Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Louis Armstrong, Cedar Lake & two "outer borough" restaurant experiences

Louis Armstrong / "Satchmo"
June 29th has come and gone and you very well might have missed the Louis Armstrong International Music Festival which was held in the Borough of Queens in
Flushing Meadows - Corona Park right near the Unisphere and the Queens Museum (111 St. & the Van Wyck Expressway). 

While you might have missed this all-day (one day!) music event, offering jazz from all over the world - including the Cuban-American singer, Albita, and the trumpeter, Jon Faddis, and his Quartet - you can still catch a tribute exhibition entitled Ambassador Satchmo at the World’s Fair, an installation in the Museum Café (June 29th through September 21st) ... presented by The Louis Armstrong House Museum in partnership with, and mounted at, the Queens Museum. You might not be aware that Louis Armstrong lived in Corona, Queens for nearly half a century and that he was honored at the 1964 World's Fair declaring June 30, 1964 to be “Louis Armstrong Day.” 

The Louis Armstrong House / Museum
The Museum Café installation contains photographs & memorabilia from The Louis Armstrong House … a small museum dedicated to the work, artistry, recordings, life & times of Mr. Armstrong and his wife. Most notably the museum café show features photographs by Jack Bradley - Armstrong's good friend & personal photographer - that document Louis Armstrong Day at the world's fair in all its splendor.  Fortunately, notes the Queens Museum web site's descriptive material, Bradley was on hand with his camera to capture many of the day’s celebratory events, "including photos of Armstrong’s motorcade, of the trumpeter on stage wearing a Native American headdress[,] and posing with ... fans backstage." 

Unisphere - Flushing Meadows
The museum exhibit's PR material further notes that "Bradley’s photos of Armstrong at the World’s Fair have never previously been exhibited," and that, what's more, "... [t]hanks to Bradley’s photos, we can now take a peek into what must have been a very memorable day in Queens for one of the borough’s true kings."

Custom kitchen - L. Armstrong House 

Indeed, when you've finished up your short tour of the "Satchmo" installaton at the Queens Museum café, meander over (not far at all as the proverbial crow flies) to The Louis Armstrong House Museum (located at 34-56 107th Street, Corona, Queens/NY) where you can see (& hear) close up & personal all about Armstrong and his daily & historical life - his trumpets, stereo system, tape recordings, studio, prize possessions, his living quarters, and so forth: a truly grand, small-scale museum dedicated to the life of Mr. Armstrong & his long-time wife, Lucille, while, at the same time, giving their visitors the impression "that Louis & Lucille just stepped out for a minute."  

It should be noted, too, that the museum conducts guided "house" tours of the family living (& working) quarters and provides new exhibits and hosts all kinds of musical events each season.
Living room - L. Armstrong House

When you've tired of Queens-based museums, guided tours & background "hot five & hot seven" trumpet-led music, you will, surely, be up for a culinary experience equal to what you've witnessed. And I was introduced to just the restaurant you'd want to patronize for such an occasion:  Joe (Giuseppe) Palma's My Kitchen (106-17 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, NY; tel. 718/544-5644). 

The Palma's - My Kitchen
While Joe presides in the kitchen, his wife, Dhanny, functions as manager of the "front" and server in chief!  
Maryland-style crab cake(s)
My Kitchen (or, as Dhanny is fond of saying, "our kitchen") offers a small but intriguingly eclectic menu featuring what they bill as "perennial favorites" (like the sublime Maryland-style crab cake(s) with a lime yogurt cream sauce, @ $12; or the perfectly grilled "aged" boneless I6-oz N.Y. strip steak, with a special "MK dry rub," @ $21) and well-planned, attentively prepared "seasonal dishes" (notably an individually "potted" portion of seafood & chorizo paella, @ $18) which vary daily. 

Seafood & chorizo paella
Other outstanding items you might want to try out & savor include the grilled balsamic glazed Portobello mushroom with gorgonzola cheese ($8); French fried potatoes topped with truffle oil & parmesan cheese (also $8); and bacalao filled ravioli with a puttanesca sauce (@ $19.95). 
My Kitchen

All appetizers (including salads) & entrée selections (e.g., the "special" whole Cornish hen) are generously plated and desserts (the bread pudding, served warm with a "scoop" of ice cream!) are all particularly flavorful & expectedly, if not flagrantly, sweet capstones to a more than satisfying dining experience at My Kitchen. When in or near Forest Hills (Queens), do visit this friendly, informal, brightly decorated & comfortable resto ... and see if I'm not correct!

Cedar Lake
On another fairly recent "outer borough" excursion (via NJ Transit & and a quick subway ride to Atlantic Terminal in downtown Brooklyn), we managed to land tickets to see a Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Thursday evening performance at BAM (you know, the acclaimed Brooklyn Academy of Music), where Cedar Lake would celebrate its 10th year anniversary at the Howard Gilman Opera House.
From:  "Necessity, Again"

The night we attended, there were three individual dance pieces, the most engaging of which happened to be the last in the evening's sequence: “Necessity, Again,” a comic work of balletic "physical theater" created by the well-established Norwegian choreographer, Jo Strømgren.   

The costumes worn by the dancers in this fairly lengthy piece evoke a 1950s work place - office and/or manufacturing - of some sort ... displaying up-dos, tea length skirts, and de rigueur skinny ties. In terms of sound & "music," the atmosphere of the work oscillates between what appear to be archival recordings of Jacques Derrida making his way, haltingly - in heavily accented & abstract English speech - through a mesmerizingly dull philosophy lecture and segments of schmaltzy songs from the romantic French crooner, Charles Aznavour 
Jacques Derrida

Charles Aznavour
While Aznavour slings his emotive Gallic melodies with power & bombastic energy, romance & fun tend to dominate the stage activity and the dance evokes a kind of party mode (& mood), perhaps reflecting standard Broadway "high jinks" from, well, a "European perspective." When the recorded voice of Derrida intrudes, speaking in a monotone English about such concepts as necessity and death, the dancers fall to the stage floor. The happy, upbeat moments, though, provide the Cedar Lake dancers with the opportunity to display their charm, wiles, singular skills (both solo & group), and humorous & alluring abilities in action, gesture & movement. The piece, while certainly idiosyncratic in structure, is appealing & entertaining, if a bit on the baffling side in terms of the dramatic/dance movements displayed amidst the juxtaposed voices rendered in the background.

Cedar Lake dancers - in H. Shecter's "Violet Kid"
After having experienced "Necessity, Again," it becomes obvious that Mr. Strømgren, who also works as a theater director, brings a certain dramatic element to the dance pieces he creates & meticulously choreographs, leading one critic to pronounce that “Jo [Strømgren] has a very dry [sense of] humor that sets a very different tone to everything else." Indeed, in the final analysis, it seems he does ... at least for Cedar Lake!

Olea - view of the "house" 
Olea (171 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY; a short & pleasant 5 or 6 blocks from BAM; tel. 718/643-7003) proved the restaurant of choice prior to the Cedar Lake dance event we would attend at BAM (described  above). 

The establishment bills itself as a Mediterranean Taverna ... and it has that look & feel, possibly of somewhere in southern Italy (Sicilia, perhaps?) or a Greek Isle. And the food that they prepare is, for the most part, light, naturally colorful, seemingly healthy, and, well, of varied Mediterranean provenance. 

Olea - External (dusk) view on Lafayette Avenue
We had learned about Olea from the BAM web site though we were on our way to another eatery (a bit further away); but, as we were strolling by Olea, we noticed their posted rather consequential Happy Hour menu (Mon.-Fri., 4-7:00) when drinks (beer & wine, and all!) are, roughly, 1/2 price and food sampling can be accomplished via tapas-size plates at extremely reasonable (reduced!) price points ($3-6). Otherwise, the menu at Olea offers a wide variety of similarly delectable tapas dishes, of course, at 
Spanish"pitza" tapa

somewhat higher pricing, larger plates & raw bar selections (for details, just have a look at their unique dinner menu!). 

For example, if you dined post-Happy-Hour you might want to try the roasted whole Mediterranean branzino ("whole bone in fish"), plated with green vegetables sautéed in pimentón-garlic butter (@ $26); or you might select a paella - paella de mariscos, say - with Spanish "bomba" rice cooked with squid ink & vegetable-saffron stock, shrimp, calamari, mussels ... all carefully mixed thru with red pepper sofrito, green peas, preserved lemon aioli & parsley leaves (@ $28).

Lamb kefteddes, tomato sauce, feta & mint
For our Happy-Hour pre-theater dinner, though, we settled on five or, more likely, six (?) tapas plates and a few glasses of a relatively dry rosé & a glass of off-dry Riesling.  All six plates were tasty & tangy tapas "exhibits," distinctive, well-executed. A few were simply outstanding.  While we initially considered ordering an appealing plate of the lamb kefteddes (Greek meatballs, tomato sauce, spicy whipped feta & mint, @ $5.50; see photo), we opted for the beef meatballs, a bit more complex & intricately prepared, with red wine-pomegranate-rosemary glaze, yogurt & toasted almonds (also $5.50).  

Equally appealing to us and sounding genuinely distinctive was the Spanish "pitza," comprising pita with quince paste, Manchego cheese, toasted garlic, crushed red pepper ... a truly memorable combination of artfully complementary tastes & textures (@ $4; see photo, above). Also deserving special mention are two additional outstanding ("tapas") plates that justified our interest and, ultimately, tickled our taste buds: the celery-apple salad, with gorgonzola-blue cheese, sherry vinaigrette, toasted walnuts & coriander seeds ($4.50); and the singularly satisfying (particularly scrumptious!) mini fried oyster sandwiches (two, with a spicy Brussels sprouts "slaw," at $4.50).

Warm almond tart
We concluded our Happy-Hour visit  to Olea with the wait-staff recommended Warm Almond Tart ($8), replete with pomegranate sorbet, whipped cream & toasted almonds - genuinely luscious, and, at the same time, guzzled multiple cups of dark (black) coffee necessary to complement & enhance a dessert that was, as they say, to die for!
Map - Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Fortunately we had ample time to walk off the meal and still arrive at our Cedar Lake curtain with minutes to spare. A 2nd "outer borough" dining success (we're still battin' 1000). We thoroughly enjoyed the place - the affability of the wait staff, the cozy-comfy bustling Mediterranean ambiance ... as well as the food, the wine, our coffee & that fabulous dessert. I'm sure - should you venture to the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, perhaps for a BAM event - you will enjoy Olea, too, sans doute

Or, as one contented Olea eater trumpeted ... just "Check out ... [this] Fort Greene secret!  (Whoops!)

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