Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thai cooking; Salsa “cooking,” too – a mid-town romp on a sunday evening ...

We were headed (once again) for Pier 84 (43rd St. & 12th Ave.) and Hudson River Park’s MoonDance, Sundays, July 15th thru August 12th from 6:30 (for your free dance lesson courtesy of Dance Manhattan) to 10:00 pm.  A live band performs at 7:15 each Sunday:  July 22nd (just last night, with superb Latino/Salsa, Los Hermanos Colon); July 29th (Latino, Nu D’Lux); August 5th (Tango, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Orchestra); and August 12th (Swing, David Berger’s Jazz Orchestra).
These “MoonDance” evenings, I should point out, have been going on for the past several years (formerly downtown at the Hudson River Pier between 13th & 14th Streets), and have been & continue to be FREE to all!  The summer event series – including live Salsa & Swing dance demonstrations at intervals throughout the evening – is currently sponsored by City Winery (co-produced by the Hudson River Park Trust & Dance Manhattan Studio). 
And, I might also note that my wife is addicted to these particular outdoor dancing sessions, to the generally warm summer breezes off the Hudson, and the variety of live bands and their intensely rhythmic musical sounds ... so I am often dragged along as, well, a dance partner, however rudimentary my own skills in this area happen to be (while she, of course, is, simply a naturally fabulous dancer).

The deal is, I go the dance sessions along with her and attempt to “perform” – and, indeed, I am improving, having taken ballroom dancing lessons over the years, and, thus, can ably fake various steps and breaks & “moves” (appreciably better at the Swing than the Salsa) – and she takes me out to dinner as a springboard to my, at times, only tepidly willing participation. 

This past Sunday night, however, the dancing proved lots of fun, the band consistently easy to follow (loud, jazzy, “classically” syncopated Latino), the river breezes from New Jersey mild but emphatically cool, and my wife extra tolerant of my meager & occluded Salsa skills. And, best of all, we had a particularly yummy Thai dinner at, appropriately, the Yum Yum Too, a comfy, smallish, sleekly designed resto at 662 9th Ave., at the corner of 46th (on the uptown, east side of the avenue). We had dined here on a number of prior occasions and suspected that the moderately spicy food would remain tasty, appealing & abundant, the service hospitable & nicely paced, and the prix fixe (5 courses @ $22.95) right on target. Indeed, everything proved exactly as we had expected! And perhaps, in some respects, even better…
For our mains, we each ordered Too Specials:  I opted for the Emperor Duck (which I knew would be crispy outside and oven-roasted, succulently, to perfection); my wife selected the Salmon Basil (mildly spicy, tender & juicy). The crispy duck came on a bed of bell peppers, zucchini, string beans, broccoli & bok choy, with an understated sweet but markedly spicy chili sauce; topped with basil leaves, the grilled salmon appeared, too, with bok choy, bell peppers & chili (each main accompanied by a generous bowl of jasmine rice).

Along with the house Thai garden salad with either peanut- or ginger-based dressing on the side, we each chose different soups & appetizers. I picked the Tom Yum Goong, a spicy lemongrass soup with bell pepper, mushrooms & shrimp, suffused in a red chili base, while my wife was attracted to the Galangal Cocoanut, a richly coconut-based (“galangal” or ginger-like) soup, with bell pepper, mushrooms & chicken.  Preceding the mains, and, again, also on the prix fixe menu, were small appetizer plates. We selected the Thai dumplings (stuffed with chicken, shrimp & crab meat) and the chicken curry puffs (ground chicken, potato, onions & curry powder with a cucumber chutney dip). With dinner, we quaffed a Sapporo and a Singha, at $5.00 each bottle.

We both finished up with a smallish, rectangular cup of crème brulee – sweet & light, topped with a crispy “glazing” – which provided, as always, a satisfying conclusion to a Yum Yum Too meal!

Now ready for a short, post-prandial walk, we ambled over to Pier 84 toward an hour (or more) dancing to the staccato (mixed “salsa”) strains of the Los Hermanos Colon Latino band … amidst the cool mid-July Hudson River breezes surrounding us and, yep, a thin sliver of a moon above us in the evening sky.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fireworks on the hudson; fireworks on barrow street – and (later) “fireworks” at The Met

A week ago today (Wednesday, July 4th), we drove into Manhattan for fireworks – for Macy’s traditional Independence Day spectacle on the Hudson & for the “fireworks” within Nina Raine’s new play, Tribes (directed by David Cromer) at the Barrow Street Theatre in the heart of the west VillageIt proved a very busy day, indeed.

We began our celebratory day with a stop at Ofrenda (our 3rd visit to this 7th Ave. South “Mexicana” eatery) during Happy Hour (4-7:00 pm), when the menu is just a bit different; there are, for example, a variety of small plates – “antojitos” – at $7.00 each and the drinks “discounted” to $4.00 for Mexican beers (Pacifico or Modelo Especial, for example) and $5.00 for house wines & margaritas (including “prickly pear" and cucumber).  Glad to discover that this little Village resto is as good as, or better than, ever.  We shared a few cold beers on this extremely hot (late) afternoon and a few of the antojitos – including a very pleasant and silky guacamole, in this case with mashed avocados, salsa fresco, chopped mango & accompanied by homemade tortilla chips; a spicy garlic shrimp “hot plate” containing “shallow-fried” tiger shrimp, garlic butter, white wine & chile de arbol sauce; and an appealingly scrumptious beef barbacoa quesadilla … an open flour tortilla with beef (barbacoa), jalapeno & cilantro pesto, and queso Oaxaca.  We also shared a main, the jalapeno pork chops … with jalapeno butter, garlic-and-chihuahua cheese mashed potato &sautéed vegetables.  An entirely pleasing, piquant & satisfying light-ish meal to bolster and sustain us throughout the theater-going activity before us – and the fireworks-on-the-river event to come.

Tribes has been at the Barrow Street Theatre for a few months now, after a very successful London run in 2010 (at the Royal Court Theatre) where it won an Olivier Award nomination for Best Play.  The play, as has been noted, is intriguing, well acted, and unique; it is, in short, a drama focusing on issues of language and communication – societal, intra-familial – and the lack of successful communication (sometimes desultory communication) between & among the hearing members of the immediate family under dramatic scrutiny in which one of the members, Billy, is a deaf man who has grown up lip-reading but not wholly acknowledging his deafness as a handicap.  And that’s the way the family members – academic/writer-critic father (Christopher) & mystery writer mother (Beth), and their two other offspring (Daniel & Ruth) – wanted it ... all failing to recognize (or, really, denying) the fact that Billy has been spoken at … and not to or with … his entire life but believing that that modus operandi is a valid one. 

Indeed, the family never submits to, never truly recognizes, the issue of deafness as a handicap, or, at the very least, a psycho-social difference isolating Billy until, that is, Billy meets up with Sylvia (who is slowly losing her own hearing) and then learns how to be a functioning deaf man in a hearing world.  Much of the first act displays this eccentric and argumentative family growling obscenities at each other, with Christopher “communicating” with his family in a “fuck this,” “fuck that,” and “fuck it all” vein all his own.  All of which is, I presume, structurally essential to the drama and sets up the model (a kind of “normality”) against which Billy’s growth and growing independence can appear to accrue as his relationship with an increasingly deaf woman simultaneously grows & solidifies.

I’ll say no more about the finale nor about the two other siblings who can, at times, seem superfluous while at other times (especially the brother, Daniel) seem tendentious & essential, as he, too, attempts to cope with his own brutal & deeply rooted  psychological  difficulties. The direction (thanks to David Cromer whose production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town  also had a lengthy run at Barrow Street) , the acting, the staging are all  wonderfully intelligent & wonderfully idiosyncratic.  So, I guess, it is no surprise that Tribes won a batch of awards in 2012, including the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play & the New York Theatre Critics Circle Award.

In contrast to Tribes, witnessing Macy’s fireworks seemed (merely?) glittery, colorful, thunderous, and, inevitably, patriotic, with little dramatic conflict nor pointed communication exhibited.  After all, though, it was a traditional & celebratory 4th-of-July happening … some two hundred plus years after the fact.

And, speaking of fireworks, you need to journey uptown, as soon as you can, to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations” design exhibit, featuring the creations (e.g., hats, ensembles, evening gowns, “casual” skirts & dresses, jackets, scarves, wraps, shoes (!), and so forth) by these two giants in the world of fashion (Mme. Prada would argue that what she creates is definitely not Art, while Mme. Schiaparelli would argue that her design work is an art form, like sculpture or architecture, which, comes alive, really, only when residing in all dimensions on the human (female) form.  Their various, colorful, somewhat outrageous & texturally varied creations are niftily (lots of mirrors & carefully lighted) and alluringly on display … and there is a video presentation by Baz Lehrmann dramatizing simulated “conversations” in each of the galleries between Mme. Prada (yep, actually Miuccia Prada) and Mme. Schiaparelli (played very realistically and glamorously by Judy Davis) and illustrating their key “artistic” and philosophical approaches, differences & variant points of view. 

This show is a must if you have the slightest interest in clothing, fabrics, design, couture & contemporary culture – even if you don’t.  For these are two creative giants – two Artists – with a great deal to say, to reflect upon … and to show to all of us.

Before we moved on to the naked photography – “Naked before the Camera“ – exhibit, we stopped at the museum’s main resto – The Petrie Court Café & Wine Bar – for a not terribly expensive ($$) light meal and brief R & R.  We sampled a couple of American artisanal beers to accompany our shared main dish, Farfalle pasta (a mixed garden vegetable pasta, with wilted greens, Picholine olives & aged Asiago), and a couple of glasses of a fruity German Riesling to complement our 3 (for $22.) small-plate selections, including:  a spicy-garlicky tomato, “broth-like, ”cockles-in-the-½ shells item; a potato-onion torta, with piquillo; and a dish of braised octopus, upon a solid “bond” of charred  tomatoes & fennel.  It was enough to tide us over and keep us on track …

What a holiday week, full of fireworksand much more!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Late june … in search of ballparks never visited – A quick baseball weekend outside the NY metro area

My son had planned to take me (host me!) on a baseball road trip in late June … perfect timing for interleague play at baseball stadia never before visited – PNC Park in Pittsburgh (the Pirates versus the Detroit Tigers) and  Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (Phillies versus the Tampa Bay Rays). The trip was "constructed" (and scheduled) for only the two of us (allowing for a pere-fils bonding event, of a sort ) and would, perhaps, signal a precedent … the first in similar projected road trips in coming years to ballparks we hadn’t ever visited  (next year, say, in Ohio, covering Cincinnati & Cleveland?). We planned to meet at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and “supp” at the game. He’d bring the rental car up from Washington, DC and I would travel via Amtrak from Metro Park, NJ to downtown Phillie.

Well, we were rained out on that Friday night, the game cancelled at about 9:45 p.m., although every preparation had been made just in case, with tarps rolling in and out as the weather rapidly changed, for better and then for worse.  We managed, however, to eat a variety of outsize barbecue sandwiches – beef & turkey – and filled up on coleslaw, grilled onions, baked beans & local draft beer.  We would, it turned out, come back to Citizens Bank Park for the evening game of the upcoming Sunday (same weekend) doubleheader, a la our rain-check.But immediately following our rain-out game “barbecue fest,” we were off on the PA Turnpike heading west to Harrisburg where we planned to spend the night.

Then, on to Pittsburgh, post-buffet breakfast, to see the city; check into our rather expansive DoubleTree suite (my son spares no expense!); and watch a late-afternoon ballgame, in a picture-perfect park, with 3rd-base-side seats facing a movie-set-like view of architecturally diverse downtown skyscrapers and a golden, sun-dappled bridge (not the Andy Warhol bridge) over the Allegheny River, one of the three rivers crisscrossing center city Pittsburgh.  (It must be noted here that downtown Pittsburgh is walk-able, welcoming, clean, safe, and hopping … and very intriguing, culturally; a far remove from the steel-town legend – and reality – of yore.)

From the hotel we shuttled to the ballpark on their relatively new (now, still, free!) underground system, convenient & clean as you might imagine. On entering the stadium, we received a free "official" Pirates “First Pitch” score card cum info magazine and an also gratis Pirates cap (indeed, such would never happen in NYC, at either ballpark). The home team triumphed, as we figured it would, thanks to Andrew McCutchen & Co., and off we went … back to our suite above the city to plan the evening’s non-ballpark eating adventure.

We settled on SPOON, a short drive from downtown Pittsburgh, at 134 South Highland Avenue.  Both the restaurant and its chef had been highly recommended in Pittsburgh Magazine’s new and awarding-winning restaurants section and the menu looked particularly appealing to both of us in all areas (including valet parking at a mere $3.00). We chose two appetizers to share, a few glasses of red & white wine, and two mains and were offered a warm basket of freshly baked breads and small rolls, along with an olive-oil based dipping sauce and a side of butter, as well.

Specifically, we began the meal with the pristine looking  gorgonzola blue cheese soufflé served with McConell’s Farm stone fruit salad, “sylvetta” arugula, candied walnuts, blue cheese, honey, & lightly invigorated (the salad portion of the dish) by a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing (very nice, indeed, @ $9.) … and the soba noodles, a complex appetizer comprising a bowl of tender noodles, a sous vide duck breast (yes, slowly cooked in a vacuum at low temp), “torched” scallop, bok choy, endive & mushrooms, all  gently enmeshed in an orange-chili vinaigrette and adding up to a moderately rich, hearty & appealing first course easily shared (@ $8.).

A fruity but well-balanced Riesling (2009 Weinkeller Erbach / Rheingau, Germany @ $ 8. a glass) was selected to accompany our first courses, which paired particularly well with the soba noodles; and for my main (my son stuck with water only), I chose a glass of the Petite Sirah (2010 Cycles Gladiator / Lodi, California @ $10.), with initial scents of black cherry, bramble fruit & spice, leading to flavors of boysenberry and pepper – perfectly paired with the veal to come.

Though my son was determined not to order fish in this inland city, he did so anyway, somewhat regretting his choice of the wild striped bass. The fish (@ $26.) proved, unfortunately, not very flavorful despite having been “dressed” in a creative mix of sugar snap peas, caper aioli, “Bloody Mary” essence & charred tomato broth, along with a side patch of spinach & goat cheese ravioli. I, on the other hand, was intrigued with the duo of veal, a plate of bacon wrapped boneless, tender, upright “chunks” of veal loin, coupled with house-made veal sausage, all lying in an inviting amalgam of fennel puree, sautéed tomato & whole grain mustard buerre blanc. Though the dish was a bit steep (@ $29.), the taste of the whole was superb, the duo of veal forms utterly enticing – creating a blend of the urbane & sophisticated (the chunks of veal loin) and the “country” (the freshly made veal sausage).

For dessert we shared the almond cake (@ $ 7.), surrounded by raspberry frozen yogurt, white chocolate almond mousse & macerated berries ... a light, summery concoction which I coupled with a strong, rich  black coffee.

Following our meal at Spoon, we drove over to Carnegie Mellon University (not far from the resto) for a nighttime look; we needed some air, along with a bit of movement, and a walk around & through the campus would do the trick before getting back to the DoubleTree and calling it a day!

After another full buffet breakfast – replete with Starbucks coffee, oj, fresh fruit, sausages, bacon, yogurt, and one of the better onion & cheese omelets I’ve ever eaten – we retraced our proverbial steps along the PA Turnpike, heading back east, to Philadelphia, for the 2nd game of the doubleheader, our make-up game from Friday night. 

Philadelphia fans:   Don’t hold my son (a Nats fan) and me (a Mets fan) responsible … but Cliff Lee and the Phillies were on the losing end of this rain-free event, beaten by Tampa Bay by just a run or two … 

I certainly look forward to next year’s baseball road trip and to another father-son “escape” ... next time, perhaps, further westward … to another memorable outing!