Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
In lieu of presents, and a few weeks early, we decided to be super-trendy and give each other H1N1 this year (hence our silence here). But lots of downtime at home means more time to explore The Mannahatta Project, an interactive website that imagines the island as it likely was when Henry Hudson arrived in September 1609. (There's a book too, a decade in the making, which juxtaposes renderings of "then" with photographs from "now.")
The coolest feature lets you enter an address and learn what inhabited that area four centuries ago. Apparently our block was full of rodents like mice and voles, who thrived among the many oaks. Occasionally a wolf, mountain lion, or bobcat wandered through. Today we're happy to report that there are still trees on our street, but now, of course, French bulldogs, pugs, vizslas, and a fat orange tabby, among others, hold sway.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Lovely little L'asso is so much better than its neighbors, it's a wonder Little Italy has any pizzerias left. And, yes, we realize that pretty soon we'll be renaming this blog We Heart Pizza and Some Other Things about New York But Mostly Pizza.
There recently on a rainy Wednesday we started with a refreshing pianura salad (fennel, orange slices, and pine nuts) and a warming cup of minnestrone.
But the real draw are the thin-crust pies that come out of the huge coal oven that takes up most of one side of the restaurant.
We went for a white pie (all cheese, garlic, and olive oil) and a red (traditional Margherita).
In general we prefer our crusty, thick Neapolitans (and also our square Sicilians). But if we're south of Houston and jonesing for some slices, we're heading back here.
Monday, November 16, 2009
This weekend MoMA screened Terminator 2 (1991) to highlight its collection of works related to futurism. We tried not to wiggle too much with the knowledge that the robotic main character is now a governor. And once we got over the shock of realizing that the pop culture ephemera of our youth is now fit for preservation, we realized that much of the movie's effects have aged really well, including the various transmutations of liquid metal. We left the theater contemplating what so-called popcorn flick out right now will be screening circa 2028.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Yes, it's touristy, and yes, the bodies in question may well have been Chinese people who googled the wrong thing, but the Bodies exhibit at the South Street Seaport does provide perspectives on the human body that you're unlikely to get without a hockey mask and a machete. Our favorite room is an entirely red and black affair showing the circulatory system. It's an elegantly soulful touch in the midst of flesh.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
In the sepia-toned pre-internet days, restaurants slowly built their reputations through good word-of-mouth, positive reviews, and consistent quality over a long stretch of time. But explosion of online food coverage means that a consensus can form about a restaurant in about as much time as it would take you to peruse the menu. Take the case of Bill's Bar and Burger. This small, studiously casual Meatpacking District spot was acclaimed for serving one of the city's best burgers before it even opened, and the plaudits kept coming on opening weekend as people tripped over one another to get in on the ground floor.
Muttering to ourselves about the wisdom of crowds, we joined the fray. The menu is short and to the point: six burgers, a fish sandwich, a few bar-food afterthoughts, fries, and shakes, including a creamy vanilla. One pleasant touch is the "crispy veggie fries," which are lightly fried vegetables, salty and crisp.
But the burgers are the restaurant's raison d'être, of course. The meat, a "secret blend" courtesy of Pat La Frieda, is smash-grilled in the style of the now-canonical Shake Shack burger empire. This technique gives the burger a crunchy sear that brings out the salt in the meat and keeps the juices inside. For a relatively thin burger, it's quite beefy in flavor, and satisfyingly rich. We overheard a guy at another table say that he'd been there five days in a row.
Given all of the hoopla around Bill's, our biggest surprise was that it was full of families, as though it had been a community stalwart for years. If they keep it up, maybe it will be.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In theory, BETA Spaces, a one-day annual festival of the arts in Bushwick, lets viewers interact with creators, curators, and other folk in galleries around the neighborhood. In practice, most of the galleries were closed when we went by early Sunday afternoon. Still, we had a nice chat with the man in charge of Formless in Context: A Study of Chaos and Discourse, put on by New Experimental Cinema, which included this kooky diorama:
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's arrival in what is now New York, Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has loaned Johannes Vermeer's Milkmaid to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though the accompanying exhibit makes much of Vermeer's context and the place of milkmaids in seventeenth-century Dutch culture, the real subject of the painting is light --- a clear and ravishing light that transforms, even if just for a moment, the utterly mundane into the utterly glorious.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Wylie Dufrense had us at hello. Granted, he didn’t say hello to us, and he didn’t actually say “hello.” In his cheerful, downhome lilt, he said, “Howdy, Mrs. P” to the woman selling us garlic at the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago. Then he, his companions, and a camera-heavy crew moved on to the next stand.
We got a second Wylie fix at wd-50, where he showed his underlings the proper way to whisk in a white-and-stainless steel kitchen. (From what we could tell, this involves very vigorous wrist movements.) It’s always nice to see chefs cooking in their eponymous restaurants, in between appearances on Top Chef and interviews.
We moved quickly from the complimentary bread made from lentils (too airy to be considered pappadum, or satisfying) to our appetizers: noodles made from shrimp served with yogurt, mushrooms, and zucchini, and corned duck, which looked like bacon but tasted utterly different. Despite their pedigree, the noodles didn’t taste at all shrimpy—rather, they were springy, spongy, and light. The duck dish resembled a baby pastrami on rye: the meat was curled atop a dollop of mustard, another of horseradish, and a cracker.
Continuing the theme: we had another Asian fish dish and meat dish for our mains. The scallops with pine needle udon and grapefruit dashi were refreshing, the grapefruit lending the dish its needed tang and the slices of Chinese broccoli and radish ensuring a textual contrast between the soft fish and noodles. The wagyu skirt steak came with long beans and pasta made from peanut butter (very clever), but what made the dish were tamarind seeds that had been vacuum-infused with basil.
All cooking is chemistry. Heat renders a large slab of beef edible; mixed together, salt, water, and grain produce bread. And yet this simple fact gets largely lost when people complain about molecular gastronomy. If you have the tools and the knowledge, then mixing shrimp with agar to form a pasta is as easy as heating olive oil in a pan to sear a steak, and you can make nontraditional ingredients like duck evoke entirely different taste sensations (eyes closed, we were sitting in Katz’s, taking a big bite of a sandwich).
For dessert we had a carmelized brioche with apricot and lemon thyme that was nice but not sweet enough for us, as well as slices of soft chocolate topped with peppermint ice cream and black cardamom.
The final course consisted of two little balls, Alex Stupak’s take on “milk and cookies”: frozen condensed milk surrounded by two layers of cocoa, the topmost layer crumbly. The result was an Oreo dipped in milk, an excellent end to a meal full of pleasant disconnect between what we saw and what we tasted.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
This book collects line drawings by Robinson, a German illustrator who visited in the 1960s. The pages depict an earlier time, of course, when men wore fedoras and Met Life was Pan Am, but they also demonstrate a deep devotion that transcends the page. His so-called X-ray view lets us see the cityscape from multiple perspectives, but mostly we see New York from the point of view of someone who fell so utterly in love with this place that he painstakingly drew edge after edge, corner after corner, of the city he saw.