My father’s first cousin Ernie Bloomfield Zeisler, Chicago physician, mathematician, friend of Einstein, Renaissance man, resident of a Lakeshore Drive apartment but an advocate of socialized medicine (and he was, of course, a friend of my as-yet-unfound-wife’s uncle Ted at the Cliff Dwellers literary club that met upstairs at Orchestra Hall), this Ernie, whom I would have loved to have known, was also a foodie, and his granddaughter Laura has shared with me the comments in his address book on the New York restaurants he frequented, embraced, and cast aside in a good old Bloomfieldian righteous huff.
After reading accounts of Ernie’s starred and ill-starred eateries in Lawton Mackall’s bible-ette for gourmets (the copy I inherited is cryptically inscribed to my father as “For the Rifton Récamier from the Old Mountain Pine,” this being some arcane message out of old summers in Vermont — and I might note that Lawton looked more like an economics professor than a boulevardier), I think my taste and my fascinating cousin’s coincide.
On Ernie’s NO list was Voisin, and I shudder reading friend Mackall’s account: “Elegance couldn’t be quieter than you find it in this Sloane-decorated room in the basement of Park Avenue’s haughtiest apartment fortress . . . [the owners feel] that their public knows the way to the door, and anybody else might be unprepared for their prices.” But Chateaubriand, an Ernie favorite, “is hosted by beaming-countenanced, sly-humored Alex Hounie . . . this comfortably upholstered room boasts a continuous frieze of distinguished wine bottles autographed with the names of notables who enjoyed emptying them. Water is considered a commodity suitable only for washing the hands.”
Ernie also favored Charles à la Pomme Soufflée. “Could [the owner] tempt you with some of his leetle, leetle shrimps? He does, and they’re whoppers, exceeded only by his blimp-like spuds, devoured by the hot basketful.”
I leave it to millennial New Yorkers to figure where Ernie would have hung his gourmet’s hat today . . . and I wonder how he’d feel about the dress code at the Pump Room around the corner from his Chicago apartment!