New York is often said to be a city that destroys its own history, but in fact, the city's history isn't gone so much as obscured, covered over by relentless forward motion. Case in point: One Broadway, the first building on that most celebrated of streets, which today houses a bank branch. Look above the doors, however, and you see signs of its former life as the headquarters of the International Mercantile Marine Company, builders of the Titanic. Would-be passengers entered through the "First Class" or "Cabin" doors, still there today, and several stories up, the building continues to announce ports of call around the world.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
The Wolf Conservation Center, just north of the city near a little town called South Salem, is part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Program. They breed and raise wolves to be re-introduced into their historic habitats. They also let visitors come and howl alongside their charges.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
There are few restaurants that take the farm-to-table ethos of the locavore movement as seriously as Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Helmed by Dan Barber (whom Top Chef fans may recall as Richard's celebrity sous-chef) and using land provided by the Rockefeller Estate, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a working farm and agricultural education center as well as a restaurant --- the greens growing outside the dining room windows will be on tomorrow's plates, as will the flesh of the cows resting in the pastures beyond. To eat here is to come in touch with food in a way that few Americans ever do.
Our pre-prandial stroll complete, we moved to the dining room. In typical us fashion, we made a comically early reservation --- six o'clock on a Friday night. We weren't optimistic about the likelihood of an early-bird special, but we knew we were in for a long meal. Three hours long, in fact.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns doesn't have a menu as such. Instead of choosing dishes, we were presented with a long list of ingredients that the chef has available that day. Our only choice was between a five-course meal or the untold number of courses that constitute the "farmer's feast." We didn't rent a car and drive all the way there to mess around with five measly courses, so after choosing the farmer's feast, our waiter asked if there was anything we didn't want to be served and went through a long list of things that might gross some people out ("How do you feel about organ meat? What about veal tongue?" and so on). We asked him to let the chef have free reign. And he wasn't kidding about the veal tongue.
The meal started off with a throwing down of the farm-to-table gauntlet, as we were presented with a series of vegetables as Platonic ideals: a shot of dense butternut squash soup, surprisingly autumnal for the first day of spring (in fairness to them, it had snowed that morning); a selection of vegetables touched to a lemon vinaigrette and served on spikes; dehydrated fizzy kale and potatoes, which surely must haunt the dreams of ordinary chips; beet burger sliders served on a hot stone platter with a side of sweet red sorrel and chickpeas; and a canapé of preserved summer tomatoes, served as a white mousse and topped with anchovies.
The next course was two offerings of "Rabbi Bob's veal." First, a shank bone topped with caviar to accent the slippery, salty marrow we were to dig out. Then, veal tongue with greens, including spinach, kale, and pickled artichoke. As part of the presentation, our waiter showed us a folder full of snapshots of the greenhouse (which we could see from our table) and growing areas in various stages. It was the most delicious 4-H presentation in history. Beneath the greens were the round, thin slices of tongue, which was like really tremendous lunch meat. At this point we also got the house-made bread along with homemade butter, ricotta, arugula salt, and beet salt (the vegetables are dehydrated, then pounded and pounded).
Next was a potato "soup" with shellfish. The shellfish comes fresh from Maine daily (they have a special contact on the dock who knows all the fishermen and sends Blue Hill the best of the catch). Beneath a thick potato mousse was a tangy broth made from spinach and filled with mussels and scallops. We couldn’t stop eating it. That was followed by ricotta dumplings with field spinach and black trumpet mushrooms. The dumplings were so dense and creamy, you could practically taste the individual curds.
The next course --- hake with grapefruit in a vodka cream sauce --- was our least favorite, and not just because the setting sun meant our pictures would soon take on a uniform candlelit hue. The puck-sized slab of hake had the same fibrous texture as the grapefruit, only thicker and denser. The sauce was picked up well by Meyer lemon and Swiss chard, but there wasn't enough textural contrast to really enjoy it.
Things quickly took a turn for the much, much better with the following course, a simple but sensational goose-egg pasta. We were eating the results of the failed experiment in humane foie gras, the egg woman explained to us. (That was her job: to go around to different tables carrying either a basket of chicken eggs or a bowl of huge goose eggs and talk about, well, eggs.) The embryos were harvested from the dead geese, mixed with salt and sugar, and then hung to dry in the wine cellar. This cured embryonic egg was then grated on the pasta, itself made with goose eggs. There was a spinachy swirl, but the pasta and its topping, which tasted aged and yolky and lusty all at once, were perfect on their own. This dish instantly ushered in spring for us.
The final savory course was venison, served with tender-on-the-inside mokum carrots and parsnip cream. The venison had a toasted spice crust and was amazingly shaded from super pink to dark pink to brown to char. It was a great mix of tangy and hearty flavors.
As we entered minute 150, we moved on to the desserts. First, a bitter orange–yogurt sorbet with chewy, intense candied Meyer lemons. This was followed by two surprisingly challenging plates. The first was a parsnip cake, earthy and pungent, and topped with sweet caramelized ginger ice cream. The second was a chocolate and hazelnut parfait that tasted almost frozen, topped with toasted soybeans, orange gelee, and bitter sorrel. While we expected such a farm-oriented restaurant to play it safe and satisfying with the desserts, we appreciated the dedication to complexity and agricultural assertiveness. It helped that they were delicious.
Our last treat of the night wasn't the petit fours --- a baby peanut butter sandwich, a raspberry and vinegar chocolate, and a raspberry and lavender marshmallow --- but something even more fun. Our furious scribbling and picture-taking made it clear that we were, um, enthusiastic eaters. Recognizing this, our waiter printed out a menu of what Dan Barber had made for us, which he presented along with an invitation to visit the kitchen.
Of course we accepted, and standing in the back, watching Barber and his crew work to turn out terrific meal after terrific meal, our only wish was that we were just sitting down instead of just leaving.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Dia:Beacon showcases contemporary art, much of it site-specific, on 30 acres alongside the Hudson River.
The space is gigantic, luminous, airy, and welcoming --- it makes you feel glad to be there, especially on a sunny spring day.
The Dia's been here since 2003, but the building has been around since 1927, as a box-making and -printing plant for Nabisco. This history makes Donald Judd's boxes seem even more ironic than usual.
But the warm atmosphere created by the space often stands in direct contrast to the art itself, much of which is alienating and dislocating. Map of Broken Glass (1969) by Robert Smithson, for example, is exactly what it sounds like: a pile of sharp shards. An installation by Joseph Beuys features a pile of rubble and two fire extinguishers (he allegedly created the piece after first traveling from Germany to Manhattan "wrapped in felt," then spending a week in a hotel room with a coyote, which maybe explains a couple things).
The Gerard Richter on display was just two thick racing stripes.
Each gallery is devoted to a different artist. Louise Bourgeois gets the entire upstairs; Bruce Nauman gets the entire downstairs (and does lots of freaky things with the space. Think basement in The Silence of the Lambs).
We weren't the only ones there, but the space was so quiet you could hear the hum of Dan Flavin's tubes, giving the light sculptures an aural dimension you don't always get in other museums.
It's an ideal set-up for Richard Serra, who specializes in ginormous sculptures made from sheet metal. Their insides resemble fun house mazes, alternately narrowing and expanding. The effect is colossal and claustrophobic.
We kept coming back to one particular piece, Negative Megalith (1998) by Michael Heizer. We looked and looked, and all we could think was, Why isn't this thing falling over and crushing us?