A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Sunday, December 31


Debbie and I did a little holiday splurging last Thursday and had a fabulous three-hour meal at Morimoto, chatting and goofing and laughing and loving nearly all of the eight courses (plus intermezzo) that made up that night's omakase.

This big, fun, slickly-designed restaurant (on 10th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets), has been open now for almost a year, and though it was pretty packed the whole time we were there, I secured our 7:30 reservation only the day before, so maybe it's not quite the hot ticket it was last spring. But the service was low-key, friendly and attentive; the bathroom stalls tricky and cool; and, best of all in terms of atmosphere, they have somehow mastered the noise level issue that has baffled so many other places: Morimito felt like a party—there were lots of people in high spirits, and the lounge-y electronica music was loud enough to really hear—but we could talk comfortably without raising our voices.

As for the food... most of what we had was excellent. The rich, luscious Toro Tartare covered a small wooden tray, with five complements at bottom—wasabi, creme fraiche, crispy rice cracker "pops", a terrific seaweed sauce and something else—a dollop of osetra cavier on top and a miniature flat shovel as the utensil. The Yellowtail Carpaccio in Scallion-Ginger Dressing was sweet and melty. The Whitefish on Something with eggplant and a perfect passion fruit dipping sauce struck a nice balance between salty, oceanic, and refreshingly citrusy. The big missed opportunity in the meal's first half was the Oyster with Foie Gras and Uni, which sounds amazing but was unfortunately drenched in teriyaki sauce.

After the entertaining Green Tea intermezzo, it was on to six beautiful pieces of Sushi; a competent Grilled Lobster, somewhat bizarrely covered in spices Debbie and I associate more with Indian food (and which neither one of us particularly enjoy), but I did appreciate its almost custardy lemon creme fraiche accompaniment; and, perhaps the best dish of the night, a generous, thinly sliced and totally delicious Kobe fillet over grilled sweet potatoes. Dessert was about as good as it gets in an Asian restaurant, with the coconut gelato and crisp, toffee-like cookie being the highlights.

Basically, we had a blast... and an exceptional meal.

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Thursday, December 28

MyMix 2006

Not really a "best-of"... and some of these weren't even released this year. But for whatever reason, here are the songs that, in 2006, made it to my daily on-the-go mixes most often, or, in the case of newer songs, most frequently.

The Thermals: Pillar of Salt and How We Know
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Snow (Hey Oh)
Beirut: Postcards From Italy
TV on the Radio: Wolf Like Me and Dirtywhirl
Interpol: Not Even Jail
Roisin Murphy: Ramalama (Bang Bang)
Hellogoodbye: Here (In Your Arms)
Sufjan Stevens: The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! and Casimir Pulaski Day
Hot Chip: Over and Over
The Decemberists: On the Bus Mall and Yankee Bayonet and Perfect Crimes
Dilated Peoples: This Way
Nelly Furtado and Timbaland: Promiscuous
Mobius Band: Detach and The Loving Sounds of Static
Sonic Youth: Jams Run Free
Ladytron: International Dateline
Ciara and Ludacris
: Oh
Ranier Maria: Catastrophe and Life of Leisure
Gnarls Barkley: Smiley Faces
The Rakes
: Strasbourg and Work Work Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)
Bloc Party: This Modern Love and Positive Tension
The Strokes: Vision of Division and Heart in a Cage and Evening Sun
Madonna: Jump
Young Jeezy and Akon: Soul Survivor



The glib review is this: Stand is bland.

Scoboco had dinner last Saturday at this spanking-new burger place on 12th and University... and maybe our expectations were too high (based on the reasonably cool signage and decor, and the hype, and the hope for another tasty mid-priced place to eat) but the food here—basically, burgers and fries and milkshakes—was, at best, extremely mediocre.

We started with what turned out to be the best (if somewhat ridiculous) dish of the night: the $3 pickled egg: nice and vinegary, with a mustard-onion sauce. Unfortunately, it all kind of went downhill from there. I had a mostly tasteless Cheeseburger with Blue Cheese Sauce... I say mostly, because a couple of bites felt like I hit these hidden pockets of salt, as if they actually HAD seasoned the meat, but then didn't bother to mix it in. Plus: major points deducted for my bottom bun disintegrating about two-thirds of the way through. Co was equally disappointed with her tempting-sounding Bacon & Egg Cheeseburger, which turned out to have very little of either one of those toppings, and Bo gamely made her way through much of an exceptionally dry Turkey Burger; the only thing that saved her was the decent condiments on the table: spicy Jacobs Field mustard and a salsa-y ketchup. And the french fries? Thank goodness we got the "small," because this was among the most flavorless plate of potatoes we've ever had. To be fair, Bo's and my milkshakes, Pumpkin and Maple & Almond, respectively, were pretty good, though Co's Chocolate was almost undrinkable, after the bartender had obviously been a bit too overeager with the cocoa powder.

Stand has only been open for a little more than a week, and I'm totally rooting for them to get their act together and serve up some good food... but right now BLT Burger, only a couple of blocks away, is about four or five times as good, and for about the same price.

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Sunday, December 24

It's a Wonderful Life at the IFC Center

I've seen It's a Wonderful Life more times than any other movie in my life. Remember when no one owned the rights to Frank Capra's classic, so it was on TV several times a night on multiple channels for at least the two weeks before Christmas? It seemed like every time I came home during the holidays, no matter how late, I could catch at least a big chunk of George Bailey's tortured journey toward learning to accept himself for who he is, and be grateful for all the great gifts in his life. Conservatively, then, let's say I've sat through the entire film 50 times.

Anyway, I took Bo and Co last night to the IFC Center for their first ever viewing, and they absolutely loved it, even more than I would have thought. It felt so good for me to have them so mesmerized by the Baileys' ups and downs and ups, and to hear them laugh at all the same parts that always amuse me, and to see them try to hide their tears at the end. We spent the entire trip back uptown reliving our favorite (and least favorite) moments, and they were totally impressed that I had virtually all the dialogue memorized.

And so a Scoboco holiday tradition is born.

It's a Wonderful Life is playing I think until December 29. Times are listed here for screenings through Tuesday... and if you can see it those super-plush seats in theater #3, all the better.


Saturday, December 23

Skating The Pond at Bryant Park

I know I wrote about this last year, but in case you're looking for things to do over the holidays (with or without kids), ice skating at The Pond at Bryant Park remains an excellent option.

Though I'm sure it gets mobbed (it's free, it's Christmastime, it's New York City), when Scoboco got there around 11:45 today there was no line... and, in fact, they were just about done Zamboni-ing the ice for the 12:00 - 1:30 skate, and we had a blast. The rink is pretty big, much larger than Lasker or Rockefeller Center; the rental skates are decent quality, which for us just means that they fit well—no achy ankles or blisters—and are easy to put on; the music is appropriately festive; and the setting striking, with all those big 42nd Street buildings and the columnal rear facade of the library presiding over things. AND the chocolate chip cookies and rice krispie treats at the snack bar are surprisingly delicious.

Though admission is free, skate rentals are $8, which is fine, but I definitely recommend bringing your own lock, if you have (to avoid buying one for $10), and NOT bringing a bag, which they make you check, for $6.50. The Pond will be open until January 15. There's more info, and a webcam, here.

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Friday, December 22

My Year in Cities, 2006

Taking a cue from Kottke, here's my list of places in which I slept at least one night during 2006.

New York, NY
London, England
Bronxville, NY
Montauk, NY
Chicago, IL
Cow Island, NH
Gaithersburg, MD

Yeah, I know, it's not much... but at least it was always for pleasure!

Where's your list?

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Holiday Season Movies: Part 2

There's about 10 movies being released before New Year's that I'm excited about seeing. But before diving into those, here's a look at what I've gone to in the past two weeks...

Debbie and I saw The Holiday on opening night, and I can't remember being in a theater more buzzy and alive: the packed house was with this movie all the way... before, during and after. And rightly so, as this tale of two recently-wronged women swapping homes at Christmas—one's an L.A. dream house, the other an impossibly quaint English village cottage—is totally cute and funny and romantic. The beautiful, appealing cast is led by Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black and, most unexpectedly excellent, the 91-year-old Eli Wallach (thanks for the fun fact, Gorgeous!). Of course, everyone who should fall in love, does. We laughed, we cried. This is pure holiday-movie-going pleasure.

Put aside how powerfully, or insipidly, or hypocritically Blood Diamond delivers its message about the evils of conflict diamonds, and diamond corporations, and ignorant (or callous) diamond consumers, and Westerners exploiting poor nations and their people, and genocide, and greed and fear and cruelty... put all that aside, and, in my opinion, what you have is a top-notch thriller with plenty of tense, well-choreographed action sequences; an exotic, wide-open settings—it takes place in civil-war-torn Sierra Leone—and a budget big enough to see it utilized; and, at the movie's core, a terrific performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as an amoral arms dealer after a massive pink rock.

The trailer for The Pursuit of Happyness makes it look super-sentimental, which is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for on a solo Monday-night trip to the movies. To my surprise, this story of a man slipping in and out of homelessness with his preschool-age son—at the same time that he's working to win a job at Dean Witter through a competitive internship program—has far more grit and genuine anxiety and emotional depth than I imagined. And Will Smith is excellent: a dreamer of a salesman who can turn on the charm when he needs it, even when he's breaking up inside; a decent man determined to be a good father under all circumstances, who refuses to give up fighting, who refuses to give up hope, even as his world keeps crashing down on him, in waves big and small. Yes, you know how it ends. Yes, it'll make you cry. But that moment, like many in this movie, is a lot more honestly earned than you might think.

I thought Flags of Our Fathers was one of the best movies of the fall, but I must say I don't really understand all the raves for Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima. The concept is great: show the same battle, but this time from Imperial Japanese point of view. But although there certainly are powerful moments here (mass suicide by hand grenade, for one; the unbelievably cruel fate of one of the two main "grunts", for another), and the whole thing looks bleached-out beautiful, I found the dialogue trite, the narrative repetitive (WAY too many earnestly whispered speeches about dying with honor for your country) and the characters mostly disposable. Definitely see Flags, feel free to skip Letters.

Finally, Debbie and I went to the IFC Center to see Family Law, by the Argentine writer/director Daniel Burman. This is a slight film, about a man thoroughly disengaged—out of fear or boredom or both—from his family (especially his father), his emotions, his world.
Daniel Hendler, who plays the father/husband/son who has to grow up, definitely displays some slacker charm, and his confusion about life is universal enough to provoke some audience empathy, but the movie doesn't really go anywhere, and ultimately just feels kind of frustrating... like you want to shake it by the collar and shout "snap out of it for crissakes!"


Wednesday, December 20

Unsilent Night

Every December for 15 years now, composer Phil Kline has conducted his magical, ambient holiday piece, Unsilent Night, leading a procession of boombox-toting revelers through the streets of the East Village.

It's like going caroling, but with 1,000 other people, and all you have to do is push "Play".

Anyway, after several seasons of missing out for scheduling reasons, Scoboco finally joined the moveable symphony last Saturday night, and, borrowed boombox in hand, had a lovely, festive, silly, smiley time. The performance began in Washington Square Park, where Bo, Co and I picked up our cassette (there's also the CD option, or you can download an MP3 prior to the evening's proceedings), milled around with lots of families and laughing packs of friends and—because this year it fell on the same day as Santacon—plenty of slightly tipsy Santa Clauses, and then, on Kline's signal, turned on our "instrument". After a lap around the fountain (which, with so many people, took quite awhile), we walked across West 4th Street to Avenue A, then up to Thompkins Square Park. The piece—and the march—lasts about an hour, and it is a beautiful thing.

The music itself was appropriately robust—it's actually comprised of four parts, played simultaneously— and haunting and Brian Eno-esque. Bo called it "very John Cage-like" and, later on, "it reminds me of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique" (can you guess who's taking Music History this year?). And with all those boomboxes turned up to max and at random distances from each other, the sound seemed to bounce off itself, with a doppler-like effect. It felt like you HAD to swing your box from side to side in time with the music's pulsations. Or, of course, carry it on your head. Definitely cool stuff, and definitely a nice, unsilent night.

Kline's project has gone international, with Unsilent Night parades in 16 cities around he world, including several this weekend. More info here.

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Sunday, December 17

Aimee Mann's Christmas Show at Town Hall

Scoboco was all set to soak in some sentimental holiday spirit last Thursday night when Aimee Mann and lots of "surprise guests" took to the stage for her First Annual Christmas Show. And while we didn't exactly receive what we were hoping for (always a dangerous expectation around this time of year, anyway), it was definitely a fun night out, and Mann's voice is so lovely and affecting, and, during a visit from the Hanukkah Fairy (who knew?), Bo and Co laughed about as hard as I've ever seen them.

More a holiday-themed variety show than a straight-up Christmas performance, the night was emceed by comedian Paul F. Tompkins, with, we thought, decidedly mixed results. Yes, he could be charming and amusing, but did we really need that rambling bit at the top of the night about his elderly neighbors in Philadelphia when he was in his twenties? (The answer is: "No, we did not.") Much funnier was that Hanukkah Fairy, dressed in a raggedy tutu and gulping a Heineken, who deadpanned her way through a hilarious Q. and A. with Tompkins ("How many nights is Hanukkah?" asked the emcee. "Uh..... about five... or ten... depending on how busy you are," replied the Fairy).

But no matter how funny (or not) these bits were, we were anxious for some songs, and found the show's pacing frustratingly stutter-stop in the beginning. As for the music.... The too-smirky Grant Lee Philips had too much stagetime in our opinion, although his "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" duet with Mann was definitely fun. The always-welcome Nellie McKay sat at the piano for two lively solo songs; about halfway through the second number Co said "She's so old-fashioned!" And Mann... well, Mann was terrific when she finally kicked it into gear and performed what felt like a real set. In addition to the Christmas numbers (all of which were appealing; highpoints would include "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Christmastime", and, best of all, her original "Calling on Mary"), Mann also did several of our Magnolia soundtrack favorites, including "Wise Up", "Build That Wall", and "Save Me". And then, unfortunately, at around 10:15, we had to leave, because it was a school night. But upon returning home, a Christmas Miracle! Fernando the super had put up the lights!

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Saturday, December 16

Wooster on Spring: A Three-Day Celebration of Street Art

Hands-down, this was my favorite art show of the year.

If you feel any sort of affinity for street art—it comes in many forms, but most often as stickers, or sprayed-on stencils, or straight-up spray-paintings, or plastered-on 3-D mini-sculptures... all a kind of cousin to graffiti—then I suggest you do whatever it takes to get to 11 Spring Street sometime this weekend for a truly once-in-a-lifetime exhibit/celebration.

Seriously. In case you don't know the backstory: the exterior of the long-empty building on the corner of Spring and Elizabeth Streets has for years been a favorite target for urban artists. Finally, 11 Spring was bought and is slated to be gutted... but before turning the place into multi-million dollar homes, the developers, working with the Wooster Collective, invited street artists from around the world to have one last party, to converge on and cover 30,000 square feet of wall space inside and out. For the past two months the likes of Blek Le Rat, Elbowtoe, Bo and Microbo, Prune, Rekal, Lady Pink, Cycle and many more have been doing just that. And come Monday morning it'll all be entombed behind dry wall, or water-blasted away.

Yes, it's different to view this stuff in a "controlled" environment (though it's hardly a tidy one—the five-story setting feels, appropriately, like a squat) than when you stumble upon some artistic surprise on the street. But Wooster on Spring is as much a celebration as an exhibit, and I've never felt such a festive (though bittersweet), community atmosphere at an art show before. It's like all these legends stuck their heads out of the underground for a moment or two, to pay tribute to one of their medium's greatest canvasses, and by weekend's end they'll be scattered and anonymous and working in secret again.

One caveat: I waited for probably 45 minutes to get inside early Friday afternoon, and I can't imagine it's going to get any LESS crowded on the weekend. But even if you don't have time to stand on line, it's worth at least strolling by and checking out the newly created exterior. Like I said, it's never going to look this way again.

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Friday, December 15

Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006 at the Cooper Hewitt

The most amazing thing about the Cooper-Hewitt's Design Triennial 2006? How poorly they designed the exhibit! Debbie and I went last weekend and, really, were definitely disappointed that, for example, the typography on all the display notes was terrible: ugly and difficult to read (the writing, too, is pretty abstruse); that the show's objects or images often didn't match up with their identifying cards, as if they were carelessly placed at different times; and that many of the computer/electronic exhibits on the first floor weren't working. We also indulged in the usual, more good natured grumbling that comes with such shows over why some items were included at all.

That said, there is definitely some cool stuff here, especially on the second floor. The exhibit purports to explore the "most current and relevant trends in design" from the past three years, and so it gives us quick peaks at many different fields: graphic design (lots of just-ok websites, a wall's-worth of Frame magazine covers, Chip Kidd book jackets, prescription bottle color conventions and iconography, etc.); sporting equipment; video games (the immersive, more-fun-than-you'd-expect snowball-throwing game was designed for hospitals, to help distract burn patients from their pain); architecture and engineering marvels (perhaps the most interesting of which—an island bar/nightclub, pictured above—had no identifying card that we could find, so I have no clue where it is); robotics and military training equipment; fashion (I'd love to spend a day walking around the city in a Thom Browne suit); furniture and wallpaper; housewares (including the "ivy coathooks" below, and the dish rack below that that I believe Debbie called "the most beautiful thing I've ever seen"); and toys (nothing you haven't seen at Kid Robot... except the giant Munny you're invited to help design with multi-colored chalk).

There is a lot to look at here—we spent well over an hour on the show—and plenty to admire. I just wish the curators had done a more inspired job of presenting the material. The Cooper Hewitt is on 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. The Design Triennial runs through July 29.

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Wednesday, December 13

Caracas Arepa Bar

First, get those street-fair, pancake-looking arepas out of your head. These are not those.

For a few years now the tiny Caracas Arepa Bar (on 7th Street, just off 1st Avenue), has been making the hungry happy with their delightfully crunchy, intensely flavored, consistently delicious Venezuelan corn-cake sandwiches—arepas—and they recently opened a slightly larger, full service establishment a couple of doors down. I revisited the old place about a month ago (even though it's now called "take-out", they still have the three or four tables up front), and took Bo and Co to the new restaurant on a recent Saturday evening. And I must say, you'd be hard pressed to find another kitchen in town that cooks up such simple, inexpensive food with so much love.

They've expanded the menu quite a bit, it seems, but though we definitely enjoyed our Tequeños (deep fried white cheese sticks), our vinegary salad with a generous pile of hearts of palm, and—to a lesser degree—our chicken soup, the thing to get here remains the arepa, in all of its guises. La Reina Pepiada (chicken with avocado salad), La Pelua (shredded beef with paisa cheese), La Jardinera (eggplant with sundried tomatoes, carmelized onions and guayanés cheese), De Pabellón (shredded beef with black beans, sweet plantains and cheese): they were all a huge hit with Scoboco. And you absolutely have to get a Papelón con Limon to drink, which the menu describes as a "natural blend of sugar loaf and lime" and is unbelievably refreshing, and, as Bo pointed out, has a distinct, inexplicable chocolate finish, and is unlike anything we've had before.

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