Monday, April 27, 2015

Deli in the New Jersey "burbs" + Churchill (the play), a Ramen resto in mid-town west & Stoner (the novel)

Picasso - Jacqueline seated, w/cat, 1964
I know (and you know!), I've been mighty derelict in my blogging duties and utterly remiss - since this past January, 2015 - in sharing my takes on cultural activities & culinary outings & events. 

Despite all the snow we've experienced this winter, 
essentially occluding my normal peregrinations around & about the Metro area, 
still, there has been much to write about (the two Picasso gallery shows that surfaced in Chelsea, for example) ... But, all the while, under a winter funk, I've resisted taking to the keyboard and generating a blog post or two or more.

First up , there's a dining spot I've been meaning to mention for quite a while, out in Livingston, due west a couple of miles on Rt. 10 from West Orange in the New Jersey "burbs": Eppes Essen (@ 105 E. Mount Pleasant Ave., Livingson, NJ; tel. 973/994-1120). 

Pastrami, seulement
Eppes Essen is an excellent, friendly, full-fledged kosher-style Jewish deli with great pastrami sandwiches (@ $15.75) & superb stuffed derma ($14.99), a Jewish deli delicacy with an outer casing of cow or sheep intestine & stuffing, traditionally made with lard or chicken fat then, a la Eppes Essen, plated along with large perfectly done 
mushroom slices & surrounded by chunks of tender bits of 
egg barley, all artfully submerged in a "thick & creamy"
brown gravy.

Stuffed derma, w/kasha
Dr. Brown's cream soda ($2.95, the can) is always available, naturally, to quench one's mildly salty-ballasted thirst owing to the large bowl(s) of cole slaw and numerous "new" pickles (gratis) that one eats in anticipation of the pastrami sandwiches - on perfectly baked "Jewish rye" - which will come with silky & substantial Russian
dressing ... and finally the large potato/mushroom (or kasha, depending on your taste!) knish ($5.99) the two of us have also ordered and were, simply, "forced" to take home.

Then, in mid-March, chancing a new burst of snow - and absolutely no relation to pastrami sandwiches, nor even to Dr. Brown - we were able to see a wonderful solo production of a newly created theater piece, entitled Churchill: The Play, at the New World Stages, 340 West 50th St. (between 8th & 9th Avenues), a "must-see" (!) one-man piece transported from "a sold-out, critically acclaimed" Chicago run. Adapted and performed by Ronald Keaton and based on the life and words of Winston Churchill, the play proves a triumph, a perfect melding ... of a fine actor; a simple, functional & workmanlike set; and the exquisite words (many direct & memorable quotations each of us recalls indelibly etched in our psyches) of the heroic and extraordinarily articulate British Prime Minister, before, during & following the war. 

Ronald Keating as Winston Churchill
One memorable quotation, 
of the dozens uttered and integrated into the show, from, arguably, the most quoted man of the 20th century should suffice to demonstrate (with both irony & arrogance) the depth & keenness of Churchill's wit: "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter...."

The ostensible (historical) "genesis" for the play - in which Churchill reminisces, presents & conducts (shadow) arguments, explores his thoughts out loud in his "own" voice and at his own pace - is the immediate post-war period when President Harry Truman has invited Churchill to Fulton, Missouri where he will deliver his famous "iron curtain" speech ... to America and to the world. It is now March,1946 and Churchill has lost an election, been forced to retire; but, Truman has provided Churchill a public forum - the platform - from which we can all play witness to a riveting production and the indomitable Churchill, again, in his own gem-like words, phrases, historical "parsings," monologues, and, even, re-constructed dialog (from Churchill's point of view, that is).

New World Stages - 50th St. West
With Ronald Keaton as Churchill, the show is scheduled to run through mid-July. You would do well to purchase tickets and head over to West 50th, between 8th & 9th, to see Winston Churchill come to life via Mr. Keaton in what can only be described as "provocative, heart-warming, hilarious" ... a performance both resonant & masterful, at times somewhat understated & restrained, at times forceful & commanding; yet, a performance that, according to New World Stages publicity, "reveals the man behind the legend." 

And yes, indeed the man has been thoroughly revealed by the end of the play - as statesman, writer, wordsmith, painter, charismatic leader & wartime strategist, cigar-smoking drinker, raconteur, orator & speech-maker, wit. But the words, in all, and in all their anecdotal contexts - uttered, memorably, by Mr. Churchill - are what flesh out the man and, coupled with associated political activity, leadership strength & military influence, create & sustain an overriding impression of greatness.

Ippudo - inside view (partial)
Should you have developed a serious appetite while sitting through the two acts comprising Churchill: The Play, let me recommend a walk just around the block to Ippudo / Japanese Ramen Noodle Brasserie (at 321 West 51st, between 8th & 9th; tel. 212/974-2500) ... specifically for buns and bowls of ramen of all varieties, densities & contents. According to the eastern culinary "philosophers" at Ippudo, ramen is "a cosmos created in a bowl."  Or, expanded in scrupulous but simple terms, ramen is:
Ramen bowl w/pork slices

"The basic broth ... derived from the essence of pork, chicken, beef, or seafood, and seasoned with soy sauce, salt, miso, and other important ingredients. It's totally up to each individual chef to decide which ingredients [to include] and how much [of each] to use. Flour, eggs, kansui (an alkaline water) and other ingredients are used to make noodles. The chefs do not simply mix these ingredients together. Their own particular originality is infused into the thickness, length, form, and texture of noodles. Toppings such as yakibuta (roast pork) and ni-tamago (soy sauce flavored boiled egg) are also selectively used according to the tastes ... [& individual] preference[s] of the chef. Soup, noodles, and topping – the trinity brings forth the cosmos. [italics mine] Ramen is quite a creative dish with infinite potential for expansion and diversity."

Pork belly buns
We four ordered a bowl of ramen each (@ $15./bowl) reflecting varying degrees of "heat," of spice, & inundated with a variety of ingredients (e.g., noodles, pork slices, mushrooms, scallions, a "seasoned" boiled egg); a couple of orders of silky-tender pork belly buns ($9.); a plate of Suzuki Hakusai,($16.), a "special" seabass appetizer steamed in nappa cabbage & wrapped in yuba tofu skin, delicately "torched" and served with onions, cilantro & a light wasabi dressing; a
Suzuki Hakusai - Seabass
few Japanese draft beers (Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, @ $6.) ... and, bingo, we were set for the evening, truly happy campers: stuffed & satisfied! 

The establishment is comfortable and very friendly, albeit crowded and relatively noisy with lots of native Japanese partaking in what seems to be all the various accoutrements of home fare, comfort food ... indeed, Japan's "soul food."

Finally, just a brief tribute, a "catch-up" literary note, really, for John Williams and his 1965 novel, Stoner, which belatedly & unbeknownst to me (and, I'm certain, to many other readers & admirers of the novel) won the 2013 Waterstones Book of the Year for fiction. Apparently, the novel is making a name for itself in the UK and France and has had a greater impact on readers in those two countries than even here in the USA where it was brought out in 2003 as a part of the New York Review of Books "Classics" imprint (a reprint) series.

I just today came upon the announcement of the Waterstones selection of Stoner for Book of the Year, 2013, noted in a online article posted on the mid-April (2013)'s monthly blog. Don't know if I saw this announcement for the prize before or, more likely, this "discovery" was just a fortuitous result of my quirky reading of the content on the current blog post ... involving a click into the "You might also like" link.

In either case, according to ... 

John Williams
"A nearly forgotten literary novel from 1965 has won Waterstones Book of the Year, building upon strong word-of-mouth and high profile blurbs. John Williams's novel Stoner, first published by Viking in 1965, has won the coveted British prize, attracting attention from prominent modern novelists like Colum McCann who said it was 'one of the great forgotten novels of the past century.... The book is so beautifully paced and cadenced that it deserves the status of classic.'" 

Stoner - in Hebrew
"The rather bleak novel is about William Stoner, a Midwestern academic in the early 20th century whose career stalls as his marriage falls apart. Stoner begins a brief, but ill-fated affair with a younger scholar, before retreating into himself as his life draws to a close."

A truly wonderful & deeply felt novel that is reaching, now, an ever-widening audience of contemprorary readers, even readers in farflung cultures as those in book-saturated Israel!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A recent romp in the East Village: "The Invisible Hand"; 212 Hisae's; ChikaLicious

Ayad Akhbar
Having seen the Broadway production of Ayad Akhbar's Pulitzer prize-winning play, Disgraced, and having enjoyed the play and the performances, we thought we'd venture down to the East Village to the New York Theatre Workshop (at 79 East 4th Street) to see his new play, The Invisible Hand. (See my previous blog post - 11th December, 2014 - for my extensive discussion/comments about Disgraced.)

In brief, The Invisible Hand    (directed by Ken Rus Schmoll) concerns a young corporate (American) investment banker who is held captive by a small (fringe) group of would-be or, at least, (suspected?) self-proclaimed "terrorists" who aim to profit handsomely from their captive through his ultimate exchange for needed funds for the "activities" of their group. However, one of the "terrorist"-captors, one Bashir (Usman Ally), quickly realizes that a considerably greater sum of money (indeed, many millions!) can be gotten via activating & operationalizing the investing knowledge of the banker-captive, Nick Bright (Justin Kirk). And, thus, it pays (handsomely) for the terrorist-captors to keep Nick alive and relatively well for the ultimate good of their cause, including for financing the activities of their alleged leader, Imam Saleem (Dariush Kashani).  

Usman Ally (Bashir)
There are conflicts between and among the (three) Pakistani captors but Bashir seems to dominate and win out in the decision-making process because he is beginning to understand the nature and profits that can be - and will be - accrued by Nick's investment strategies. The dialogue is quick, meaningful, with loaded (!) remarks, and full of continual sparks, revealing the potential & inherent dangers, of course, for the captor ... and his captives. Any more said here about the play, its characters and their relationships, would certainly spoil the drama for a future theater-goer and, I fear, would out too completely its various conflicts - cultural, personal, national-political, religious - and, finally, spoil the play for those intending to see it now ... or, more likely, when/if it, in the footsteps of Disgraced, moves to Broadway.  

If you want to learn more about the themes surrounding, and within,The Invisible Hand, simply visit The Brief -
New York Theatre Workshop's resource - "for further exploration of the themes, history and questions raised by our season's production," and which can be found on the Theatre's web page (at the link, just above), then clicking directly onto/into The Brief "clipped" graphic. (The play is scheduled to run through January 4th at New York Theatre Workshop.)

Following our rather successful theater experience with The Invisible Hand, we trundled up Second Avenue to East 9th, heading west for 212 Hisae's, an Asian fusion resto billed as an "Asian Pub" with tapas (at 212 East 9th St.; 212/614-3226)! 

Bowl of edamame
Greeted, according to their tradition, with a couple of glasses of house white wine (in our case, a cool glass each of Chardonnay) and a bowl of slightly salted, crunchy edamame as we sat down, we immediately felt a part of this friendly, charming, inviting, uniquely solicitous establishment - and kind of guessed we'd be in for a variety of culinary treats.  And, indeed, we were!

Hisae lump crab-meat cakes
We began our meal (a moderately light meal, to begin with, gradually escalating to immoderate[!] proportions) with a few selections from the Asian tapas side of the menu (@ $6 each):  the Kabocha dumplings (filled with Japanese pumpkin, grated walnut & tahini) & the ginger shrimp (delicately breaded with ginger & panko, lightly fried, and served with a mild-ish chili sauce). From there, we moved on to the carefully seasoned Hisae pan fried lump crab-meat cakes, accompanied by a side of homemade smooth & "silky" tartar sauce ($15). 

Hisae, herself!
Next we feasted on the fresh catch of the day - a whole white "Mediterranean" fish grilled in garlic, mushrooms, and a light soy sauce mixture; a side of perfectly done Asian green beans; and two separate (halved) portions of house salad, composed of romaine & kale, apple & walnuts & prepared with a lemon vinaigrette (all, together, @ $17). 

Our grilled fish course - and salad & vegetable accompaniments - was, further washed down & cleansed with another glass of Chardonnay (pour moi, @ $4) and an inviting but vigorously penetrating Mojito (pour ma femme; also @ $4). I should point out that Happy Hour pricing at 212 Hisae's generously, routinely extends all night long!

Mochi ice cream plate
Finally, dessert was offered to us gratis ... yes, just so that we could sample it: a Mochi ice cream plate (i.e., Japanese steamed & pounded sticky rice, with an ice cream filling) for us to savor & share. So friendly a gesture, emphatically providing a coda to such a fine freshly cooked meal ... AND simply reflective of the owner-chef-hostess, Hisae herself, who, according to the web site, seems to be a "firm believer" in the notion  that "food is thy medicine" ... and, further, avers:  "The formula [here] ... is fresh food, prepared to order, priced so that everyone can enjoy it." 

And, believe me (or not), the food here is, indeed, attentively prepared, plated generously ... simply delicious ...and certainly, in all, so exceedingly enjoyable an experience as to warrant a quick return ... perhaps with a couple of additional guests to be "converted" & to introduce to Hisae - both the owner-chef & the resto!

Vanilla bean mille crepe slice!
And speaking of dessert, the East Village offers a great deal in this category, including the now routinely packed ChikaLicious  (at 204 East 10th St.; and, directly opposite, @ 203, a second packed "branch"). They serve all manner of sweet things - pastries, cakes, cake slices, pies, crisps, eclairs, bread pudding, muffins, cookies, ice cream - and coffees/teas (hot & iced), but provide practically no space to actually sit down, eat & enjoy these little delicacies. 

The night we showed up there for dessert & coffee proved typically bulging with patrons of every demographic seeking, yep, all manner of sweet things.  But, somehow, we were able to score some seats and a tiny table however boxed in we felt & actually were - right next to & virtually up against a foursome of young women who indulged in sweet things non-stop. We sampled a few items, including a vanilla bean mille crepe slice, a caramel macaron, a black coffee & a latte, all very tasty, indeed ... and both of those creamy things and hot liquids for a grand total of $15 (sans tax assigned!). 

By the way, if you happen to be in the West Village & hankering for dessert - a sweet thing, or two - there is a new  ChikaLicious outpost (a Dessert Club!) located at 27 Bedford @ Downing Street. Hopefully, equipped with a bit more room to sit, stretch out, and relish your ethereal dessert with a hot or iced coffee!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another visit to Brooklyn ... an opera, a resto (Taperia); a new film & "Disgraced," a B'way drama

Just like everyone else in and around metro New York, we've been heading to Brooklyn periodically, of late, for various outings, restaurant visits, and to catch "local" events - both cultural (e.g.,the 9th annual Brooklyn Book Festival held late this past September) & culinary (for exemplary, interesting & reasonable eats). Just a few weeks ago (on Sunday, November 23rd), we returned to Brooklyn (St. Ann's Church, 157 Montague St., Brooklyn Heights), once again,
Cavalleria Rusticana - Sicilian church
for a performance of Pietro Mascagni's one-act opera, the storied, "melodramatic" Cavalleria Rusticana. The Mascagni operatic
masterpiece was a joint production presented by (and with) the String Orchestra of Brooklyn (Eli Spindel, conductor, SOB) and Grace Chorale of Brooklyn (Jason Asbury, Choir Music Director). 

Sarah Heltzel - Mezzo-soprano
The performance - the music, the choir, the five soloists - proved especially strong, emphatic, unassailable, and memorable ... kudos to the performers, one and all! Tenor, Alex Richardson (Turiddu), and mezzo-soprano, Sarah Heltzel (Santuzza), were both operatic standouts in their respective roles, and both, indeed, vocally powerful, melodic, and appealing ... continually kindling interest, evoking sincerity, and maintaining the substantial audience's undiverted attention.

Evening view from Montague St.
Following the highly successful, simply staged & emotion-laden performance of the iconic Mascagni (verismo) opera - and after hooking up with a friend of ours who is a member of the choir - we meandered just up the street to Taperia (132 Montague, between Henry St. & Clinton; tel. 718/596-1800) to dine. 

Taperia - Heated patio (where we dined!)
We sampled a wide variety of tapas dishes, an excellent bottle of the recommended house white wine (a clos Dalian, white grenache; @ about $30) & dessert!  And Taperia turned out to be, well, a relatively undiscovered gem of a dining venue - 
unknown, surprisingly, to either of our Brooklynite companions. The restaurant, I should note here, is friendly, very attentive to needs of diners, plenty atmospheric, ethnic, quiet ... and our meal added up to near perfection in a series of 7 or 8 small plates (@ $6-10 each).  

At the top of our list were the Spanish chorizo cubes cut up & blended into a fragrant & appealing stew of garbanzos, onions & tomatoes (so
Spanish chorizo - in stew
appealing, in fact, that we decided on a second plate of this very same chorizo stew!); the mixed plate of empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken & spinach, and Manchego cheese; the "traditional" glass of ceviche filled with
pieces of scallops, calamari & sea bass immersed in an admixture of lime juice, garlic, red onion, cilantro, jalapenos ... and served with white corn chips; and, finally, the ropa viejo (stewed, shredded beef, with white rice & nicely simmered red beans).

Flan - topped w/jellied fruit & whipped cream
Two desserts were selected (@ $6-8 each) - a bread pudding concoction and a silky-sweet Spanish flan topped with jellied fruit (apricot?) & whipped cream on the side - and we coupled the dessert plates with robust & intensely black cups of coffee (caffeinated, for one of our party, de-caf for the others). The two shared desserts neatly topped off a memorably filling combination of diverse savory small plates ... all presented with care & pride, in diner-oriented low-key comfort & toward our own great satisfaction & continual surprise! If you're in Brooklyn Heights - anywhere near Montague St. - you just might want to give Taperia a try - for entrée-size large plates, for soups, salads, for large orders of ceviche ... and, of course, for tapas!
NY TIMES - December 5th

In last weekend's New York Times / SportsSunday (December 7th), a bunch of staff writers & editors jointly contemplated the world without watching football in an article entitled "Who Needs Football?" (their starting point was here:  "... take a break from the ritual masochism ... anything you do will be less boring than watching a couple of lousy teams play ineptly against a couple of other lousy teams). And then they provided a batch of "suggestions for better ways to spend your Sunday."  Their suggestions included such possibilities as "Explore the City" (which we do, by definition, in each nybeat blog post); "Go to the Opera" (done, too, see above); "Eat" (we continually seek out & examine new restos & venues not yet fully known to us) ...
Benedict Cumberbatch / Alan Turing
So, what's new here; We've been not watching football for the past 35 or 40 years and have allocated our time to much more (in my opinion) interesting, enlightening, useful & enjoyable pursuits while exploring the NY metro area and even, occasionally, a somewhat further & wider "radius" (like that within and surrounding Montréal, Colorado, Wyoming, the Poconos)!  Which, rather indirectly, leads us to two more extremely worthwhile "cultural" experiences that I'd advocate for - and suggest you'd have a look:  

First, see (!) the new film,The Imitation Game, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in a subtly brilliant performance as Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician & computer wizard (father of computing/computer science & artificial intelligence), in his central role as the "morally dubious" cryptographer who solved the "Enigma code," the German strategic communications code during the 2nd World War, and, which, arguably (we are told) aided the Allies in ending the war some two years earlier than it might have otherwise lasted. 
More or less faithful to the book on which it is based - Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges - the film (directed by Morten Tyldum) focuses centrally on Turing and, specifically, on the intricate narrative details surrounding the sequence of events just prior to the cracking of the "indecipherable" German code. 

Carefully constructed (even "sculpted"), the film's components fuse together & unite the three unequal constituent threads of the film - replete with post-war revelatory scenes; flashbacks to Turing as a "difficult" young public school student; and, foremost, presenting the time frame (however condensed & intensified) at Bletchley Park, the UK center where the "team-building" & code-breaking efforts take place. That is, all three narrative strands merge - as a cinematic force - to depict the period, the war-time work, post-war difficulties with the "authorities," and Turing's idiosyncratic personality ... his genius, his temperament, his sexuality, his interpersonal skills (or lack thereof), and his analytical methods. 

Alan Turing / Bronze bust
And while the supporting cast provides the necessary harmonious acting ensemble (kudos to Keira Knightley) & theatrical backdrop against which the Turing character acts & re-acts, it is Cumberbatch as Alan Turing whose every movement absorbs & maintains our attention with a performance that is simply sterling - genuine, riveting, masterful, enigmatic (pardon the use of this adjective), and, at once, understated & powerful.

Ayad Akhtar - Playwright
The second - and, for the moment, final - cultural experience I'd advocate attending, and suggest you purchase tickets for immediately (!), is the Pulitzer prize-winning drama by Ayad Akhtar, now on Broadway, entitled Disgraced (at the Lyceum Theatre; at 149 West 45th St.).

Tautly directed by Kimberly Senior, the play, in four scenes (between 2011 & 2012), takes place in a stylish, commodious upper East Side apartment and explores the personhood, the personae - values, conscience, self-worth, hopes, desires, motives, depths, solidity - of one Amir (Hari Dhillon), a thirty-something Pakistani-American lawyer and his relationship(s) to his wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol), a nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), an Afro-American colleague, Jory (Karen Pittman), and her husband, Abe (Josh Radnor), an art dealer. 

Hari Dhillon - Amir
At the outset of the drama, Amir, though of east Asian ethnicity, is a confident American corporate attorney who soon, he assumes, will become a partner in his law firm ... and who just happens to be of Pakistani origin.  But, as things progress, and muddy as they are apt to do, and as he interacts with the other characters - his artist (pro- or faux Islam-oriented) wife; his pro-Pakistani nephew; the Jewish-American art dealer interested in his wife's work (?) and his wife herself; his black-American corporate lawyer colleague (wife of the art dealer) - things, shall we say, become less & less routine and obvious to him, and he stands on less (& less) firm ground. 

At the end of Scene 4, when the play is about to conclude, and things in the apartment are both psychologically and
Three photos - from Disgraced
physically "packed up," we wonder ... and these are the central & perplexing questions about which the play is concerned:  Can Amir, will Amir, maintain his sense of American-ness, his American needs & cultural values; can he, or will he, maintain what might only have been his posture, a hopeful pose?  Or, might he travel (at least mentally, psychically, even physically) to Pakistan, toward more traditional roots?  Or, further, does he (can he), truly fit in and belong anywhere at all?

The play, in short, is about Amir's fall, his dislocation, his disorientation, a crisis in his identity, resulting, ultimately in loss - of a job, a partnership, an American wife, his American friends (the black & Jewish couple), and a way of life as an American, an American professional. You will, indeed, formulate your own serious questions as you view the play and, certainly, afterwards, after you have chewed over & digested  what you have just witnessed.

So, once again, as The New York Times editors formulate the question for us:  Who needs football?  Come on ... get serious ... Really!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Late fall in Manhattan: Odds & ends ... art, design AND eats ...

If you find yourself wandering around lower Manhattan (on the west side of town, in the Tribeca vicinity) - seeking out the Fountain Pen Hospital (@ 10 Warren St.; tel. 212/964-0580) for a new pen, special refill, or repair; visiting The Mysterious Bookshop (58 Warren St.; tel. 212/587-1011) for its wide variety & depth in detective fiction & mystery novels; or attending an event at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (@ 199 Chambers St.; tel. 212/220-1459) - and, if you grow
Hard boiled & noir

hungry, you will do no better for creative Chinese eats than visiting the Lotus Blue Restaurant and Bar (to be found @ 110 Reade Street; tel. 212/267-3777), which offers a menu uniquely rich in what they call "modern Yunnan cuisine."

And by that phrase they mean a Yunnan cuisine inflected with, and accentuated by, the rich flavors & ingredients of Burma and Thailand mingled with the more traditionally spicy, pungent flavors & piquant delicacies found "tucked away" in Yunnan Province.  Or, in their own more elaborate description ... their Yunnan eclecticism results in a cuisine borrowing "freely" from neighboring areas and using spices such as lemon grass, mint, purple basil and cilantro ... amidst such traditional ingredients as cured beef, ham & mushrooms (e.g., "stir-fried" trumpet & shiitake).
Lotus Blue - Dining room
Within their extensive menu, you will also find tropical flowers & fruits (like mango), "banana blossom salad, lemongrass herb rub ... used in ... 'grill' sea bass  and baby back ribs, and a coconut tapioca pudding ... topped off with edible flower petals and rose petal syrup." And, while the food offered is "recognizably Chinese," their use of "local ingredients in distinctive combinations ... [results in] full-flavored refreshing dishes that make dining at Lotus Blue a unique [!] experience."

Crispy scallion pancake
Lotus Blue - external view
On the occasion we (recently) visited - my first, my wife's 3rd - we aimed to eat relatively lightly, just an appetizer (a small plate) and two mains, or large plates. Beer prices were reduced (just $5 for each bottle we quaffed of Singha & Sapporo) as we showed up during their happy hour time frame. We began with a crispy scallion pancake (@ $8), accompanied by both aloe honey sauce & lime soy sauce. The pancake proved plenty big enough to share and was perfectly done, golden brown and, indeed, crispy-crunchy in texture.

Next came our two large plates ... one (my own), the flank steak trumpet mushroom stir-fry - composed of sliced flank steak and, yep, trumpet mushrooms in a Sichuan
Dali specialty chicken
peppercorn sauce ($20) - was nicely prepared, nicely "peppered," and the beef tender, tasty & succulent, throughout the stir-fry! The second (my wife's plate) - fresh caught clams stir-fried in mushroom sauce ($18) - proved to be unique in both content & texture. Consisting of fresh clams in their shells "tossed" with basil mushrooms & garlic sauce, this appealing, somewhat spicy dish "connected" emphatically with both of us (oddly, but especially, with my dining partner, because of her general lack of interest in clams or oysters in their shells). 

We'll certainly return to Lotus Blue, this comfortable gold-mine of a "modern" Yunnan resto, for there are, indeed, considerably more plates - large & small, noodles & soups, rice dishes & sides - yet to identify & sample. I have my eye right now on the Dali specialty chicken (a large plate of crisp-fried chicken with special tea tree mushroom sauce; @ $18) ... AND the spicy cumin lamb cubes (a stir-fry dish comprising cumin & spice salt marinated lamb; $22).

We followed dinner with coffee (Pike's roast) at a nearby Starbucks just prior to our trek further downtown to The Museum of Jewish Heritage (Edmond J. Safra Plaza / 36 Battery Place; tel. 646/437-4202) for a 92nd Street Y @ MJH joint program ... a "book release" event: an interesting & poignant conversation between author, Sarah Wildman, and June Thomas of Slate Magazine. Centering on Ms. Wildman's just now published book entitled Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead Books, 2014), the conversation involved how, exactly, she shaped & developed the ensuing narrative after her grandfather's death, having discovered a collection of his letters to his lover, Valy. Apparently, Valy remained in Austria throughout the 2nd World War - and during the Nazi occupation - while he was able to escape to the United States ...  and survive.

It seems that Ms. Wildman became obsessed with Valy's, and her grandfather's, story and details how she spent years traveling the globe attempting to unravel the complete story & uncover her grandfather's lover's fate. You'll simply have to read the book in order to find out any further solidifying details about the ultimate resolution (?) of her journey - both concrete (real!) and literary.

Earlier this month we scampered uptown & east (once
Helena Rubinstein
again) to visit The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. at 92nd St.; tel. 212-423-3200), specifically to see a couple of newly mounted exhibitions: Helena Rubinstein:  Beauty Is Power (thru March 22nd) & From the Margins:  Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952 (thru February 1st). 

These two "must see" shows, while relatively comprehensive in depth & scope, are concentrated enough to be seen and absorbed in a moderate space of time, in, perhaps (depending on your sense of "completeness"), a single visit, a brief few hours on a weekday afternoon. 
Portraits of Helena Rubinstein
The Helena Rubinstein show, or so the curatorial / PR information explains, is "the first museum exhibition to focus on the cosmetics entrepreneur" and reflects, of course, much of her self (her personal & professional lives) & her commitment to the worlds of cosmetics (commerce!), "art, fashion, beauty, and design." And, what's more, according to the museum staff, her "innovative business" ventures - and her ideas on style - "usher in a modern notion of beauty, democratized and accessible to all." 

Picasso caricature / sketch
On view, one is confronted with a wide variety of works, including: colorfully realistic & naturalistic portraits of "this pioneer in the world of beauty"; a wall full of caricatures of Ms. Rubinstein done (with a sardonic eye & critical strokes of the pen) by her "friend," Pablo Picasso; photos & artifacts from her grandly diverse, exquisitely furnished & richly decorated apartments (in New York, London, Paris); works of art & design (i.e., paintings, jewelry, sculpture, gowns, etc.) that she collected ... by Matisse, Miro, Kahlo, Max Ernst, Warhol & Nadelman; select items from her intriguingly "iconic collection" of African & Oceanic sculpture; works of primitive art; a display of her "miniature period rooms"; and much more in the domain of unique & "fascinating personal belongings."

Helena Rubinstein, 1872–1965 (Catalog)
During her long & industrious life, Ms. Rubinstein, states the New York Post (in museum publicity material), "defied anti-Semitism, stalked Picasso and built a first-class art collection." And with a diligent, emphatic concentration on beauty & commercial ventures - on things fashionable, beautiful & stylized - her life is certainly, ultimately, a statement on the power of beauty, on beauty as power ... or, as The Jewish Museum curators conceived it, "Beauty [that] is Power." Much to see here, to learn & to reflect upon, indeed!

Norman Lewis - Twilight Sounds, 1947
From the Margins provides equally interesting and enticing creative fare. Via selected & representative "paintings by ... [two] artists, this exhibition offers a revealing parallel view of two key Abstract Expressionists." Lee Krasner (a.k.a., the "missus" of Jackson Pollock) and Norman Lewis - a woman and an Afro-American male - "each experimented with approaches that joined abstraction and cultural specificity. Their work similarly [in this exhibit, reciprocally] brims with gesture, image, and incident, yet was overlooked by critics in their time." [my italics]

From the Margins - Gallery view
These two painters tended to express themselves primarily through abstract images and "used simplified shapes, exaggerated lines, and powerful color to create imaginative works of art."

The works are alluring, at once muted & quiet, and stunning, vivid & colorful; and, as displayed together in three (or so) museum galleriesthey are striking & memorable ... particularly so in the purposeful exploration of their distinctiveness & similarities.

Lee Krasner - Untitled, 1948
I know my wife & I were both moved by the work of each of these painters ... the design, the, well, architecture of their works - the forms, the shapes, the unique beauty of the bold & muted tones of their colors. Thus, owing to this comprehensive, sensitive, and meticulously arranged show, neither Lee Krasner nor Norman Lewis can, in my view, be labeled "forgotten" abstract expressionists any longer!

Gina La Fornarina - Inside view
Following our rather intense museum visit, we were both in the mood for dining on something new:  something both light and, at the same time, something consequential. We chose Gina La Fornarina - one of four informal Italian restos in a Manhattan "chain," serving well-prepared "traditional" Italian food & luscious, exquisitely "constructed" pizza - at the location just around the corner from The Jewish Museum (26 East 91st @ Madison Ave.; tel. 212/828-6800).

Delirium Nocturnum
We quickly ordered a large "summer special" kale salad (with chopped onions, shaved Parmigiano, lemon & extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette; @ $14.95) to share, and a Pizza Tirolese (blending toppings of cream of mascarpone, prosciutto "speck" & white truffle oil; @ $22., including "extra" mushrooms), and doused the (just) "fired-up" pizza with two bottles of a special Belgian brew ... Delirium Nocturnum (@ $9./bottle), a strong, robust ale brewed by Brouwerij Huyghe, a brewery in Melle.

All of the food we managed to consume here at Gina La Fornarina proved extremely satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth tasty ... especially the silky pizza and its soft, minimally crunchy, somewhat chewy crust!

And don't forget, there are four Gina La Fornarina locations to dine in - three on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a fourth at Amsterdam & 73rd, on the West Side: All locations convenient to at least one museum, or gallery, or "arts" & culture venue (e.g., the American Museum of Natural History, the MET Museum of Art, the 92nd Street Y) you might want to visit ...