On those rare days that Leslie Koch turns fifty years of age you most definitely want to be there. And so we arrange for Mike and Ellie to settle in for a horse-and-house-sit weekend and hit I-91 for the four-hour drive to Brooklyn. We arrive in time for Rebecca to join Douglas who, as the master of ceremonies, has procured an evening in Marco Pasanella’s enoteca and tasting room on the lower east side of Manhattan Island.
Marco, a college friend of Leslie’s, has a beautiful enoteca (an Italian word for a wine tasting shop and tasting room) with high ceilings and old wooden beams that opens up to a private garden. The building is part of the lower Manhattan Fulton Fish Market and was built in 1839 for the ship chandler firm of Slate, Gardiner and Howell. Whale Tallow and lard, hemp and oakum, rosin and varnish were replaced in 1882 when the building was converted to a drinking and rooming establishment. The bar and brothel was subsequently part of the fish market until Marco renovated the building and opened Pasanella and Sons. The enoteca showcases hundreds of varieties of hand-selected wines and wine accessories. It is a beautiful space complete with a bicycle in the window and a small Renault automobile in the lobby. You can read the story of the shop in Marco’s book, Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine.
The evening is an event. Douglas has arranged for a wonderful evening gathering with Leslie’s friends from Yale (Bulldog name tags), New York (West side Story name tags) and Seattle (our names are written on tags with a frothy latte). The guest list is an eclectic mix of interesting people who enjoy wine and food in the tasting room with live music, toasts and roasts.
And then, on those days when Leslie eases into her fifty-first year of age, you would enjoy leftovers in the morning and then head out for a walk in Brooklyn only to end up at the Dekalb Market, a collection of salvaged and stacked shipping containers that serve well as shops for those creative-entrepreneur types selling their wares alongside eateries and what are called “ work-sell spaces” that look out onto an urban vegetable garden. The market is a funky community space that can’t help but gush about its own commitments to those alternative twenty-first century urban planning ideals that have become mainstreamed: entrepreneurship, community, and place making. It is a fun space, for sure, with kick-ass coffee, artery hardening cupcakes and spicy beans and rice. One can’t help but get caught up in the experience of what the designers call their attempt to “create a community gathering and marketplace – not just for products – but also for the intangibles of culture, education, senses, and ideas.” The space is designed around that elusive and enriching chimera we call sustainability, the effort to, in their words, “consciously consider, design and disclose the various systems and resources used by the Market, vendor, product, and visitor (such as water, waste, energy, capital, knowledge, health) to reduce both reliance and impact upon distant places.” Feels pretty good to me.
Finally, on those days when Leslie is determined to live those weekend days of her fifty-first year you will with enthusiasm pile into the car and head out to Di Fara’s in Midwood, Brooklyn, a pizzeria that has been owned and operated by Domenico DeMarco since 1964. It seems the establishment has been closed by New York’s Department of Health more than once for preparing food without gloves and for evidence of what was called in one of the reports “stale mice excreta.”
No matter. For this is a day in the life of Leslie’s fifty-first year and I have absolute confidence in the judgment of Leslie when it comes to the must have experience in any place she happens to be. And so we take our place in the queue that snakes out the door onto the sidewalk. And there, inside, is Demarco himself, hunched over a disk of dough, checking on a pie in the oven and then grapping a bunch of fresh basil (no gloves) and snipping the green leaves with scissors into chunks that fall like confetti on the bubbling cheese pie. There are only about 20 seats in the place and we are assured by Leslie that the wait will be at least an hour and so Douglas keeps our place in line and we go across the street to grab a few black and white cookies at the bakery and then nuts at the nut shop.
When we return we have a seat and we settle in to wait the final minutes. Rebecca strikes up a conversation with two guys who are each eating a pizza. It appears that their visits to Di Fara’s is a regular thing. And then, on this first day in the life of Leslie’s fifty-first year, we are eating some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. It is really that good. Fresh tomatoes and basil, and who knows what else.
Before we know it the day is waning and we load up a table we will be taking back home in a car we will borrow and Rebecca and I head north together in separate cars both thinking about the friendship and generosity of Leslie and Douglas and the taste of that pizza that for me will carry with it the memories of the first day in the life of Leslie’s fifty-first year.