Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shake Shack

There are numerous signs of spring in New York: chirping birds, blossoming flowers, the return of the Yankees to the back pages of the Post and Daily News. But none is as sure an indication that spring has fully sprung as the line at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, Danny Meyer’s hamburger-and-hot-dog stand (also serving the eponymous shakes) that has, in just a few short years, become a New York institution. As temperatures increase, so does the line, which frequently surpasses 100 people on sunny weekend afternoons. The park is a lovely place to wait, but we’ll be honest: we’ve had vacations last less time than it takes to get a simple hamburger. When it’s crowded, it can be nearly impossible to get a table, and when it’s not crowded, there’s usually a very good reason, like a monsoon.

So why do it? Because Shake Shack serves some of the most delicious take-away food in New York. The hamburgers are particularly revered, winning numerous accolades and even a few hamburger competitions. (Only in America, kids.) They’re juicy, densely flavored balls of meat, perfectly sized for a quick bite—or a full meal if you have two—and epitomizing the elemental pleasure of straightforward, cheap food. Though they’re not as lauded, we especially love the fries, crinkle-cut and crispy, and consider them among the best in New York. Despite its name Shake Shack doesn’t have many milkshake flavors, but what they do serve they make well, and a thick, creamy vanilla or strawberry shake makes for a great finish to a meal. We could certainly stand some more vegetarian options—the garden dog, while good, is just a hot dog run through the garden, minus the dog—but if you can time it just right so that you’re there when the queue is only halfway to the Hudson but the sky is bright and blue, it’s awfully hard to pass through the park and not make the line just a little bit longer.

Photo: thanks, thanks

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Wackness at TFF

We almost passed this movie over when flipping through the Tribeca Film Festival's guide due to its name. We had second thoughts a second time when we found out that one scene features a make-out session between Sir Ben Kingsley and Mary-Kate Olsen. Good thing we ignored our instincts and got tickets to the premiere.

The story of a wayward middle-aged psychiatrist and an equally wayward teenage drug dealer, The Wackness is also a New York movie through and through, replete with references to the transformation of the city under Giuliani (the movie takes place in the summer of 1994). In addition to the fast and funny dialogue and great acting, the movie boasts a (dare we say) bumping soundtrack, chock-full of seminal early 90s NYC hip-hop. (There's a great scene in which the Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man introduces the main character to the beats of an up-and-coming rapper--the Notorious B.I.G.)

In the Q-and-A afterward, the cast and director emphasized their excitement about bringing the movie home to New York, since many of them are natives. While we weren't here in 1994--and most of the actors weren't out of elementary school--the movie captures the humidity and the possibility of summer in the city.

Photo: thanks

Friday, April 25, 2008

Restaurant City

According to Food and Wine magazine, New York is the world's third-best restaurant city, behind Tokyo and Paris. They don't spell out their rationale, but certainly the sheer diversity of restaurants in New York must be a major factor. Case in point: Indian Bread Company, where we recently ate, which marries Indian food to the Italian panini to create naanini, delicious sandwiches made with naan and stuffed with goodies like a mix of paneer, peppers, and tikka masala. While Indian Bread Company isn't going to win any prizes--it's just a slightly banged-up takeout shop, after all--it's another unique tile in the mosaic of restaurants that makes this such a great place to eat. And live.

Photo: thanks

Let the Right One In at TFF

You might think the world doesn't need another Swedish child-vampire love story movie, but Let the Right One In, screening right now at the Tribeca Film Festival, just might change your mind. Adapted from the book by John Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is a remarkable tonal balancing act, easily moving between the viscerally horrifying and the delicately sweet as it tells the story of a 12-year-old outcast whose revenge fantasies about his school-bully tormentors get mixed up with his growing affection for his mysterious new neighbor. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it does, in large part due to the beautiful cinematography that emphasizes the flashes of colorful life beneath the relentless gray-and-white of 1980s Stockholm. In the Q-and-A afterward, Lindqvist said that his book is autobiographical "except for one crucial difference," and the movie succeeds most as a frightening exploration of adolescent ostracism and violence. It's already set for an American remake, but it's hard to picture Hannah Montana going for someone's jugular.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gustave Courbet at the Met

On Sunday, we made it up to the Met for the terrific exhibit they're currently mounting of paintings by Gustave Courbet, the iconoclastic Frenchman often called "the first modern painter." Courbet shocked audiences with his robustly realistic portrayals of mundane village life and, more outrageously, his series of almost scientifically (or pornographically) accurate nudes, like The Origin of the World, said by Maxime du Camp to be "the last word in realism." His quasi-self-portraits, like The Desperate Man (above), are also arresting in their simultaneous directness and ambiguity. As compelling as all of those are, we were most struck by Courbet's remarkable ability to capture the power and vitality of the natural world, as in The Stag at Bay (above). The canvas trembles with the energy of the stag and is so overwhelming that you practically have to stand on the other side of the room to take it in. It's a bracing and exhilirating way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Photos: thanks and thanks

Monday, April 21, 2008

Richard Price's Lush Life

From time to time, we’ll discuss works of art, literature, music, etc. that depict or embody New York in a fundamental way. First up, Lush Life . . .

Late at night, early in our young century, two kids from the Lower East Side projects run into three of the more recent immigrants to the neighborhood, and something goes horribly awry. This event sets in motion Richard Price’s tremendously entertaining and important new novel, Lush Life, published earlier this year. The book is unmistakably New York: the rapid-fire, dexterous dialogue; the tensions brought about by constant change; the up-all-night life; the characters so diverse that even the cop serving as a Chinese interpreter cannot understand the dialects spoken by some of the residents of Chinatown. Lush Life is a niftily off-kilter version of the police procedural that challenges genre expectations in provocative ways, but its greatest accomplishment is to nail down a moment—a moment just passed—in the life of New York.

Even more than Times Square, the Lower East Side is emblematic of the “new” New York, the city of perpetually declining crime rates and perpetually soaring rents, of trendy restaurants opening so quickly that they’re over before you’ve even heard of them, of entire generations being slowly forced out as others with more money force their way in. Price represents the goods and bads of this process by spreading his attention across characters from all walks of life: kids from the projects, cops on the beat, young up-and-comers, washed-out former up-and-comers, the obscenely wealthy, and those just getting by.

Price is too smart to simply condemn the new New York, as many people seem eager to these days; rather, its upsides are apparent from the first page, which shows cops with so little crime to pursue that they search in vain for something interesting to do. But the problems are there, too, with project kids living a shadow existence just around the corner from the packed restaurants and self-aggrandizing hipsters turning a white guy’s death into an occasion for creative spectacle. While the readers of Price’s book might be quick to lament the changing character (or loss of character) of the Lower East Side, the kind of people who would pick up a book like this are the beneficiaries of that changing character, and Price is keen to simply show and tell, not praise and blame. To be in New York now is to be both proud and worried, and more than any other novel in the past several years, Lush Life captures that dynamic.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Broadway East

It would be very easy to hate a restaurant that composts its own waste, carbonates its own water, has a 240-square-foot "living wall" of plants, and bills itself as New York's first "flexitarian" restaurant. But we ate at Broadway East last night --- and definitely didn't.

This much-buzzed about restaurant for vegetarians and their carnivorous friends recently opened on the Lower East Side. The location shows in the red velvet banquettes that line the walls, the global house music playing a little too loudly, the starkly furnished downstairs lounge, and the flip-flop and fedora-wearing fellow diners.

But the scene-y-ness is redeemed by the food. We began with olives for the table, exactly what they sound like, followed by a fennel and blood orange salad, which the chef thoughtfully divided onto two plates. With crispy dried olives and peanuts providing the texture, the salad was one of the best we'd had in a long time.

For the main course, we had a chickpea and sweet potato bsteeya, a North African pie usually made with pigeons (but mercifully fowl free here), and a Korean market plate, which included grilled tofu, brown rice with quinoa, kimchi, and spinach handrolls. Both dishes surprisingly mixed spice with crunch. We drank cabernet franc and seyval blanc from the all–New York wine list. Dessert was a crumbly black cocoa cake with pistachio ice cream that we're still tasting (in a good way).

As we checked out the living wall on our way out, we thought of the perfect tagline for the place: Never sanctimonious. Always savory.

Photo: thanks

Friday, April 18, 2008

Not New, Still Nice

Chinatown favorite New Green Bo, which we love (and wrote about below), has changed its name to Nice Green Bo in honor of their 10th anniversary and the niceness of their customers, according to the owner. Whatever it's called, we'll take seconds.

The Little Owl

For the past two years, one of the hardest tables to get in New York has been The Little Owl, a tiny New American restaurant in Greenwich Village. Frank Bruni gave it a rave review in the Times, and waits of a month for a table have been common ever since. Nobody thinks that it serves the best food in New York, or even that it's the most fun restaurant in town--with only 30 seats, it can be tight and loud. But everyone seems to love its charmingly earnest friendliness and its straightforward, not-too-expensive menu. And above all else, people love its pork chop, a gigantic brick of meat still on the bone and dusted with curry and cumin and other assorted goodies. We've been trying to see what the fuss is about for a while now, and finally made it the other night.

Our verdict: the pork chop really was fantastic and the meatball sliders, made with beef, veal, pork, and lots of pecorino, were like a delicious flashback to childhood sloppy joes. The arctic char could have used a little more charring, but the aioli fries, chocolate cake, and raspberry beignets (with Nutella!) were great. With the servers chatting away with diners, the host smiling as he encouraged us to order dessert, and the sunset light streaming in through the windows, it reminded us, in a city constantly in search of the new, of the charms of ordinariness.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Color Chart at MoMA

On Sunday we made it up to MoMA to see the Color Chart exhibit, which showcases experiments in color from 1950 to the present. Most of us take color for granted as a means that artists use to achieve their ends; the exhibit shows how color can be the end in itself. While some of the pieces are conceptual, like Lawrence Weiner's black-and-white descriptions of colors, most are rich embodiments of color that highlight the dizzying range of the palette. Gerhard Richter's color panel paintings, which look like paint-supply cards blown up to monumental proportions, draw you close to inspect their subtle variations of tone, and Dan Flavin's fluorescent light tubes bathe their surroundings in a daybreak light that reveals just how complex a simple color like pink can be. The exhibit doesn't aim to be groundbreaking, but its small pleasures are revelatory all the same.

(photos: thanks)

Monday, April 14, 2008


Way back in 2005, Frank Bruni titled his review of Cookshop "Having Your Ethics and Eating Them, Too." As you'd expect from such a headline, everything at this American-with-Mediterranean-influences restaurant in Chelsea is organic and/or locally grown and/or sustainably harvested. And it's all delicious to boot.

We began with fried hominy, like heaven, if heaven tasted slightly of corn nuts, sprinkled with lime, and marinated chickpeas. Then we had the scallops and strip-steak. Would it be too much of a cliche to say that we could taste the sea and the grass in every bite? The steak had a perfect crust, and the scallops came with a pinkish, tangy beet yogurt.

For dessert, we had a milk chocolate bread pudding (good) and chocolate-peanut butter cake (better); for wine, we had Pinot Noir and Torrentes, an Argentinean white. The food and drink and candlelight were perfect, but it was the company that really made the meal.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Unmonumental at the New Museum

The new New Museum's mission statement couldn't be more succinct: New Art, New Ideas. Unmonumental, the museum's first exhibition, explores contemporary takes on collage via sound installations, a few paintings, photo montages, and "sculptural assemblage." Lots of sculptural assemblage, including piles of clothes tied together with rubber house; a chain-link fence, also featuring a hose of some kind; and a big pink box covered in belts.

The exhibition succeeds in that it's jarring, upsetting, fragmented, discordant, and a barrage of other not-so-pleasant sensations.

But the building's really cool. Covered in silvery mesh, it rises up from the Bowery like so many boxes about to topple over. We started our time there by taking the elevator up to the Sky Room, a glassed-in area with a small terrace, and views in three directions of the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

photo 1: Shinique Smith, Bale Variant Number 0011 (2005)
photo 2: thanks

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