Thursday, March 13, 2014

Restaurant Week, come & gone; racy, risque & rambunctious comedy; and ruthlessly reciprocal films from Israel & Palestine

As they say, been a long time between "drinks" ... what with horrendous winter weather, bad colds & coughs, some travel to warmer climes, coupled with some mediocre theater experiences & unmemorable films, I haven't accrued the depth of material to put up a new blog post since mid-January.

But things, of course, rapidly (seasonally) change: huge quantities of snow melt, the intensity & frequency of colds & coughs diminishes ... and a new post has finally taken shape & emerged, just in time for New York Restaurant Week (2014) to come and to go, what with nearly 300-odd restaurants to explore for lunch (@ $25 for three courses, excluding beverages, gratuities & taxes) or dinner (@ $38)!

We narrowed our Restaurant Week search down to two choices: one mid-town east resto (which we will explore some time soon) and one downtown in the far West Village, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Perry St (at 176 Perry Street, just in front of & facing West Street & situated in one of the Richard Meier Towers; tel. 212-352-1900). Indeed, Perry St is an extremely eclectic, friendly & welcoming, sleekly elegant, commodious eating establishment - categorically beyond "new American." 

Cedric Vongerichten
According to Cedric Vongerichten, [who] "helms the kitchen," they strive to exhibit a range and blend, "of French, American and Asian influences and ingredients." In sum, the food they turn out at Perry St is artfully presented, carefully & creatively textured, delicious, flavorful, memorable ... with nary a miss in their whole culinary arsenal. While the Perry St menu changes somewhat during Restaurant Week (actually two weeks, in toto), but the quality control seems to remain tight and each dish arrives at your table picture perfect! For each of our three courses my wife and I selected different items in order to obtain the widest possible sampling of what Perry St might offer for lunch.

Salmon sashimi
Upon being seated at our quiet, relatively private table, we each ordered a glass of white wine - the Rioja Blanc, Ermita di San Felices, Spain, 2011 (@ $6). We then chose our appetizers, salmon sashima (pour moi), with chili tapioca & Asian pears in a coconut broth ... an absolutely exquisite & unique first course, rich in flavors (the pear, the chili tapioca, & the coconut and an array of salmon slices further cut up into mouthwatering tender morsels. Surely the piece de resistance of this afternoon repast. My wife ordered the house-made burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella & cream), placed on a plate of wasabi, cara cara, sourdough & purple shiso. Interesting admixture of ingredients, with very pronounced & powerful wasabi scattered about the burrata & which efficiently cleared my sinuses when I was offered a few bites!
Slow-cooked hake
Next, on to the entrees: Dalia chose the very tender, sumptuous & flavorful slow-cooked hake, the slice of fish coupled with potato fondant & jalapeno lime salsa. I, therefore, ordered the equally tender crispy fried chicken atop pecan collard greens, wild rice & a Scotch bonnet sauce ... for dipping the perfectly fried chunks of fowl. (Not exactly - not at all - your "standard" KFC fried chicken meal!)

Molten chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream
Desserts also revealed to us a sense that Perry St strives for perfection even at the close of the experience. Here, both desserts ordered - the molten chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream; the gingerbread cake & apple butter, with walnut brittle & green apple sorbet - proved extremely attractive, luscious, sweet & rich, nicely complementing our coffee.

The entire dining experience succeeded in every respect, but most effectively in doing what Restaurant Week visits are supposed to achieve - and that is, to make us customers, repeat diners, who will return for more fabulously, creatively prepared food, more frequently ... for dinner & for lunch, albeit to a somewhat out-of-the-way location in the far West Village. In this case, however, despite the long walk to West Street & the Hudson, we shall, for certain, return for more Vongerichten - pere et fils - culinary creations!

For some reason my wife & I don't attend too many comedy events at comedy clubs or other venues where stand-up is on offer. Probably my own self-imposed limitation because there are some very funny comics out there in Manhattan & environs.
Mary Dimino
Two weeks ago, though, at the last minute, we did purchase tickets for a show at The 13th Street Comedy Company (@ $9 each, from TDF) located in the West Village at 50 W.13th St., off 6th Avenue, and housed in The 13th Street Repertory Company. The 2-hour (or so) show - entitled "Mary Dimino & Friends" - featured stand-up material from four comics, three of whom were not very funny at all and laughter from the audience triggered by the initial 3 was mechanical, light, sporadic and, well, merely hopeful. But the wait for the headliner, Mary Dimino, herself, proved highly worthwhile. She had (she has) what Jerry Lewis deemed essential for any comic:  funny bones!  She was consistently funny, at times hysterical, personable, plain fun, self-effacing/self-less and audience-centric. 

Her comic modus operandi (and role) is, understandably, to be herself, to tell one long "story" - not at all a rant - about herself, her family (e.g., her husband, her Italian grandmother, her father), food, dieting, sex. And, in the process of telling her story, she casually & periodically elicits input from audience members. She then mixes these audience responses into her "narrative" & twists them into repeated "mantras," of sorts, that she either hears incorrectly or chooses to repeat incorrectly in order to achieve a sustained atmosphere of hilarity and relative incoherence.

At some points in her routine, I laughed so long and so hard that I found myself in need of a pocketful of tissues to wipe away the build-up of tears of laughter. Kudos to Mary Dimino ... she is a standup standout ... with funny (funny!) bones; funny (generally upbeat & pleasant, not hurtful nor bitter) stories; and a comedic routine - and center - that is not particularly, not routinely, nor unnecessarily, off-color!  

Love to see her again some time soon and I urge you to catch her when & where you can!

And, finally, on a more, well, serious note ...

Tsahi Haleva - Scene from Bethlehem
I'd like to recommend two new films, each set squarely within the geographical & emotional confines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of these films - Bethlehem, from Israel (directed by Yuval Adler); Omar, from Palestine (located in & around the West Bank and directed by Hany Abu-Assad) - had been put forward from their respective national precincts for the recent Oscar competition where Omar  was actually one of the 5 nominated films in the Best Foreign Language Film category. 

Adam Bakri - Omar
These films, with Omar being the more emotion-laden and personal of the two, serve as bookends, one to the other, displaying all aspects of the struggle from each geo-ethnic perspective: there are the Israeli intelligence & security "handlers" who attempt to garner essential logistical & strategic information from Palestinian prisoners & members of various anti-Israel terrorist & guerrilla factions; there is the ongoing effort of Israeli security agents to co-opt & recruit these individuals, to "employ" them for use as informants; there are the internecine, "counter"-struggles between & among various Palestinian gangs, factions, and politically divided families (deep-rooted tensions between fathers & sons, brother & brother, sisters & brothers, nephew & uncle); there are the planned bombings, "successful" assassinations & calculatedly brazen torture efforts; there are the divided and perplexing loyalties of the identified (would-be, seeming) informants - the young man, Omar, himself, or the teenage Sanfur in Bethlehem.

Hany Abu-Asad
But while the director of Bethlehem creates a taut dramatic & atmospheric film and works assiduously to humanize the political conflict, the narrative, and the central characters involved in the action, it is in Omar - skillfully crafted by the Palestinian director, Mr. Abu-Assad - where the universal struggle of people against their so-called oppressors begins to take the depth of the action to a personal level, for at the heart of Omar is a genuine love story (echoing the pangs of love a la Romeo & Juliet), as well as a tale of old school friends (genuine "buddies") interacting in the capacity of friends, terrorist-conspirators, and would-be assassins.

See these two films reflecting the tragic nature of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle: compare-and-contrast the two perspectives exhibited in these searing films and you will witness a sorrow-filled region depicted in consistent turmoil, a region fraught with besieged & bitter life, love, lies, intrigue, brutal assassinations, needless diurnal death.

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