Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sunday in New York: Easy parking, brunch and theater

Organic Kale Salad with Ricotta and Lemon Honey Chipotle Vinaigrette at Thalia Restaurant in Manhattan.


On Sundays, Manhattan can be your oyster.

Street parking is free, even at all of those expensive Muni-Meters, which have spread like wildfire.

If you're going to a Broadway matinee, try the a la carte brunch at Thalia, where a glass of house wine, fresh juice, a screwdriver or other beverage is included in the price.

Four Eastern Oysters on the half shell.

Crab Cake Sandwich with Thalia's Herbed Fries.

Free parking and free wine

On Sunday, we left our North Jersey home a little before noon, crossed the bridge and joined a crowd of cars moving briskly down the West Side Highway.

I turned east on West 50th Street and after crossing Ninth Avenue, started looking for a space on the street.

I found one just a short walk from Eighth Avenue, the restaurant where we had a 1 p.m. reservation and Circle in The Square, the theater where we had tickets for "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," a musical about Billie Holiday, the star-crossed jazz singer.

My Manhattan oysters

At Thalia, I started with four fresh-shucked, deliciously briny Eastern Oysters -- Malpeque, Duck Island, Blue Point and Saddle Rock -- at $2.25 or $2.50 each.

My wonderful Organic Kale Salad included ricotta cheese, apples, cranberries and fresh blueberries, and I asked the waitress to hold the bacon ($12).

My wife ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich with arugula, avocado mousse, caramelized onions and spicy harissa aioli ($19).

The plump cakes were filled with plenty of crab meat, and my wife loved the herbed fries.

With my salad, I had a glass of house red wine, and my wife drank fresh grapefruit juice, and both were complimentary.

Thalia is on Eighth Avenue at West 50th Street in Manhattan. The restaurant is named after one of the three Graces in Greek mythology, not the Mexican singer and actress of the same name.

The back room at Caffe Bene, a South Korean chain, at Broadway and West 49th Street, where I had coffee before the show. Take that, Starbucks.

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" is based on a midnight appearance by jazz singer Billie Holiday at a South Philadelphia nightclub four months before she died of cirrhosis of the liver and heart failure on July 17,1959, at age 44.

For the performance, Circle in The Square is set up as a nightclub surrounded by traditional rows of theater seats, including a bar and a stage for the extraordinary Audra McDonald, who is backed by a jazz trio. Audience members at tables -- which cost up to $305 per seat -- are served drinks.

English: Portrait of Billie Holiday in Down Be...
Portrait of a young Billie Holiday in Down Beat magazine.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Singing in Billie's voice

I've seen Billie Holiday portrayed on stage and in film before, but only Audra McDonald has been able to reproduce the jazz legend's high, sweet voice, which the singer makes huskier to reflect Holiday's heavy drinking.

McDonald as Holiday is already tipsy when she first takes the stage, and drinks throughout the performance at Circle in The Square.

No story about Holiday has a happy ending, and McDonald's "Lady Day" is no exception as she talks about her struggles and recounts all the vicious discrimination she faced in a segregated America.

She recounts touring in Alabama with the all-white Artie Shaw band and how, as a black woman, she and the band could eat only in a restaurant's kitchen after Shaw offered to pay twice as much as other customers.

But when Holiday wanted to go to the bathroom, the white hostess refused to allow the singer to use the bathroom set aside for the black male staff.

There was no bathroom for the black female staff.

The jazz singer said she had no choice but to urinate in a gushing stream on the floor, and laughed as she recounted how the hostess jumped up, her menus flying, as she tried to stay dry.

Thalia Restaurant, 828 Eighth Ave. (at West 50th Street), Manhattan; 1-212-399-4444.

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