Friday, May 2, 2014

Fukurou, "Buyer & Cellar" & a "note" of praise for Mes Reves ...

We were on our way to see the "smash hit" Buyer & Cellar (currently running at the Barrow Street Theatre @ Barrow & 7th Ave.) but first stopped for an early dinner at the compact & bustling West Village Japanese eatery, Fukurou (87 MacDougal St.; 212/388-0013). Luckily, we arrived at about 5:00 when things were still relatively calm & nearly empty. 

Fukurou Interior
Fukurou = Owl (Hoot! Hoot!)
Despite the  somewhat frenetic atmosphere that increases gradually as the evening progresses, the resto is a comfy, friendly, delightful spot in which to dine on authentically creative Japanese cuisine. Indeed, during the time we spent at Fukurou, I must emphasize that our waiter was a very helpful, eager-to-please "guide" to the wide variety of items on the menu ... and to identifying & navigating the various levels of spices and types of sauces the "open" kitchen prepares. Actually, this izakaya-style ("pub" or "tavern-like") resto is the first outpost of a trendy Japanese chain to open in the USA.

Mango Cheesecake
Sesame Ice Cream
We were two couples dining on this occasion and so, to get the feel of a semi-exotic menu, we decided to concentrate on the small, tapas-like plates they specialize in, figuring that about six of these would do for us, accompanied by Asahi drafts (@ $3.49 each), a Luigi Bosca Malbec (for one of our group; @ $4.49), green tea ($1.99), and two of their dessert offerings (one, the black sesame ice cream, at $2.49; another, the wonderfully delicate, lightly sweet mango cheesecake, at $2.55). All of these items - the small plates, as well as the desserts - were shared amidst a few good-sized bowls of white rice.

Stewed Pork Belly
Zuru Teba - w/Bamboo Skewers
With the input & guidance of our waiter, we managed to order our six items; and since my wife had studied various posts by previous diners providing suggestions, the "negotiation" proved relatively easy. We began the meal with Fukurou's signature (and popular!) plate, the Zuru Teba ($5.99), mildly but strikingly & appealingly spiced grilled (very tender & meaty) chicken wings which you simply twist and eat with bamboo skewers ... and not with your fingers! Next, we were served another of the resto's popular (also signature!) dishes, the stewed "black" pork belly ($4.99), a very tasty - neither greasy nor fatty - and perfectly prepared rendition of this complex small-plate creation.  

Seared Toro "Fatty" Salmon
Toro salmon (seared "fatty" slices of salmon; $4.99) came to the table next (and made a big hit!), along with a nicely done order of dumplings ($3.99), followed directly by grilled beef tenderloin slices in a tangy garlic sauce. 

Omu Yakisoba (noodle base)
Our 6th and final tapas-style item - with which we ended the 6-course "small-plate" sequence - was the Omu Yakisoba ($5.99), a large bowl of stir-fried noodles filled with chunks of pork and an assortment of vegetables in a light & flavorful brown sauce - all "blanketed" over with a loosely cooked egg(s) appearing much like an omelet in overall texture & form.

Grilled Beef Tenderloin Slices
We enthusiastically concluded our initial dining experience at Fukurou with the two desserts mentioned above:  the black sesame ice cream & the mango cheesecake. They were both scarfed down breezily ... and both dessert selections were winners!  (Sorry, no coffee at this izakaya-style establishment; and that proved a bit disappointing.)

So off we went to Buyer & Cellar, a one-man show ... a mostly light but, at moments, rather dark comedy. The show currently features a very talented and engaging Christopher Hanke in the role of Alex More, a struggling, underemployed LA actor. Alex has taken a job working in Barbra Streisand's cellar, "managing" (pretty much consistently alone) a personal shopping mall that an eccentric Streisand has designed for herself & visits, periodically, to shop, bargain, negotiate items, terms & pricing, and to make occasional human contact - with Alex, her (inner) self, her past. 

Jonathan Tolins, Playwright
The play - all fiction, of course, written by Jonathan Tolins & directed by Stephen Brackett - juxtaposes a gay Alex and a straight, but strange & insecure Streisand. Throughout most of the play Alex is alone on (& off) stage offering up a funny - sometimes purely hysterical, sometimes outrageous - but calculated monologue "stew" about his life, his lover, his prospects, his new (basement) job employed by Barbra Streisand. But somehow, while also fun & funny, their subterranean meetings (mildly or purely ritualistic "confrontations" involving Streisand as a "mall" shopper & Alex as salesperson) devolve into murky, shadowy regions where the fun ceases. And that's where the play ends up - the light comedy turning dark, discomfiting, disturbing. You simply must see the play for yourself to witness, to
Christopher Hanke - as Alex More
comprehend, the movement of Alex's narrative (and his theatrical character) from the lively & comical - at once self-mocking, witty & confident - into dark and ambiguous territory. (Should I tell you why Alex ultimately loses his job?)

Christopher Hanke's performance is stellar; the direction is first-rate; the set & staging are minimalist yet still  imaginative, even appropriately imagistic; the play, well, interesting, and worthy of our attention, for the manner in which it so cleverly intermingles moments of hilarity, honesty, ambiguity ... and kitsch.

Finally:  A special note on Mes Reves, a high quality French (or, French-inspired) bistro in Essex County, NJ (located at 407 Broad St., Bloomfield; 973/429-4888) which we have dined in, at this point, on several pleasant occasions - both by ourselves and with friends. On our most recent visit, celebrating a wedding anniversary, we were musing about just how fortunate we are, indeed, to have such a fine eatery, among many nearby, almost in walking distance from our Glen Ridge home.

Mes Reves - Center View
Mes Reves is a moderately informal, particularly inviting, commodious BYO enterprise ... owned & operated by Quang & Tammie Tran. With CIA training, Quang Tran is a  chef who produces top-notch fare reflecting his superb talents, instincts & skills. This is a restaurant that generally doesn't dazzle or "experiment," but, rather, performs consistently, provides sufficiently abundant & carefully prepared food, maintains high standards, and fields a friendly & attentive wait-staff. You owe it to yourself to dine here: for the excellent food, of course; for the friendly, low-key environment; and for the simple, tasteful "modernist" decor.

Margalit - Special Reserve
Mesclun Salad
On this special occasion, we brought along two wines to accompany our complete dinner; one for the meat eater, a fine Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon / Special Reserve (Israel, 2007); the other for our pre-meal aperitif and for the fish eater, a Paradise Peak Riesling (Washington State, 2012).  We shared our favorite Mes Reves appetizer, the crispy sweetbreads (@ $14) made with haricots verts, horseradish & shallots in a Bordelaise sauce and (also) ordered a mesclun salad ($10) featuring cranberries, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, croutons, walnuts & shallots with a vinaigrette dressing. Their crispy calamari salad (@ $12) is superb, as well.

Steak au Poivre
Seared Sea Scallops
For our mains, I selected the steak au poivre (@ $29), a tender New York strip cut with green peppercorn Bordelaise sauce & truffle fries (perfectly done!) while my wife chose one of the daily specials, the seared sea scallops ($27), with tomato concasse, shiitake & fried leeks in a saffron cream sauce. But, what's more, if you're still with me, just have a look at the elegant menu offerings - e.g., pan-seared duck breast ($26), pork tenderloin ($20), roasted Cornish hen ($20), sautéed skate ($22) - for a listing
Sautéed Skate
& descriptions of their other enticing
Bread Pudding w/Ice Cream


We waited a while before ordering our dessert & coffee. We knew from experience what we would select: the rich & scrumptious bread pudding (@ $5), along with cups of robust black coffee ... a perfect combo with which to wind down our small celebration!

Bravo, Mes Reves ... et Merci bien.

PS: The bistro offers a very nice & varied prefix menu (@ $25) weekdays, from 4:45 to 6:30.

(Photo of the external front facade.)

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