MAKING BOOK AND DINING WELL
By Martin B. Deutsch
November 15, 2007 -- I've always been a faithful admirer of the literary spy and espionage genre and I mentioned last month that Robert Littell's The Company made me feel that I had lived on the periphery of some of the world's most important headline events during those 50 years.
In the last year, I've also read several other books in the spy field that I can recommend without any reservations. I have also come across a few Civil War books of note. But since man cannot live by literature alone, I'll end this particular column with a modest restaurant review.
MY FIRST EXPOSURE TO FURST
In my readings this summer, I discovered an author named Allen Furst, who's written a family of spy novels that are generally set in Europe during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Built on a factual framework of actual events, these stories involve low-key protagonists in highly sensitive espionage operations. Last year, Furst had a bestseller with a novel called Foreign Correspondent, which takes place mainly in prewar Paris, but involves a daring project to expand the distribution of an anti-fascist newspaper in Italy. It's an absorbing tale, as is every one of Furst's stories, all of which are well-researched, well-written and well worth reading.
CIVIL WAR SPECIALS
I also got the chance this summer to read Manhunt, by James L. Swanson. It's a gripping novel about the 12 days that it took to capture John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. I also read E. L. Doctorow's splendid novel, The March, about General Sherman's famous campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina, which helped hasten the end of the Civil War.
Going back to the spy-espionage genre, I again enjoyed one of William F. Buckley Jr.'s Blackford Oakes CIA stories, this one entitled, Last Call for Blackford Oakes. It's sort of sad to think that this may indeed be the last appearance of Mr. Oakes. Saving The Queen, which launched this entertaining and often intelligent series, first appeared in 1976. It seems almost like yesterday.
A SECOND HELPING OF FURST
Why not round out my informal book selections with an anthology of excerpts edited by the aforesaid Alan Furst? Published in 2003, this delightful potpourri is called The Book of Spies, An Anthology of Literary Espionage. These tempting tidbits of intrigue will convince even the most indifferent readers to find some of these books and read them in full. Even a longtime addict of this category like yours truly has been motivated to re-read what Mr. Furst has sampled and selected.
Here's what's in the anthology: Eric Ambler's A Coffin For Demetrios; Maxim Gorky's The Spy; John LeCarre's Russia House; Anthony Burgess Tremor of Intent (Burgess is best known for A Clockwork Orange); Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes; W. Somerset Maugham's Ashendon; Charles McGarry's The Tears of Autumn, which is one of my all-time favorites; Baroness Orczy's famous, The Scarlet Pimpernel; John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down; and Rebecca West's The Birds Fall Down. Each of the excerpts is preceded by a short introduction from Furst, who sets the stage in a concise and informed manner.
CAFÉ SOCIETY, LATIN STYLE
Once in a while in New York, I discover an unobtrusive gem of a restaurant that I have walked past literally hundreds of times. This modest eatery has escaped the notice of most major guidebooks, too. I refer to Café Ronda on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The casual and versatile menu features everything from hamburgers and sandwiches to tapas. The wonderful burgers ($10-$13) have toppings like "drunken mushrooms," which are marinated in red wine cognac. The house special Kofte burger is crafted from spiced parsley beef sirloin and topped with grilled onions and sliced tomatoes. These are by far the best burgers I've had in this neck of the Manhattan woods in many years.
I'm also partial to their sandwiches, particularly the Cubano, with ham, pork, cheese and pickles on crusty bread ($9.50). Both the burgers and the sandwiches come with a choice of succulent French fries or a refreshing green salad. Among the appetizers I favor are the empanadas, which are fried shells of dough filled with beef, chicken or cheese. You pay $7.50 for any two you select.
Getting into some more serious cuisine, there is a succulent paella, which is mounds of yellow rice topped by clams, mussels, chorizo sausage and chicken. Presented in the pan in which it is prepared, the paella comes in a $22 size or a $38 size. The latter will comfortably feed three diners. Café Ronda also serves serious Argentine-style steaks and other meat dishes.
For dessert, there are goodies such as chocolate flan and a dark chocolate cake. The usual alcoholic beverages are complemented by interesting beers from various Central and South American countries. The service is friendly without being intrusive and the atmosphere is pleasant and understated. There's even outdoor sidewalk dining when the weather permits. Make reservations for dinner--and bring a good spy novel.
ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.