Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Late fall in Manhattan: Odds & ends ... art, design AND eats ...

If you find yourself wandering around lower Manhattan (on the west side of town, in the Tribeca vicinity) - seeking out the Fountain Pen Hospital (@ 10 Warren St.; tel. 212/964-0580) for a new pen, special refill, or repair; visiting The Mysterious Bookshop (58 Warren St.; tel. 212/587-1011) for its wide variety & depth in detective fiction & mystery novels; or attending an event at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (@ 199 Chambers St.; tel. 212/220-1459) - and, if you grow
Hard boiled & noir

hungry, you will do no better for creative Chinese eats than visiting the Lotus Blue Restaurant and Bar (to be found @ 110 Reade Street; tel. 212/267-3777), which offers a menu uniquely rich in what they call "modern Yunnan cuisine."

And by that phrase they mean a Yunnan cuisine inflected with, and accentuated by, the rich flavors & ingredients of Burma and Thailand mingled with the more traditionally spicy, pungent flavors & piquant delicacies found "tucked away" in Yunnan Province.  Or, in their own more elaborate description ... their Yunnan eclecticism results in a cuisine borrowing "freely" from neighboring areas and using spices such as lemon grass, mint, purple basil and cilantro ... amidst such traditional ingredients as cured beef, ham & mushrooms (e.g., "stir-fried" trumpet & shiitake).
Lotus Blue - Dining room
Within their extensive menu, you will also find tropical flowers & fruits (like mango), "banana blossom salad, lemongrass herb rub ... used in ... 'grill' sea bass  and baby back ribs, and a coconut tapioca pudding ... topped off with edible flower petals and rose petal syrup." And, while the food offered is "recognizably Chinese," their use of "local ingredients in distinctive combinations ... [results in] full-flavored refreshing dishes that make dining at Lotus Blue a unique [!] experience."

Crispy scallion pancake
Lotus Blue - external view
On the occasion we (recently) visited - my first, my wife's 3rd - we aimed to eat relatively lightly, just an appetizer (a small plate) and two mains, or large plates. Beer prices were reduced (just $5 for each bottle we quaffed of Singha & Sapporo) as we showed up during their happy hour time frame. We began with a crispy scallion pancake (@ $8), accompanied by both aloe honey sauce & lime soy sauce. The pancake proved plenty big enough to share and was perfectly done, golden brown and, indeed, crispy-crunchy in texture.

Next came our two large plates ... one (my own), the flank steak trumpet mushroom stir-fry - composed of sliced flank steak and, yep, trumpet mushrooms in a Sichuan
Dali specialty chicken
peppercorn sauce ($20) - was nicely prepared, nicely "peppered," and the beef tender, tasty & succulent, throughout the stir-fry! The second (my wife's plate) - fresh caught clams stir-fried in mushroom sauce ($18) - proved to be unique in both content & texture. Consisting of fresh clams in their shells "tossed" with basil mushrooms & garlic sauce, this appealing, somewhat spicy dish "connected" emphatically with both of us (oddly, but especially, with my dining partner, because of her general lack of interest in clams or oysters in their shells). 

We'll certainly return to Lotus Blue, this comfortable gold-mine of a "modern" Yunnan resto, for there are, indeed, considerably more plates - large & small, noodles & soups, rice dishes & sides - yet to identify & sample. I have my eye right now on the Dali specialty chicken (a large plate of crisp-fried chicken with special tea tree mushroom sauce; @ $18) ... AND the spicy cumin lamb cubes (a stir-fry dish comprising cumin & spice salt marinated lamb; $22).

We followed dinner with coffee (Pike's roast) at a nearby Starbucks just prior to our trek further downtown to The Museum of Jewish Heritage (Edmond J. Safra Plaza / 36 Battery Place; tel. 646/437-4202) for a 92nd Street Y @ MJH joint program ... a "book release" event: an interesting & poignant conversation between author, Sarah Wildman, and June Thomas of Slate Magazine. Centering on Ms. Wildman's just now published book entitled Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead Books, 2014), the conversation involved how, exactly, she shaped & developed the ensuing narrative after her grandfather's death, having discovered a collection of his letters to his lover, Valy. Apparently, Valy remained in Austria throughout the 2nd World War - and during the Nazi occupation - while he was able to escape to the United States ...  and survive.

It seems that Ms. Wildman became obsessed with Valy's, and her grandfather's, story and details how she spent years traveling the globe attempting to unravel the complete story & uncover her grandfather's lover's fate. You'll simply have to read the book in order to find out any further solidifying details about the ultimate resolution (?) of her journey - both concrete (real!) and literary.

Earlier this month we scampered uptown & east (once
Helena Rubinstein
again) to visit The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. at 92nd St.; tel. 212-423-3200), specifically to see a couple of newly mounted exhibitions: Helena Rubinstein:  Beauty Is Power (thru March 22nd) & From the Margins:  Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952 (thru February 1st). 

These two "must see" shows, while relatively comprehensive in depth & scope, are concentrated enough to be seen and absorbed in a moderate space of time, in, perhaps (depending on your sense of "completeness"), a single visit, a brief few hours on a weekday afternoon. 
Portraits of Helena Rubinstein
The Helena Rubinstein show, or so the curatorial / PR information explains, is "the first museum exhibition to focus on the cosmetics entrepreneur" and reflects, of course, much of her self (her personal & professional lives) & her commitment to the worlds of cosmetics (commerce!), "art, fashion, beauty, and design." And, what's more, according to the museum staff, her "innovative business" ventures - and her ideas on style - "usher in a modern notion of beauty, democratized and accessible to all." 

Picasso caricature / sketch
On view, one is confronted with a wide variety of works, including: colorfully realistic & naturalistic portraits of "this pioneer in the world of beauty"; a wall full of caricatures of Ms. Rubinstein done (with a sardonic eye & critical strokes of the pen) by her "friend," Pablo Picasso; photos & artifacts from her grandly diverse, exquisitely furnished & richly decorated apartments (in New York, London, Paris); works of art & design (i.e., paintings, jewelry, sculpture, gowns, etc.) that she collected ... by Matisse, Miro, Kahlo, Max Ernst, Warhol & Nadelman; select items from her intriguingly "iconic collection" of African & Oceanic sculpture; works of primitive art; a display of her "miniature period rooms"; and much more in the domain of unique & "fascinating personal belongings."

Helena Rubinstein, 1872–1965 (Catalog)
During her long & industrious life, Ms. Rubinstein, states the New York Post (in museum publicity material), "defied anti-Semitism, stalked Picasso and built a first-class art collection." And with a diligent, emphatic concentration on beauty & commercial ventures - on things fashionable, beautiful & stylized - her life is certainly, ultimately, a statement on the power of beauty, on beauty as power ... or, as The Jewish Museum curators conceived it, "Beauty [that] is Power." Much to see here, to learn & to reflect upon, indeed!

Norman Lewis - Twilight Sounds, 1947
From the Margins provides equally interesting and enticing creative fare. Via selected & representative "paintings by ... [two] artists, this exhibition offers a revealing parallel view of two key Abstract Expressionists." Lee Krasner (a.k.a., the "missus" of Jackson Pollock) and Norman Lewis - a woman and an Afro-American male - "each experimented with approaches that joined abstraction and cultural specificity. Their work similarly [in this exhibit, reciprocally] brims with gesture, image, and incident, yet was overlooked by critics in their time." [my italics]

From the Margins - Gallery view
These two painters tended to express themselves primarily through abstract images and "used simplified shapes, exaggerated lines, and powerful color to create imaginative works of art."

The works are alluring, at once muted & quiet, and stunning, vivid & colorful; and, as displayed together in three (or so) museum galleriesthey are striking & memorable ... particularly so in the purposeful exploration of their distinctiveness & similarities.

Lee Krasner - Untitled, 1948
I know my wife & I were both moved by the work of each of these painters ... the design, the, well, architecture of their works - the forms, the shapes, the unique beauty of the bold & muted tones of their colors. Thus, owing to this comprehensive, sensitive, and meticulously arranged show, neither Lee Krasner nor Norman Lewis can, in my view, be labeled "forgotten" abstract expressionists any longer!

Gina La Fornarina - Inside view
Following our rather intense museum visit, we were both in the mood for dining on something new:  something both light and, at the same time, something consequential. We chose Gina La Fornarina - one of four informal Italian restos in a Manhattan "chain," serving well-prepared "traditional" Italian food & luscious, exquisitely "constructed" pizza - at the location just around the corner from The Jewish Museum (26 East 91st @ Madison Ave.; tel. 212/828-6800).

Delirium Nocturnum
We quickly ordered a large "summer special" kale salad (with chopped onions, shaved Parmigiano, lemon & extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette; @ $14.95) to share, and a Pizza Tirolese (blending toppings of cream of mascarpone, prosciutto "speck" & white truffle oil; @ $22., including "extra" mushrooms), and doused the (just) "fired-up" pizza with two bottles of a special Belgian brew ... Delirium Nocturnum (@ $9./bottle), a strong, robust ale brewed by Brouwerij Huyghe, a brewery in Melle.

All of the food we managed to consume here at Gina La Fornarina proved extremely satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth tasty ... especially the silky pizza and its soft, minimally crunchy, somewhat chewy crust!

And don't forget, there are four Gina La Fornarina locations to dine in - three on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a fourth at Amsterdam & 73rd, on the West Side: All locations convenient to at least one museum, or gallery, or "arts" & culture venue (e.g., the American Museum of Natural History, the MET Museum of Art, the 92nd Street Y) you might want to visit ...