Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lincoln Center out-of-doors; Santa Fe - contemporary Mex / southwest cuisine; "the good & the true" at D*R*2; and 1200 miles

This summer Lincoln Center could hardly be contained ... indoors:  "Music, dance, and theater spill from our concert halls onto our plazas and into the street to fill the season's days and nights with endless excitement." Just now winding down after having provided several weeks of "jam-packed," world-class performances - "all absolutely FREE!" ... the summer of 2014 has, indeed, been a bonanza to metro area folks looking for easily accessible top-notch entertainment. 
Pete & Toshi Seeger
The only consistent problem, really, seemed to be the never-ending huge crowds, all with the same idea about attending a Lincoln Center Out of Doors event in, say, Damrosch Park, and actually locating seats inside the proverbial gates for your event of choice. Seemed to me that as many people "watched" & listened to performances from outside & beyond the rear end of the Band Shell space - feeling lucky (enough) to snag a concrete "seat" under the thin veil of trees at the very base of the park - as were actually seated in somewhat "comfortable" venue chairs within the confines of the fenced in park itself. Somehow an overflow of people (gawkers, fans, aficionados) - too much online publicity, perhaps, this year! - completely inundated (almost daily) that whole area of Lincoln Center (out-of-doors) and the surrounding streets attempting to catch a glimpse of that evening's performers. Sometimes, I guess, even (especially?) "free" simply doesn't "buy" you a ticket to your event of choice!

Roberta Flack
Nevertheless, we did manage to to get close enough - just beyond the Damrosch Park enclosures - to witness a few of the major events, including A Memorial Concert for Pete & Toshi Seeger (July 20th), featuring, among other performers, Judy Collins ... and the pop legend, Roberta Flack (July 26th). For nearly two hours Ms. Flack accompanied herself on the piano and sang many of her memorable hit songs, most notably, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" & "Killing Me Softly With His Song." Now, 70+, Ms. Flack proved particularly energetic, singing with spirit, solidity, grace & integrity, exhibiting a truly audience-centric performance for an SRO crowd of long-time fans & supporters. 

Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez
That night, fortunately, the Damrosch Park sound system came alive and carried her voice and her pianistic solo & supporting skills straight through to all of us in attendance, even those (like my wife & moi) standing at a vantage point beyond the exits, standing, that is, during the entire show while just barely glimpsing the stage where Ms. Flack & her musical team performed so enthusiastically; yet, somehow we were able to encompass it all ... even from that far away, from such a distant position in this huge open-air "house."

Pam Tanowitz Dance - From "eighth blackbird"
Other major performers & noteworthy acts featured in the Lincoln Center Out of Doors "festival," which, I'm told, also drew huge (!) crowds, included Emmylou Harris, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Cassandra Wilson, Pam Tanowitz Dance, and a tribute to Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez with the Cita Rodriguez Orchestra and special guest star, the inimitable Johnny Pacheco!

Santa Fe - Restaurant on West 71st
Pre- or post- your visit to Lincoln Center this summer (ending much too soon!), or any other time of year, you might want to head to Santa Fe (at 73 West 71st Street, just off Columbus Ave.; tel. 212/724-0822) for high quality, consistently fine Southwestern & Mexican cuisine, prepared under the guidance & supervision of executive chef, Jose Gonzalez, and his multi-talented sous-chef associates, and featuring "the savory depth of truly authentic" contemporary regional fare. The wide menu has it all, from old standbys & favorites, such as their thick, luscious & feisty guacamole, to lots of new items ... for example, fish tacos, salmon burritos, pork carnitas burritos & skirt steak chimichurri (which allured!). 

Santa Fe - Internal view
Seated in the early evening (at just about happy hour time) in the resto's rather expansive & sleekly designed dining room, it proved a bit difficult to narrow down our dinner selections to a number of items two of us could, well, manage. Nevertheless, after a bit of genuine menu scrutiny, we came up with a few winning items, including
Pomegranate margarita
(additionally) a pomegranate margarita (@ $11), a good-size Pacifico draft beer ($6), and a glass of Malbec "Tierra" sec ($10). And, questions of quenching our dual thirsts aside, we shared a large shrimp roll with a smoky-peppery, mayonnaise-chipotle sauce ... perfect, indeed, for dunking pieces of this tasty delicately prepared appetizer (a daily "special," at $11).

Shrimp roll appetizer (delectable!)
Next, we indulged in two mains ... pour moi, the grilled double thick cut pork chop, served along with sweet & hot pepper jelly, rice & black beans (@ $24); & pour la Madame, the grilled trucha enchipotlada (rainbow trout), nicely, carefully, pan seared & finished off juicily flavorful (not dried out), served with sweet potato hash &
Grilled pork rib platter
fresh herbs, and, finally, topped with their inviting, palette-tingling rather rarified chipotle sauce (@ $18.50). Both mains proved to be exquisitely tasty, full & diverse "model" platters reflecting (as advertised) uniquely inviting, particularly piquant, current southwestern cuisine!

Chef Gonzalez

Following our mains, we were, as they say, simply full-up; and so we decided to walk a bit (just a few blocks), down & over to Lincoln Center Plaza ... where we made a bee-line for the gelato cart - L'Arte del Gelato - a veritable oasis in "creams" (fresco ogni giorno!), parked, during summer months (May to August), off the plaza, in the rear of Damrosch Park, awaiting patrons to just snag one of their favorite (most creamy) gelati to lick around, bite into ... & indulge in!

Saul Reichlin / Milos  Dobry
PS Just two weeks ago, we purchased highly discounted tickets to The Good And The True & saw this recently "imported," understated production from the UK (originally produced at the Svandovo Theatre, Prague). Currently running at the D*R*2 Theatre (103 East 15th St.), the show features two deeply riveting and emotionally powerful intertwined monologues - "authentic testimonies" - adapted (in English) by Brian Daniels and directed by Daniel Hrbek, focusing on the lives of the athlete Milos Dobry and the actress Hana Pravda, two well-known Czech personalities & historical figures, both caught up in World War II, the Holocaust .... the death camps.  

Fortunately, these two strong-willed individuals survived Auschwitz, death marches, satellite camps, near starvation ...  and could serve as eye-witnesses to the remarkable events that they experienced first-hand. The two separate but interconnected monologues prove tender, touching, hopeful; they are extremely well spoken, well presented, darkly tender, at times humorous ... performed in a straightforward, low-key mode & minimalist stage setting.

Hana Pravda
  Indeed, it might well be worth your while to see this dramatic event before it closes,  shortly, in order to witness these two wonderful actors - Saul Reichlin & Hannah D. Scott - and their deeply felt, psychologically realistic, but also profoundly matter-of-fact & understated, portrayals of Milos Dobry, the celebrated Czech athlete, and the internationally acclaimed actress, Hana Maria Pravda. (Note: Ms. Hannah Scott was a late addition to the cast, according to production notes, recruited when a visa difficulty delayed the British actress Isobel Pravda (Hana Pravda's granddaughter) from participating.  

1200 Miles - Restaurant & bar
It might also be worth your while to visit 1200 Miles - Restaurant & Bar ... where we - four of us - thoroughly enjoyed a late summer Restaurant-Week-lunch (3 courses @ $25) prior to visiting the DR2 Theatre and attending the drama described above. Situated in a completely remodeled bright & airy space, at 31 West 21st Street (between 5th & 6th Ave.; tel. 212/510-8722),1200 Miles - where you just might want to eat if you're in the mood to experience an "authentic Mediterranean journey in food & drink" - is a large & friendly establishment with more than sufficient room between tables within which to enjoy your meal without extraneous noises occluding your own conversation(s). And the food, itself, top-notch, well-prepared, attentively served! 

View of front entrance
We four began with the de rigueur appetizer (to be followed, of course, by entrée & dessert), two of us having ordered the singularly appealing "wedge salad," that, as they note on their special menu, contains "little gem" lettuce, peas, carrots, radish, spiced walnuts & Cabrales (a fatty blue cheese from Spain) dressing. The other half of our party of four tried out an equally tasty & appealing burrata, replete with tomatoes, peaches, basil, and a balsamico-based dressing.

Black garlic fettuccini
Entrées were attractively plated, interestingly prepared & flavorful (with light but penetrating spicing), as well! Three of us ordered the pan roasted bluefish, which featured a mix of padron peppers, mussels, long island corn & asparagus pesto. My selection, though, was not only unique among the members of our small luncheon party ... but the black garlic fettuccini, in and of itself, was just a solidly unique item, a house specialty prepared with "summer" vegetables, chanterelles, pine nuts & grana Padano (this last, a grainy-textured pale-yellow cheese, with an intensely sweet flavor, from the Valley of Padano, Italy). A simple & attractive dish, on the one hand; but, a gigantic hit on the other! Wow, I can almost still taste the lingering diversity of its essences ...

Chocolate-espresso parfait
Desserts, coffee* & espresso were soon ordered and this finale proved outstanding for us all - rich & sweet, again nicely "packaged" and/or plated, indeed luscious - a perfect antidote to the two preceding (mainly) savory courses. We sampled (& shared) our four desserts ... and, simply, indulged: in the chocolate-espresso parfait, with pistachio praline & Chantilly cream; the summer stone fruit zabaglione con biscotti; and the vanilla bean panna cotta configured with shortbread crumble, vin cotto & berry sorbet. Once again, wow (!) ... three particularly memorable, delectable desserts! 

Rosé / Sicilia, 2013
(*Note that coffee & tea are not included with the special Restaurant Week lunch menu ... at any participating establishment, as far as I am aware.) 

Garnacha maximo, 2012
Further, though, I should mention that 1200 Miles did offer a small "specially selected" list of wines per glass to accompany each lunch, if desired; that is, a 5-oz glass @ $9.75 ("one selection per lunch" at this special price point), including a wonderfully dry rosé di regaleali, Sicilia, 2013, an arneis, ceretto, Piedmonte, Italy, 2012, a garnacha, maximo, Spain, 2012, a flor do crasto / quinta do crasto, Duro, Portugal, 2011... among several other possibilities! Naturally, we all unhesitatingly partook ... and we enjoyed the wines, in full! Indeed, this was a luncheon "deal" wholly worth our collective while & a resto worth visiting ... and visiting again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Louis Armstrong, Cedar Lake & two "outer borough" restaurant experiences

Louis Armstrong / "Satchmo"
June 29th has come and gone and you very well might have missed the Louis Armstrong International Music Festival which was held in the Borough of Queens in
Flushing Meadows - Corona Park right near the Unisphere and the Queens Museum (111 St. & the Van Wyck Expressway). 

While you might have missed this all-day (one day!) music event, offering jazz from all over the world - including the Cuban-American singer, Albita, and the trumpeter, Jon Faddis, and his Quartet - you can still catch a tribute exhibition entitled Ambassador Satchmo at the World’s Fair, an installation in the Museum Café (June 29th through September 21st) ... presented by The Louis Armstrong House Museum in partnership with, and mounted at, the Queens Museum. You might not be aware that Louis Armstrong lived in Corona, Queens for nearly half a century and that he was honored at the 1964 World's Fair declaring June 30, 1964 to be “Louis Armstrong Day.” 

The Louis Armstrong House / Museum
The Museum Café installation contains photographs & memorabilia from The Louis Armstrong House … a small museum dedicated to the work, artistry, recordings, life & times of Mr. Armstrong and his wife. Most notably the museum café show features photographs by Jack Bradley - Armstrong's good friend & personal photographer - that document Louis Armstrong Day at the world's fair in all its splendor.  Fortunately, notes the Queens Museum web site's descriptive material, Bradley was on hand with his camera to capture many of the day’s celebratory events, "including photos of Armstrong’s motorcade, of the trumpeter on stage wearing a Native American headdress[,] and posing with ... fans backstage." 

Unisphere - Flushing Meadows
The museum exhibit's PR material further notes that "Bradley’s photos of Armstrong at the World’s Fair have never previously been exhibited," and that, what's more, "... [t]hanks to Bradley’s photos, we can now take a peek into what must have been a very memorable day in Queens for one of the borough’s true kings."

Custom kitchen - L. Armstrong House 

Indeed, when you've finished up your short tour of the "Satchmo" installaton at the Queens Museum café, meander over (not far at all as the proverbial crow flies) to The Louis Armstrong House Museum (located at 34-56 107th Street, Corona, Queens/NY) where you can see (& hear) close up & personal all about Armstrong and his daily & historical life - his trumpets, stereo system, tape recordings, studio, prize possessions, his living quarters, and so forth: a truly grand, small-scale museum dedicated to the life of Mr. Armstrong & his long-time wife, Lucille, while, at the same time, giving their visitors the impression "that Louis & Lucille just stepped out for a minute."  

It should be noted, too, that the museum conducts guided "house" tours of the family living (& working) quarters and provides new exhibits and hosts all kinds of musical events each season.
Living room - L. Armstrong House

When you've tired of Queens-based museums, guided tours & background "hot five & hot seven" trumpet-led music, you will, surely, be up for a culinary experience equal to what you've witnessed. And I was introduced to just the restaurant you'd want to patronize for such an occasion:  Joe (Giuseppe) Palma's My Kitchen (106-17 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, NY; tel. 718/544-5644). 

The Palma's - My Kitchen
While Joe presides in the kitchen, his wife, Dhanny, functions as manager of the "front" and server in chief!  
Maryland-style crab cake(s)
My Kitchen (or, as Dhanny is fond of saying, "our kitchen") offers a small but intriguingly eclectic menu featuring what they bill as "perennial favorites" (like the sublime Maryland-style crab cake(s) with a lime yogurt cream sauce, @ $12; or the perfectly grilled "aged" boneless I6-oz N.Y. strip steak, with a special "MK dry rub," @ $21) and well-planned, attentively prepared "seasonal dishes" (notably an individually "potted" portion of seafood & chorizo paella, @ $18) which vary daily. 

Seafood & chorizo paella
Other outstanding items you might want to try out & savor include the grilled balsamic glazed Portobello mushroom with gorgonzola cheese ($8); French fried potatoes topped with truffle oil & parmesan cheese (also $8); and bacalao filled ravioli with a puttanesca sauce (@ $19.95). 
My Kitchen

All appetizers (including salads) & entrée selections (e.g., the "special" whole Cornish hen) are generously plated and desserts (the bread pudding, served warm with a "scoop" of ice cream!) are all particularly flavorful & expectedly, if not flagrantly, sweet capstones to a more than satisfying dining experience at My Kitchen. When in or near Forest Hills (Queens), do visit this friendly, informal, brightly decorated & comfortable resto ... and see if I'm not correct!

Cedar Lake
On another fairly recent "outer borough" excursion (via NJ Transit & and a quick subway ride to Atlantic Terminal in downtown Brooklyn), we managed to land tickets to see a Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Thursday evening performance at BAM (you know, the acclaimed Brooklyn Academy of Music), where Cedar Lake would celebrate its 10th year anniversary at the Howard Gilman Opera House.
From:  "Necessity, Again"

The night we attended, there were three individual dance pieces, the most engaging of which happened to be the last in the evening's sequence: “Necessity, Again,” a comic work of balletic "physical theater" created by the well-established Norwegian choreographer, Jo Strømgren.   

The costumes worn by the dancers in this fairly lengthy piece evoke a 1950s work place - office and/or manufacturing - of some sort ... displaying up-dos, tea length skirts, and de rigueur skinny ties. In terms of sound & "music," the atmosphere of the work oscillates between what appear to be archival recordings of Jacques Derrida making his way, haltingly - in heavily accented & abstract English speech - through a mesmerizingly dull philosophy lecture and segments of schmaltzy songs from the romantic French crooner, Charles Aznavour 
Jacques Derrida

Charles Aznavour
While Aznavour slings his emotive Gallic melodies with power & bombastic energy, romance & fun tend to dominate the stage activity and the dance evokes a kind of party mode (& mood), perhaps reflecting standard Broadway "high jinks" from, well, a "European perspective." When the recorded voice of Derrida intrudes, speaking in a monotone English about such concepts as necessity and death, the dancers fall to the stage floor. The happy, upbeat moments, though, provide the Cedar Lake dancers with the opportunity to display their charm, wiles, singular skills (both solo & group), and humorous & alluring abilities in action, gesture & movement. The piece, while certainly idiosyncratic in structure, is appealing & entertaining, if a bit on the baffling side in terms of the dramatic/dance movements displayed amidst the juxtaposed voices rendered in the background.

Cedar Lake dancers - in H. Shecter's "Violet Kid"
After having experienced "Necessity, Again," it becomes obvious that Mr. Strømgren, who also works as a theater director, brings a certain dramatic element to the dance pieces he creates & meticulously choreographs, leading one critic to pronounce that “Jo [Strømgren] has a very dry [sense of] humor that sets a very different tone to everything else." Indeed, in the final analysis, it seems he does ... at least for Cedar Lake!

Olea - view of the "house" 
Olea (171 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY; a short & pleasant 5 or 6 blocks from BAM; tel. 718/643-7003) proved the restaurant of choice prior to the Cedar Lake dance event we would attend at BAM (described  above). 

The establishment bills itself as a Mediterranean Taverna ... and it has that look & feel, possibly of somewhere in southern Italy (Sicilia, perhaps?) or a Greek Isle. And the food that they prepare is, for the most part, light, naturally colorful, seemingly healthy, and, well, of varied Mediterranean provenance. 

Olea - External (dusk) view on Lafayette Avenue
We had learned about Olea from the BAM web site though we were on our way to another eatery (a bit further away); but, as we were strolling by Olea, we noticed their posted rather consequential Happy Hour menu (Mon.-Fri., 4-7:00) when drinks (beer & wine, and all!) are, roughly, 1/2 price and food sampling can be accomplished via tapas-size plates at extremely reasonable (reduced!) price points ($3-6). Otherwise, the menu at Olea offers a wide variety of similarly delectable tapas dishes, of course, at 
Spanish"pitza" tapa

somewhat higher pricing, larger plates & raw bar selections (for details, just have a look at their unique dinner menu!). 

For example, if you dined post-Happy-Hour you might want to try the roasted whole Mediterranean branzino ("whole bone in fish"), plated with green vegetables sautéed in pimentón-garlic butter (@ $26); or you might select a paella - paella de mariscos, say - with Spanish "bomba" rice cooked with squid ink & vegetable-saffron stock, shrimp, calamari, mussels ... all carefully mixed thru with red pepper sofrito, green peas, preserved lemon aioli & parsley leaves (@ $28).

Lamb kefteddes, tomato sauce, feta & mint
For our Happy-Hour pre-theater dinner, though, we settled on five or, more likely, six (?) tapas plates and a few glasses of a relatively dry rosé & a glass of off-dry Riesling.  All six plates were tasty & tangy tapas "exhibits," distinctive, well-executed. A few were simply outstanding.  While we initially considered ordering an appealing plate of the lamb kefteddes (Greek meatballs, tomato sauce, spicy whipped feta & mint, @ $5.50; see photo), we opted for the beef meatballs, a bit more complex & intricately prepared, with red wine-pomegranate-rosemary glaze, yogurt & toasted almonds (also $5.50).  

Equally appealing to us and sounding genuinely distinctive was the Spanish "pitza," comprising pita with quince paste, Manchego cheese, toasted garlic, crushed red pepper ... a truly memorable combination of artfully complementary tastes & textures (@ $4; see photo, above). Also deserving special mention are two additional outstanding ("tapas") plates that justified our interest and, ultimately, tickled our taste buds: the celery-apple salad, with gorgonzola-blue cheese, sherry vinaigrette, toasted walnuts & coriander seeds ($4.50); and the singularly satisfying (particularly scrumptious!) mini fried oyster sandwiches (two, with a spicy Brussels sprouts "slaw," at $4.50).

Warm almond tart
We concluded our Happy-Hour visit  to Olea with the wait-staff recommended Warm Almond Tart ($8), replete with pomegranate sorbet, whipped cream & toasted almonds - genuinely luscious, and, at the same time, guzzled multiple cups of dark (black) coffee necessary to complement & enhance a dessert that was, as they say, to die for!
Map - Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Fortunately we had ample time to walk off the meal and still arrive at our Cedar Lake curtain with minutes to spare. A 2nd "outer borough" dining success (we're still battin' 1000). We thoroughly enjoyed the place - the affability of the wait staff, the cozy-comfy bustling Mediterranean ambiance ... as well as the food, the wine, our coffee & that fabulous dessert. I'm sure - should you venture to the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, perhaps for a BAM event - you will enjoy Olea, too, sans doute

Or, as one contented Olea eater trumpeted ... just "Check out ... [this] Fort Greene secret!  (Whoops!)