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Stroke of Midnight | New Year's Eve Dinner with Jennifer Bartlett

Painter Jennifer Bartlett celebrates New Year's Eve with a small group of creative friends—including a pair of dancers, a tightrope walker and two of New York's best restaurateurs.

Moving from room to room in the artist Jennifer Bartlett's house, you feel something of the surprise you feel on stepping from a closed-in waiting room onto a wide-open railway concourse. Behind its unobtrusive facade in New York's West Village, the place is huge, with each new space seemingly bigger and airier than the last. Yet everything is done on a human scale. It was the ideal setting for the intimate New Year's Eve party Bartlett put together with her friends David and Karen Waltuck, the owners of the four-star restaurant Chanterelle and the Bohemian bistro Le Zinc.

Bartlett is a woman with a presence you feel in every room. Her neopointillist paintings, with their big, colorful dots, vie for space with work by friends. She designed the walnut-veneer stacked-plywood furniture, which echoes the shapes of her latest canvases. She even designed the stemware—or rather the stemless ware; Champagne was served in her slim, elegant tumblers.

As the guests—including high-wire artist Philippe Petit, dancers Molissa Fenley and Rob Besserer, and sommelier Jean Luc Le Dû of Daniel—mingled in the living room and the copious roof gardens and visited the two studio levels downstairs, heady aromas wafted from the kitchen. The Waltucks were preparing a dinner around a main course of roasted capon. "It's a simple menu," David Waltuck said. "I just grabbed some things from the restaurant kitchen on the way over." The capon recalled the roast chicken in his book Staff Meals from Chanterelle—moist and silky-textured with a perfect crackle to the skin, the richness of the compound butter blending with the warmer, rounder notes of the sauce. "It comes down to fat and salt," Waltuck declared. "It's what we all really want—even though some of us say otherwise." Closer to the sumptuous Chanterelle aesthetic were the prosciutto and foie gras roulades with fig compote and the individual chilled beet soups, ramped up at the last instant with a dollop of crème fraîche. "It's all sort of spur-of-the-moment and fun," he said.

"I've eaten dinner at his restaurants I don't know how many times," Bartlett immediately rebutted, "and it's always well thought-out."

"I don't know about fun, really," Philippe Petit said later, down in the lowermost studio, where the party had settled for dessert. "Fun is an American thing. I think it's more about joy." He pulled a thin rope from his valise to illustrate a point and slipped into a fluid sleight of hand, making knots appear and disappear, then coins and other objects. He ended by producing a pinch of cigar ash in a startled Bartlett's clenched palm as Karen Waltuck produced a magical lemon-curd tart. It was a simple dessert— delicately balanced, as seemingly effortless as Petit's art and concealing just as much dedicated practice.

"I can't say what my art means," Bartlett remarked as midnight approached. "I just know I need to do it."

"Yes," Petit said. The other guests assented. And the tart vanished down to a sliver, like the hands of a clock meeting at midnight with the coming of the New Year.

Gavin McNett has written for the New York Times, theWashington Post and salon.com.

Published January 2003
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