On a recent Tuesday evening, Lafayette felt like the set of one of those ensemble-cast Garry Marshall romantic comedies. It’s the place where Ashton and Julia would eat on their magical first date. Like The Dutch, one of Mr. Carmellini’s other restaurants, Lafayette has been designed by Roman & Williams, the husband-and-wife firm behind the Ace Hotel as well as the sets of movies like Zoolander and Addicted to Love. They are masters of golden glow maximalism.
Even in real life, the crowd — and there is always a crowd — was from central casting. Windswept women with perky breasts, perfect highlights and ballerina flats sat with men with stubble so well groomed it looked more formal than the depilated cheek.
As I was led to my table by one of three siren hostesses in black dresses and white pearl necklaces who had greeted me with a beauty so strong it felt like a wall not a welcome, the seated women followed me with their Westchester blue eyes, flicking their tongues over the teaspoons of creme fraiche that accompany any good tarte, as if to say, “The man I am with is wealthier, more handsome, and more successful than you. Nevertheless, I’d be down for a quickie, if you want to meet me in the restroom.”
One woman, Cristina, had actually been a dancer for New York City Ballet, not a soioist but as a member of the corps de ballet. Under her table, across from which sat her date for the evening, an armchair of a man with errant nose hairs, a lazy eye and questionable conversational skill, Cristina wore actual ballet slippers, Repetto’s T230. These she had bought at the Repetto store in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris. She, like most dancers, liked them because though the toe and heel were canvas, with a split leather sole, the arch of the foot was made of more flexible material.
Cristina was bored out of her mind. She had stopped dancing professionally at age 30, her limbs still long and lovely but her joints utterly ruined. Now she was a real estate agent for Douglas Elliman. The man across from her was named Jason and, as if God was lazy the day He made him, Jason was just a quick sketch of a man, all outlines and no definition. Admittedly though, with a name like Jason, it’s hard to be more than a blob.
My eyes met Cristina’s only briefly for I had not yet made love to her. She was, therefore, just one of the many woman to whom I had not yet made love eating at Lafayette. Later on in the evening, between the excellent Maine scallops cru with sauce aigrelette but before the Dry-Aged Strip Steak Frites with béarnaise butter, when I was pleasantly full but not stuffed, buzzed but not drunk, I went to the restroom and got to know her better.
The path from my table there took me past Cristina’s. She must have noted that for soon after II entered the restroom noting, momentarily, how glossy was the finish on the walls though there were some signs that the construction was recent and to some extent ongoing, she walked in.
“Um…” I said, because no matter how much I talk about being filthy, I am actually quite puritanical and staid, “this isn’t Schillers.” See, Schiller’s has unisex restrooms.
But Cristina didn’t do what I had expected her to. She didn’t realize her mistake, apologize and back away. It wasn’t a mistake at all. Instead she came towards me, slinking like a cat, not a cute kitty cat but more like a feral hunting cat. She wore a pink blouse that on any other woman would have been dowdy but on her was really beautiful. It was slightly see through though she wore a white tank top beneath it.
She didn’t say anything at all but threw her arms around my neck, even as I was half turned to the wash basin. Up close, her skin resolved itself into thousands of brown freckles against a pale sky. I could see her mascara, smell her lipstick. She had had the Butter Lettuce salad and, not in a gross way, I could smell when millimeters from her face, the herb vinaigrette. That’s what I remember most: the herb smell and the doughy smell of her make up.
Her arms around my neck, mine encirciling her tiny waist, we stood. I, unsure of how to proceed, thought about how to proceed. Cristina, cocksure, pressed her lips to mine. And thus we stood. My back was against the sink counter and, in the midst of the awe, I had no time to be concerned whether, since sometimes the counter is wet, I’d have a line of dampness on the seat of my trousers. Instead, I wondered what was happening, why Cristina was kissing me, whether this constituted cheating (I am married) and how far and fast should we go.
Ultimately the decision was not mine to make. We kissed, open mouthed and passionately for not more than 30 seconds. She bit my lower lip hard. I held her head to mine forcefully. But, as quickly as it started, Cristina broke it off.
She looked past me to the mirror and smoothed her hair. She re-applied her lipstick and I stood watching her. She reached into her bag and handed me her business card. Cristina cast me a look as if to say, “The balls in your court. I, for one, would be content leaving things as they are but am amenable to their continuance.” Then she left.
When I returned to my table, my steak frites had arrived with their pick-up stick pile of fries. I studiously avoided looking over to Cristina’s table but when I did, she was gone. The waiters, serious folk in suspenders, were already setting up for the next guest.
Submitted by a Restaurant PR Manager in New York City