Monday, April 27, 2015

Deli in the New Jersey "burbs" + Churchill (the play), a Ramen resto in mid-town west & Stoner (the novel)

Picasso - Jacqueline seated, w/cat, 1964
I know (and you know!), I've been mighty derelict in my blogging duties and utterly remiss - since this past January, 2015 - in sharing my takes on cultural activities & culinary outings & events. 

Despite all the snow we've experienced this winter, 
essentially occluding my normal peregrinations around & about the Metro area, 
still, there has been much to write about (the two Picasso gallery shows that surfaced in Chelsea, for example) ... But, all the while, under a winter funk, I've resisted taking to the keyboard and generating a blog post or two or more.

First up , there's a dining spot I've been meaning to mention for quite a while, out in Livingston, due west a couple of miles on Rt. 10 from West Orange in the New Jersey "burbs": Eppes Essen (@ 105 E. Mount Pleasant Ave., Livingson, NJ; tel. 973/994-1120). 

Pastrami, seulement
Eppes Essen is an excellent, friendly, full-fledged kosher-style Jewish deli with great pastrami sandwiches (@ $15.75) & superb stuffed derma ($14.99), a Jewish deli delicacy with an outer casing of cow or sheep intestine & stuffing, traditionally made with lard or chicken fat then, a la Eppes Essen, plated along with large perfectly done 
mushroom slices & surrounded by chunks of tender bits of 
egg barley, all artfully submerged in a "thick & creamy"
brown gravy.

Stuffed derma, w/kasha
Dr. Brown's cream soda ($2.95, the can) is always available, naturally, to quench one's mildly salty-ballasted thirst owing to the large bowl(s) of cole slaw and numerous "new" pickles (gratis) that one eats in anticipation of the pastrami sandwiches - on perfectly baked "Jewish rye" - which will come with silky & substantial Russian
dressing ... and finally the large potato/mushroom (or kasha, depending on your taste!) knish ($5.99) the two of us have also ordered and were, simply, "forced" to take home.

Then, in mid-March, chancing a new burst of snow - and absolutely no relation to pastrami sandwiches, nor even to Dr. Brown - we were able to see a wonderful solo production of a newly created theater piece, entitled Churchill: The Play, at the New World Stages, 340 West 50th St. (between 8th & 9th Avenues), a "must-see" (!) one-man piece transported from "a sold-out, critically acclaimed" Chicago run. Adapted and performed by Ronald Keaton and based on the life and words of Winston Churchill, the play proves a triumph, a perfect melding ... of a fine actor; a simple, functional & workmanlike set; and the exquisite words (many direct & memorable quotations each of us recalls indelibly etched in our psyches) of the heroic and extraordinarily articulate British Prime Minister, before, during & following the war. 

Ronald Keating as Winston Churchill
One memorable quotation, 
of the dozens uttered and integrated into the show, from, arguably, the most quoted man of the 20th century should suffice to demonstrate (with both irony & arrogance) the depth & keenness of Churchill's wit: "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter...."

The ostensible (historical) "genesis" for the play - in which Churchill reminisces, presents & conducts (shadow) arguments, explores his thoughts out loud in his "own" voice and at his own pace - is the immediate post-war period when President Harry Truman has invited Churchill to Fulton, Missouri where he will deliver his famous "iron curtain" speech ... to America and to the world. It is now March,1946 and Churchill has lost an election, been forced to retire; but, Truman has provided Churchill a public forum - the platform - from which we can all play witness to a riveting production and the indomitable Churchill, again, in his own gem-like words, phrases, historical "parsings," monologues, and, even, re-constructed dialog (from Churchill's point of view, that is).

New World Stages - 50th St. West
With Ronald Keaton as Churchill, the show is scheduled to run through mid-July. You would do well to purchase tickets and head over to West 50th, between 8th & 9th, to see Winston Churchill come to life via Mr. Keaton in what can only be described as "provocative, heart-warming, hilarious" ... a performance both resonant & masterful, at times somewhat understated & restrained, at times forceful & commanding; yet, a performance that, according to New World Stages publicity, "reveals the man behind the legend." 

And yes, indeed the man has been thoroughly revealed by the end of the play - as statesman, writer, wordsmith, painter, charismatic leader & wartime strategist, cigar-smoking drinker, raconteur, orator & speech-maker, wit. But the words, in all, and in all their anecdotal contexts - uttered, memorably, by Mr. Churchill - are what flesh out the man and, coupled with associated political activity, leadership strength & military influence, create & sustain an overriding impression of greatness.

Ippudo - inside view (partial)
Should you have developed a serious appetite while sitting through the two acts comprising Churchill: The Play, let me recommend a walk just around the block to Ippudo / Japanese Ramen Noodle Brasserie (at 321 West 51st, between 8th & 9th; tel. 212/974-2500) ... specifically for buns and bowls of ramen of all varieties, densities & contents. According to the eastern culinary "philosophers" at Ippudo, ramen is "a cosmos created in a bowl."  Or, expanded in scrupulous but simple terms, ramen is:
Ramen bowl w/pork slices

"The basic broth ... derived from the essence of pork, chicken, beef, or seafood, and seasoned with soy sauce, salt, miso, and other important ingredients. It's totally up to each individual chef to decide which ingredients [to include] and how much [of each] to use. Flour, eggs, kansui (an alkaline water) and other ingredients are used to make noodles. The chefs do not simply mix these ingredients together. Their own particular originality is infused into the thickness, length, form, and texture of noodles. Toppings such as yakibuta (roast pork) and ni-tamago (soy sauce flavored boiled egg) are also selectively used according to the tastes ... [& individual] preference[s] of the chef. Soup, noodles, and topping – the trinity brings forth the cosmos. [italics mine] Ramen is quite a creative dish with infinite potential for expansion and diversity."

Pork belly buns
We four ordered a bowl of ramen each (@ $15./bowl) reflecting varying degrees of "heat," of spice, & inundated with a variety of ingredients (e.g., noodles, pork slices, mushrooms, scallions, a "seasoned" boiled egg); a couple of orders of silky-tender pork belly buns ($9.); a plate of Suzuki Hakusai,($16.), a "special" seabass appetizer steamed in nappa cabbage & wrapped in yuba tofu skin, delicately "torched" and served with onions, cilantro & a light wasabi dressing; a
Suzuki Hakusai - Seabass
few Japanese draft beers (Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, @ $6.) ... and, bingo, we were set for the evening, truly happy campers: stuffed & satisfied! 

The establishment is comfortable and very friendly, albeit crowded and relatively noisy with lots of native Japanese partaking in what seems to be all the various accoutrements of home fare, comfort food ... indeed, Japan's "soul food."

Finally, just a brief tribute, a "catch-up" literary note, really, for John Williams and his 1965 novel, Stoner, which belatedly & unbeknownst to me (and, I'm certain, to many other readers & admirers of the novel) won the 2013 Waterstones Book of the Year for fiction. Apparently, the novel is making a name for itself in the UK and France and has had a greater impact on readers in those two countries than even here in the USA where it was brought out in 2003 as a part of the New York Review of Books "Classics" imprint (a reprint) series.

I just today came upon the announcement of the Waterstones selection of Stoner for Book of the Year, 2013, noted in a online article posted on the mid-April (2013)'s monthly blog. Don't know if I saw this announcement for the prize before or, more likely, this "discovery" was just a fortuitous result of my quirky reading of the content on the current blog post ... involving a click into the "You might also like" link.

In either case, according to ... 

John Williams
"A nearly forgotten literary novel from 1965 has won Waterstones Book of the Year, building upon strong word-of-mouth and high profile blurbs. John Williams's novel Stoner, first published by Viking in 1965, has won the coveted British prize, attracting attention from prominent modern novelists like Colum McCann who said it was 'one of the great forgotten novels of the past century.... The book is so beautifully paced and cadenced that it deserves the status of classic.'" 

Stoner - in Hebrew
"The rather bleak novel is about William Stoner, a Midwestern academic in the early 20th century whose career stalls as his marriage falls apart. Stoner begins a brief, but ill-fated affair with a younger scholar, before retreating into himself as his life draws to a close."

A truly wonderful & deeply felt novel that is reaching, now, an ever-widening audience of contemprorary readers, even readers in farflung cultures as those in book-saturated Israel!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A recent romp in the East Village: "The Invisible Hand"; 212 Hisae's; ChikaLicious

Ayad Akhbar
Having seen the Broadway production of Ayad Akhbar's Pulitzer prize-winning play, Disgraced, and having enjoyed the play and the performances, we thought we'd venture down to the East Village to the New York Theatre Workshop (at 79 East 4th Street) to see his new play, The Invisible Hand. (See my previous blog post - 11th December, 2014 - for my extensive discussion/comments about Disgraced.)

In brief, The Invisible Hand    (directed by Ken Rus Schmoll) concerns a young corporate (American) investment banker who is held captive by a small (fringe) group of would-be or, at least, (suspected?) self-proclaimed "terrorists" who aim to profit handsomely from their captive through his ultimate exchange for needed funds for the "activities" of their group. However, one of the "terrorist"-captors, one Bashir (Usman Ally), quickly realizes that a considerably greater sum of money (indeed, many millions!) can be gotten via activating & operationalizing the investing knowledge of the banker-captive, Nick Bright (Justin Kirk). And, thus, it pays (handsomely) for the terrorist-captors to keep Nick alive and relatively well for the ultimate good of their cause, including for financing the activities of their alleged leader, Imam Saleem (Dariush Kashani).  

Usman Ally (Bashir)
There are conflicts between and among the (three) Pakistani captors but Bashir seems to dominate and win out in the decision-making process because he is beginning to understand the nature and profits that can be - and will be - accrued by Nick's investment strategies. The dialogue is quick, meaningful, with loaded (!) remarks, and full of continual sparks, revealing the potential & inherent dangers, of course, for the captor ... and his captives. Any more said here about the play, its characters and their relationships, would certainly spoil the drama for a future theater-goer and, I fear, would out too completely its various conflicts - cultural, personal, national-political, religious - and, finally, spoil the play for those intending to see it now ... or, more likely, when/if it, in the footsteps of Disgraced, moves to Broadway.  

If you want to learn more about the themes surrounding, and within,The Invisible Hand, simply visit The Brief -
New York Theatre Workshop's resource - "for further exploration of the themes, history and questions raised by our season's production," and which can be found on the Theatre's web page (at the link, just above), then clicking directly onto/into The Brief "clipped" graphic. (The play is scheduled to run through January 4th at New York Theatre Workshop.)

Following our rather successful theater experience with The Invisible Hand, we trundled up Second Avenue to East 9th, heading west for 212 Hisae's, an Asian fusion resto billed as an "Asian Pub" with tapas (at 212 East 9th St.; 212/614-3226)! 

Bowl of edamame
Greeted, according to their tradition, with a couple of glasses of house white wine (in our case, a cool glass each of Chardonnay) and a bowl of slightly salted, crunchy edamame as we sat down, we immediately felt a part of this friendly, charming, inviting, uniquely solicitous establishment - and kind of guessed we'd be in for a variety of culinary treats.  And, indeed, we were!

Hisae lump crab-meat cakes
We began our meal (a moderately light meal, to begin with, gradually escalating to immoderate[!] proportions) with a few selections from the Asian tapas side of the menu (@ $6 each):  the Kabocha dumplings (filled with Japanese pumpkin, grated walnut & tahini) & the ginger shrimp (delicately breaded with ginger & panko, lightly fried, and served with a mild-ish chili sauce). From there, we moved on to the carefully seasoned Hisae pan fried lump crab-meat cakes, accompanied by a side of homemade smooth & "silky" tartar sauce ($15). 

Hisae, herself!
Next we feasted on the fresh catch of the day - a whole white "Mediterranean" fish grilled in garlic, mushrooms, and a light soy sauce mixture; a side of perfectly done Asian green beans; and two separate (halved) portions of house salad, composed of romaine & kale, apple & walnuts & prepared with a lemon vinaigrette (all, together, @ $17). 

Our grilled fish course - and salad & vegetable accompaniments - was, further washed down & cleansed with another glass of Chardonnay (pour moi, @ $4) and an inviting but vigorously penetrating Mojito (pour ma femme; also @ $4). I should point out that Happy Hour pricing at 212 Hisae's generously, routinely extends all night long!

Mochi ice cream plate
Finally, dessert was offered to us gratis ... yes, just so that we could sample it: a Mochi ice cream plate (i.e., Japanese steamed & pounded sticky rice, with an ice cream filling) for us to savor & share. So friendly a gesture, emphatically providing a coda to such a fine freshly cooked meal ... AND simply reflective of the owner-chef-hostess, Hisae herself, who, according to the web site, seems to be a "firm believer" in the notion  that "food is thy medicine" ... and, further, avers:  "The formula [here] ... is fresh food, prepared to order, priced so that everyone can enjoy it." 

And, believe me (or not), the food here is, indeed, attentively prepared, plated generously ... simply delicious ...and certainly, in all, so exceedingly enjoyable an experience as to warrant a quick return ... perhaps with a couple of additional guests to be "converted" & to introduce to Hisae - both the owner-chef & the resto!

Vanilla bean mille crepe slice!
And speaking of dessert, the East Village offers a great deal in this category, including the now routinely packed ChikaLicious  (at 204 East 10th St.; and, directly opposite, @ 203, a second packed "branch"). They serve all manner of sweet things - pastries, cakes, cake slices, pies, crisps, eclairs, bread pudding, muffins, cookies, ice cream - and coffees/teas (hot & iced), but provide practically no space to actually sit down, eat & enjoy these little delicacies. 

The night we showed up there for dessert & coffee proved typically bulging with patrons of every demographic seeking, yep, all manner of sweet things.  But, somehow, we were able to score some seats and a tiny table however boxed in we felt & actually were - right next to & virtually up against a foursome of young women who indulged in sweet things non-stop. We sampled a few items, including a vanilla bean mille crepe slice, a caramel macaron, a black coffee & a latte, all very tasty, indeed ... and both of those creamy things and hot liquids for a grand total of $15 (sans tax assigned!). 

By the way, if you happen to be in the West Village & hankering for dessert - a sweet thing, or two - there is a new  ChikaLicious outpost (a Dessert Club!) located at 27 Bedford @ Downing Street. Hopefully, equipped with a bit more room to sit, stretch out, and relish your ethereal dessert with a hot or iced coffee!