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Published: Tuesday, 5/17/2011

Fast food on the NYC subway

BY MELENA RYZIK
NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK — In the era of pop-up restaurants and speakeasies, flash mobs, and social stunts, it was perhaps inevitable that a formal luncheon for a dozen people would be staged aboard the Brooklyn-bound L train. Inevitable, but still impressive.

‘‘So, is there a dining car?” one of the guests asked as the group descended into the subway station at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue on a Sunday, shortly after 1 p.m.

In fact, there was. Within moments, a car of the waiting train was transformed into a traveling bistro, complete with tables, linens, fine silverware, and a bow-tied maitre d’hotel.

The event was the work of several supper clubs, and the menu they devised was luxurious: caviar, foie gras, and filet mignon, and for dessert, a pyramid of chocolate panna cotta, dusted with gold leaf. All of it was accessible with a MetroCard swipe and orchestrated with clockwork precision. The six-course extravaganza took only a half-hour.

It wasn’t rush hour, so seating was easy. The tables (lap-width black planks, with holes cut to fit water glasses) were tied to the subway railings with twine. Tucking in behind them felt something like being buckled into a roller coaster. At 1:30 p.m., a few minutes ahead of schedule, the train lurched off.

At the next stop, Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, the chefs and main organizers, Daniel Castano and Michael J. Cirino, of the supper club A Razor, A Shiny Knife, hopped on, joined by gloved waiters with trays. They presented the first course, an amuse-bouche of fluke crudo with bone marrow mayonnaise and trout roe, served in porcelain spoons borrowed from the pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini.

There was no sign of the police, but officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, reached later, were not amused.

‘‘A dinner party on the L train?” said Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for the authority. “No. Subway trains are for riding, not for holding parties.”

At Third Avenue came foie gras en brioche, with pots of homemade port-and-raisin jelly. Other riders gawked or — this is New York, after all — continued staring ahead.

Under the river and out to Brooklyn, where, at the Lorimer Street stop, the soup got on: puree of ramps, poured warm from a silver teapot, over black garlic, morels, and a prosciutto crisp.

Cirino and Mr. Castano aim for a punk theatricality. Halfway to the last stop, in Canarsie, Jonathan Cristaldi, who performs as Jonny Cigar and hosts an itinerant wine saloon, began reading aloud from a copy of The Great Gatsby. The subway luncheon was his idea.

Naturally, it was heavily documented; at times the photographers outnumbered the staff. Mike Lee, of the dining club Studiofeast, the chef in charge of the entree, arrived at Morgan Avenue with a video camera strapped to his forehead. His runners carried boards with precisely plated cubes of filet mignon, swipes of mashed potatoes, and pickled asparagus tips.

In a final flourish, the last two courses — a gooey spoonful of St. Andre cheese and the dessert — were finished aboard the moving train. As the L rose above ground and the car filled with sunlight, Cirino added a raspberry coulis from a whipped cream dispenser to the panna cotta; plates quickly were spooned clean.

With the dirty dishes packed away and the tables stacked, the organizers took stock at a beer garden in Williamsburg. The whole event involved more than 50 people and the cost to the hosts was about $1,600, Cirino estimated, not including donated supplies and prep space.

Tickets were $100, but the money was refunded as a good-will adventure gesture.



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