaten in restaurants, but so far Norman’s Cay is about the only restaurant brave enough to try. Theirs comes from Nassau.

Perhaps because it is wildlife, not a farmed fish, it tastes wild—and like a cross between grouper and red snapper. Norman’s Cay does fried Lionfish tacos garnished with guacamole and slaw. The whole fish is presented stunningly, surrounded by leafy greens and chunks of lime. It is beautiful to behold: the handsome pterodactyl head rests on a pedestal of molded peas and rice.

Coconut Shrimp with mango chutney is probably a classic there. However, we started in stride with tender and delicious Conch Fritters served with three sauces and quaffed a stylish cocktail called the Midnight Run: tequila, Licor 43, lime and bitters. Then, salad with Bahamian Christophine (also known as Chayote, between a fruit and a vegetable) shaved onto Valencia oranges, hearts of palm, and avocado, in a sharp vinaigrette. Our much-anticipated Lionfish experience began with senses awakened and tingling.

It is admirable what Norman’s Cay is doing for the planet, and there’s more than a little sense of adventure here. A1966 Cessna Skyhawk, purchased from Craigslist in Dayton, Ohio and driven east, hovers overhead. We felt like we were in the Bahamas even though it was cold outside.

Burlesque is going through a renaissance that is pro-woman, unpredictable, and very funny. For instance, the Lower East Side was a testing ground for world-class performer Narcissister. We saw her groundbreaking Marie Antoinette routine a few years ago at the former Corio Supper Club.

One hot burlesque venue is Le Poisson Rouge, a little further north. The Box is late-night in every sense of the word. The Slipper Room and Nurse Bettie present classy and classic burlesque in midweek as well as weekend shows. Speaking of funny, Moonwork, pop-up stand-up comedy with beer served, is back up and running at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center.

The arty cabaret entertainment we have just recommended is witty and decadent in an almost wholesome way, but we’ve never found the food served to be anything exciting. Norman’s Cay is open some nights till 4 a.m., so you can begin or end your burlesque evening there.

Betrayal and the Hotel Edison Cafe

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in a photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Betrayal unfolds in reverse order to tell the story of an affair between a married woman and her husband’s best man and best friend, breaking up in 1977, and back to when it all began. Mike Nichols directs and infuses it with a lightness we don’t remember from last time we saw it and judged the play dated. Descending and sliding sets, particularly an Italian restaurant banquette where the two men get drunk together, are clever and convincing—though Nichols mysteriously omits the fun, 1968 party scene and gives us the three principals in a room off to the side while the party goes on, drinking (there is alcohol in every scene) and smoldering.

Husband and wife are embodied by glamorous real-life couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, who are great to see onstage rather than in the cinema. For one thing, they are life sized, no larger—or maybe it’s the roles that make them seem so. Weisz begins things on a shrill note that her character then has to spend the play recovering from. Craig, in a long-haired wig, must portray a prick who cheats on his wife. As soon as the play closes, he will return to being James Bond—a morally unencumbered role.

The betrayed party is not the husband, as you would think, but the best friend and best man, when he finds out in act one that his buddy has known about the affair for years and done nothing. The best friend, played by Rafe Spall, is natural and appealing, in the role the playwright identified with, and he knows how to do the Pinter pause. Harold Pinter wrote Betrayal in 1978 about his own affair, and it has the messy reality that a made-up play might not.

That's "$7.00," not "$700."

The Hotel Edison has appeared in recent fiction as a trysting place. The café has been around the block too, yet maintains the appearance, the portions, and even the prices of an earlier era. There are several versions of club sandwich, and pastrami and corned beef, served with a side of coleslaw and crisp pickles. Salads and the blintzes are very popular on the vast menu with four homemade soups every day. Theatre and film people are regulars. (Robert Forster, of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, was there when we were.) The restaurant’s manager, Conrad, told us “James Bond” (Daniel Craig) sometimes drops by from the Ethel Barrymore Theatre across the street for a carryout quart of chicken soup.

The Mutilated and Gaetana's Cucina Italiana

Mink Stole, Cosmin Chivu and Penny Arcade
A rediscovered Tennessee Williams play is being presented in such a way that you wish you knew it your whole life. How to explain why it was shelved since 1966? “Maybe it’s the name,” said Thomas Keith, one of the producers. The Mutilated, more decadent than Williams’ other plays, is surprisingly cathartic. Like a good movie that goes by too fast, you want to watch it again immediately. Attractive denizens of the Boheme bar in the French Quarter hotel become a chorus. A jazz band sounds superb. It’s Christmas Eve, 1940.

Mink Stole plays elegant Trinket Dugan, who has a secret apart from her clandestine drinking. The only one who knows the secret is Celeste Delacroix Griffin, her former best friend and a total loose canon. Trinket is a recognizable Williams character. Celeste is someone we haven’t met before. She claims to have partied with Huey Long, though she was just released from jail: “Nothing like a week in the pokey to bring out the philosopher in me.” It’s hard to tell whether Mink Stole and Penny Arcade do justice to roles they are more or less inventing, but they are lovable at it and experts in telling a juicy story.

In a classic scene Celeste asks Trinket for a vanilla wafer, and Trinket gets the tin from the kitchen only to open it and discover a roach. As she’s about to toss it out, Celeste takes the tin, removes a giant roach, flings it into the audience, then hungrily eats a wafer. “But you are eating after a roach!” cries Trinket. “People in the best restaurants eat after roaches,” Celeste says, having another cookie.

Trinket and Celeste are indomitable and describe themselves as such from the beginning. The self-assessments bode well and take us past a potentially scary scene with a red-headed sailor. This Williams story is about estranged friends who finally get back together, one of them “mutilated” by a mastectomy. (No spoiler, it’s revealed early on.) Later, she is visited by black-hooded Death—but when he sees how well she’s doing, he decides to stay away for a while longer.

This smartly conceived production with amazing actors and music, and even great costumes (Angela Wendt), is directed by Cosmin Chivu, who specializes in late Tennessee Williams. Well-timed for the holidays, The Mutilated could move straight to Broadway.  

Bespoke Penne a la Vodka at Gaetana's
In its Greenwich Village location, the New Ohio Theatre has two lovely historic restaurants right across the street. Malatesta and Gaetana’s like each other, because both are so popular that they have no need to compete.

The night we were at family-run Sicilian Gaetana’s after The Mutilated we sat at the long bar and chatted with friendly diners who are regulars. One person’s order of bubbling hot Penne a la Vodka caused a chain reaction, with requests honored for variations such as bacon, sausage, meat balls. Heaping green salads, homemade bread and pastas, a brick oven in the kitchen. 

Matriarch Gaetana, whose recipes are used, was married to a man who worked at Jilly’s on West 52nd Street—Frank Sinatra’s favorite boîte. Sinatra portraits and memorabilia are part of the décor. He becomes so familiar that you expect him to walk in the door.

Romeo and Juliet and Becco

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad are the sweetest Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is the first Shakespeare taught in school. We saw this black and white R&J, David Leveaux’s gorgeous production, at a Wednesday matinee full of school groups. You could hear a pin drop when Condola Rashad (Juliet) and Orlando Bloom (Romeo) kiss. They seem to be truly in love.

Jensen and Tracy Sallows after the show
Jesse Poleshuck’s contemporary set reflects their star-crossed passion and creates beautiful moving pictures — accented with a graffiti-tagged Fra Angelico painting, a screen of jumping flames, big balloons for a banquet, and touches of red (Romeo’s socks and shoes). The lovers are on fire, myopic and indulgent. We almost forget what’s to come: Juliet on a floating bed perched between life and death.

The audience was enraptured with Mercutio, Christian Camargo, a mesmerizing actor like a young Bill Nighy. Jayne Houdyshell adds welcome ballast and laughs as the Nurse, with a red handbag and a bicycle. (A lot has been written about Orlando Bloom’s entrance on a motorcycle, in a helmet.) Tracy Sallows as Lady Montague and Roslyn Ruff as Lady Capulet do so much with their parts. It’s hard not to fall in love with the entire cast.

An all-female Julius Caesar from London, presented at Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn is another stunner in this Shakespeare-heavy season, directed by Phyllida Lloyd as a comment on male behavior.

Clam linguini at the Becco bar

You might want to book if you plan to go to Becco pre-matinee, but last-minute seats at the bar are comfortable. A prix fixe with three pastas, appetizer and dessert makes this friendly Italian restaurant very popular, with a selection of wine at $25 a bottle. Handsome, theatrical waiters appear with platters, offering second helpings (which can be wrapped up to go). Since we were here a year ago, the prices have gone up slightly, but Becco remains a fun place to eat and one of the best deals on Theatre Row.

James Brown: Get On the Good Foot and Chez Lucienne

James Brown performed two hundred times at the Apollo Theatre and when he died, his body lay in state on its stage. It’s only fitting that James Brown: Get on the Good Foot premiered here. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who knew James Brown, introducing the show said classical music is all about “the four B’s”: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Brown.

A huge dance company and various choreographers give expression to every facet of James Brown, from the romantic, to the political, to the humorous.  “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is a dance party in platform shoes, bell bottoms, and big afros. It’s absolutely delightful. One of the dancers portrays a sharply-dressed geezer on a cane, carrying and drinking from a “big cup”— something Mayor Bloomberg has tried to ban. 

“It’s a Man’s World” was so unexpected danced by a white, female, hip-hop artist, Ephrat Asherie. The political James Brown was there in another strong dance, choreographed by Abdel Salaam, to "Payback," which segued into "Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud."

Few of the dances used James Brown dance steps as he danced them. Balletic twirls and lifts are substituted when we would sometimes rather be watching a man in a bespoke suit. Considering how many strippers have performed to James Brown, it might not be inappropriate to have one dance kind of like that. Yet, if James Brown: On the Good Foot were to travel the country, the Tea Party would probably be converted to the notion of democracy.

It is doubtful that any theatre would have the impact and impressive acoustics that the Apollo has. Entering the Apollo beneath the brilliant marquee, to the sound of James Brown’s music, the audience was dancing in the aisles and in their seats. The Apollo has announced that there will be many more commemorative solo shows about musicians in its amazing history that transformed the world.   

Chez Lucienne vol-au-vent (or chicken pot pie)
Are we in Harlem – or are we in Paris? Bistro Chez Lucienne’s menus are really French: croque monsieur on the prix fixe lunch and croque madame for brunch. Mussels and frittes are served three ways. Vol-au-vent in wine sauce (pictured) is as tasty as it looks. It’s a well-managed restaurant with first-rate French chefs creating classic dishes. The owner named the restaurant after his mother in France. On Friday and Saturday if you order between midnight and 2 a.m. there’s 50% off. Jazz and R&B greats are regulars. Wearing G-clef earrings, Bobbi Humphrey was there when we were one evening.

The Glass Menagerie and Má Pêche

This dreamy revival of the almost seventy-year-old The Glass Menagerie starts sad and stays sad, yet manages a sense of catharsis. Most of us know the Tennessee Williams play, but never have we felt so much for all four of the characters: Tom, Laura, Amanda and Jim.
Amanda Wingfield played by the beautiful Cherry Jones

Tom, the reluctant breadwinner for his mother and handicapped sister, dreams of running off to become a writer. Zachary Quinto plays him as a slacker. He hasn’t paid the electric bill, forcing them at one point to use candles. Amanda places her hopes on a gentleman caller for Laura and their eventual marriage. Laura wants only to please her mother. The set of their shabby apartment attached to an accordion of a fire escape is haunting. Sparkly, surreal touches by director John Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett heighten the moment.

We’re angry with Tom for abandoning his family, but somehow relieved that he has escaped this desperate situation. Perhaps an autobiographical story, Williams also worked at a dead-end job in St. Louis and left behind an unstable sister and a histrionic mother who lived in the past. 

Jim the gentleman caller, Brian J. Smith, expertly balances boy tenderness and masculine bravado. Cherry Jones as Amanda will not be defeated. Even though the closing lines are so familiar, by Quinto’s Tom, this time caused sobs in the audience.

Momofuku pork bun, you blow my mind
Dishes are simple and on the sparse side at Momofuku Pêche. Stick with noodles, pork buns, and soft drinks. A cocktail or glass of wine will set you back $15. David Chang’s cutting-edge restaurants compete in price with restaurants right up there; lunch cost $120 with tip.

Grilled trout, duck ramen, and the sweet corn salad were perf. The famous pork bun, like his Momofuku cookbook, was so good that we had to deconstruct it to try to figure out why. Hoisin sauce? Swear words? (Momofuku, a made-up Japanese name, was chosen because it sounds a bit like "motherf•••er.")

We didn’t go for the eponymously titled and trademarked Crack PieTM, nor for the suspiciously multicolored Confetti Cookie. Giant cookies, irresistibly low priced at 3 for $5, were delivered to the table in their cellophane wrappers. Two versions with chocolate chips were fine, but the Corn Cookie was the stuff of dreams. Pêche, Momofuku’s midtown location, has a Milk Bar (dessert bakery) attached.

Hell’s Kitchen and Kinky Boots

Hell's Kitchen is a friendly place
Adjacent to the theatre district is the neighborhood real estate refers as “midtown west” and New York knows by its more colorful name, which Hell’s Kitchen restaurant embraces proudly. Star chef Jorge Pareja emigrated from a southern Mexico region that specializes in both farming and fishing. His menu has fresh, confident flavors: boiled pork shank in mixiote (barbeque) sauce, sea bass over plantain purée, grilled half chicken with molé negro. (The chicken is Murray’s, which uses oregano oil in place of antibiotics and tastes much better.) Corn tortillas are made in-house. Hell's Kitchen fish tacos are the best ever.

Staff might take an order for an appetizer-size portion of a main course or main-course size app. There is a weekend brunch including bison eggs benedict with jalapeño hollandaise. Hell’s Kitchen has a clean and modern décor, soft lighting and spectacular food. Any leftovers mysteriously seem to taste better the next day.

Harvey Fierstein and company
Kinky Boots originated with the 2005 film set in Northampton, England, based on a true story. A shoe factory’s economy was revived by Lola (the versatile comedian Billy Porter), a drag queen in ladies’ shoes, observed by the straight junior CEO of the shoe factory, Charlie (Stark Sands, every bit as cute as Justin Timberlake), who recognizes the potential in creating a boot for drag queens that can support a male’s weight and structure. Charlie hires Lola to be his designer.

By the end, Lola and Charlie begin sleeping with one another and make plans for a traditional church wedding – no wait, that’s a different story! By the end, Charlie switches from a rich girlfriend to a poor one (Annaleigh Ashford, sensationally funny). Diva Lola is still fabulous, but alone. The main thing is, everyone male and female, gay and straight, starts wearing high-heeled boots, as though we were in the court of Louis XIV.

Stunning, narrow-hipped drag queens abound, however this production feels too tame by half. Kinky Boots is carried along, mostly, by the want-to-have-fun, guitar heavy music of the great Cyndi Lauper, and by the oft-repeated line, “Ladies and gentlemen, and those who haven’t made their minds up yet.”

First Date and Orso

Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez meet cute
The zesty and fluffy new musical comedy, First Date, takes the audience on a date 2013 style. Aaron and Casey struggle to drop their baggage and be present. Are they prisoners of their personal histories and past dating patterns? A Greek chorus pops by and plays devil's advocate, made up of Grandma, the bail-out friend, therapist, bad choice boyfriend, selfish ex-fiancée, and future son.

Zachary Levi is jumpy and awkward as a financial geek. It's a good set-up for his kick ass end-of-the-show song "In Love With You" where he kisses off his ex- for good. Adorable Krysta Rodriguez is polished and cold. She's hiding, but slowly lets us in. Both have great pop vocal chops and got their start in television. We root for them, and the happy ending feels right and, well, if Terry Teachout was charmed by this new little musical, after what he had to say about Kinky Boots, who are we to quibble?

Fig tart à la Orso
Italian restaurant Orso is named after a street dog the owner befriended in Venice. There is an Orso photo collage as you enter and a very nice sketch near the bar. The atmosphere is fresh, modern and quiet, a restaurant novelty in NYC. Music is kept on low dial and the tables are nicely distanced from one another. Tableware is colorful and house wine is served in pretty glass pitchers.

Get your pasta here, but another specialty, calf's liver with pancetta and crispy onions, was a standout. Roasted quail stuffed with sweet sausage, pine nuts and broccoli rabe was another. Antipasti greats were the beet, Jersey peach, hazelnut and goat cheese salad, and pan-fried artichoke hearts. Dessert tarts ended our date on a sweet note.

The Weir and Tír Na Nóg

New girl in town
Conor McPherson's The Weir invites you on a dark and windy night to warm up with a few good stories.  Time and place:  1997, country pub, Ireland.  An attractive woman, a "blow in," provokes four local men to tell outrageous stories, real and ghostly, related to her new village. Many drinks are drunk, but only "small ones," and herbal cigarettes passed around. (Broadway substituted herbal cigarettes for real ones long before Mayor Bloomberg made New York City smoke-free.)

The country pub lacks a ladies' room, if you can imagine. As the lovely new neighbor retreats to the owner's house to use the facilities, the men chastise themselves for their upsetting conversation and vow to be more civil. Upon her return, Valerie (Mary McCann) tells the story that brings everyone to their knees.

But wait, another's speech, upon leaving, is the one that breaks our hearts. Irish actor John Keating, with his beautiful words of comfort, causes the audience to choke up, and although he hadn't seemed a possibility before, now we wonder whether Valerie will hook up with him.

A harsh wind howls outside throughout. Irish Rep’s remounting is excellent and all the stories still fresh in our minds.

Branzino Tír Na Nóg
Tír Na Nóg has a sure hand with fish, which you would expect of an Irish pub. The seared scallops were big and juicy, and the branzino seasoned with saffron, chorizo, and clams. Potato leek soup comes with a dash of truffle oil. Two can share the hearty shepherd’s pie. It’s a truly friendly place, with Irish as well as Scottish accents floating about, and you might wish to eat at the bar if you’re alone, and order some oysters and a half pint of Harp lager.

Close to Madison Square Garden, the ambiance might not be as old world and couthie before a Rangers game. Stop in after a play or and get Irish coffee served with no frills, just the way we like it, and apple pie on flaky pastry with cinnamon ice cream and a sprig of mint.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, with Bond 45

Billy Magnussen and Sigourney Weaver
References to Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya are sprinkled over a fresh family drama set in Bucks County, PA, including, “Oh, Olga, let’s go to Moscow!”  But we’re firmly in Christopher Durang-land. Film star Masha (Sigourney Weaver) returns home to announce that she is selling the lake-view family house where her siblings, Vanya and the adopted Sonia (David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen), have been quarreling comfortably for years.

Shalita Grant is the housekeeper, Cassandra, who predicted this would happen. Kristine Nielsen’s Sonia lives for the sighting of the blue heron on the lake. Pushed to extremes, Nielsen’s Sonia keeps the audience under her wing. Hyde Pierce is glacially calm and understated until he explodes. Everyone gets a satisfying chance to go nuts before it’s over.

They regress all the way to childhood and back, everyone except for Masha’s much younger boyfriend, Spike, played as epically inappropriate by Billy Magnussen. Could the part of Masha possibly be as cool without Sigourney Weaver’s insouciant smile? Oh, Sigourney, let’s go to Moscow!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike touches on upstairs-downstairs dynamics, sibling rivalry, and the effects of aging as a family fences with and lusts after one another. Durang wrote the play, which was first performed Off-Broadway in 2012, with these actors in mind.

Bond 45 Prosciutto and Buratta
Bond 45, which seats 220, advertises on a billboard above Theatre Row, with a menu that includes paper-thin designer pizzas and the flat “lasagna” made from the hard-to-handle fazzoletto (handkerchief) pasta. Soft-shell crab had a creamy sauce on top that was Paula Deen-ish calorically. Their 16 oz. homemade Buratta is delectable surrounded by colorful, grilled antipasto-bar vegetables.
The mezzanine offered a spectacular view of the massive restaurant. It seems a good place to go on your own – many people were solitary and contented. Such a big place, it can be spaced out and unusually quiet, preventing that curse of the solo diner – unintentional eavesdropping on the people at the next table. Homemade brittle and cookies hot from the oven are offered as you say farewell.

Artist of Light: iLuminate is the idea of Miral Kotb, who combined her talents as a choreographer and software engineer to make a special-effects, techno party-like event. It is parent-friendly, with cocktails served at your seat. Special effects we gasped over: a giant dog, exchangeable heads, a dancing paintbrush, and floating bodies. Children relate to the sheer power and physicality of Kotb’s team. Performers don’t exit the stage so much as disappear.

There is, loosely speaking, a plot. Our young critic, Arden Wolfe, age 7, understood it better than we did. Arden liked “the girl with orange hair and red lips, who fell in love at the end, and the evil guy, who turned two squiggly men into porcupines.” She also admired, as we did, the “glow-y costumes.”
Root beer float at Junior's

Junior’s Times Square opened in 2006 so that Manhattanites could have a taste of this Brooklyn institution, famous for its cheesecake and pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on rye, served with complimentary coleslaw, beets and pickles. A Reuben with a side of Russian dressing hit the spot. Arden’s root beer float was “perfect,” the mac and cheese quickly consumed, and pronounced, “Creamy, creamy, creamy.”

Centrally located in the theatre district, Junior’s has quick service, reasonable prices, and outdoor seating for warm weather. Your kids will thank you.

Marie Sassi and Don't Tell Mama

Marie Sassi at Don't Tell Mama 
The comfortable and comfortably-priced Don’t Tell Mama has been hosting rare and beautiful cabaret shows for 30 years. Singers present in one of two showrooms and guests sometimes participate in an open mic at the piano bar.  Surprise appearances are the norm: Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler and Kristin Chenoweth to name a few.

We came to hear the classy and funny Marie Sassi sing a compilation of love songs that are rarely performed or usually done quite differently. Sassi is candid and bold, as she seamlessly flows from one song to witty banter to the next song, convincing us that she’s not giving up on love and inspiring us in the process. Some standouts:  I Wanted To Change Him, by Comden and Green, Shakespeare Lied, from How Now, Dow Jones, and a new rendition of Carol King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Sassi has a gorgeous voice and looks sensational in black lace.   

The style of Don't Tell Mama's next-door restaurant is eclectic, with something for everyone but a lack of focus. Dishes range all over the map and include a very good guacamole. Our favorites were the nicely presented mini crabcakes with lemon-cilantro aïoli and chorizo couscous risotto. 

Prune and Helen Mirren in The Audience

Pilgrimage to Prune
Located near the Bowery in a vintage storefront, restaurant Prune is known for the haute cuisine of bone marrows served with little spoons and classic simplicity of perfect radishes with butter and salt. Prune has a number of signature fruit juice cocktails, a small bar tucked in the corner, and only thirty seats.

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who wrote the brilliant memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, is great at textures. The duck on grilled watercress is crispy. Rhubarb crisp is crunchy. Salmon is baked just until it’s flaky. Homemade tofu served warm, with edamame, is silky. The wait staff is down-to-earth. They don’t act like they work in a cult restaurant often billed among foodies as a religious experience.

Its weekend brunch is famous. It’s not, however, a great pre-theatre restaurant. Theatre Row has to judge eating establishments on their snappiness and ability to get us to the box office on time. Prune is about slow food—but they’ll wrap up that dessert or main course you didn’t get a chance to dig your little spoon into.

Helen Mirren in The Audience

For sixty years Queen Elizabeth II has had tea with twelve prime ministers on a weekly basis, through every kind of crisis. Most of the PMs are depicted in The Audience, including a totally unsympathetic Margaret Thatcher (as played by Haydn Gwynne), whom the Queen met with over a hundred times, in rooms that look chilly and cold. The one at Buckingham Palace is described in full by a footman, including the reupholstery of the chairs. The Balmoral set includes tartan, a glowing heater, and the misty mountains in the distance.

People speak of Elizabeth as being witty and sensitive, and how could she not be, played by Dame Helen Mirren. The playwright’s vision of the Queen is also athletic, outdoorsy, and a dog lover—a couple of trained Welsh Corgis are included in several scenes. She tells Gordon Brown (a miscast Nathaniel Parker) that her dream is to live full-time in the Scottish countryside.

The Queen’s hairstyle and costume evolve constantly, and even the handbag dangling from her arm. In one scene she clicks open the bag to offer a distraught Harold Wilson (played by Richard McCabe, probably a lot more charming than the original Wilson) a handkerchief, and flinches when he uses it and tries to return it to her.

Helen Mirren’s voice and body language change with great nuance to every age, including twenty-five, the year of the coronation. She says young Elizabeth had to curtsy to her parents at home. The current-age Elizabeth remarks to David Cameron that the future child of Kate and William, whether girl or boy, will one day be queen or king, bringing things right up to date. Long live the Queen.

This West End performance by “live” HD telecast was shown at the new NYU Skirball Center. At times the audience applauded, as though we were watching it onstage, as were people in 20 countries, at 700 cinemas.

The Nance and the Leopard at des Artistes

Risqué variety theatre known as burlesque is making a comeback at clubs like the Box in New York City. Imported from Victorian London, one of its stock characters was a so-called nancy man whose lines could be more outrageous than that of other performers. (In NYC burlesque theatre, an actress in drag, Murray Hill, currently plays this part.) Embodied by the great Nathan Lane, Chauncey Miles can’t stop himself from being increasingly outrageous the more he needs to tone down his act for his own protection.

In a new play by Douglas Carter Beane, The Nance, set in an era when gay behavior outside of the theatre could land you in jail, the entertaining Chauncey Miles is played by Nathan Lane as painfully in the closet. He goes so far as to be Republican and anti-Pinko, and feels that he must turn down a wonderful young man (Jonny Orsini), who loves him, in favor of easier-to-conceal chance hookups at the Automat. Cady Huffman plays an exotic dancer and fellow comedienne who can foresee change for society. Interspersing scenes of Chauncey’s struggle with onstage “cooch” acts like hers keeps the drama from feeling too tragic.

The ending isn’t tragic at all, and in it, Nathan Lane is at his most riveting. There’s an authentic period feel to the costumes and to a masterful set by John Lee Beatty that revolves to show the burlesque theatre stage, back stage and Chauncey’s arty apartment. The Automat set is very Edward Hopper.
Prix fixe at the old Café des Artistes

Portions aren’t huge at the three-course pre-theatre menu at the Leopard at des Artistes. But it’s incredible that you can now afford to eat at all in this art-filled palace on Central Park West! Be willing to eat very early or very late for the $35 pre- and post-theatre prix fixe, and make reservations.

Formerly bohemian hangout Café des Artistes, and once French, it became Italian when it changed hands and serves a specialty of grilled fish deboned at your table with waiterly flare. Risotto and ravioli were too al dente for our tastes, but that can be prevented next time by a word to the kitchen to overcook them.

The new back bar has a homey feel, with stacks of books and objets d’art and flattering lighting. We miss the murkier old L-shaped bar that served complimentary snacks of hard-boiled eggs, Ritz crackers and Liptauer cheeseball. The people who took over (Il Gattopardo is their other restaurant) made some improvements, such as a strategic mirror to better reflect the 1920s murals out front by Howard Chandler Christy. Surely a few of the models who posed without a stitch for Christy were stage soubrettes back in the day of The Nance.

Here Lies Love and Grill 21

Imelda and Ferdinand wait for nuptials to resume
She didn’t inspire loyalty, even among her close associates, and yet it seemed the world embraced the singing, butterfly-sleeved Imelda Marcos as a cultural icon. In Here Lies Love, a musical based on her life by David Byrne, with music and lyrics by Byrne, additional music by Fatboy Slim, Ruthie Ann Miles is a fantastic singer, dancer and actress, with sexy Jose Llana as Marcos. There are no seats – the audience is meant to dance and at times to follow synchronized dance steps. (Super choreography by Annie-B Parson.) During the marriage of Ferdinand and Imelda, everything came to a halt as an audience member was carried out, no doubt overcome by the smoke machines and throbbing disco music.

Here Lies Love is danceable, but too much time is spent making I.M. sympathetic or too stupid to know any better. Her shoe collection is left out, a debatable omission, but she is depicted as outraged when Ferdinand has an affair, while her own affair with actor George Hamilton isn’t mentioned. Still, we left the Public Theater humming the tunes.

Grill 21, on 21st St. near First Avenue is one of only two Filipino restaurants in the city that we know of and serves amazing adobo chicken, pork, or shrimp, is so much better than the adobo chickens at Gourmet Garage (apologies to non-New Yorkers unfamiliar with their adobo chicken), as well as grilled milkfish, a specialty. Filipino cuisine is also known for exotic purple ube (yam) desserts, which are bright purple without food coloring. At the bakery down the block you can get a purple ube cake made by pastry chef Violet.

Room Service and Pippin

Fancy Pad Thai at Room Service
Room Service is here to serve you the haute Thai cuisine that you might find in an upscale hotel in Bangkok. Slate walls and enormous chandeliers suggest a swanky hotel lobby, the menus have room numbers, and waiters are dressed as bellboys. There is a steady lunchtime flow. This reviewer not long ago honeymooned in Thailand so was curious to see if the food compared. Pad Thai noodles (the classic) had pink coconut-beet sauce and tamarind juice, sprinkled with mango spears. Very fancy! The $12 Room Service VIP drink was a jumble of fruit and alcohol that tastes sweet and potent. I remembered these potent cocktails from my honeymoon. The menu includes traditional dishes as well as chef creations using lotus seeds, raisins, lychees. Thai pumpkin flan is not to be missed.

The musical Pippin hasn’t been on Broadway for 40 years, a hiatus that is due perhaps to its adult storybook nature. The audience was all abuzz and applauding as the lights were lowered. I then rethought bringing my 7 year-old to the show, anticipating the sexual undertones that would be over her head. There were many.

Prince Pippin, son of the conqueror Charlemagne, is on a quest for meaning and answers (“Corner of the World”), who finds answers and yet more questions. The current production courageously entwines Bob Fosse choreography with surreal circus acts created by Gypsy Snider. It works. Costume designer Dominique Lemieux shows us that every woman looks sensational in an acrobat costume with fringe.

Comedian Andrea Martin plays Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, and her “No Time at All” is a showstopper. I have two words: Hot Mama. Go see Pippin!

Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last and Firebird

Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last is so much fun as Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers, who represented Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway and (the lout) Steve McQueen, among many others. Entertaining us in her sunlit Beverly Hills mansion, Midler’s voice alone is hypnotizing as she imparts the principles that made her a great businesswoman: “To me ‘no’ always meant ‘maybe’.”

On a day in 1981, while Sue Mengers, agent to the stars, is waiting for her star client and best friend, Barbra Streisand, to call her and fire her, she dishes her best, most hilarious stories and picks out an audience member to come up onstage and refresh her drink, also to pass her the marijuana container (a silver box), from the side table.

We felt a little smarter, a little stoned, leaving the theatre listening to a recording of Bette Midler singing, which couldn’t help but remind us that she is a way bigger star than Sue Mengers was. It’s not a problem! Just what happens when you hear her uptempo Stoney End. In 1994 Midler started the historic New York Restoration Project, which spruced up parks and gardens everywhere in the city and that is now restoring gardens destroyed in the hurricane. She is the beloved queen of NYC on the basis of good works alone.

After 90 minutes in the company of the Divine Miss M we felt high and wanted caviar, vodka, drama. The opulent Russian restaurant Firebird answered the call. Star chef, Paul Joseph, has created a new Russian menu, for instance replacing noodles in the beef stroganoff with light gnocchi and making buckwheat blinis for caviar that are thin crêpes. Joseph’s version of beet salad uses peekytoe crab and cucumber. The amuse-buche of creamed, condensed carrot with truffle froth in a demitasse cup was the best thing we ever tasted.

Our waiter suggested infused vodka produced in house in a dozen varieties. He coached us to start with a savory rather than a sweet: the senses-awakening horseradish vodka, served chilled and in a chilled flute.“Vodka must be freezing cold,” he said. It was entirely unrushed – so rare. We ended with lavender creme brûléeand Russian tea.

As with other restaurants moving with the times, it is permanently restaurant week at Firebird, which offers a two-course prix fixe for $21. The tasting menu allows you to range over the entire menu. Pretty bars upstairs and down are full of crystal vodka bottles (but amber bottles too) and lead on to opulent, tasseled nineteenth-century dining rooms decorated with costumes and artwork associated with the Stravinsky ballet The Firebird. Among the statuary and gaslights and draperies, we felt like Lara in Doctor Zhivago on her date with Komarovsky – only better.

This Round’s On Us and Il Buco

The six-year-old indie Nylon Fusion Theatre Company has a festival of well-chosen short plays four times a year. Led by Ivette Dumeng and a glamorous team of actors, the evening has an unexpected effervescence. An open bar near the stage encourages audience – and cast – to down a few drinks and be happy. The plays are all funny, and there’s an uninhibited party atmosphere, but also serious acting going on.

In Searching for Armstrong by James Harmon Brown, two brothers divide up their father’s estate, each accusing the other of having stolen a thing of value: a signed photo of Neil Armstrong in his space suit. Finally one of the brothers fesses up.Lucas Beck and Adam Belvo look nothing alike but were totally convincing as brothers, and kept us rooting for both of them.
Racine Russell and Andrew MacLarty

There was an intermission after Owed, by Joseph Samuel Wright – a wife meets her husband’s “bimbo,”as she calls her, face to face. Pooya Mohseni and Kate Garfield are both amazing in this gem, directed by Shira-Lee Shalit. These brief plays go as far as they can go, and there isn't a dud in the bunch.

While audience members mingled during the intermission, some with complimentary gin, others with a glass of the Nylon Fusion’s “signature sangria,” a fight broke out backstage between actors and spilled out onto the bar area. It seemed unlikely to come to blows. Yet, for a minute or two, it was believable enough that audience members took cover. It’s a testament to the freshness of this company that they’d even attempt something like that – and carry it off.

Right down the street from the Gene Frankel Theatre, and close to the Public Theatre, is the highly esteemed Il Buco, where everything you taste will be exceptional, including the bread dipped in olive oil.

The décor is Italian country kitchen. The menu is a poem. You’ll notice that all the main courses are similarly priced, so there’s no point in ordering chicken when you can have fluke or something exotic. The Italian kale version of caesar salad and a half portion of risotto or pappardelle will run you about fifty dollars, with one glass of the sommelier-choice wine at ten dollars a glass. You have to be prepared to pay the piper, but after dining at Il Buco, you’re excited to start cooking better at home, and that perhaps should be the test of a great restaurant experience today.

Matilda the Musical and Un Deux Trois

The 1996 film of the Roald Dahl Matilda is my 7-year-old daughter’s favorite movie, and in the first 10 minutes of “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway, both she and I knew that this is going be a hit! The clever lyrics, percussive movement, and glowing, alphabet block set captivated us. Also, there is the empowering message that you can create your own destiny.

The new characters that have been added absolutely enhance the story.Two faves include Rudolpho, Mrs. Wormwood’s slick and slimy ballroom-dance partner who slithers and undulates across the stage, and the all-knowing librarian, who listens uncritically to the 5-year-old Matilda’s stories. The most exciting, twisted, and hilarious performance of all is Bertie Carvel in drag as the tyrant headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Surprisingly, children are not frightened by his stern and wicked portrayal. I refuse to divulge more, but he’s a scream in the phys ed number.

Our Matilda (four actresses play her) looked the part, but seemed more a film than stage actor. It was difficult to understand her British accent. (She may improve with practice—this was a preview.) Bravo, Royal Shakespeare Company! We had to get the brilliant soundtrack, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and can’t stop listening to it. Her favorite? Telly,sung by Mr. Wormwood, who proudly learned everything he knows from the telly.

Around Café Un Deux Trois (One Two Three) are plenty of intimate, red banquettes, tall mirrors, chandeliers, and a romantic bar for late at night. A brunch menu makes it a pre-matinee destination on weekends. It doesn’t keep white place mats and crayons on the table for children specifically, but that and its noise level (because of high ceilings) make it a place where a child can feel perfectly comfortable.

The weekday lunch prix fixe includes a much-ordered daily soup and a made-in-house rustic pâté served with celeriac salad on radicchio. Apart from too much tilapia on the menu, there are steak frites, moules frites, a creamy Quiche Lorraine, and other French bistro fare, as well as le burger and a choice of salads (which many restaurants have done away with, replacing anything sandwich- and salad-like with the high-priced scourge “small plates”). It’s probably nobody’s favorite restaurant, but achieves its status from being around so long that practically everybody has a memory of a kiss in one of those banquettes.

The Lying Lesson and El Quijote

Looking uncannily like her subject, Carol Kane channels Bette Davis, the woman, in Craig Lucas’ The Lying Lesson. Late in life Davis attempts to move back to her Maine hometown and, if possible, meet up with her first boyfriend there. The young woman assisting in the house sale is unaware of who she is and sometimes refers to her as “Mrs. David.”

Tall, blond Mickey Sumner has a bewitching tomboy style that is particularly in evidence when she lights two cigarettes at once, a la the 1942 Now, Voyager—one of the few references to Bette Davis’s films in the play. Admittedly, the Maine accent is tough for even an American to fake. Sumner is the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler.

Two fascinating actresses are heroic through a play that gives them little to do. Kane’s big scene is recounting, blow-by-blow, seeing the old boyfriend again. It’s so powerful and funny that you believe Carol Kane is Bette Davis.

As for the vintage set—the shabby Maine cottage with plaid furnishings and 50s kitchen—it’s ambitious, but what a dump. One can’t imagine BD setting foot in it much less spending the night.

When you visit the Atlantic Theater Company or the Joyce in Chelsea, there are many fabulous restaurants to choose from. But if you visit from out of town, and you’ve never been there, you might like to try the famous El Quijote, in the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Dedicated to Don Quixote, there is a party room named for Dulcinea. Theatre Row recommends the recreation of sixteenth-century Spain in Jaime Manrique’s absorbing novel Cervantes Street.

Tapas and seafood rule the vast menu. Paellas come in many forms, and delicious sangria in pitchers and half-pitchers. If you’re in the mood for a snack at the bar, the fried calamari is tip-top. Free tapas are available at the early happy hour.

Through the 50s onwards, the Chelsea Hotel has played host to numerous artists whose names and art works adorn the hotel’s lobby, currently being renovated. El Quijote has never been so much as repainted, and bears the pong of a billion cigarettes smoked there before the 2003 statewide ban on smoking in restaurants. In other ways, it’s good some places never change! The better to imagine being here while songs were written by Bob Dylan, Nico, Graham Nash, and Leonard Cohen—and poems by Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso.

All in the Timing and Uncle Jack's

A series of intricate, quick wordplays by David Ives is revived at Primary Stages, where it had its premiere in 1993. There’s a parody of Philip Glass, with very clever stagecraft. A play about Leon Trotsky’s last days in Coyoacán, Mexico, partly relies on one finding Russian and Spanish accents funny, which is to say, this particular play didn’t age well.

“The Philadelphia” is classic, about an extravagantly happy man in a restaurant, whose outlook, he explains, is L.A. all the way. He informs another diner that he is unmistakably displaying a Philadelphia. The waitress complains she has a Cleveland.

Anarchically comical and irreverent, five gifted actors skillfully showcase their talents playing completely different characters in each of six scenes. We especially liked Jenn Harris as the eager student of a universal language, taught by charlatan academic Carson Elrod, and giant Matthew Saldivar as the expansive, self-satisfied, world-kissing “L.A.”

One of us was an actress in her former life and understudied all of the parts in All in the Timing—a damn impressive feat. Understudies are so under-sung! Where is the Tony Award for best Broadway understudy? Theatre Row Review believes there should be one.

Steakhouses are often all-male, but if there’s a woman dining at Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, she’s liable to be Japanese and chic. This is because Jack’s is one of very few restaurants on this continent serving Kobe steaks ($250 for 16 oz, $125 for 8 oz). There is also an appetizer of Kobe meatballs– and lobster cocktail as well as shrimp cocktail. Crab cakes served in a shrimp-colored shrimp sauce were amazing. Fridays during Lent: one-dollar oysters and clams from 4 to 6 p.m.

Our dry-aged Porterhouse and filet mignon were ordered medium and were beautifully charred on the outside, juicy and red inside. The filet mignon was ambrosial. Steaks are served bone-in or bone-out, in an interesting nod toward worldwide proto-vegetarianism. Not that a vegetarian would set foot in a steakhouse, however Uncle Jack’s anticipates them, with its ambitious selection of seafood, shellfish, salads, vegetables garnished with a giant potato chip, and potatoes done every which way. 

Ann and Café Fiorello

You don't have to remember Governor Ann Richards to love “Ann.”Creatures from Outer Space who happen upon Lincoln Center and buy tickets to this show, with no knowledge of Texas gubernatorial history, will fall under her spell too.

Holland Taylor wrote the snappy play and has been performing Ann Richards for years. She’s made up to look exactly like her, in a copy of Richards’ white Chanel suit and stiff white hairstyle. Her friend the humorist Molly Ivins said the hair made her look like a Republican. She was anything but conservative—a left-wing Democrat, feminist and supporter of gay rights. Richards’ vote against a concealed weapons bill lost her re-election. She said, half facetiously, that gun owners should wear their guns on a chain around their necks so we all could see.

Though many thought Richards, who married a civil rights lawyer at age 19 and had four children, was later in life a lesbian, Taylor doesn’t take it up. Perhaps the inevitable movie version of “Ann” will. We never see the chain-smoker, nor does Taylor’s Gov. Richards thrillingly recite the fifty states (perhaps it wouldn’t work in the theatre) as she did as keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic convention—an indelible moment in US history. But who can quibble with the electrifying performance Holland Taylor pulls off?

She’s delivering a graduation address when we meet her, and later, we get to hang out with Gov. Richards in her office, where she spars wittily with her staff and has provocative phone conversations with then President Bill Clinton. The charismatic Holland Taylor isn’t didactic in the least, and her play is good to the last drop, followed by a thundering standing ovation. Theatre Row Review will have to backtrack: We’d earlier predicted Laurie Metcalf for the Best Actress Tony, but now we think it will be a dead heat with Holland Taylor.

Lincoln Center is surrounded by restaurants. The one directly in front, Fiorello, is one of the busiest and moderately priced. If you’re alone, the antipasto bar is a congenial place to sit and mingle with people on their way to the ballet, the philharmonic, Film Center, and the theatres. Or get a table outdoors – in cool weather, heated. One evening the weather turned chilly, and we were offered blankets. Choose from about forty antipastos on display. Entrees include their signature lasagna, thin as a kringle, big enough to share, and a personal pizza with paper-thin crust that overlaps the plate. On the way out, complimentary dark chocolate with sea salt – your night at the opera might call for it.

American Girl Place Café and Cinderella

Rumplemeyers, the upscale midtown ice-cream parlor of old, morphed into the cultish American Girl Place Café – near enough to Broadway for lunch pre-matinee. You may want to book post-play in order to take your time. Our drama critic’s 7 year-old daughter could find not a single thing wrong with the experience. She even ran into someone she knew and bonded with the 12-year-old in the next banquet.

The store sells dolls constructed in the owner’s image. Basically, hair color and skin color are all that change. If a child doesn’t own one, she or he may choose from an array of loaner dolls to sit beside them during the meal. Our youngest critic brought her look-alike doll, which was given her own seat at the table and brought a tiny teacup and saucer. (At home, her mother says, she never plays with the doll.) She manned the “conversation box,” asking thoughtful questions. “Do you ever feel homesick? What do you do about that?” Several question slips were tossed aside before she read the next: “If you had your choice, would you be an only child or one of ten children? You can only pick one or the other.” The decor is flowery, pink, black and white.

Blue-cheese burgers, mac and cheese, tic-tac-toe pizza are substantial, served with a mountain of sweet potato fries – you’d expect doll-size portions. We had so much food there was enough to take home to Daddy. A generous appetizer platter includes pretzel bread, mustard and ranch dips, fruit and carrots trimmed with a little mohawk of green. Dessert is a chocolate mousse flowerpot, heart-shaped cake, and fruit kabob.

When you book the American Girl restaurant online, you are asked to pay on the spot your party’s prix fixe at lunchtime of $24 per person (whether adult or child). As you are about to pay online, a question flashes:“Are you 18 years of age or older?” Apparently some girls succeeded in the trick of using their parents' credit card to book reservations from their iphones. One clever girl ordered a whole range of dolls, dolls’ dogs, wardrobes, luggage, and a miniature grand piano—a thousand dollars worth of merchandise.

Cinderella on Broadway has magic, love, humor and heart. This updated production of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic seems softer and a far cry from the original 1957 Julie Andrews version. The stepsisters are contemplative and not as mean. They are more focused on their own ambitions rather than thwarting Cinderella’s. The Prince exhibits leadership skills and truly cares about his kingdom. The stepmother isn’t completely a pill. There is an updated text with new twists, characters (including a rebel), and songs outside of the original score.

It all works. The star is Cinderella’s inside-out gown that transforms from peasant’s frock to ball gown in seconds. Costumes by William Ivey Long are glittery, bright and beautiful when danced. The many layered ball gowns flutter and swirl. Our 7-year old critic described them as "poofy, like big cupcakes," and she wished "I hope I can go to a real ball someday and wear a dress like that!" She loved the choreography and the gorgeous voice of Cinderella—Laura Osnes. A special shoutout to Harriet Harris, who is hilarious as the stepmother.

Who doesn’t want to believe that dreams come true? Santino Fontana, the Prince, sums it up: “You can get what you secretly wish for. We should all keep hoping for the impossible.”

The Other Place and B. Smith

Laurie Metcalf, beloved dimpled actress from “Roseanne,” plays super successful Jules, type-A, age 52, promoter for a pharmaceutical company, wife of oncologist Ian, played by engaging actor Bill Pullman. Speaking at a medical conference in the Virgin Islands, she first notices signs that she is losing it.

“Are you flirting with suicidal thoughts, Juliana?” her doctor asks. “I’m dating them, actually — but they won’t put out.” Laurie Metcalf is so grounded, so cool, that she makes creaky dialogue sound like Shakespeare. Ian arrives to pick her up. Juliana has a diagnosis of early dementia. Alone, she breaks away and drives to “the other place,” the family summerhouse in Cape Cod.

It was sold fifteen years ago. The house’s new owner arrives to find she’d let herself in with old keys and believes she still owns the place. What unfolds is unexpectedly tender and even heartbreaking, with Zoe Perry in the role of the new owner (as well as other female parts).

There is an entirely gratuitous subplot about a murdered daughter that the play should lose in future incarnations if it knows what it’s doing. We predict Laurie Metcalf will win Best Actress at the Tony Awards 2013, in spite of a weak play, uninspired direction, lack of opportunities for humor, and a metallic set with bad feng shui.

Beforehand, we returned to soul food restaurant B. Smith to see what they offered pre-matinee. Once or twice we’ve been there in its 26-year history. It isn’t that we don’t love B. Smith that we don’t go more often just that there are too many fish in the sea regarding New York restaurants.

B. Smith (Barbara Smith) is the iconic African-American supermodel who blazed a trail in the 60s and 70s. In an appearance with Fred Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, B. said her dream was to feed people, and that she fed her dolls when she was a child. Today she has three restaurants (another in D.C. and one in Sag Harbor).

Most nights she presides over Theatre Row B. Smith, following her hosting of her two-hour radio program. It has a tall buttress design based on Gare d'Orsay in Paris and is as spacious as the portions are generous. The staff treats you so well, and the background music is as relaxing as a massage. Fried green tomatoes, an app, is crispy, with brightly colored toppings, enough for a meal. Delicious! B. Smith remakes soul food to keep it healthy for the most part – like black-eyed peas hummus with wilted vegetables.

We toasted our Peach Long Island Iced Teas and moved on to slow-braised short ribs over garlic mashed potatoes, fried chicken on a waffle. Side dishes of kale and collard greens were wilted and tender, fresh. Everything was flavorful and juicy, nothing overcooked. Those fried green tomatoes have to be calorie bombs. We can’t imagine what a former haute couture model orders at her own restaurant. It can’t be the fried chicken on a waffle, served with hot sauce, melted butter, and maple syrup. Strong coffee and Bourbon Street bourbon bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream set us up before we tripped off to our matinee.

Barbetta and The Heiress

Barbetta, on Restaurant Row, is the oldest restaurant in the city, located in an 1874 townhouse, owned consistently by the Maioglio family.Our amuse-bouche of salmon smoked in-house (to avoid the usual salt overload), was the most delicious smoked salmon we had ever eaten. Too cold a day for salad, hostess Laura Maioglio suggested a hot first course of tiny gnocchetti ai formaggi. The scallops in potato crust, rabbit alla Piemontese and agnolotti, a 1906 tiny-ravioli dish, warmed us up in a hurry. Flourless chocolate cake, a dessert that many restaurants do well, was, like the smoked salmon, almost too good to be true at Barbetta.

The setting is creamy and grand and used in many movies, including several by Woody Allen—you almost get a sense of déjà vu. Valentine’s Day is the day to be at Barbetta, with dancing to a “four-piece band.” You know it’s got to be amazing! We’d settle just to come back one perfect night in early summer and dine in the enchanting old garden, beside the fountain and the hundred-year-old tangle of wisteria.

The old world charm of Barbetta prepared us for “The Heiress,” by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, a bittersweet love story based on the Henry James novelette Washington Square. In the role of Catherine Sloper, the heroine who over and over again will turn down a chance to be loved, is the too-beautiful Jessica Chastain of movie fame. She plays the unappreciated daughter of the stern widower, Dr. Austin Sloper, fully embodied by Broadway veteran David Strathairn. What a pleasure to watch both actors go at it in this period piece!

The play takes place in one roomthe parlor of the Slopers’ Washington Square house. Henry James described this part of old Greenwich Village as having a “mild and melancholy glamour.” His childhood home was on Washington Square, where there are still a few row houses on the northeast corner. (If you want more of the setting, take a short trip to the Merchant’s House Museuma perfectly intact nineteenthcentury house that was the set designer’s inspiration.)

The real surprise of the afternoon was Dan Stevens. Who doesn’t love the dashing Matthew Crawley of “Downton Abbey”? We were expecting more of the same in his portrayal of the anxious young suitor, but he was quite different and kept us guessing. A terrific performance.

Becco Restaurant and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

On 46th St. between Eighth and Ninth, Becco looks like just another Theatre Row restaurant until you try to get a reservation and find it booked through to matinee time. We arrived at noon in order to find seats at the bar and ordered a bottle of wine from a long list of $25 bottles. Ah, is cheap wine the key to Becco's success? The Italian menu offered a prix fixe at under $20 (is this Restaurant Week?) and a 3-pasta combination, when ordered with another course for only $9. "For instance, order a salad and you can get the pasta combo," our waiter helpfully suggested.

Three waiters appear, each carrying a silver platter of pasta of a different shape and sauce. Later, seconds were offered, and we filled our plates again, only to ask for our leftovers to be wrapped up. We had to bring something home for our husbands' dinner, especially after we'd spent the entire afternoon drinking wine and sitting in a exquisite theatre, watching a classic American play, while they were hard at work at the office.

The courses are generous at Becco and flavored in a way that fresh sage and basil notes are there, but subtle. If there is any complaint to be made about this fine fare, served with a nibble of white bean paste and high quality bread, is that the chef has too light a hand with salt. Looking around at the packed restaurant full of theatre goers, many with white hair, perhaps it's not the cheap wine but a preference is for healthy, low-salt Italian fare that packs them in.

The small, pretty Booth theatre played host to the Steppenwolf's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," a play that has been regularly updated by Edward Albee, including a cell phone and words that never passed Elizabeth Taylor's lips, even when she played the reckless drunk, Martha. Amy Morton's Martha is just as strong but less of a lush. Tracy Letts, without Burton's accent, is a more sinister George, and a more comic one too. Carrie Coon gives a fresh delivery to the character of Honey. We are so impressed by Steppenwolf's not creating star vehicles and focusing on the story.

We reflected during the two intermissions that it would be difficult to perform this play twice a day (which they do on Saturday only). The schedule does not have both matinee and evening performance on Wednesday, allowing the actors to cool down, practice yoga, and be peaceful between harrowing performances.