Thursday, March 13, 2014

Restaurant Week, come & gone; racy, risque & rambunctious comedy; and ruthlessly reciprocal films from Israel & Palestine

As they say, been a long time between "drinks" ... what with horrendous winter weather, bad colds & coughs, some travel to warmer climes, coupled with some mediocre theater experiences & unmemorable films, I haven't accrued the depth of material to put up a new blog post since mid-January.

But things, of course, rapidly (seasonally) change: huge quantities of snow melt, the intensity & frequency of colds & coughs diminishes ... and a new post has finally taken shape & emerged, just in time for New York Restaurant Week (2014) to come and to go, what with nearly 300-odd restaurants to explore for lunch (@ $25 for three courses, excluding beverages, gratuities & taxes) or dinner (@ $38)!

We narrowed our Restaurant Week search down to two choices: one mid-town east resto (which we will explore some time soon) and one downtown in the far West Village, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Perry St (at 176 Perry Street, just in front of & facing West Street & situated in one of the Richard Meier Towers; tel. 212-352-1900). Indeed, Perry St is an extremely eclectic, friendly & welcoming, sleekly elegant, commodious eating establishment - categorically beyond "new American." 

Cedric Vongerichten
According to Cedric Vongerichten, [who] "helms the kitchen," they strive to exhibit a range and blend, "of French, American and Asian influences and ingredients." In sum, the food they turn out at Perry St is artfully presented, carefully & creatively textured, delicious, flavorful, memorable ... with nary a miss in their whole culinary arsenal. While the Perry St menu changes somewhat during Restaurant Week (actually two weeks, in toto), but the quality control seems to remain tight and each dish arrives at your table picture perfect! For each of our three courses my wife and I selected different items in order to obtain the widest possible sampling of what Perry St might offer for lunch.

Salmon sashimi
Upon being seated at our quiet, relatively private table, we each ordered a glass of white wine - the Rioja Blanc, Ermita di San Felices, Spain, 2011 (@ $6). We then chose our appetizers, salmon sashima (pour moi), with chili tapioca & Asian pears in a coconut broth ... an absolutely exquisite & unique first course, rich in flavors (the pear, the chili tapioca, & the coconut and an array of salmon slices further cut up into mouthwatering tender morsels. Surely the piece de resistance of this afternoon repast. My wife ordered the house-made burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella & cream), placed on a plate of wasabi, cara cara, sourdough & purple shiso. Interesting admixture of ingredients, with very pronounced & powerful wasabi scattered about the burrata & which efficiently cleared my sinuses when I was offered a few bites!
Slow-cooked hake
Next, on to the entrees: Dalia chose the very tender, sumptuous & flavorful slow-cooked hake, the slice of fish coupled with potato fondant & jalapeno lime salsa. I, therefore, ordered the equally tender crispy fried chicken atop pecan collard greens, wild rice & a Scotch bonnet sauce ... for dipping the perfectly fried chunks of fowl. (Not exactly - not at all - your "standard" KFC fried chicken meal!)

Molten chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream
Desserts also revealed to us a sense that Perry St strives for perfection even at the close of the experience. Here, both desserts ordered - the molten chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream; the gingerbread cake & apple butter, with walnut brittle & green apple sorbet - proved extremely attractive, luscious, sweet & rich, nicely complementing our coffee.

The entire dining experience succeeded in every respect, but most effectively in doing what Restaurant Week visits are supposed to achieve - and that is, to make us customers, repeat diners, who will return for more fabulously, creatively prepared food, more frequently ... for dinner & for lunch, albeit to a somewhat out-of-the-way location in the far West Village. In this case, however, despite the long walk to West Street & the Hudson, we shall, for certain, return for more Vongerichten - pere et fils - culinary creations!

For some reason my wife & I don't attend too many comedy events at comedy clubs or other venues where stand-up is on offer. Probably my own self-imposed limitation because there are some very funny comics out there in Manhattan & environs.
Mary Dimino
Two weeks ago, though, at the last minute, we did purchase tickets for a show at The 13th Street Comedy Company (@ $9 each, from TDF) located in the West Village at 50 W.13th St., off 6th Avenue, and housed in The 13th Street Repertory Company. The 2-hour (or so) show - entitled "Mary Dimino & Friends" - featured stand-up material from four comics, three of whom were not very funny at all and laughter from the audience triggered by the initial 3 was mechanical, light, sporadic and, well, merely hopeful. But the wait for the headliner, Mary Dimino, herself, proved highly worthwhile. She had (she has) what Jerry Lewis deemed essential for any comic:  funny bones!  She was consistently funny, at times hysterical, personable, plain fun, self-effacing/self-less and audience-centric. 

Her comic modus operandi (and role) is, understandably, to be herself, to tell one long "story" - not at all a rant - about herself, her family (e.g., her husband, her Italian grandmother, her father), food, dieting, sex. And, in the process of telling her story, she casually & periodically elicits input from audience members. She then mixes these audience responses into her "narrative" & twists them into repeated "mantras," of sorts, that she either hears incorrectly or chooses to repeat incorrectly in order to achieve a sustained atmosphere of hilarity and relative incoherence.

At some points in her routine, I laughed so long and so hard that I found myself in need of a pocketful of tissues to wipe away the build-up of tears of laughter. Kudos to Mary Dimino ... she is a standup standout ... with funny (funny!) bones; funny (generally upbeat & pleasant, not hurtful nor bitter) stories; and a comedic routine - and center - that is not particularly, not routinely, nor unnecessarily, off-color!  

Love to see her again some time soon and I urge you to catch her when & where you can!

And, finally, on a more, well, serious note ...

Tsahi Haleva - Scene from Bethlehem
I'd like to recommend two new films, each set squarely within the geographical & emotional confines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of these films - Bethlehem, from Israel (directed by Yuval Adler); Omar, from Palestine (located in & around the West Bank and directed by Hany Abu-Assad) - had been put forward from their respective national precincts for the recent Oscar competition where Omar  was actually one of the 5 nominated films in the Best Foreign Language Film category. 

Adam Bakri - Omar
These films, with Omar being the more emotion-laden and personal of the two, serve as bookends, one to the other, displaying all aspects of the struggle from each geo-ethnic perspective: there are the Israeli intelligence & security "handlers" who attempt to garner essential logistical & strategic information from Palestinian prisoners & members of various anti-Israel terrorist & guerrilla factions; there is the ongoing effort of Israeli security agents to co-opt & recruit these individuals, to "employ" them for use as informants; there are the internecine, "counter"-struggles between & among various Palestinian gangs, factions, and politically divided families (deep-rooted tensions between fathers & sons, brother & brother, sisters & brothers, nephew & uncle); there are the planned bombings, "successful" assassinations & calculatedly brazen torture efforts; there are the divided and perplexing loyalties of the identified (would-be, seeming) informants - the young man, Omar, himself, or the teenage Sanfur in Bethlehem.

Hany Abu-Asad
But while the director of Bethlehem creates a taut dramatic & atmospheric film and works assiduously to humanize the political conflict, the narrative, and the central characters involved in the action, it is in Omar - skillfully crafted by the Palestinian director, Mr. Abu-Assad - where the universal struggle of people against their so-called oppressors begins to take the depth of the action to a personal level, for at the heart of Omar is a genuine love story (echoing the pangs of love a la Romeo & Juliet), as well as a tale of old school friends (genuine "buddies") interacting in the capacity of friends, terrorist-conspirators, and would-be assassins.

See these two films reflecting the tragic nature of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle: compare-and-contrast the two perspectives exhibited in these searing films and you will witness a sorrow-filled region depicted in consistent turmoil, a region fraught with besieged & bitter life, love, lies, intrigue, brutal assassinations, needless diurnal death.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Balthus at The MET; Beyoglu / Mediterranean ... upper east side Turkish resto

If you've been thinking about heading for The Metropolitan Museum (The Met) @ 5th Ave. & 82nd St. (tel. 212-535-7710) intent on seeing the spectacularly luminous Balthus exhibition - entitled "Cats & Girls--Paintings and Provocations") - you would do well to venture over to The  Met very soon, indeed, as the show is scheduled to close on January 12th.
Portrait - Thérèse Blanchard

According to The Met's web site, Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski, 1908-2001) was a modern Polish-French artist "best known for his series of pensive adolescents who dream or read in rooms that are [seemingly] closed to the outside world." The Met's current Balthus show comprises some 35 of these, and other, striking, somewhat enigmatic portraits - mainly of young teenage, female "models" (Parisian friends or neighbors), some of which were (are still?) provocative - from what is considered to be his most fertile and memorably creative period:  the mid-1930s to the 1950s

Portrait  - Thérèse Blanchard
I would suggest that these serious, or seemingly serious, young girls are depicted by Balthus in a manner that tends to bracket them in what amounts to some kind of narrative - or "episode" - there, in a sense, to be unraveled by the viewer. Moving through the three (or so) rooms of these predominantly earth-toned portraits, we just might be continually asking ourselves a series of questions triggered by the paintings (the narratives, the episodes) ... and achieving little real closure in the process. For example:  What, exactly, are these young girls thinking about ... and why?  Why has the painter decided to focus so intensely upon adolescent girls with such serious (stoic, impenetrable) facial expressions? What precipitates so strong an interest in, and relationship with or connection to, the myriad cats we see in these portraits?

In all, we learn that Balthus as an artist was, at one time in his lengthy career, consistently fixated on a few youthful models, their mystical & mysterious (even unknowable) lives, their "adult," somewhat enigmatic expressions that, perhaps, only he would (could) capture via his portraiture. 

Children, 1937
In explanatory-biographical material accompanying the exhibition, The Met curators inform us that between 1936 and 1939 Balthus produced his singularly acclaimed series of portraits of Thérèse Blanchard - on view at the beginning of the show - who he painted frequently by herself, at times with a cat, or with her brothers. During the Second World War he had moved (escaping from the Nazi occupation) to Switzerland where he produced considerably "more colorful interiors in which different nymphets daydream, read, or nap." By the 1950s (reflected in the concluding portion of the show), Balthus had returned to France, to Chateau de Chassy (in the Morvan region), where he "adopted" Frédérique Tison as his preferred model and produced images of her with his chateau as backdrop.
Balthus - 1996 (D. Pettigrew)

Hopefully, you will have seen the Balthus exhibition before reading through this current post. If not, well, you will have missed - for now, at least - the work of a thoroughly engaging & idiosyncratic 20th century master whose paintings are truly rich in visual provocation!

Beyoglu, Istanbul District
And speaking of visual provocation, we turn now to a rather different order of perception ... combining the visual & the olfactory:  yes, the culinary!  We recently visited an appealingly contemporary Turkish resto, Beyoglu / Mediterranean, not far from The Met at 81st & 3rd Ave. (1431 3rd; tel. 212-650-0850). 

Taking its name from a district (Beyoglu) on the European
Vegetarian Meze Platter
side of Istanbul, across the Bosporus from the historic old city on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, this establishment whips up a wide variety of authentically tasty Turkish fare - from soups & hummus & falafel to all kinds of meze ($5 to $8), including cacik, a thick homemade yogurt with cucumber & garlic; or ahtapot salatasi, char-grilled octopus marinated in olive oil, lemon & vinegar; wonderfully fluffy & light Turkish bread;
Turkish Bread chez Beyoglu
Mediterranean salads (including Beyoglu salad (@ $9.50), combining a good-size mix of crisp lettuce with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers, feta cheese & grilled chicken with lemon vinaigrette; to fish specials like kilic sis ($17), a char-grilled swordfish kebab served with rice pilaf; AND a variety of kebabs & char-grilled lamb & beef & chicken "daily specials" (from $14.50 to $17... for the mixed meze platter).

Beyoglu - External View from across 3rd Ave.
After a brief review of the Beyoglu menu, we determined that my wife would order a couple of  meze dishes (appetizer size); we would share a third; and I would order an entree-size plate ... all coupled with a few Turkish beers - Efes - which seemed to blend particularly well with the miscellany of items we had just ordered. 

Specifically, we began with a shared "batch" of small,
Turkish Beer!
circular lightly pan-fried crab cakes accompanied by a mayonnaise-based piquant sauce, with a bit of lemon, olive oil, pepper & vinegar (@ $8). Following the shared plate of crab cakes, I chose  the iskender kebab ($15) ... a large plate of "vertically grilled" thinly sliced lamb & beef atop a bed of sliced pita bread, with yogurt, tomato sauce, and a grilled jalapeno pepper right smack at the center of the dish. A veritable Turkish delight, nicely seasoned,nicely spiced ... abundantly showcasing the overall "trickle-down" effect of succulent tomato sauce and the jalapeno pits & "juices" contained therein. 

Iskender Kebab
As I scarfed down the iskender kebab, my wife was busy with two meze- (or tapas-) size dishes: the patlican domates soslu ($7) which proved to be a mix of lightly pan-fried cubes of eggplant topped with stuffed fresh tomato; and sucuk izgara ($7) ... a plate of cumin & garlic spiced cured beef sausages, along with chunks of lightly fried potatoes chopped in small squares. And the Turkish bread we were served - well, let's not forget that tasty, freshly baked item - was used to soak up every bit of the various spicey sauces still speckled on our plates.

We chose Turkish coffee & Turkish tea to accompany our dessert ... a very sweet piece of kadaif ($6) ... a classic Middle Eastern dessert composed of shredded phyllo dough tossed until crispy & thin, noodle-like, along with a vanilla sugary syrup, walnuts & pistachio & baked until golden brown. Indeed, our Beyoglu meal, now complete, added up to an utterly satisfying experience; we, therefore, welcome another opportunity to dine again, equally well, at this lively, friendly & unique upper east side Turko-Mediterranean venue. You simply must try it for yourself, that is, if you are in the vicinity of The Met and an aficionado of Turkish or Middle Eastern cuisine! Or, if you just happen to enjoy fresh, flavorful food at reasonable prices ...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Afternoon in the west 20s ... eve in the West Village: The High Line; Chelsea galleries; Amber / Asian cuisine + "Small Engine Repair"

The High Line - Chelsea Segment
With some time on our hands and tickets to an off-Broadway play (a 7:00 pm curtain for Small Engine Repair) at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on west Christopher Street, we figured we'd spend the afternoon doing a bit of gallery hopping in Chelsea, focusing on a few key shows on West 21st St., and then taking a short walk on The High Line ... just strolling along a section of the elevated park between 14th & 23rd.  

The High Line - I. Baan, 2009
If you've never been to The High Line, you're missing an above-street-level park & promenade - a so-called "aerial greenway" (see photo) - with wild, natural vegetation that runs, now, from Gansevoort St., a few blocks below 14th St. in the Meatpacking District (between 10th & 11th avenues) up to 30th St. and soon, in the 3rd & final phase of the project, will reach 34th.

Promenade Plantée - Paris, 1993

Modeled on, and inspired by, the nearly 3-mile  Promenade Plantée, or "Tree-lined walkway," in Paris which was completed in1993 (it begins just east of the Opéra Bastille & winds through to the boulevard Périphérique), the 1-mile long High Line park/promenade was built on & along the north-south RR "bed" of the old West Side spur of the New York Central. An elevated freight line, long in disuse, it was to be demolished by the City of New York; but, instead, after considerable pressure & support by a vocal & involved group of local residents it was determined that the space would become a city park - a recreational structure & cultural site. Today, Friends of the High Line effectively maintains & preserves the public park/promenade as a "non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation." 

Map - The High Line
So, if you plan to visit the Chelsea area of Manhattan, and hop to and from a few art galleries, as well, enjoy a walk on The High Line, now operating on a winter schedule, open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, seven days a week. Lots of interesting urban architecture, sculpture, cityscapes, vegetation - and people - to be seen (and photographed) along this unique 20+ block route!

We exited The High Line at 23rd & 10th, dipping down (again) to street level via the stairs (as the elevator wasn't in operation), and walked the few blocks to West 21st (our immediate goal) to visit two notable gallery exhibits:  Richard Serra's New Sculpture - Inside Out, 2013 (Gagosian Gallery @ 522 West 21st) and Bing Wright's unusual stained-glass photo "montages" (Paula Cooper Gallery @ 521 West 21st).
Richard Serra - "Inside Out," 2013
Serra's Inside Out (see photos) consists in a substantial edifice, constructed of attached weathered steel plates. Viewers can enter the maze-like structure and  proceed in a small number of different directions within reaching, at some point, an egress from whose vantage point one can see different sides and portions of the whole. 

One can also walk around the whole and attain a feel for the massiveness of the "sculpted" project. 

Richard Serra - "Inside Out" Section
But, whether one enters and circles through the structure or walks slowly, diffidently, around the external portions (i.e., the attached plates) of the massive figure, one cannot help but feel that the finished project would have benefited from a larger, more open venue. The structure's exceedingly solid, heavy, massive presence feels somewhat cramped & constricted - excessively massive - for the available gallery space at Gagosian. Inside Out is a substantial piece of imaginatively "sculpted" steel which seems, in a sense, to be occluded all around by the limitations of the gallery space ... to the extent that the full impact of the work feels reduced in stature, power & value. (Note: I have seen Richard Serra's huge sculpted steel works in considerably larger, more spacious surroundings - at the Dia Beacon, for example - and the overall effect(s) proved much more powerful & dynamic.)

Bing Wright - BrokenMirror/EveningSky
Bing Wright's show housed just a few doors away & across the street from the "Richard Serra: New Sculpture" (at Gagosian) did not disappoint at all. While there is a degree of sadness that seems to permeate the broken mirror motif witnessed in all of the photo montages on display here (see photo), the bold & muted colors amid cracks suffused with setting sunlight all join together synergistically to promote a masterful overall aesthetic effect. Wright has, it would seem, developed a photo technique - one of efficiency & directness - that has clearly evolved into a dazzlingly radiant form. 

If you decide to take that walk on The High Line, in the Chelsea vicinity, consider dropping down to street level, navigate yourself to 521 West 21st, and have a good look: the Bing Wright show runs through January 18th @ Paula Cooper.

Following our "dip" into the art galleries on (and near) West
Amber - External View
21st St., we thought we'd wend our way downtown (further) for dinner and our off-B'way theater engagement at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on west Christopher Street, just 1/2 a village-length block from Amber / West Village (@ 135 Christopher St.; tel. 212-477-5880). Specializing in sushi, sashimi, wok & grill platters & pan-Asian cuisine, this small, cozy & pleasant spot
- with staff consistently eager to please! - and a small, friendly & welcoming bar up front, seemed perfectly suited for our needs that evening:  a relatively quick meal to fortify us for what would soon prove a pretty intense theater event (billed as a "comic thriller") ... & with no intermission.
Amber - Internal View
We began with a tasty tempura mixed-vegetable appetizer, with a mildly spicy sauce - crispy, well-prepared, and certainly large enough to share.  While the salads & "special rolls" seemed particularly tempting, as described, we opted for our mains directly after our final bites of the tempura appetizer. My wife selected the bowl of pineapple fried rice accompanied by a large quantity of good-size shrimp (@ $12). The dish was extremely appealing but prolific and so she needed some help wading through both the shrimp and the fried rice. (Of course, I was glad to accommodate her, digging into the bowl for a few spoonfuls of its contents!). 

Shrimp Salad with Spicy Chili Sauce
But my own plate - Sangria crispy duck, with red wine glaze (@ $18) - proved, well, just about perfect ... yep, crispy on the outside and tender, fragrant, carefully cooked sections in the interior. A small Asian-inflected masterpiece, indeed: sweetly (heavenly)  glazed & thoroughly, hardily, grilled, all adding up to justify my to return to this little pan-Asian gem!   

We also knocked down two tall glasses of pale ale, an antidote to all that fried rice ... and opted to skip dessert when we found out that their signature crepe item (a dessert praised by other diners) was not available that night. 

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
In short, a fine, filling & fairly priced pre-theater meal at a West Village (Asian) dining spot to which we will certainly come again for a wider sampling of their diverse fare - including, most especially, their home-made pan-fried pork dumplings; their sushi; & a small selection of items from their list of "special rolls" ... possibly the "Double Dragon," a shrimp tempura roll topped with eel, avocado & salmon roe!  Hmmm ...
Onward, finally, to the theater - and to our 7:00 pm curtain - for an in-depth look at Small Engine Repair ...
An MCC Theater production, directed by Jo Bonney, Small Engine Repair is an intense, relatively fast-paced comedy-drama 75 minutes long (straight through) without intermission. The play is set in an orderly but run-down repair shop in Manchester, NH, owned by Frank (John Pollono; actor & author), the central motivational "force" behind all the action. Frank has invited two of his high school buddies to meet at his shop, bringing together these foul-mouthed "friends," Packie (a slacker) & Swaino (a blowhard & loser) - with some bad blood between them - for what turns out to be, well, rather hyperbolic, alluring, and  mysterious pretenses. Packie is told that Frank may have cancer & Swaino was informed that strippers would be on hand for a party. Neither, of course, turns out to be true, but plenty of beer and Johnnie Walker Blue is provided by Frank as tensions mount between the three old friends. And so we begin to wonder exactly what a seemingly calm, steady & avuncular Frank has on his mind.

John Pollono
It turns out that while his two friends have been persistently evolving into near-complete failures, drifting around & about pretty much aimlessly, Frank has been running a business successfully & raising a daughter, Crystal (now a 17-year-old ready to attend college), pretty much by himself since high school. But something more seems to have transpired beyond what Frank is letting on, amounting to the real reason that Packie & Swaino have been summoned to the shop.
Something is, indeed, amiss, and we only learn about what this issue consists in as the evening proceeds and the Johnnie Walker gets more heavily dispersed. We learn, for example, that Packie, though seemingly an intellectual Neanderthal, knows something about the internet, the uses of social media, and cell-phone-related apps, like Foursquare, for "checking in"; we learn more about the relationships, both current and past, between & among the three friends; and we learn that Frank's daughter Crystal - and thus Frank himself - is in some kind of difficult or compromised situation and that it is all related to a "preppy," rich, college athlete named Chad who shortly enters the mix, arriving on the scene, he thinks, to sell Frank some drug-related materiel ... he deals in "ecstasy."  

And here, as they say, is where the Mamet-like plot proverbially thickens ... with Frank's anticipated assistance & "payback" from his old friends; with social media apps influencing action & outcomes; with revenge, retribution, and things increasingly more sinister developing which I won't dare reveal here just in case you have the opportunity to see the play when it (again) surfaces, on or off Broadway, or elsewhere. 

(Note: A brief fall, early-winter run of Small Engine Repair was extended through December 21st and has now closed.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

LOVE, LINDA ... a musical review & Land of Plenty / east side Sichuan cuisine

If you are an aficionado of the Great American Songbook, then you must catch Love, Linda, a taut, at times tender, and bold (!) musical review portraying in song and dramatic monologue the outline and high (& low) points in the life of Linda Lee Thomas & Cole Porter


Running now (through January 5th) at The York Theatre Company (The Theater at Saint Peter's at 619 Lexington Avenue; tel. 212-935-5820), Love, Linda is an intimate theater piece that explores the life journey of the "southern beauty" who became Mrs. Cole Porter despite the fact that the legendary & prolific composer-songwriter was a gay man. And, although Cole Porter was gay, the marriage and friendship, begun in the Roaring Twenties, succeeded in lasting for some 35 years. 

Cole Porter
This one-woman show, starring the "acclaimed jazz vocalist," Ms. Stevie Holland celebrates, according to the theater's PR material, Porter's "timeless" music along with a "compelling narrative" ... all accentuating the "deep love that Linda and Cole shared, while examining the darker sides" of their lives.

Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., and replete with music & lyrics by Cole Porter, Love, Linda runs about an hour (without intermission) and contains perhaps fifteen or sixteen of Porter's iconic songs delivered confidently & vivaciously with sensitivity, intelligence, and panache by Ms. Holland ... and featuring arrangements & additional music by Gary William Friedman (co-author of the book with his wife, Ms. Holland). 

Cole Porter Songbook
Most memorable songs offered up during the evening, in my view - and, perhaps, most  interestingly or idiosyncratically arranged for the 65-minute performance - proved to be the following:  "Miss Otis Regrets," "Love For Sale," "I Love Paris," "Night and Day," "In the Still of the Night," and the "combo" appropriately kicking off the music (& the drama) at the beginning of the show ... "So In Love" / "What Is This Thing Called Love." Two other nicely rendered Porter gems are "Ridin' High" & "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." And, additionally, right smack in the middle of the review, Ms. Holland launches into a short medley of well-known Porter material.

Very Best of Cole Porter
Once  again, if you consider yourself a die-hard "jazz-age"/jazz-inflected Cole Porter fan (or even if you don't), you still have time to see & hear Stevie Holland et al. during the next two weeks, or so, mid-town east at The York Theatre Company (theater entrance on 54th just east of Lex). And check with TDF where some (discounted) tickets for the review might just still be available.  

So, enjoy yourself ... at this sophisticated, one-of-a-kind musical confection!

Note:  Senior rush tickets (@ $20., cash) can be purchased at the box office beginning an hour before a scheduled performance. There is a limit of one ticket per person,subject to availability. 

Land of Plenty
Prior to trundling down to the theater on 54th & Lex to pick up our TDF tickets to see Love, Linda, the four of us out on the proverbial town decided to dine at a very welcoming & pleasant Land of Plenty - featuring "authentic Sichuan cuisine" (at 201 East 58th, near 3rd Ave.; tel. 212-308-8788).

This east-side Sichuan resto offers an extremely varied
Honey-glazed Spare Ribs

menu of hot & cold appetizers (a variety of steamed or fried dumplings, baby eggplant with spicy sesame dressing); soups (including Mme. Songs Fish Chowder, for two!); vegetables (for example, braised pumpkin with ginger & scallion); poultry (a very hot stir fried chicken with roasted chili & Asian green chili?); meats (braised beef filets with Napa cabbage & roasted chili); seafood (all kinds of whole fish, smoked, braised, or sauteed); rice & noodles ... and "Plenty's" ... a full column's length of specially prepared chef's offerings. 

Shredded Pork w/Garlic Sauce
Much to choose from at Land of Plenty. The constant flow of mains & appetizers - dishes of all sorts - coming out of the kitchen, along with their accompanying fragrances, enticed us & also confused us to the extent that we all felt it best to consult with our waiter as we set out to order a meal that would reflect:  individual "mandates"; a group effort; and at least a minimum degree of Sichuan diversity.

Braised Beef Filets
So: We began with two orders of dumplings, a plate of pan- fried pork dumplings (@ $5.95), nicely crisped, gingery, and another of steamed "mini-juicy" pork dumplings ($6.95). We followed up the dumplings with the baby eggplant in spicy sesame dressing ($6.95) and honey-glazed spare ribs ($7.95) ... and then ordered three mains (still sharing all!):  the thick & tender braised beef filets with Napa cabbage & roasted chili (@ $14.50); the shredded pork with spicy garlic sauce (a traditional Sichuan pork dish, but very juicy & mildly spiced; $11.50); and, from the Plenty's column, a braised whole tilapia with chili miso (a bit bony, delicately prepared & flavorful, and, again, nicely, but not overly, spiced; $21.50).

Of course, we had called for rice - and bowls of both brown and white were served, one or the other for each of us. And we washed all this food down with a few bottles of Tsingtao & Amstel Lite ... while one of our number couldn't refrain from her usual glass (or two) of Malbec for, admittedly, digestive purposes (to be sure).
Spicy Steamed Pork Dumplings

In short, a very diverse, comprehensive, filling, & memorably "authentic" Sichuan dining experience. And whether we return will certainly not be based on an if (if, for example, we see another musical review "off-B'way," mid-town, on the east side) ... but, rather, when ... and, hopefully, very soon, indeed!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Art Spiegelman at the Jewish Museum; Dawat - haute cuisine of India; & New Perspectives / off-off Broadway

Spiegelman, Self-Portrait
In case you haven't been following the cultural & artistic "news" of late, you might just be unaware that a varied mixture of Art Spiegelman's work produced during the past five decades, or so - comix, comics, memorable & idiosyncratic New Yorker covers, graphic novels, cartoon  magazines & ephemera - is currently represented in a comprehensive retrospective exhibit at The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. at 92nd St.; 212/423-3200).
Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

Entitled "Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix:  A Retrospective," the show runs through March 23rd 2014 and celebrates in-depth, according to museum publicity, "the career of one of the most influential living comics artists." While Spiegelman is well known for his thematically bold New Yorker covers, he is, perhaps, best known for the 2-volume Maus graphic novel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project focusing allegorically, but laser-like, and with great profundity, on his parents' experiences during, & their survival of, The Holocaust. Spiegelman's work has been given prominence by the museum and is displayed in a large space (4 rooms, or more) throughout much of the museum's main floor. Reflecting all aspects of his diverse career, the show features drafts notes/idea pads, notebooks, preliminary drawings, completed early works (both comix & comic books), prints & finished volumes ... all currently on view & accessible. Indeed, there is much to see, much to read & skim, and much, too, to linger over and ponder in the various sections and display cases that comprise the exhibition.
Twin Towers Cover

This is a must-see show and one you might want to return to & mull over during a second visit because of the density of textual material and diversity of the graphic material on display. A great deal to see and to absorb has been accumulated & presented here, including Spiegelman's work and associations with other cartoonists, graphic artists, & children's authors ... notably his wife, Francoise Mouly (with whom he began to publish the "influential graphics magazine," RAW, in 1980); Charles M. Schulz (of Peanuts fame); and the late Maurice Sendak.

Meta Maus
Originally organized for the 2012 Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme, France, by Rina Zavagli-Mattotti, kudos must go to Ms. Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant at The Jewish Museum, particularly for providing the rich descriptive print (& PR) materials reflecting so thoughtfully (in small spaces) on all aspects of Art Spiegelman & his work, as well as on the thematic content of the exhibition at large!

NYC [Agam] Menorah
Before dining, and following our afternoon visit to the Art Spiegelman show, we trundled down 5th Avenue to 59th Street at Grand Army Plaza where "the world's largest menorah" would be lit, ceremonially, at about 5:30. The golden-colored Hanukkah menorah - designed after a model created by the celebrated Israeli sculptor & experimental artist,Yaakov Agam - stands 32 feet high, weighs in at 4,000 pounds, and, if you look up & away from the traffic & the pedestrian crowd, can (still?) be seen diagonally across from The Plaza hotel right near the tip of Central Park (just off 5th Avenue!).

Yaakov Agam
Although delayed a bit for "technical" reasons, we succeeded in witnessing the candle-lighting event from a prime spot just below the great menorah: five candles were lit & glowing in the bustling plaza signaling to all of New York that the 5th night of Hanukkah, 2013, was, indeed, upon us. Next, we moved along, down to 58th St. and over to 3rd Avenue to Dawat (210 E. 58th; 212/355-7555) where the self-proclaimed haute cuisine of India awaited us and where several of the personal recipes of Madhur Jaffrey ("unique to Dawat") can be tasted.

Dawat - Interior
Dawat is a very welcoming & pleasant eating establishment - with exceedingly attentive & helpful service to diners and a head waiter(s) who offers (offered us, at least) solid advice & useful direction in terms of identifying our "final" choices among the various categories (& sub-categories) of dishes (mains, starters, soups, salads, etc.) offered on a highly diverse menu. And, once chosen, aimed to please my wife in permitting her (and us, really) to make personal substitutions - without additional charge - within the framework of her commodious Dawat Special (@ $29.95), affording her (still) a very complete & diverse dinner.
Tandoori chicken

My wife's "Dawat Special" - again, a complete dinner, offering a substantial
amount of food for one person (possibly two, depending) - contained the following "segments": a bowl of thick, creamy lentil soup; an order of tandoori chicken; seekh kabab (delicately spiced skewered vegetable rolls); fish tikka (a chunk of Chilean sea bass marinated in an aromatic herb mixture); chicken saag (chicken pieces smothered in a spicy spinach puree); potatoes with ginger & tomatoes in a thick sauce; a basket of naan bread; and a vegetable rice pilau, more than enough for two diners to share!

My own choice, the (tandoori) raan ($26.95), heartily endorsed by our head waiter, consisted of a whole small tender leg of lamb braised with ginger & spices, then roasted in the tandoor oven until crispy outside and "meltingly tender" inside.  A lightly spicy lentil sauce came with the dish to provide just the right amount of moisture & additional flavor. Although advertised on the menu as comprising a small leg of lamb, the results proved to be a large dish half of which I had packed up & took home. A very unusual lamb dish, indeed, and one I had never before encountered on a "standard" Indian menu.

Chicken adraki tikka
We ordered two Indian pale ales to complement our dinner ... to aid us in digesting all of the attentively prepared, (moderately) spicy fine food.  While we were full & content ... and pleased with what we had ordered, we barely scratched the proverbial surface of the very comprehensive & varied Dawat menu. Therefore, suffice it to say, we simply must return, in the not-too-disant future, for another "go-round" - many more choices to be made here at Dawat, including samplings on the menu from their "popular curries," "kebabs," "seafood" & extensive tandoori offerings! Perhaps we'll even try a Madhur Jaffrey item or two, such as the Western Indian vegetarian stew called Sindhi Karhi or Crab Nazakat, an "exotic" crab salad combined with mustard seeds, kokum, honey, coconut milk & fresh curry leaves served up with a spicy potato croquette. But ... who knows.

And now, for a moment, on to the "theatre":  This season Broadway & Off-Broadway houses seem to be just inundated with exciting new plays (Domesticated, The Jacksonian, Bad Jews, The Night Alive) and attractive revivals (Richard III, Waiting for Godot,The Glass Menagerie, No Man's Land).  Much to see this season - perhaps more than usual, both on, and off, Broadway. But, in your search for a musical, drama, or comedy, you ought not to neglect the sometimes "budget" productions offered in off-off-Broadway venues, housing small theater companies where actors, directors & writers are experimenting in new forms, brief(er) formats, mixtures of short plays, and other idiosyncratic theater pieces which might just satisfy your varied entertainment needs & aesthetic interests. 

Richard Vetere
One such organization is the New Perspectives TheatreCompany (Melody Brooks, Artistic Director), located in a small but satisfactory space at 456 West 37th St., where we recently saw Richard Vetere Explains the World ... Ten Minutes at a Time. The production comprises six short (10-minute) "plays" (some, well,mere sketches) with such titles as "The Intern," "Fortress America," "88%," "No More Writers," "A Strip Club Christmas Memory" ... and features a diverse, highly talented ensemble cast of multi-racial actors delivering the material with intelligence, spirit & panache. The subject matter reflected in these short plays proved funny, sad, odd & timely focusing on such topics as, well, (unpaid) "internships," perhaps the most seamless & funniest of the six. Other content broached the borderline between the accused terrorist(s) and one's civil rights, and the question, or condition, of a world without writers & writing, in which writers "work" purely underground, positioned precariously, awaiting interrogation & punishment for their words.  All content, of course, is emphatically generated by Richard Vetere and his roving, salt-impacted, (black) comedic, idiosyncratic world view: "I don't always find the world most interesting," he declares. "But when I do, I write about it." And so Mr. Vetere does, extensively ... in the guise of playwright, novelist & screenwriter.
Theatre Development Fund

Sadly, Richard Vetere Explains the World closed in mid-November (we attended the final performance of the run on November 17th). Next up at New Perspectives seems to be a collection of five short plays by Richard Wentz,a world premiere preview - entitled Night of the Working Dead. Beginning on January 15th, the 5 plays in the sequence organize a tribute to, and honor, "working stiffs across the country." You can probably catch this next group of short plays for $9 a ticket via TDF ... so check out the off-off Broadway listings during the next few weeks!  You're sure to enjoy at least a few of the plays in the upcoming production ... mounted under the  aegis of the new play development program at New Perspectives

At any rate, take yourself to an off-off theater in the near future for, well, any play whose description catches your fancy ... anything can happen; you just might be pleased, charmed, shocked or (simply) satisfied for having had the experience! 

Chekhov's Cherry Orchard - Off-Off
I'm checking the TDF web site, simultaneously, as we speak ... for interesting possibilities during the coming weeks; there is consistently something in the off-off "marketplace" for just about every imaginable taste & theatrical preference. And the TDF web site works just fine!