Tout Va Bien
311 W 51st Street ( between 8th and 9th Avenue)
New York, New York 10019
ICE and Godard: Tout va bien!
It was one of those perfect luminous fall days in New York City. Blue skies and yellow leaves beginning to turn. I lie in the grass on the Lincoln Center lawn and watch the clouds form and float. I think I should slow down and do this more often. How relaxed and open and accepting can I be? Get present now: the world is the Zendo. I enjoy my day off from Crossfit enormously: rest and rebuilding is essential. I am driven by the relentless art gods, consumed with the book. I feel like Don Quixote. Who am I to write about the great and complex questions of death, memory and time? Is this a quixotic quest? Am I just tilting at windmills, or can I trust my work and intelligence and be confident that something valuable will emerge at the end of this?
I am on my way to an International Contemporary Ensemble performance. Sabrina Schroeder at Bruno Walter Auditorium: Stircrazy for saxophone and electronically activated bass drums. Bonegames: darkhorse. Transducers, fibrillation and pulsation. Sound beds, low slowly evolving, high frequency hits; horizontal and vertical. I am inspired. It is an open rehearsal with interaction between the audience and composer, and composer and musicians. The composer is concerned with musical time, duration and improvisation. New musical forms. I ask a question of the composer concerning acoustic space and it is well received.
From Lincoln Center I walk to Hell’s Kitchen to visit Tout Va Bien. I take photographs along the way but all of them are bad. I delete them later.
Tout Va Bien was established in 1949 and is the oldest bistro in the Theater District. The bistro is in Hells Kitchen so, fortunately, it does not feel like the Theater District. It was founded by Jean-Pierre Touchard. It has been managed by the Touchard family for more than three generations. It is well known for its coq au vin and filet mignon. In fact, I received a post card from the bistro which celebrated its 65th anniversary: new menu, new chef and new air conditioning!
Signifiers of the Bistro Archetype: the red awing on the street, Ricard banner flags hung on the railing, a small replica of the Eiffel Tower wrapped in blue and red twinkle lights on the outside patio; the specials on the chalk board (frog legs, filet mignon, veal blanket, crap cake and asparagus), French flags and posters on the walls, French country plates on the walls, old wood tables and chairs, sometimes Thonet, a red banquet bench, a small bar as you enter, and menus with the French font. Because the bistro is so old, there is lots of accumulated stuff everywhere; it does feel like your grandparents living room and kitchen!
The energy was somewhat spoiled by a huge TV monitor at the end of the bistro tuned to a hockey game and another small monitor next to the bar. I don’t like televisions in bistros; it makes me think I am in a cheap bar in Detroit where everyone is drinking Budweiser and eating wings.
The menu has all of the favorites and the prices are modest. The Coq Au Vin is $21.50, the hanger steak is $23, the Filet De Sole Meuniere is $22.95 and the Salade Niçoise is $16. The specials that evening were filet mignon, veal blanket, frog legs, and crab cakes.
The staff was very casual; my waitress seemed to be a member of the family and the host came over to inquire about my dinner. He was elderly, dressed in a formal dark suit and had a greying pony tail.
I have coq a vin and the chocolate mousse. It is my cheat day and I earned it after eight out of nine days on at Crossfit. The bread was not worth eating (why does any bistro serve bad bread?) but it did come with a side of carrots, celery and radishes. A nice touch. My wine was ordinary.
What makes a great coq a vin? Here is a definition of the dish from the NYT:
A coq au vin is a classic French stew in which chicken is braised slowly in red wine and a little brandy to yield a supremely rich sauce filled with tender meat, crisp bits of bacon, mushrooms and burnished pearl onions. Traditional recipes call for a whole cut-up chicken, but using all dark meat gives you a particularly succulent dish without the risk of overcooked white meat.
The dish I received was not a traditional coq au vin. My dish had two large potatoes on each side of the dish and carrot slices. The sauce was very dark and somewhat thick; there was no evidence of the pearl onions. Since the sauce was so heavy, it overpowered the lardons and any nuance of the flavors. Even so, the dish was quite flavorful and enjoyable.
The mousse was the high point. It came with whipped cream, mint and strawberries. I closed with an espresso.
They table next to me had been drinking sangria. The waitress had placed an enormous punch bowl full of the stuff on their table. I remarked to the waitress that was a tempting way to serve sangria! There was a slight delay with running my card through their system and the waitress very kindly gave me a free glass while I waited. It was much better than I expected and I drank more of it than I intended to!
The name of the restaurant forces us to talk about Godard. Tout Va Bien is Godard’s most Marxist film. It is about class relations and economics. The film concerns two main characters. Jane Fonda is an American journalist living in France and is a correspondent to an American news company. She is reporting on French culture and politics. She is married to a Yves Montand-a filmmaker who was once a New Wave director but who has moved on to make commercials. The film revolves around a strike in a French sausage factor; Fonda and the filmmaker are trapped in the manager’s office by the striking workers. The most famous scene in the movie is the long tracking scene in a supermarket. The camera moves down a long series of checkout counters, all with long lines of people obediently standing in line with big carts of food, a slow parade of excessive consumption. Then the rebelling workers come to liberate the grocery store. They shout: “Free! It’s all free!” The camera starts tracking back to the left and the scene turns to chaos when the shoppers run to fill their carts and charge out of the store.
Jane Fonda can make no sense out of what she experiences: “I am an American correspondent in France who no longer corresponds to anything.” What does it mean?
All Godard films require study: read the reviews below!
Staff: 6 (Family, French, casual; extra points for the free glass of sangria)
Archetype: 7 (There are many signifiers of the Archetype that have accumulated over 65 years)
Food: 6 (Basic bistro food; no frills; modest prices)
Energy: 5 (Noise low, television monitors annoying, tables close together)
International Contemporary Ensemble
Tout Va Bien-Godard