Friday, October 25, 2013

Magritte & the surreal; Russian food & drink on west 52nd street ... and more!

Doric Temple at Segesta
After a three-week blogging hiatus while on a trip abroad to ... northwest Sicily ... for traditional, regional food; an "agriturismo" B & B stay at Sanacore (a working farm near Trapani); historical & archeological sites, including the near-fully restored Doric temple at Segesta; the notable gem-quality wines of Marsala; & Trapanese culture & cuisine, including, yep, a 9"-long canoli at the Euro Bar in Dattilo. 

... AND ... 

The "White City"
To Tel Aviv ... to sample an almost endless array of sophisticated restaurants, upscale (pricey) & moderate, like Cafe Noir (famous for its veal, pork & chicken schnitzel); the intricate gastronomic creations & cross-cultural blending(s) of talented Israeli "experimental" chefs (try Adora, on the high end, a delectable bistro at 226 Ben Yehuda, or Eyal Shani's Everything-in-a pita on the low end, at 23 Ibn Gvirol; and a tour of Tel Aviv's internationally celebrated, protected & noteworthy Bauhaus architecture situated in what is known as the "white city," on & around Rothschild Boulevard ... 
Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv
And for a free, entertaining, knowledgeable, non-pedantic tour of the area, simply contact Daniel Rosenblum, a licensed tour guide, via e-mail:

Tours of Rothschild Blvd. take place every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Call ahead to verify assembly location - corner of Shadal  Street - for the start of & introduction to the walking
tour (tel. 972-52-6656525).

But, alas ... we are back - on the cultural & culinary prowl - here in New York and environs. However, we are certainly not sufficiently well rested from the vicissitudes of our rather lengthy trip. Nevertheless, continuing our New York Metro peregrinations, we turn, once again, to MoMA (11 West 53rd, between 5th & 6th) which has, yet again, mounted a spectacularly rich & comprehensive show entitled "Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926- 1938" (running through January 12th, 2014).

The Lovers, 1928
In looking upon a great many of Magritte's major works (some 80 items, according to information provided on MoMA's web site) and related objects (artifacts, journal publications, photographs, snippets of philosophical-aesthetic writings) in one location, side-by-side, I can only guess at the range of responses that viewers might "conger up" toward such a preponderance of bold works. All kinds of personal & idiosyncratic, emotion-laden and irrational (?) responses must routinely, necessarily, be born among serious Magritte viewers ... especially in witnessing the major, well-known surrealistic works, like The Lovers
The Menaced Assassin, 1927

I, for one, see the work not so much in terms of "the mystery of the ordinary," but rather as an almost natural juxtaposition of the ordinary and the uncanny, or the uncanny amidst the ordinary (see, for example, Magritte's The Menaced Assassin, painted in Brussels,1927);

The False Mirror, 1928
for, Magritte places things - like faint patches of cumulo-nimbus clouds - in unlikely places (in various eyes, within faces & solo) depicting both calming (heavenly) and disquieting (seemingly ordinary) images. 

The Treachery of Images, 1929

Additionally, Magritte creates images tending to deny (to negate) images (themselves) with language and he presents instances of language which tend to deny the image presented (the well-known but still noteworthy, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe.").  

By the way, MoMA is offering a typically in-depth, comprehensive catalogue for purchase that accompanies this major exhibit assembled for Magritte - Belgian painter, print-maker & photographer who has come to be known as one of the great figures of the surrealist tradition, or, as MoMA has put it, he is "perhaps the greatest Belgian artist of the 20th century."

Attempting the Impossible, 1928
The Magritte show is a must see cultural event (I admonish you, if you can, to avoid the crowded weekends) ... co-sponsored & co-organized by MoMA, The Menil Collection (Houston), and The Art Institute of Chicago; it is, MoMA suggests, the first exhibition "to focus on the breakthrough Surrealist years" of Rene Magritte. His many extraordinarily uncanny images ultimately depict the place of man & woman - flanked by words & phrases (les petites textes) - in the world, an odd world, a world of partially awaken states, fluid & dreamy ... presenting, in Magritte's own words, a "challenge [to] the real world." [italics mine]  The exhibition emphasizes & reflects central "strategies and themes from the most inventive and experimental period" in Magritte's prolific artistic career.

Not to be Reproduced, 1937
If you attend the Magritte exhibition, and other shows at MoMA, and you decide not to eat on the museum premises, might I suggest a visit to the cozy, dark-ish Russian Vodka Room (my wife's resto selection), just a few short blocks away from the museum at 265 West 52nd St. (212-307-5835).  

Vodka Infusions
We enjoyed the drinks, the infused vodka "shot" varieties (especially reasonable at $4 per 2-oz. shot during Happy Hour, 4-7, daily), and the homey, well-prepared, capacious dinner plates at reasonable prices. The apple & pomegranate infused vodka shot proved the tastiest (tending to blend nicely with the smooth alcohol; we didn't chance the highly touted garlic pepper & dill infusion; perhaps next time!), while the roast duck, with apples, prunes & apricots (@ $24.75), and the chicken schnitzel, with truffles, dill butter & potatoes ($22.50), were standouts - tasty, elegant dishes that were rich & perfectly prepared (in the case of the duck) and very tender & moist (in the case of the thick "side" of schnitzel). 

Beef  Stroganoff
Gravlox + Potato Pancakes
We (the four of us) also sampled the beef Stroganoff with kasha (@ $22.75) and shared a few ethnic appetizers:  the calming, comforting & familiar plate of gravlox with potato pancakes (@ $16.50); the appealing & succulent "three- colors" eggplant caviar ($9.50); the traditional Russian meat dumplings ($9.95); and the uniquely prepared & unusually plated mushroom julienne en cocotte ($9.75). And, finally, we swilled a couple of glasses of red wine, including a light, delicate & fruity Pinot Noir ($10) precisely the right choice to accompany the chicken schnitzel.

Welcome to Russian Vodka House
Between the magic & mystery of the Magritte show at MoMA and our near-serendipitous experimental incursion into Russian culinary territory (both food & drink), we had a memorable (mid-fall) Sunday afternoon - post-Sicily, post-Tel Aviv. 

Grilled Cornish Hen
Clearly, we'll be heading back to the Russian Vodka Room again, soon, to pick up where we left off: The duck liver pate (@ $12.75) & the chicken Tabaka  (a whole Cornish hen "grilled under press"; $18.75) await us ... as does a shot glass or two of just one more, pre-dinner vodka infusion 'bout the "ultra premium" blueberry & Tahitian vanilla? Sounds good ... da da da!

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