Friday, January 18, 2013

DC doins', MAD, Chano D & "Barbara"

The next time you find yourself in DC, you must visit the National Portrait Gallery (@ 8th & F Streets, NW; tel. 202/633-8300) especially if you’ve never done so before. The Gallery, of course, is a major Smithsonian partner institution where fabulous, frequently rotated exhibits – and a permanent portrait collection – await your discovery. (If you go now, you will want to see the new portrait of President Obama, by Chuck Close, recently completed & just placed on display.)

Eastman Johnson, 1872
Two highly worthwhile shows are currently on view. The first, a collection of Civil War era art entitled, simply & unceremoniously, The Civil War & American Art (portraits, paintings, photographs), an exhibit that is part of the Smithsonian/National Gallery’s “Civil War – 150” celebration (through April 28th, 2013).  

Gettysburg Address, 1863
The art on display is varied, expansive, rich, poetic, profound, at times profoundly troubling, haunting, realistic, impressionistic … showcasing works by many painters & photographers (there are at least seven or eight by Winslow Homer, notably “Home Sweet Home,” circa 1863, in oil) and including a striking wall-size facsimile of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (1863) … compelling one to remain standing & still in front of the document – entranced by the well-known but idiosyncratic Lincoln “calligraphy” & well-wrought prose – and to read through the passages, silently, from beginning to end.

Robert Creeley
Langston Hughes
The second must-see exhibit (and there are more than two shows worth one’s attention!) is entitled Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets” (also through April 28th).  This show is just a fabulous display of photos, portraits, and (some) related artifacts & memorabilia celebrating just about all (!) of our great modern American poets, beginning with Walt Whitman; you name the poet and he or she appears on display here, supplemented with snippets of their verse, and even sculpture “portraits,” in some instances.  One room alone features Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes & Whitman.  There are great photos of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Stanley Kunitz, Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, several of Pound (including a “golden” brass [?] sculpture), many of Whitman, one each of Auden & Eliot, Robert Lowell, Hilda Doolittle (HD), Amy Clampitt, Claude McKay, James Merrill, e. e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Howard Nemerov, Charles Olson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Randall Jarrell, May Swenson, Allen Ginsberg (early & late photos & images), and many more.    
Ezra Pound
Sylvia Plath
The photos & paintings are charming, dazzling, realistic, stoical, emphatic, memorable portraits of the poets by various photographers & painters and all are coupled with biographical information and, most important, with key lines from a notable poem, letter, or critical statement. One curious omission, for whatever reason, is John Berryman(!) … unless I somehow happened to overlook his photo on display somewhere in one of the galleries or in the long hall of photos bisecting the exhibit space.

If you get hungry, and you surely will, after your visit to the National Gallery, I’d recommend two restos we have sampled & enjoyed in the immediate vicinity that provide interesting lunch options daily, Monday – Friday:  Oya, a pan-Asian gem (@ 777 9th St., NW, near “H” St.), offering a very tasty, diverse, serious & sophisticated 3-course prix fixe menu at $20. AND Cuba Libre (@  801 9th St., the corner of “H”), featuring a wide variety of small “tasting” plates at, on average, $8.-10. & a “Cuban Bento Box,” with 2 Cuba Libre lunch special favorites & a dessert included … “served simultaneously,” at $16.50.  Both of these “downtown” DC restos are customer-friendly, inviting establishments, and both have full bar service with fairly reasonable pricing on bottle or draft beer & wines by-the-glass. If you visit Oya, you would do well to try the grilled tenderloin with garlic nori crust, along with a wasabi potato puree & asparagus; or, alternatively, the Atlantic salmon, with
Atlantic salmon - Oya
sweet miso ginger glaze, potato puree & lined with baby bok choy. Both of these enticing, well-prepared items are available on the prix fixe lunch menu; and, I submit, you will be pleased with either of these mains coupled with any one of the appetizers you select! Finally, don’t fail to sample the banana bread pudding for dessert … 

MAD exterior

Back in New York, we recently paid a visit to the Museum of Art & Design (MAD) located on the south side of Columbus Circle (entrance at 2 Columbus Circle).  By New York standards, MAD is a new, relatively small but unique museum that ought to be better known & more regularly frequented by New Yorkers & tourists alike.  At the moment, there are four very interesting – very circumscribed – shows to attend to running on various floors of the 9-story edifice. We began with “The Art of Scent, 1889-2012” (on through February 24th), an exhibition my wife had been wanting to, well, inhale since it opened in late November. 

Birth of a scent - "Spicebomb"
The exhibit presents 12 scents each considered to be “masterworks in their own right” – fromJicky” (1889; France), created by Aime Guerlain, and identified as “one of the first true works of olfactory art …” toUntitled” (2010; Germany), designed “solely for pleasure” by Daniela Andrier and, she claims, inspiring “a mixture of excitement and unease” while suggesting “the violence of nature.”  Each of the 12 major scents on display – ready to be sniffed carefully, one after the other – is, according to the show’s accompanying mini-catalogue, “capable of delighting, pleasing, and even shocking.”  And scent, like all art, or so the show’s curator reminds us, is entirely capable of changing “the way we perceive the world.”

Of course “L’Interdit” (1957; France), created by Francis Fabron – and representing the transformation of “nature in an abstraction” – is on display as is “Chanel No. 5” (France), a “traditional floral scent” encapsulated in a distinctly modern form in 1921 by Ernest Beaux. But the scents my wife and I enjoyed the most, found to be both fresh & refreshing, and thought the most distinct & unique were Pierre Wargnye’s “Drakkar Noir” (1982; France), through whose own creation he violated the “strict line between ‘fine’ and ‘functional’ fragrances,” and “L’Eau d’Issey“ (1992; France), a “breakthrough minimalist work,” by Jacques Cavallier, and inspired by the Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who together “fundamentally reconceptualized the medium of scent” in rendering “the concept of water through a work that was [is] pure, simple, and clear” … recalling for us “the unvarying scent of Japanese incense.”

Shangri La
One of the other highly absorbing & colorful (in every respect!) exhibits MAD is currently showing is “Doris Duke’s Shangri La:  Architecture(through February 17th).  The exhibit focuses on Doris Duke (philanthropist & art collector, 1912-1993) and the Hawaiian Island estate & Honolulu home (now a museum of Islamic art & culture) – Shangri La – which she and her husband constructed in the mid-1930s … a huge palatial structure along the island’s coast, replete with large swimming pool; landscaped, terraced ponds; an entire “community” of rooms, anterooms,  passageways & gardens filled with Islamic art, artifacts & items of every imaginable (luxuriously) aesthetic provenance & (effete) utilitarian variety – from rugs, to floor lamps & lighting fixtures, to sculpture, ceramics, furniture, draperies, and all sorts of Islamic props & wares. The structure is truly bold, magnificent, and, surprisingly, extraordinarily well-integrated & harmonious in terms of its contents (building materials, art & artifacts from Syria, India, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey), topology & location, overall impression & impact. Indeed, it is difficult to leave the floor on which this exhibit – full of period photos, journals, transcribed journal entries, press & personal clippings – has been so elegantly housed; but leave one must, in any case, as other things intrude on this veritable Shangri La.

Turquoise Panel  -  Shangri La
An addendum / a note:  The building(s) comprising the Duke estate in Hawaii – still known as Shangri La – are now open to the public, under the aegis of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and there one can view these works of art & artifacts (some 2,500 objects in all) in their original, “regal,” setting along the felicitous, palm-tree lined Hawaiian coast.

Daniel Brush -
 Blue Steel Gold Light
Clifford Rainey - Glass & metal
The two other shows currently running at MAD are:  Playing with Fire: 50 Years of Contemporary Glass (through April 7th) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of the American Studio Glass movement & showcasing more than 100 works of varied (in size, shape, colors, textures, media) glass pieces from MAD’s permanent collection & on loan; ANDDaniel Brush: Blue Steel Gold Light (through February 24th) which “brings together for the first time works from throughout Brush’s career, including examples of his poetic paintings and drawings, a selection of his most significant steel and gold wall sculptures … [and] jewelry made from plastic, aluminum, steel, and precious gems.” Indeed, both of these shows are well worth a look!

MAD's resto
And while you’re looking, take the elevator to the 9th floor of the museum and have a look, too, at Robert, the MAD bar-restaurant with a striking & expansive view out over Columbus Circle, Central Park & beyond. If you arrive between 3:00 & 5:30 (daily), you can take advantage of the Sunset menu featuring a variety of small items, including roasted beet salad, blue bay mussels, foie gras mousse & tuna carpaccio pizza. Robert is also open (daily) for lunch, tea service & dinner, serving contemporary American fare with Mediterranean influences … on a menu created by chef Luisa Fernandes.
Visiting Dizzy's

Just across Columbus Circle, veering northwest as you exit MAD, you will find, at 2 Warner Center (an upscale, mall-like tower), the elevator & entrance to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (a venue associated with Jazz at Lincoln Center).  A commodious & pleasant space for jazz, with yet another impressive view out over mid-town Manhattan, Dizzy’s runs two shows nightly at 7:30 & 9:30 (plus a late-night show on Fridays at 11:30).  Comfy seats in the broad bar area will cost you $35./person ($45. if you reserve a table) and the club offers an extensive New Orleans inflected menu, a good selection of draft & bottle beer, as well as wines-by-the-glass and all sorts of contemporary (trendy?) mixed drinks. All seats – at tables & bar area, alike – permit a direct & unobstructed view of the proceedings and easy proximity to the stage.  And, on the night we ventured to Dizzy’s, just a week, or so, ago we found – and, of course we knew we’d find – the Grammy nominated Latino-flamenco, “post-bop” jazz pianist, Chano Domínguez, on stage with his quartet.  

My wife had reserved our seats on this occasion as she had (weeks ago) been “blown away,” as they say, by the Chano Dominguez CD “Flamenco  Sketches,” the Blue Note disk commissioned by the Barcelona Jazz Festival & recorded live at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan a couple of years ago (in 2009). The performance by Chano and his quartet at Dizzy’s was vibrant, rich, rhythmic & colorful, but the live CD is a truly dazzling piece of work – magnetically fusing flamenco music (culture & voice) with the signature Miles Davis period sound – all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue” (also on Blue Note). Just for your reference, the 7-track Grammy-nominated CD contains all of the “Kind of Blue” tunes supplemented by two of Davis’s most popular compositions, “Nardis” (noteworthy owing to the original Bill Evans interpretation) and “Serpent’s Tooth” (a pre-“Kind-of-Blue” tune that was part of the Miles Davis 50s songbook).

(If the Chano Dominguez CD – and his “Flamenco Sketches” – fails to win the Best Latin Jazz Album at the upcoming 55th Grammy Awards ceremony, I’ve promised to, yep, eat my hat!)

Nina Hoss - Barbara
One other, final cultural note:  You simply must take yourself to see Barbara (2012; in German), the new dramatic film – Germany’s entry for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (it failed somehow, amazingly to my mind, to make the final shortlist!) – sensitively directed by Christian Petzold. The narrative focuses on a talented & perspicacious physician, Barbara (Nina Hoss; an extremely talented actor), living in East Germany in the mid-1980s, who has been transferred to a small hospital in the boondocks for, manifestly, expressing her desire to leave the GDR. Barbara is forced to leave her assignment at a prestigious hospital in East Berlin because of her request & her unacceptable politics. 

The film slowly & graphically explores Barbara's daily working life (her new “career”), her “romantic” attachment(s), and the constant persecution of her by the Stasi, the indefatigable East German secret police. The chief physician at the hospital, one Dr. Andre Reiser, gently (even endearingly) played by Ronald Zehrfeld, must act, for only partially articulated reasons, in accord with the Stasi demands to simultaneously “woo” her & spy on her even as she is slowly introduced to, and accepted by, the hospital work team Andre leads. The film is carefully, even painstakingly, structured and presents a depressed and depressing society, in whole cloth, as it existed in East Germany not long ago. This is a moving & disturbing film, in many respects, with finely etched & complex characterizations, full of socio-political & personal ambiguity. Although the film wasn’t chosen by the Academy as an Oscar nominee, you would do well to choose it:  it is, indeed, a “contender” you should seek out & see as soon as you can!

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.