Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Caribbean art & artifacts in queens … Neighborhood outpost on jane street

If you don’t know much about Caribbean art – reflecting an extremely broad spectrum of painters, sculptors, photographers, muralists, videographers, collagists – now is, indeed, your very best chance to become educated.  A major new (sprawling) exhibition, spanning three New York City museum venues (Queens Museum of Art, El Museo del Barrio & Studio Museum in Harlem) is exploring this field in “Caribbean:  Crossroads of the World.” The exhibit is simply teeming with items of interest to view – and, again, not just in the form of painting.  We had the good fortune to attend the opening evening of the exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art as one of our close friends just happens to be a member of the museum board. The collection on view spanned spaces on two floors of the museum and covered numerous walls with colorful and diverse paintings, photographs & artifacts of various types – including an interesting little restaurant menu on view in a waist-high glass cabinet & dating from a pre-revolutionary hotel-restaurant … among many larger and more colorful items that, given the crowd at this opening event, proved nearly impossible to take in during a single visit.  I urge you to seek out this wonderful new, utterly diverse, sometimes puzzling, compelling & comprehensive exploration of all facets of art created by talented artists and inspired by places & things from the Caribbean region … and at one or all three of the museum venues, right now through January 6th.

Surely meandering around & about this fascinating museum (the Queens Museum of Art is located in the New York City Building, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park), you will learn about the celebrated “Panorama,” a must-see look at all of New York City, in a three-dimensional architectural model (the “crown jewel” of the museum!) which displays every building, street, park & public space in the 5 boroughs constructed prior to 1992.  Have a good, long & solid look at the model and you are bound to find – or come close to locating – your street, favorite park, or city building. (FYI:  The Panorama model – comprising some 895,000 structures – dates back to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.)

Following your visit to the museum – circumnavigating the Panorama & exploring the new pan-Caribbean exhibit – I can assure you that you will have worked up a great thirst and an equally great hunger.  Check out the Austin St. area in Forest Hills, just a short drive from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a neighborhood replete with restos and cafes of every ethnic variety. We visited MoCA Asian Bistro which features all manner of pan-Asian specialties (wok-sauteed or grilled), as well as a wide variety of rolls, sushi/sashimi platters & Japanese cuisine. Among other unusually tasty items, we opted for a couple of orders of “crunchy-crunchy-crunchy,” crispy, spicy tuna dumplings layered with, yep, crispy wasabi seaweed crackers (@ $8. per serving); boneless bbq ribs, marinated in a spicy garlic & wasabi sauce and grilled to tender, juicy perfection (also @ $8.); and a “tuna pizza,” served with seaweed salad, avocado & melted mozzarella on a crusted tortilla (@ $11.). We quenched our, by now prodigious, thirsts with a couple of bottles of very memorable honey-white lager (reasonably priced).

What with all the Saturday evening “goings-on” in Queens (detailed above), we decided to celebrate Father’s Day twice, once at home, quietly, over lightly crusted grilled salmon, quinoa (with pan-fried cabbage), a mixed salad & cool Israeli rose.  And for the 2nd celebration, the following evening, we had reserved a table at Perilla (at 9 Jane St.) in the West Village, exploring their “Evil Twin Brewing Dinner,” a 3-course tasting menu, each course matched with a glass of an Evil Twin beer, a menu offering on Monday nights (only) throughout the summer (with a new menu each month, at $60., excluding tax and tip!). Perilla is, and purports to be, a neighborhood resto, low-key and friendly, composed of a bar, a section of bar-side tables, and a longish rectangular dining room, bright & cool & sparkling, with a minimalist feel.

Every element of the ”Evil Twin Brewing Dinner” – from the subtly flavored, gourmet beers to the tasting-menu-meal, itself, proved elegant, with complex & sophisticated flavors arrived at & melded with unusual ingredients throughout (even the amuse-bouche & the gelato provided an intricate intermingling of ingredients, flavors & tastes). The well-paced Monday evening dinner, imagined, planned & prepared, if not fully & finally constructed & plated by Chef de Cuisine and co-owner, Harold Dieterle (inaugural Top Chef winner and CIA graduate), comprises an amuse-bouche, an appetizer, a main course, a palate-cleansing gelato, and dessert – each of the three central courses, again, featuring a different beer aiming to highlight & complement the dish “under study.”  Mr. Dieterle’s amuse-bouche combined bananas, grapefruit confit, cucumber & grains of paradise into one small intricately prepared tasting offering; and the appetizer, a “house-made turkey scrapple” (prosaic name notwithstanding) presented a mix of turnips, polenta cake, cornichons, quail egg & mustard caviar … the turkey scrapple “cake,” with petite quail egg resting upon it, smack down in the middle of the plate (the beer brought for these introductory courses was the “mad dog pale ale” brewed at Brewdog, Scotland).
The main course – the roasted local pork loin – arrived next (along with glasses of the ”ron & the beast ryan saison,” brewed at Fano Bryghus, Denmark); the plate consisted of quinoa-crusted plum, chopped asparagus bits, sorrel, a pine-nut puree, and natural jus.  The tender slices of pork loin were just heavenly, soft, succulent & easily sliced, nicely absorbing the jus mixture surrounding them.  Next came a palate-cleaner –  though not your everyday, neutral palate-cleaning item – a rich concoction of “sunchoke gelato,” toffee crumble & prosciutto gelee.  We were shortly brought dessert & the final (though hardly fatal) glass of brew, a most atypical and unusual brew, indeed:  the “imperial biscotti break” Baltic porter, brewed at Westbrook Brewing in South Carolina. The glass of “biscotti break” porter served, almost, as a dark, flavorful ice coffee accompaniment to the chocolate caramel tart (served with malt ice cream, caramel puree & coffee praline). 

Alas, a very fine meal … and indulge in it you must!  We’ll plan to be back when Perilla’s Monday-evening menu next metamorphoses into something new …  after the 1st of July.  We can hardly wait!

For the record, Evil Twin is a “phantom brewery,” run by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso (the letter “o” with a Danish/” through it). And all of their beers are brewed at, or by, another brewery in Europe or the USA.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fiction & flora – from the far west side … to a corner of the bronx … and back to “flatiron” manhattan

This past week The Center for Fiction (founded back in 1820 as the Mercantile Library & mentioned briefly in my April 18th post) brought together Richard Ford & Joyce Carol Oates for a reading from their new novels – Ford’s Canada & Oates’s Mudwoman – and for a one-on-one, unmediated literary and, at times, deeply personal discussion.  The event did not take place (as usual) at The Center for Fiction on East 47th St. but, rather, at John Jay College’s Lynch Theater at 10th Ave. & 59th St.(a much larger venue), in partnership for this occasion with The City University of New York (CUNY). 

Ford read the first chapter of Canada because, he said, he wouldn’t have to provide a lot of context as he would if he read from somewhere in the middle of the volume; Oates read the final chapter of Mudwoman because most authors who engage in public readings read from somewhere in the middle and she simply wanted to offer the attentive audience an initial dose of something, well, different.  The two authors, obviously friends for a number of years, discussed their books (past & present); their writing styles; issues surrounding the writing of fiction (at times underscoring the distinction from writing in the memoir form); how they began writing fiction; relationships between the novel, the longer form, and the short story; and bits and pieces of a number of personal details from their very different backgrounds. 

The discussion proved to be an extremely honest, spontaneous and enlightening session of a kind that is rarely heard or witnessed between fiction writers – with no interviewer present to pose the typical mechanical questions – and in front of a large and utterly engaged audience.  One is rarely privy to this sort of one-on-one interaction on stage.  Ford, for example, revealed to Ms. Oates that he thought he’d become a police officer (following some time put in at law school) long before he became a novelist and Oates told a story about her mother having been cast away from her own family simply because they were dirt poor and had too many children.  The revelation, on her part, had obviously had a major impact on her life and work; she provided several details around and about the separation, explaining that, for her, engaging routinely in the writing of fiction tended to mitigate any feelings of loneliness she might have at a given moment.

The evening seemed to be a great success, as if we audience members (all fans of the two writers) were simply observing, indeed eavesdropping on, two colleagues chatting rather informally about themselves – about aspects of their lives and their work. The discussion went on for approximately an hour and ½ and there was little time for more than one or two questions from the audience floor. Also, really, a very good thing!

We’d heard much advertising (on NPR, WNYC, and elsewhere) about “Monet’s Garden,” the new  show at The New York Botanical Garden (sponsored by the MetLife Foundation), so we planned a Sunday trip up to The Bronx for an afternoon visit. There is a rich garden “path” in the Conservatory filled with a profusion of plants and flowers of all sorts and all colors, actually a fairly narrow section of the building, aiming to duplicate a portion of Monet’s actual garden at Giverny; and there are a few of Monet’s paintings (barely a handful) and photos (maybe a dozen, or so) of Monet at Giverny housed in the Mertz Library (in a small gallery on the 6th floor). But, aside from the short (but lush) garden path; a lily pond recalling those Monet maintained at Giverny; a few films about Monet, including his profound interest in food and dining; a batch of French Symbolist poems (Verlaine, Mallarme, Rimbaud & Baudelaire) scattered, mostly, on small “billboards” around and about the path between the Leon Levy Visitor Center and the Conservatory (best poem:  "Evening Harmony," from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal,1857); and the "Monet Evenings" featuring water lily concerts  – there is little to explore that will truly blow you away a la the Dale Chihuly sculpture show mounted just a few years ago (in 2006).

Following a very pleasant – but not terribly exciting – afternoon at The Botanical Garden in The Bronx, we made our way back to Manhattan (the Flatiron area, around 5th Ave. & 23rd  St.) in search of the Silk Rd Tavern, Andrew Lee’s  hot new pan-Asian eatery located at 46 West 22nd (between 5th & 6th Aves.).  Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, although the printed schedule on the front door indicated that it ought to have been open. (Not a major problem in NYC; we’d simply planned to return on another occasion.) Fortunately, however, we discovered – actually re-discovered – Eataly, the relatively new center (several interconnected shop spaces at 5th and 23rd) for all things Italian and artisanal. We sampled the gelati – absolutely superb … creamy & soft, thick & flavorful (the cocoanut, the hazelnut!). We will, indeed, frequent this cavernous center for cheeses, coffee, cooking ingredients, pastas & in-house restos (e.g., the new Pranzo (open for lunch with a $25. 2-course prix fixe)  … and much, much more!  Products of Sicilia are being showcased right now, through July 15th. Do plan a visit and have a good look around ...  Buona fortuna!