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.