Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

Yup, we're hopping on the bandwagon. Happy New Year!

Thanks to Dan Barber, one of us stopped being a vegetarian, and both of us ate the best meal of our lives. Elsewhere we tried the most delicious drink of all time, and saw a retelling of a movie that made our hearts flutter and lift.

We made googly-eyes at a young, talented chef whose future we're looking forward to eating. We caught up with our cousins, admired some four-legged friends upstate, met the breeds, and delighted our cat. One afternoon, we canoed.

We ate some pizza. Actually it was a lot of pizza. We learned a few things about kung fu. We were moved, and again and again and again.

We helped the Yankees win the World Series. We went to Brooklyn a whole bunch of times, and beneath it once.

Back in Manhattan, we delightfully brandished our library card, and explored the earth, the sky, and the snow. We noshed and nested and laughed and basked.

We embraced it all.

See you in 2010. Thank you very much for reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Djerdan isn't much to look at, with its crocheted wall hangings, fake wood paneling, and lacy curtains. But the basement-at-grandmother's-house theme certainly fits the food.

This smallish restaurant on an ugly stretch of 38th specializes in the humble burek, a pie popular in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, made with meat or cheese and layered with phyllo. Djerdan's website has a video. Seriously.

The cheapness of the burek (around $4) led us to believe the portions would be small, so we ordered a veggie pita to go along with our wedges of lamb and spinach-and-cheese. The pita took up the entire plate, and the bureks were extremely dense, filling, and clearly fresh made (we were told when we sat down that there'd be a wait for the food).

And, just like dinner at grandma's, we were expected to squeeze in dessert, in this case a slice of pistachio baklava.

We were the only native English speakers. Everyone else --- from the cook to the waitstaff to the other patrons --- spoke what we think was Croatian, but was definitely Slavic. And Djerdan has three other locations! That's four locations total in New York City and New Jersey!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


We've made our feelings about brunch pretty clear, and yet each time we have brunch, we're pleasantly surprised, particularly when it includes a tiny little flavor popper called a "bush scone."

Brunch at Braai, a Hell's Kitchen restaurant that specializes in South African barbecue, also included a sweet-and-savory salad topped with goat cheese and slices of citrus and luscious French toast covered in hibiscus syrup.

It's decorated in what the owners call "bush chic": brick dark walls covered in geometric prints with a thatched roof and various drums strewn about. Our one concern? The lighting. If it's this dark during the day, we're a little worried about our plans to return at night. Then again, just because we can't see the food doesn't mean it won't taste good.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Palombo Pastry Shop

Tis the season for cookies, after all, and this shop in the Bronx serves up plenty, as well as all kinds of little cakes, pastries, and other sweet delicacies. If you're lucky, you'll overhear the elderly who frequent the place gossiping in English, Italian, or Albanian.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dumbo Christmas Tree

Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let the Great World Spin

This is a novel about New York full of “hey, how’d he do that?” moments. It begins with an on-the-ground description of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk across the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974, stomach-plunging to read about, let alone see or --- big gulp --- do. Then Colum McCann moves into a novella about two brothers, and then into two seemingly unrelated short stories --- all taking place on or about the day of the walk. Other chapters accrue, touching upon the earlier narratives and revisiting key characters. A masterful exposition on everyday interconnectedness results, one that’s also an allegory for September 11th.

For that day is the book’s true subject, even as its characters and plot(s) remain firmly grounded in the mid-1970s. There is sexism and racism, of the casual and not-so casual varieties, and simple acts of cruelty. An Irish monk, a Latina nurse, a black mother-and-daughter team of prostitutes, a fragile white socialite, and a druggy white artist are some of the characters. Part of McCann's point is to show that nothing, especially not a city so multitudinous, is ever just one thing --- one adjective will never be enough to describe it, one day will never be enough to define it. The towers represent our tendency to be monolithic about the city, to make seemingly indisputable claims that go something like "New York is . . . " The figure of tiny Petit walking between the wires represents us, all of us, doing our best in the shadow of tall, tall buildings.

"'New York," one character sighs. "'All these people. Did you ever wonder what keeps us going?'" No one can believe what’s happened: a man walked across the towers! On a wire! The event becomes "[o]ne of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days." People die as new families and relationships are born. Years later, in a different context, another character answers the question of the first: beauty keeps us going . . . the image of a man on the wire, an unexpected friendship, a certain slant of light, novels such as these, about us, about the city.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Frying Pan in Winter

In the summer months, the Frying Pan, a docked lightship salvaged from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, serves as one of the city's most popular outdoor bars. In the winter months, it's closed, though not locked, as we discovered. The detritus of summer's last hurrah made for some appealing exploring in the wake of this weekend's snowstorm.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gazala Place

Though other groups in the region tend to dominate the minds of Americans, many Middle Easterners hold the Druze in special regard. Not because of anything about their beliefs, but because of their food. In New York, there is only one place to go for Druze cooking --- Gazala Place, a teeny tiny restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. Gazala Halabi is there every day, making the fresh breads that are her specialty.

Bourekas are savory pastries, round loaves stuffed with cheese and other treats. We got ours with spinach and feta, which made for crusty-gooey goodness. We also had tender, smoky lamb with hummus and a mohamar, a small pita topped with peppers, tomato, onion, and house spices, a little bite that packed a huge punch.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Robert Frank's The Americans at the Met

In 1955 and 1956, Robert Frank crisscrossed the country, taking pictures of people and places across all segments of American life. The book he published in 1959, The Americans, is one of the most important works of photography in the twentieth century. Frank turned his lens on aspects of the United States that had hitherto been ignored, and he assembled his pictures in a novel and powerful way, exposing the storytelling ability of still images as no one had before.

The Met is currently exhibiting all 83 photos that make up Frank's book, in their original sequence, with helpful captions that make explicit the links between the images. Walking through it is like watching a movie in slow motion, as Frank's themes and forms repeat and change, becoming a dynamic portrait of America and the promises it has kept and broken.

Photos: thanks

Friday, December 18, 2009

Empanada Mama

Frankly, we always thought this place in Hell's Kitchen was a bit of a joke, what with its alliterative name and tropical color scheme and all.

Well, the empanadas here, made from either corn or wheat flour, are most certainly not a joke, unless your idea of humor involves scrumptiousness.

We began with an order of yucca fries, bite-sized bits of crispy cassava served with extra-smooth guacamole. Not pictured: the second bowl we were given.

Then we moved on to the restaurant's real draw, bread-wrapped pockets stuffed and baked. These savory pastries likely came to Spain and Portugal via the Arabs in the first century, which somehow makes them related to samosas. We love them even more now!

We ordered rice and beans (dry, unsurprisingly), chorizo (spicy), mozzarella cheese (like a cheese stick, if cheese sticks were actually good), ground beef with olives and potatoes (ridiculously toothsome), and roasted pork (sloppy but nice). When we go back tomorrow and the next six Saturdays, we plan to try several other types off the very long menu, including the USA (apples and cinnamon).

And then there were the drinks. We got an apple soda from Colombia, which was tasty and purple (both pluses), as well as a fruity concoction called a salpicon --- tiny chunks of grape, watermelon, strawberry, apples, and bananas floating in a sweet red sea. It was like a grown-up, healthy Hawaiian punch, like the very definition of fruit punch, like something you'd want to bath in come July. This was absolutely hands down the best thing we drank all year.

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