Yeah, you have to, to paraphrase that annoying old Cranberries song. You have to come prepared to stay awhile & soak it all up, every last retro & surreal detail. The gold-streaked mirror lining the back bar upstairs & the Lite Brite bulbs (what a sight, makin’ things with Lite Brite!) lining the bartop. The bright swirls & paisleys of wallpaper, evoking the foyer of a mortuary whose owners made a misguided attempt to brighten things up circa 1973. The fact that you are, indeed, in a former mortuary—which owner Justin Cucci, to his credit, clearly took pains to downplay. (In his place, I think I’d have gone cuckoo with morbid, gross-out decor, forgetting all about the fact that people are trying to eat here.) The inexplicable moat of billiard balls you pass on the way to the bathrooms. The way, way hipper-than-thou servers with their porkpie hats, vintage eyeglasses & loafers, looking for all the world like long-lost members of The Untouchables. Etc. And then there’s the spectacular view of downtown from the picture windows that make Linger, for all its quirks, so light & airy & perfectly comfy. (Its spaciousness helps too; despite the Saturday night mob, it didn’t feel like a madhouse, since there was plenty of room to sprawl.)
In short, I instantly liked the place—every bit as much as I instantly didn’t like its sibling, Root Down, upon its equally ballyhooed opening (although I’ve since come around somewhat). Though I didn’t try the cocktails, I know Anika Zappe’s work well enough (ahem) to know I would like the cocktails. Instead, I drank one of the weirdest wines ever—Casalfarneto Rosae Lacrima di Morro d’Alba—the 1st, Xtreeeemely juicy sip of which made me cringe, while the 2nd made me wonder, & by the 3rd glass I was hooked. Pals L & Mo, meanwhile, stopped at the cringing stage. It takes guts to put a wine like this, sure to appeal only to a fringe element with a taste for pain (Mo proclaimed it ”like falling down in a field of lavender and being stung by 1,000 angry bees”), on a by-the-glass list; for that reason alone, I’ll be back to see what other oenologic wonders await.
And the food? I liked that too. Did I love it? Not yet—but the promise of summer lovin’ is already there in spades. The globally influenced small plates menu is fun-filled from soup to nuts—sometimes in the same bowl, as with the cucumber gazpacho garnished with almonds, green grapes, & shaved radish.
That scoop of tomato sorbet in the center was what made the dish, adding a swirl of icy tart-sweet zing to its coolly creamy surroundings.
I’ve had the likes of corn-poblano soup with crab & avocado many a time, & this rendition was as good as any, falling somewhere between palatable & memorable.
Neither the steamed Mongolian duck buns with miso-pickled cucumbers
nor the beer-braised short rib tacos
stood out in my mind; they were fine, but the problem with moving street food indoors is that street food is, by definition, meant to be eaten on the street, current high-end trend notwithstanding. What one savors is its cheap, messy, on-the-fly qualities; it loses something in the translation to sit-down fare—& so do the more expensive ingredients meant to improve it. That’s my story, anyway, & I’m sticking to it.
By comparison, the spring-green, fresh & bright fava bean-sweet pea ”hummus” absolutely benefited from such chefly touches as the row of mix-ins—grated egg, paprika, crumbled feta, & reserved lemon—on the rim of the bowl, making for a sort of impressionistic paint-by-numbers bread spread.
Same goes for the transformation of the fresh Indian cheese called paneer into “fries”; much like tofu, this stuff is generally so mild it’s as much a textural canvas for other ingredients as it is an ingredient in itself, & as a vehicle for warm-spiced spinach puree & heady rhubarb ketchup, the firm, lightly fried sticks held up nicely.
The patty on the left was listed as b’stilla, but it went down far more like a cake of chicken hash than a carefully layered, Moroccan-style phyllo-dough pie (c.f. the real deal at Palais Casablanca). A misnomer isn’t necessarily a culinary mistake, though; this was dense, moist, & bold-flavored through & through—& if you ask me, they should slide that shit into a steamed bun or onto a tortilla for a twist on street food. Meanwhile, much to my surprise, the goat cheese & watermelon salad on the right was nearly my favorite dish.
Watermelon being one of world’s only foods I’ve never cared much for, & watermelon–goat cheese salads being 10 cents for 12, I’d not have thought to order it. One of my pals did, however—& good on her, because I loved it. In part, the simple fact that the melon was perfectly ripe & the cheese especially salty yet creamy made all the difference. But so did a drizzle of pomegranate molasses & a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper (crushed dried chilies used in Turkish cooking, with a sumac-like tartness but more heat). Turns out a little extra zest was what this combination needed all along. In which case it serves as a fine rejoinder to all those chefs who talk about “taking quality ingredients & not fucking them up.” Sometimes, kids, you gotta fuck ‘em up.
Which brings me to my favorite dish—the raw “samosas” with curried cashew “yogurt” & cranberry-mint jam.
Okay, they look a little—how do I put this—poopy. And my pals insisted they didn’t taste much better. But, as with the wine, I found something in them to love—namely that they tasted exactly like buckwheat cookie dough (or maybe pumpernickel). What they were actually made of, I don’t know—traditional samosa pastry just contains your basic flour mix—& though I could attempt to find out, I kind of like preserving the mystery for now. Taste ‘em for yourself, & tell me what you think.
In fact, taste everything for yourself, & let me know what you think. (Especially the mussels, because I don’t even remember eating ‘em, though this picture suggests that happened.)
If you don’t agree that this place has got it, that magical nameless thing that’s more than the sum of its parts, I’ll eat my hat. Or better still, one of the server’s porkpie hats. Because, mmm, pork pie.