Waiting in line at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park for a boat, I turn to my date Sal Paradise and ask him if we will have enough time to ride around the lake for an hour and still make it to dinner for our reservation. Dinner is planned for 7pm at The Leopard at Des Artistes -and I am a stickler for being right on time. He reminds me that the restaurant is not too far walking distance from the boats and he asks me to just relax. When we’re finally directed onto our boat, Sal jumps into the rowers seat and begins to cruise us out to the middle of the lake. He’s having trouble navigating the boat in the right direction and before long we lightly bump into another boat. He apologizes to a perturbed looking older couple and keeps rowing. He starts mumbling fiercely under his breath about “madness” and “innumerable riotous angelic particulars”, I’m not really sure exactly what he’s on about so I just ignore.
When we finally get out to the far end of the lake, he pulls out a metal cigarette pipe filled with what he refers to as some ‘dank ass basement green’, and hands it over to me. I take a few puffs and almost automatically feel more at ease. It’s not always so easy being around Sal who frequently suffers from paranoid delusional attacks as a result of all the heavy hallucinogenics he’s taken over the years during his road trips back and forth zipping across the country. To call the dude intense would be an understatement, though he’s not even an inch as intense as his best friend and “angel on his back”, Dean Moriarty.
The day is beautiful, it’s mid-summer and we’re just lazily reeling around the swampy green lake. I break out into nonsensical laughter and realize that I’m quite stoned and ask Sal if it’s going to be okay when we walk into the elegant Leopard restaurant all zoned out. He gets all philosophical (as he always does) and says “you can control how stoned you feel, it’s a choice”. Though it’s quite an obvious thing to say, he’s correct. I regain my composure though I am still stoned enough to feel like everyone in the other boats is looking at us and only us. I shake the thought. Sal’s in his own world, just rowing along, a cigarette hanging from his lip.
When Sal finally gets the boat to the dock, I carefully jump out hoping not to fall into the lake in my stoned half stupor. We begin walking towards the Leopard but it turns out we have a little bit of extra time so we stop at The Dakota to pay our respects.
At the restaurant we are seated by a handsome host whom you can tell is proud of this gorgeous restaurant he works in. The Leopard is filled with original murals painted by Howard Chandler Christy all around its’ walls. The murals consist of fantasy scenes with beautiful nude women, painted by Christy in the 20’s and 30’s. The women were real people who were affiliated with Christy, most of them were his lovers and some of them platonic acquaintances. He was known for being a real playboy/artist, kind of a rockstar in his time. The host lets us know that one of the building’s famous artist residents included the charmer Noel Coward.
I look over at Sal who can’t take his eyes off the murals as two glasses of champagne are set on the table before us and we put our orders in. We toast and take a sip when who but who shows up and takes a seat at our table but Dean. Sal had texted him earlier to let him know we would be at the Leopard. I’m happy to see Dean as it’s been a few years since I last spoke with him. Since that time he’s been living between San Francisco and New York, he made a few trips to Mexico and took peyote “countless” times he says, He fathered another child with Camille, and he claims he finally cut ties with Marylou and the abusive relationship they had. He starts telling us about Marylou’s new relationship and claims that he supposedly doesn’t care what she does anymore. We’re saved by the bell as the waiter sets down our appetizers. I just don’t want to hear about Dean and Marylou’s never ending lovers drama.
The appetizers are incredible. I have the Eggplant and smoked buffalo mozzarella timballo with spicy tomato sauce and crispy eggplant while Sal ordered the Roasted and pickled red and yellow beets with artisanal soft cheese, watercress and vin cotto dressing. Dean just picks off of both of our plates. Which is good for me because the more he eats the less I don’t have to hear about Dean and Marylou. Our appetizers come with a Pigato “Cycnus” 2014 Poggio dei Gorleri white wine. The food at The Leopard is all Italian and all of our wine pairings are Italian as well. Dean randomly mentions the time he and Sal got lost in Tijuana and ended up sleeping on top of their car in the middle of nowhere and gazed at diamonds in the sky while tripping on peyote.
Next up for our primi pasta we are presented with Busiate Trapanesi with shellfish ragout and cherry tomatoes for Sal and Artisanal tortelloni filled with veal and prosciutto in a San Marzano tomato sauce for me. This is paired with Pinot Nero ”Bachgart” 2013 Klaus Lentsch. We ask the waiter to please bring an extra glass of this full bodied lovely red for mad Dean as well.
For Secondi I have the Pan-seared duck breast “porchetta” with fennel pollen, cipollini with aged balsamic vinegar and pickled raisins, paired with Barbera d’Asti Sup while Sal has the Dover Sole (broiled bone-in) with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, served with eggplant caponata, paired with This is paired with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Altare” 2013 Marramiero. By now Mr. “Holy Goof” Dean is a bit tipsy and loudly theorizing about the virtues of taking the time to fully comprehend time and beat in Jazz as opposed to just enjoying music solely for entertainment purposes. I really don’t understand a word he’s saying but I go along and just nod and smile.
Desert comes out it’s a Semifreddo of ricotta di bufala and pear with hazelnut biscotto for Sal and Nutella chocolate mousse served on hazelnut crunch and banana gelato for me. By now I am too full to take another bite and so I offer my desert to Dean who gladly accepts.
By the time dinner is over, I can barely keep my eyes open. But Sal and Dean are just starting out their evening. They invite me to a house party up in Harlem where they say there will be a live jazz band playing. I politely decline and watch as the two disappear off into a fog in the Upper West Side.
The Leopard at Des Artistes