Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
A NYC Steak House Mystery!
Plus! More Parenting Advice from Child-Free Aharon!! Wildflower Election!!!
Welcome to Issue #71 of CAFÉ ANNE!
HUGE NEWS: New York City has kicked off an election to designate an official city wildflower. The candidates, nominated by a different park board in each borough, include Butterfly Milkweed (Manhattan), Pinxter Azalea (Staten Island), Giant Sunflower (Queens), Wild Columbine (Brooklyn) and Spicebush (Bronx).
It’s important that we get this right—wildflowers are scary and out of control, and we need to designate a solid, reliable floral leader who won’t go rogue. I’m endorsing the Wild Columbine because, despite its terrifying name, it is the most domestic of the bunch. Also, it refers to itself as “a plant for the masses.” Also, it feeds hummingbirds. You can cast your vote here.
In other news, Secret-Elevator-in-the-Empire-State-Building shoutouts to new paid subscribers Laura E., Kathy C. and the mysterious JTMail. Thank you for your support, which ensures CAFÉ ANNE stays paywall free and available to everyone, everywhere, all the time.
I am very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a guest post from child-free Aharon dishing out more parenting advice. PLUS, the first installment in my NYC steakhouse investigation.
Parenting Advice From Child-Free Aharon!
Last issue's feature story, "Parenting Advice From Child-Free New Yorkers,” generated a lot of feedback. But nothing spurred as many comments as the suggestions from my child-free friend Aharon, whose tips included gems such as, “Let the baby have a latte. What could go wrong?"
Reader Mark D. in Minnesota suggested that Aharon get a guest post to expound on his parenting ideas. Great idea! I was very happy when Aharon accepted the invitation, and submitted the following essay. Please enjoy!
People often come up to me and say, “Aharon, when will you write something for CAFÉ ANNE?”
I respond, “When Anne asks me nicely.”
Also: “This is a voting booth/public restroom. Some privacy, please.”
I kid! People never come up to me, because I do not go out in public or have visitors. This question comes from Substack comments.
There, people also ask, “Is Aharon real? If so, is that his real name? Is it something else? Like 'Banjo?' There are people named Banjo now. One went to Hebrew school with Aharon’s oldest niece. If Aharon is real."
People can be so hurtful in the comments section.
But this is not about me. It’s about the children, who are the future but—get this—are here NOW. So, what to DO with them??? When my overlord (overlady??) Anne noticed the comments that my parenting tips inspired, the moment had arrived. OUR moment: the children’s, mine, yours!
Following the dictum to “write what you know,” I prepared 720 pages on fantasy baseball and microcap stocks. Anne fed these into her shredder (a medium-small border collie named Minnie), and suggested I focus on what I don’t know.
I considered first principles: What more could I, non-parental and only tepidly uncle-ish, say about raising children (the future!)?
As with everything I know nothing about, the answer is: A LOT.
For instance, re: babies—do not let them grow up to be cowboys. That’s kind of a gimme here in Brooklyn. Your circumstances may vary.
Also: Dr. Spock! He not only trained a generation in child-rearing, he also won the Olympic gold in rowing while at Yale. That’s the sort of WASPY nonsense the country was into back then. And so we got Boomers. Just sayin’.
Also: if you give one niece a chunk of gallium, a semi-nontoxic metal that melts at body temperature, you must give the other two nieces chunks too, to melt and resolidify onto different carpets. That is called “fairness.”
This is all basic. But the most important things to remember about raising kids are:
1) It’s easy.
2) You’re doing it wrong.
Instead, you should be listening to the wisdom of the elders, who raised kids in a smoking-forward, seatbelt-optional household, let a 10th grader drop out because he was tired of Latin (true grandfather story!) and so on back to the 18th-century elders in Freetown, MA who decided to name their baby boy Preserved Fish (now famously buried in New York’s Marble Cemetery).
Also, you should keep up with the latest neuroimaging advances to maximize children’s development. At one time, a bike and the occasional Band-Aid were all that was required to raise a kid, which took six minutes a day. But now, if you didn’t MRI, did you even try?
Further, just listen to your heart. Who knows better than parents? If you feel like culling all the books in the school library that contain the word "nipple," or getting non-ionized water banned from the cafeteria (you’ve diagnosed little Banjo with an allergy!), get to it.
Maybe the French have the right idea. It’s said they strap newborns to the back of a Bichon Frisé (literally: “Salad Dog”), toss a pack of L’il Gauloises into their sling and send them off on their own for 18 years with nothing but an extremely complicated hierarchy of state-appointed baby testers and supervisors.
But even here in Brooklyn—the most French of boroughs, where you cannot walk three blocks without being frustratingly slowed by Le Coq Sportif wearers mall-walking at a Continental pace—there’s no guaranteed access to a French lifestyle. What to do? Who will think of THE CHILDREN (les petis de jeunairres)?
Doctor Spock was right. In raising children, as in so many necessary things—doing taxes, escaping jury duty—we must rely on that old, uncomfortable imprecation: just do your best.
Or at least tell people you have.
CAFÉ ANNE INVESTIGATION
The Mystery of Mehran’s Steak House
Last month I got my favorite kind of email: a note from a reader requesting a CAFÉ ANNE investigation. The prompt came from Adam C. in Yorkville, who wanted me to look into a Manhattan restaurant, Mehran’s Steak House, that he’d spotted in a Google listing. Adam wrote:
“I happened upon this listing when looking for places in the neighborhood to bring my parents. Now 4.9 stars is very rare in these parts, so I had to take a closer look.
The reviews are some of the most hilariously over the top I have ever seen. The place doesn’t seem to exist outside of this listing, and a very minimalist website notes that the “revolutionary steak experience" is fully booked until late April.
The Google listing features photos of some home-cooked looking steaks covered in ketchup, alongside an abnormal amount of asparagus. The address belongs to a random townhouse on E. 83rd (as pointed out by the sole 1-star review).
Admittedly, I haven’t yet walked by to have a look, but it just sounds too good to be true. I think it is worthy of investigation, maybe a profile of Mehran if you can find him.”
My first move, of course, was to check out the listing. It included a snap-shot of the aforementioned steak accompanied by many disconcertingly large stalks of asparagus—plus more than 70 five-star reviews.
“Steak was by far the most exquisite I've had in NYC,” raved Nate S.
“Great food. Better service,” wrote Kiran Kling. “The last time I felt so cared for was in my mother’s womb.”
Several claimed to have flown in to experience this “hidden gem.” Many described the experience as “life-changing.”
And then there were the anecdotes about chef Mehran himself.
“He is not just a chef, he's a visionary, a genius, a god among men,” wrote Alex Lampur.
“Fantastic steak and venison; Mehran walked into the restaurant at the start of the night drenched in blood, carrying a freshly killed deer that he just caught in the forest upstate,” raved reviewer Ethan Ding. “He then prepared it in the kitchen and made it an unforgettable meal.”
I next scanned the restaurant’s website. The single-page, ultra-minimal design included only a phone number, street address and reservation request form.
“The steak house is fully booked until early May 2023,” it said. “Leave your phone number below and we will be in touch when tables are available.”
I called the restaurant number. It rang six times before sending me to voicemail and an outgoing message: "Hello, you have not reached Mehran, but if you leave a message, you probably will."
I could not leave a message, however, because the mailbox was full. So I sent a query through the website: "Hello, I am very interested in learning more about Mehran's Steak House. Could you give me a ring, please?"
I waited several days, but no one called.
It was time for a field trip.
Mehran’s was supposedly located on East 83rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, which turned out to be a typical Upper East Side block of townhouses. I decided to ask around.
I met several long-time residents, and none had heard of the restaurant. “And know steakhouses!” said one older gentleman taking an afternoon stroll. “I’ve worked at Peter Luger in Brooklyn for 30 years!”
Another man seated outside Café Blériot, who had lived on the block for 33 years, was more forthcoming.
“That’s the Airbnb building!” he exclaimed, when I asked about the steak house address.
He told me that a lady named K— owned both the townhouse at 224 East 83rd and the adjoining townhouse next door, #222, and was renting them out—the former to some sort of halfway house agency, the latter on Airbnb. “I don’t have a problem with that,” he added.
The guys working in the copy shop next door confirmed that both townhouses were owned by a “nice lady” named K—, but they weren’t clear how they were used. I asked about the steakhouse.
“Some people, they come and ask for the steakhouse around here,” said one, “but I don’t know.”
I took a look at the townhouses in question. They were a handsome, well-kept pair, painted red and cream, surrounded by trim plastic hedges and wrought iron fencing.
Did #224 indeed house a restaurant? It had two entrances, each with its own bell. I first tried the lower unit. No answer, so I left a little note with my CAFÉ ANNE business card.
Next I climbed the stoop stairs and rang the upper unit. I did not expect anyone to answer. When a young man in a ball cap, jeans and tie-dye tee opened the door, I was caught totally off guard.
He gave me a hard stare. “Are you here for the…?” he said.
Behind him I saw what looked to be a dimly-lit living room with a long sofa and the world’s largest wall-mounted television.
“For the restaurant?” I said.
“No,” he said.
“There’s not a steak house here?” I asked.
He shook his head. “What do you want?”
An older man with a black beard appeared behind him. He was oddly dressed in a cardigan, skinny tie and black skinny jeans. He had his arms folded over his chest.
I never employ deception in my investigations, so I explained that I wrote a blog and that a reader had asked me to look into a steak house at this address. “Could I look around, or at least ask you a couple questions?” I said.
“No,” he said.
A third fellow with Jesus-style hair, leather pants and motorcycle boots came up from behind and shoved past into the house.
Then the first man shut the door in my face.
I don’t know when to stop, so I next tried the townhouse next door, #222. The door was answered by Mia, a young mother holding her 10-week old baby, Walker. Mia said she lived nearby and had rented all three floors of the townhouse on Airbnb for her in-laws who were staying in town. She confirmed that the landlord was a lady named K—.
I told her about the steak house mystery.
“That’s bizarre!” she exclaimed. She’d been staying at #222 for several days, she said, and had seen no evidence of a restaurant operating next door.
I was about to head home when I saw two ladies, Betty and Jenna, chatting on the stoop of a nearby apartment building. I struck up a conversation, and they invited me to sit and chat.
I told them about the steak house mystery. “It’s listed on Google. It has more than 70 five-star reviews, and it’s supposedly at 224 East 83rd Street,” I said.
“I don't think there's a restaurant there, is there?” said Betty, who has lived on the block for 46 years.
“I don't think so,” said Jenna. “It’s owned by this lady K—.”
Jenna pulled a business card out of her wallet. “She asked me to cat-sit for her,” she said.
The card had K—’s email address on it, so I jotted that down. Then I told them what happened when I knocked on the door of #224.
"I bet you that they have some code word!” said Jenna. “Like a speakeasy! They probably open the door and say, ‘Are you coming for the—’ and you have to say the code word to get in. Betty! We have to find out the code word! We gotta get into this steakhouse!”
"Can I read you one of the steak house reviews on Google?" I said. "Because the reviews are weird."
"Sure," said Jenna.
"We got to meet the head chef, Mehran,” I read aloud. “He came over to check on us. Such a nice guy. My friends can only eat Halal meat, so he took us to the back and we slaughtered a cow and performed a dua prayer together. It was a beautiful experience and I can't recommend it enough. It can be hard to get in, but it is well worth it."
"It's fake. It's fake!" said Betty. "No one's slaughtering anything! If there was a restaurant, I would have seen deliveries. Cabs. You would have heard noise."
"I've been on the roof, spying on the backyard, and it looks like a normal back yard,” added Jenna. “I'm nosy, and I look at everyone's back yard. I would have noticed if they were slaughtering anything. I would have been like, what the hell! Call 911! They’re killing animals!’”
When I got home, I sent a long, chatty email to the building owner, K—, explaining about the mysterious Google listing and recounting my adventure.
Her terse reply arrived the next morning, at 4 am: “This is a private home. I don’t know who is using my address to falsely advertise something.”
So now I’m convinced that Mehran’s Steak House is a total fiction. But that just begs the question—who would bother to construct such an elaborate online prank, and why?
Edit September 25 2023: Mystery Solved! Check out this update in Issue 89!
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