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!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Small Museum Exhibits / Two Small Restos - Up & Down Manhattan Island + Some Notes on Stefan Zweig

M. Bochner - "Going Out of Business"
Two small but highly worthwhile exhibits have recently surfaced at opposite ends of Manhattan Island - one, "Mel Bochner: Strong Language" (through September 21st), featured at The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. @ 92nd St.) and the other, "Exposed," a unique show at The Fashion & Textile History Gallery at the Museum at FIT (7th Ave. @ 27th St.) reflecting a brief history of lingerie (running through November 15th).

Both exhibitions cry out for our attention for very different
Mel Bochner
reasons. One, the former, emphasizes language and what Mel Bochner (b. 1940; American), in his "painterly" vein, says "has a lot to do with the devolution of language [see, up & to the left his 'Going Out of Business'], its corruption in public and political discourse in ways ... even Orwell could not have imagined." In case you're not familiar with Bochner' work, the museum's curatorial material points out that he was a founding father of the Conceptual Art movement dating back to the early 1960s. 

M. Bochner - Nothing, 2003
This new exhibition, however, has gathered a number of his more recent works spotlighting those which focus centrally on the "artist's engagement with the possibilities of language as image, medium, and content ..." including both his early conceptual items right up through "vibrantly colored and lushly executed recent paintings." [italics mine]  Indeed, The Jewish Museum exhibit curators go on to note that Bochner's "use of words as sources for painting" originates in his "interest in philosophy" on one level and humor, wit & popular culture on another. In  varying his techniques & the differing media in which he works - using "paint on canvas and velvet, drawing, print making, wall installations" - the painterly items tend to "riff on words and meaning in countless permutations."

M. Bochner - Contempt, early 2000s
Indeed, for Mel Bochner, the Thesaurus (the reference volume) becomes reified & alive as “a warehouse for words,” a basis for ready-made text for his "billboard-like pictures." Finally, Bochner's work proves alluring, unique  & witty as he incorporates "word games, [verbal] incongruities, and even visual slapstick to draw the viewer into linguistic, phenomenological, and social puzzles."

Lace corselet, c. 1954
"Exposed," the other exhibition, well, focuses on undergarments (but not those always worn underneath a woman's external dress) and graphically attempts (successfully, I think) to signal - to communicate - that "... lingerie is the final barrier to the fully nude body, and thus inherently erotic ..." strategically alluring, revealing, concealing & highlighting "the wearer's form." [from "Exposed," an MFIT pamphlet, developed by curator Colleen Hill, that summarizes the content of the show]
Bra/USA, 1949 & petticoat/France, 1951

While both shows directly communicate their content to the viewer, each, perhaps, in its own conspicuous way, they provoke our concentration in very different ways, through the use of very different media contexts: Mel Bochner - in "painted" words - using colorful language (in both meanings of the term colorful) and adding up to an assault on our visual and linguistic senses, in an emphatic & hyperbolic re-imagining of words bombarding us in our daily lives; and the content of "Exposed" gently sweeping us through history and, as we proceed from the 18th century and its "decorative corsets" to contemporary more erotic items, catching our eye through the use of mannequins modeling a wide variety of lingerie & related garments and lingerie-like clothing forms & fashions ... from, say, the modest "camiknickers" of the 1920s, to Dior's "voluminous petticoats" of the 1950s, to "today's overtly erotic styles" from Agent Provocateur.
Bustier, USA,, 1988

Indeed, as Ms. Hill & the MFIT exhibit reveal, and argue for, "lingerie remains a topic of enduring fascination" to us all, male & female alike!

But words, too, tend to have a large impact on our psyches & fascinate us, male & female alike, as Mel Bochner - and George Orwell - have demonstrated for us in the enormity of power in the repetition of words & phrases. Just think, for example of any number of verbal constructs appropriated by governments, political parties, PR firms & Madison Avenue, the NRA, "big Pharma," lobbyists & K-Street ... and you will immediately have identified a plethora of potentially insidious contexts involving linguistic manipulation or verbal abuse.

M. Bochner - Blah, blah, blah, blah ...
And who is to say which is the more fascinating area to dwell upon, and in which ways, and for whom:  women's fashion undergarments & the benign (?) world of lingerie (bustles, bras, bikini briefs, bustiers) or words and phrases that taunt, excite, intimidate, persuade, perturb, dishonor, frighten & manipulate?  Different strokes, I guess!  Or, perhaps, the same kind of person might simply recognize the impact - for good and for ill - of (or in) both of these domains. 

MFA thesis exhibit, 2014
J. Merz, Asch Building on Fire, collage
At any rate, you must avail yourself of one, or both, of these singular, memorable & deftly curated exhibitions currently on view in different sections of the Borough of Manhattan through the frenetic Fall museum-going season. And while you are visiting MFIT, consider saving some time to walk through the "Class of 2014" show entitled Chroma in which several MFA students are participating in a "Visual Thesis Exhibition." Two students, for example, whose work enthralled us as we meandered through Chroma were Jennifer Merz of Allendale, NJ (@ & Sam Kalda (@ Simply have a brief look, following your prolonged, conversation-inducing visit to "Exposed."

After your visits to the two museums and their exhibitions (delineated above), you might also want to stop for lunch or dinner (depending, of course!) on the upper East Side, where you'll find Pascalou (1308 Madison Ave. at 92nd; tel. 212/534-7522) a small but cozy, and friendly, contemporary French-inspired bistro ... just a block, or so, from the entrance to The Jewish Museum.

Polenta lamb bolognese
Pascalou has much to offer, including a 3-course lunch prix-fixe menu (@ $18.95; with appetizer, soup or salad; main; & dessert) and a formidable series (for so small a resto) of à la carte menus, as well. Two members of our party of three diners opted for the prix fixe; one (moi) ordered baby Caesar salad and the polenta lamb bolognese (prepared with melted mozzarella in a mildly spicy tomato sauce & chiseled bite-size "cuttings" of grilled lamb); the other diner who decided to order from the prix fixe lunch menu (ma femme) tried the mozzarella, basil & tomato salad & selected, for her main, the grilled salmon (light, moderately rare, juicy & well-prepared, with mixed vegetables & steamed white rice ... and without the added affectation of any sort of "fancy," cloying sauce). 

Pascalou - Diamarine rosé
Both of us received the house chocolate mousse (the daily option) for dessert, along with solid cups of robust, black coffee ($2.75) to seal the proverbial deal. In addition, we had chosen to complement our lunch with a couple of glasses of a "standard" Sauvignon Blanc (@ $9) & a pretty solid Diamarine rosé (Provence, 2013), which exuded watermelon & strawberry notes, and proved nicely dry with a crisp finish ($10). 

Gazpacho à la Pascalou

Our companion, F.L., ordered a few small plates & a cup of gazpacho from the à la carte lunch menu, most notably the Pissaladierre, a rustic onion tarte with roasted tomatoes, black olives & thyme (@ $14.50) and sauteed fresh foie gras with sweet & sour currants, balsamic onions & orange confit ($15). In all, a lunch, well, fit for a recovery - a renewal - after having perused the highlights of The Jewish Museum, some of its current exhibitions ... and the Museum's two very attractive gift shoppes!

Prince St. Cafe - Interior view
And post-"Exposed" - after your visit to the Museum at FIT (MFIT) - you might want to head for any number of restos in the immediate Chelsea vicinity, or else follow our lead and trek a bit downtown to 26 Prince St. and check out Prince St. Café (betw. Mott St. & Elizabeth St. in Nolita; tel. 212/343-7310) and spend a bit of time sampling the culinary creations of chef-owner Kostyantyn Prokoshyn, in an area just steps from the increasingly well-known landmark, McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St. betw. Lafayette & Mulberry; tel. 212/274-1160), where you just might have an author-related event to attend ... a panel, say, on the works of Stefan Zweig, new editions of some of his novels & novellas, his celebrated memoir, The World of Yesterday (London: Pushkin Press, 2009; translated by Anthea Bell), and the new biographical study of Zweig's later life & work by George Prochnik, titled The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

In fact, my wife & I had actually attended the rich & insightful panel focusing on Zweig at McNally Jackson ... the very literary panel to which I refer, above, focusing on:  the man & his dissection of the slow but emphatic collapse of what had been the "secure," leisurely, and "civilized" Habsburg Empire & the societal climate that flourished (and Zweig well knew) in the late 19th & early 20th century, before the outbreak of the Second World War; his rather sprawling historico-geographical reach; and the depth & breadth of his influence during the pre-war Europe (particularly Austria, Germany & France) cultural and
Stefan Zweig
political context
in which he found himself. The event, and the speakers involved, including Mr. Prochnik, tended to re-kindle my continued interest in Zweig's work, his singularly important & informative memoir, his brilliant novellas, and many of his great (grand?) stories!

Indeed, you might have guessed that I am just now & for a good long while enthralled by Stefan Zweig, his work, his artistic/literary vision, his emotional & intellectual state(s), and, generally, the period in which he came of age ... and, then, of prominence.

Chess Story, or The Royal Game
Doubling back along Prince St. to Kostyantyn Prokoshyn's Café, we, once again, indulged in a 3-course prix-fixe dining event. While the wines we drank by the glass were satisfactory (@ $5.00, or so, for each fill), Mr. Prokoshyn's cooking demonstrated his mastery of (and beyond!) traditional French-continental cuisine ... and that fare proved generously plated & truly sumptuous. 
For the record, the chef offers a Beef Wellington entrée on his menu but doesn't seem to have gotten (or so he has indicated) too many diners to order this rich continental beef-enshrouded item ... and most of his diners would be, he adds, hard-pressed to even describe the dish let alone show an interest in ordering it. So, while listed on his menu, should you want to sample this intriguing, traditional entrée, you must simply contact the chef a few days before and reserve the dish for dinner, for two!  (And we plan to do just that in the very near future!)

Lamb shank
But, on this more immediate occasion, and, really, in order to get a feel for the chef's talents & preparations, we stuck to the  somewhat more mundane - but, ultimately, tasty, well-prepared & well-plated - offerings that added up (for us) to the 3-course dinner (@ $22, complete!) ... & comprising a choice of soup/salad or appetizer, an entrée & dessert.  We began with an exquisite rendition of butternut squash soup (my wife's choice & a favorite!) ... and yet another, however non-traditional, not very orthodox, thickly creamy version of Caesar salad, pour moi.

Grilled salmon fillet
Each of our entrée selections proved successful, substantial & succulent, as well:  my wife opted for the completely moist, finely grilled salmon fillet (plated with tender, buttery-garlicky green beans); and I chose the falling-off-the-bone tender lamb shank, offered up in a wine infused, moderately spicy sauce (along with an assortment of broiled vegetables partially encircling the meat).  We concluded this early evening dining adventure with dark, near-ebony cups of coffee accompanying a creamy, chocolate-based bread pudding, on the one hand, and an unusually "fruity" version of crème brûlée, on the other (each shared fairly equally despite our somewhat satiated state).

Crème brûlée
At this point, we remind you and the staff at Prince St. Café - yep, here & now - that we will certainly return soon; we do, indeed, plan to follow up with the chef on that neglected, quasi-mysterious "would be" menu item, the Beef Wellington! You might want to do the same ...