Most of us can't help but worry. And yet, when I walked into re:Verse, the Beat-influenced hangout on the Country Club Plaza, I realized that despite international tensions and a weakening economy, the party hasn't stopped. In fact, it's in full swing at re:Verse. Depressed? Bring on the Beatnik Antipasti, baby, and an ashtray!
The beautifully designed space -- part lounge, part restaurant -- rocks with laughter and music. Handsome bartenders shake up icy martinis for a young and noisy crowd. Patrons belly up to the bar three deep, flirting and giggling and frequently having several conversations at once -- with the people standing next to them and with the voices on the other end of their cell phones. Let havoc happen, man.
On one rainy Thursday night, re:Verse was the busiest place on the Plaza. We pushed through the steel door and then shoved our way to the hostess' station, where an angelic young woman in a miniskirt added our party to a lengthy list. She then brushed us away to a spot where we could stand and watch the crowd, like wallflowers at the orgy. I was already self-conscious -- what had possessed me to put on a black turtleneck? At re:Verse, it's practically a uniform. My friend Marie, a brittle, high-fashion icon, gave the crowded bar area a quick once-over and announced, "Hipster wanna-bes." I'm sure she was including me as part of that scenery, but I didn't care. I was there to eat, not pose.
I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally were escorted to a table. By the standards of the increasingly homogenized, chain-dominated Plaza, re:Verse is absolutely Hipville. But bohemian it's not. Forget the idea of a subterranean basement with drippy candles and jugs of cheap wine; re:Verse is all stainless-steel panels, pearly tile floors and high-tech TV monitors. (You can watch the kitchen crew prepare your food.) A glossy panel of lipstick-red plastic contrasts the deep green of the water-filled champagne bottle and the stark white tapas plates on each table.
"Is this drinking water?" asked Marie, "Or did the flowers die?"
"It's drinking water," said the no-nonsense waitress, who had brought us a frosted water glass already filled with ... bread. Two long strips of unleavened cracker bread, that is -- one baked with a sprinkling of yellow cheese, the other with enough salt to fill a good-sized shaker. It was nearly inedible, but I was so hungry that I gnawed on it like a starving refugee until a plate heaped with sautéed calamari and spicy strips of chorizo arrived. Now this, as Allen Ginsberg might say, was something to howl about. The tender rings of squid had soaked up all the flavors from the sauté pan -- olive oil, garlic, white wine and a splash of crushed red pepper -- to create a sensual culinary poetry.
The restaurant offers only four dinner choices, if you don't count the daily fish or pasta specials -- and we didn't. Before our server, a Cate Blanchett double in black, could even announce them, we blurted out our desires. The ravenous Marie wanted the brie-stuffed eight-ounce tenderloin, and I was mesmerized by the sound of Chicken Roulade, chicken rolled around creamy goat cheese and bits of roasted peppers. The stuffed chicken arrived sliced into a rhythmic series of concentric circles, poised on a mound of orange-tinted "Beat" rice and spiced with turmeric and paprika. Sadly, it looked better than it tasted.