Monday, January 7, 2013

Golden Boy at the Belasco … Nouvelle Korean dining at Danji

Before I even get to Golden Boy (now playing at the Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street), I want to mention the Theatre Development Fund, or TDF, an organization most of you can join to receive highly discounted pricing for tickets to Broadway, off-Broadway, dance & other live productions.  Simply click into the following URL – – and, if you can meet the minimal criteria, join (now $30. for the year) and profit from the numerous available New York Metro area productions. (Of course, many of you who are frequent & knowledgeable theater-goers are long-time TDF members, and so are already profiting from the services of TDF.)   

Naturally, we purchased our two Golden Boy orchestra tickets through TDF for $39. each, as opposed to what could have been double or even triple that price for the same orchestra seats (costing you, say, $122. per ticket). During the past 25+ years, off and on, we have been purchasing most of our theater tickets via TDF and have seen a wide variety of extremely memorable & award-winning productions over that time frame. Indeed, TDF is a genuinely worthwhile and reliable institution, a repository of theater-oriented information & discounted theater tickets for those, again, who qualify … most notably teachers & college faculty, retirees, union members, senior citizens, members of the armed forces, civil service employees, staff members of non-profit organizations, full-time performing arts professionals. Yes, it does pay for you to enroll … immediately; so, sign up now, if you love the theater & are not currently a member!

And, again, if you are a TDF member you will have had – and might still have – access to discounted tickets for Golden Boy, a major revival of the original 1937 Clifford Odets play (which also ran at the Belasco 75 years ago), marvelously acted across the board, a major fast-paced, intensely dramatic production, thrillingly mounted & carefully directed by Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Cymbeline, Awake and Sing!). On a macro or “global” level, the play depicts the immigrant-dominated prizefighting sub-culture in New York City between 1936 & 1937, and reflects the multiple points of view of the fighters, their managers, their promoters, “backers,” girlfriends, trainers, corner men, and family milieu.  Front and center, though, the play is about, and focuses on, the story of Joe Bonaparte (the wonderful Seth Numrich), a talented young immigrant fighter who insists on the chance to make money and achieve fame through prizefighting, a physically risky venture as compared to his first love, playing the violin, and becoming a consummate concertizing performer.  At great physical peril, and with considerable chutzpah, alienating his beloved father in the process of becoming a professional fighter, he chooses to give up his inchoate career as violinist and makes it in the prizefighting racket only to fully, finally realize he has not gained happiness but only brutality, broken fingers, and a bad end.

The play is extremely well done, well thought out, rich in the talent & the numerous touching performances displayed on stage before us, riveting throughout; the sets are perfectly structured and carefully designed (by Michael Yeargan) & delineated to effectively render the New York City immigrant, prizefighting milieu that Odets aimed to reveal as this three-act play moves relentlessly forward to its tragic conclusion.
Seth Numrich

Performances of note include that of Mr. Numrich in his indefatigable portrayal of Joe Bonaparte, the serious prizefighter, self-promoter, and blatant competitor who hangs on, ever so flimsily, to his roots in the “big-time” world of “championship” classical fiddling (with its few & finite financial rewards); Tony Shalhoub and his flawless, pitch-perfect interpretation of Mr. Bonaparte (pere); Joe’s “gangster-backer” boisterously enlivened, and effected with bluster, by Anthony Crivello; and the girlfriend (both Joe’s & his manager’s), the “street-smart dame” of the piece, Miss Lorna Moon, strategically & lustily acted by Yvonne Strahovski. The cast of Golden Boy is large for a serious Broadway drama and numerous additional major and minor performances are truly outstanding – kudos must go, also, to Danny Mastrogiorgio, Joe’s “business” & professional manager, Tom Moody, and Danny Burstein, who solidifies the prizefighting atmosphere of the proceedings in bringing to life the character of Tokio, Joe’s perceptive trainer & corner man.

Clifford Odets
This production of Odets’s Golden Boy is, in essence, a Broadway revival that simply cannot be ignored. It lingers in one’s mind’s eye as a forceful piece of depression-era theater  recounting the tragic story of a young man’s choices gone awry; featuring a rich & complex gallery of interconnected characters; concentrating on a circumscribed socio-historical period rendered with naturalistic authority & impact. And so, taking all these aspects together, the play packs a magnitudinous emotional wallop and seems to me to be remarkably attuned to, and appropriate for, an early 21st-century audience’s ear ... and heart.

What with all that physical & verbal energy manifested during nearly three hours of intense theater, one builds up a fair appetite, and, in and around the theater district one can find a considerable number of restaurant venues reflecting just about all ethnic varieties … including, Danji, the petite & fabulous (and fabulously busy!) 1-Michelin-star nouvelle Korean restaurant (apparently, the first Michelin star ever awarded to a Korean resto), located at 346 West 52nd St., between 8th & 9th, a bit of a walk from the Golden Boy marquee … but wholly worth our (and everyone’s) while.  Indeed, every item we ordered – and, since the resto features small, tapas-style plates, we sampled several of Chef Hooni Kim’s unique offerings – proved mouthwateringly interesting, even the chef’s “take” on the pork belly sliders. The spices, the textures, the sauces – all zesty, tasty, tangy & piquant, so much so that we ordered a bowl of white rice solely to soak up the flavors of the varied & variegated (chili pepper, gingery, citrus-laden or buttery) sauces left on our plates following consumption of the mixture of meat & fish items we had selected. 

Chef Hooni Kim & Korean Tapas
Moreover, I should note right here that all of the plates are eminently shareable … and four or five (as the staff advise) will certainly do (with beer or wine accompaniment) to complete a full evening’s dining adventure for two at Danji … even as you yearn for more!  “Danji,” according to the resto’s own web site, strives to showcase “authentic Korean flavors prepared with classic techniques to enhance [echoing what I noted above] the taste, textures, and aesthetic of each dish.”  And the chef-owner, I need to underscore, is a masterful creator of small-plate adventure who Andrea Strong, of The Strong Buzz, has proclaimed, ”plays with food like Mamet plays with words.”

Braised Short Ribs
We began our Danji dining experience with the risotto – typical, in that it looked like traditional Italianate risotto – but has been identified by the Chef Kim as a "mushroom jook (congee)” constructed from white short grain rice, shallots, carrots, 3 types of mushrooms (cremini, button & maitake), chives and infused with mushroom stock (“from the scraps of the mushrooms”) and white truffle oil (at $12.). Absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious … clearly the right choice with which to whet our appetites and, blithely, anticipate more! We followed up on the risotto (the congee!) with a plate of spicy pork belly sliders topped with scallions, cucumbers julienne & gochugang (a savory & pungent Korean chili paste made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans & salt), also at $12. Moderately spicy; equally, appealingly, delicious. For our next course – our next small plate – we selected the poached sablefish with spicy daikon (a root veggie & variant of white radish) at $18. The fish was extraordinarily tender, light, silky & sumptuous … very carefully prepared, with just the right amount of spicy seasoning to maintain interest.  And, finally, we chose the “danji braised short ribs with fingerlings, cipollini & toasted pine nuts (at $14.).  Yet another triumph, with (super) tender, delicate pieces of beef easily, fluidly, separating from the bone into a pool of nicely spiced & aromatic sauce that warranted a bit more white rice to soak it up & to savor.  In all, a small feast, nouvelle Korean style and kindling our continued and sustained interest in Hooni Kim’s talents & artisanal preparations. 
Danji's Hooni Kim

While we dined, we managed to complement our mini-fete with a few bottles of Blue Point Toasted Lager, a premium Long Island wheat beer at $7. each.

Right now, desserts are not offered at Danji; however, if we had had more room, we’d have ordered the kimchi bacon chorizo paella” (for 2), with fried jidori hen egg (it looked just terrific, @ $14.) … and then called it quits.  Instead, we settled for a creamy vanilla cannoli & a latte at Zaro’s Bakery … on the run in Penn Station.

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