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

Monday, February 26

Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle at Grey Art Gallery

Before Debbie and I went to The Grey Gallery at NYU a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing about Wallace Berman and the loose community of beatnik/hippie experimental artists who swirled around him in Southern California in the 1950s and '60s. But after about an hour of looking at these people's (often beautiful) portraits and reading their (often incisive) little bios and seeing their (sometimes engaging) artistic creations and even watching them play softball in an (often boring) movie by Toni Basil (yes, she of the "Oh-Mickey-you're-so-fine..." ditty), I couldn't help but feel a strange sense of misplaced longing, a sensation I call "nostalgia for a life I never had."

Semina refers to Berman's avant-garde magazine, which was a showcase of sorts for the poems, collages, photographs, drawings and writings of the members of his circle, and the complete nine-issue run (self-published between 1955 and 1964) is on display here. But most of the show is structured like this: photograph and brief write-up of an artist, how he or she is connected to Berman, accompanied by a few pieces of the person's work. The art itself is somewhat of a mixed bag—the highlights, as Debbie pointed out, being the terrific photography of the portraits themselves, as well as much of the collage work—but the show does an excellent job at capturing a time and a place and a specific creative energy. There is definitely an appealing, playful, even hopeful vibe to the whole exhibit, even though many of these men and women died young after living hard. Most of the more than 50 artists here were strangers to me, and the names I did recognize I usually knew from some other context, like Dean Stockwell, Bobby Driscoll, Dennis Hopper and the aforementioned Toni Basil.

The Grey Art Gallery at NYU is located at 100 Washington Square East (right across the street from the park); the Semina Culture show is free, and runs through March 31.

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Sunday, February 25

Scope at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center

Scoboco felt like looking at some art yesterday (well... I felt like it, and Bo and Co were game). But instead of wading through the throngs for hours at the massive Armory show over at the pier, we decided to take in the far more manageable, less expensive, easier to get to, and less crowded Scope International Contemporary Art Fair, located in a big white tent in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, just south of the Metropolitan Opera House. Here, 67 galleries had booths crammed with what I imagine they perceive as their latest and hottest stuff. As you can imagine, some of it was exciting, some of it was awful, some of it was pretty ho-hum, but the three of us had a lot of laughs as we chit-chatted strolled our way through the maze, taking it all in. If you're on the Upper West Side Sunday or Monday, it's definitely worth a look. Heck, we even bought an original piece! Here's some pictures, starting with the "box office", where it was $10 for me, and Bo and Co were free...

These miniature trees with aluminum shadows were nice...

Goofy pieces like this one are always a welcome addition to our art-gazing...

One of several awesome collages by Michael Anderson. We especially liked the way he chopped up images of graffiti for the background...

This piece, called "Murmur I" by Richard Barnes, was amazing. It's a photograph, and those are bats. There were several in this series, and the accompanying video was totally mesmerizing...

Our favorite of the many light-based works...

This is a detail from Tessa Farmer's kind of gross but also pretty cool piece—called something like Flying the Frog Ship—that was constructed from dried insect carcasses. There were dozens of minuscule "fighter planes" buzzing around this "mother ship"...

My favorite work of the day might have been by Deborah Grant, a series of eight or ten stark, collage-y pieces with hand-drawn type. Here's one...

More Deborah Grant...

Finally, the lure of becoming a collector proved too powerful to resist...

Waiting for the artist Jason Metcalf to deliver the goods from his tiny "studio"...

Scoboco's first piece in what will almost certainly be a truly important collection:

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Friday, February 23

The Wire: Season 1 on DVD

You don't need me to tell you that The Wire is the best television show ever... just about every critic and blogger and all your friends and enemies and acquaintances have been saying it for years. But if you don't need me telling you, then what the heck are you waiting for? As a way-latecomer to the show—I just finished Season 1 last week, thanks to Debbie's amazing Christmas gift to me of Netflix for six months—let me suggest that you put Season 1, Disc 1, at the top of your queue right now, you'll get totally sucked in, and so have 37 hours of excellent entertainment awaiting you. And by the time you finish all that, Season 4 will probably be out on DVD.Why is The Wire so good? This epic tale of Baltimore cops vs. Baltimore criminals—in Season 1, all the action centers on the drug trade in a westside housing project, and we come to know both sides intimately—is smart and surprising, the writing crackles, the acting is top-notch, the characters are complicated and likable and infuriating (often at the same time), it's well-paced, it's funny, it feels real.

The Wire was created by David Simon, who also wrote two of my all-time favorite non-fiction books, Homicide and The Corner. Edward Burns is the co-author of The Corner, as well as a writer and producer of The Wire. If you haven't seen it, The Corner—which portrays a year in the life of a family of Baltimore junkies—is a terrific HBO mini-series, and is also now available on DVD.


Monday, February 19


Valentine's Day serves as an excellent excuse to do many enjoyable things, one of which would have to be getting treated by someone you love to a delicious meal... which is exactly what happened to me last Wednesday night when the ever-lovely Debbie—and particularly lovely on this occasion—sprang for a fabulous feast for two at Ureña.

Before getting to the food, I must say that although the ambiance at Ureña got pretty slammed when it opened last fall, Debbie and I both thought that the atmosphere was, while nothing special, perfectly pleasant; and the decor, if anything, fairly classic and comfortable. Apparently they've recently changed the lighting, which I'm sure helped, but this is by no means an unattractive a place to eat. Anyway, you don't go here for the design of the dining room, you go here for the beautiful things Alex Ureña (late of Bouley, El Bulli, Blue Hill and Suba) can do in the kitchen. They were serving a special Valentine's Day menu when Debbie and I dined, so your choices will undoubtedly be different, but overall the fish, the bread and the desserts were all superb, the meat slightly less so.

The fun started with an amuse bouche quartet, highlighted by a wonderfully briny, nicely constructed Oyster Shooter with a parsley-mustard granite; and a three-sip serving of warm, thick Carrot-Ginger soup. For the first course I chose the Ensaladas de Micros, a bright and lively green salad with piquillo pepper and tomato-olive salpicon and Iberico cheese (the intense tomato flavor was incredible... an almost forgotten sensation this time of year); and Debbie loved her Gambas Pochados, two perfectly poached shrimp on creamy Manchego rice and covered with spicy chorizo foam.

The fish course was outstanding, especially Debbie's Lansaña de Cangrejo (pictured above), a crab meat lasagna with mussel saffron sauce that tasted sweet and rich and ocean-y and was probably the best dish of the night. I had the Hamachi Pochado, which was also delicious, a melt-in-your-mouth slab of yellowtail tuna with pomegranate sauce and an incredible vanilla salsify puree, which went stunningly well with the fish. Next came the meat, which was also good, but definitely not as good as the swimmers (crawlers?) that had preceded it. My Lomo de Ternera (or veal loin, shown below), was slightly chewy, but the dish was saved by the bed of glazed celery root, portabella confit and oyster mushrooms, as well as the delightful cinnamon scented sauce. Debbie's Lomo de Cordero had too much cardamom for her tastes, and the meat itself lacked the deep flavor of the best lamb dishes, but with its accompanying acorn squash puree and a black olive and rosemary sauce, this was certainly not a bad plate of food in any way.

After a Cava-Strawberry mini-milkshake to cleanse the palate (I abstained; Debbie gulped down both), came two glorious desserts: Buñuelo de Chocolate, which was basically a pair of deliriously decadent chocolate sugar doughnuts filled with warm chocolate ganache and paired with a sour yogurt sorbet; and—amazingly enough, even better—a complex and utterly refreshing White Hibiscus panna cotta with star anis sorbet and kumquat confit that ranks as one the best non-sticky-toffee-pudding desserts I've ever had. This is what it looked like:

It was a beautiful dinner with a gorgeous woman, and I felt like the luckiest guy in town.

Thanks cutie.

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Friday, February 16


My super-generous Mom treated Scoboco to a Greek feast last week at Kefi, Michael Psilakis's newly reopened Mediterranean peasant-food spot (it used to be the more modern, more expensive Onera) on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, Psilakis wasn't so generous with his food, relying almost exclusively on four taste groups: "bland", "garlic", "slightly off", and "onion".

Our happy table for four—the decor is right up Mom's alley... very country inn, though Co thought it looked like a cruise ship—started with a couple of Mezes. The Selection of Spreads included the usual suspects: tzatziki (which tasted only of garlic), taramasalata (disconcertingly sour), melintzanosalata (a rich, almost creamy eggplant dip, and the best of the lot), and fave (yellow pea, and also not too bad). Our other starter was Crispy Sweetbreads and Artichokes, which wasn't at all crispy except for the unexpected and unwelcome onion rings (in fact, the artichokes were dishearteningly chewy), though the sweetbreads were tasty and lemony and Bo and Co dug right in, even after they learned they were chewing pancreas.

As far as entrees, Bo and Co split a hefty serving of Pasticho, which Co said tasted like pumpkin pie, so reliant was it on nutmeg; Mom said she loved her Braised Lamb Shank, a huge piece of meat atop some soupy orzo, but I thought it was tasteless and dry; and I ordered the Flat Pasta with Rabbit, which seemed to contain far more caramelized onions than either rabbit or pasta, and which was then topped with a handful or two of those still-unwelcome onion rings.

For dessert the Walnut Cake was good, though it definitely needed the side of walnut ice cream to moisten things up a bit, and we also had... ummmm... something else that, even though it's only been a week, I've completely forgotten. Was it cheesy? Vanilla-y? ???

Kefi is located on 79th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. The small dining room was probably not even half full when we left at around 8:00 on a Friday night. They accept cash only.

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Saturday, February 10

Winter Movies: Part 2

I'm deep into a big freelance writing project at the moment, but find I can't ignore this space completely. Here, then, are just a few hasty words on the (mostly mediocre) movies I've seen these past few weeks.

Debbie and I both liked Breaking and Entering quite a bit—certainly much more than most reviewers I read—though I thought Jude Law's character got off too easy in the end. Another sticking point for me: the self-incriminating actions of the young thief seem totally unnecessary, undertaken solely to further the plot. Speaking of plot... in case you haven't seen the trailer, the story is this: Jude Law is a successful London architect who lives with his girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and her autistic 13-year-old daughter (nicely played by Poppy Rogers). When Law's office gets robbed, he tracks down the thief—a teenage Bosnian immigrant—and proceeds to sleep with said thief's mom, the lovely Juliette Binoche. Complications ensue. Everyone is beautiful, the acting terrific, and London looks fabulous.

I wish all of Venus had been about the relationships among the elderly characters—Peter O'Toole, Vanessa Redgrave, Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths—and their physical and emotional struggles with getting old. These parts were warm, funny, charming, sad, insightful. And the inevitable ending was handled surprisingly well: low-key and respectful. Unfortunately, most of the movie concerns O'Toole's too-gross relationship with a barely legal girl. I don't undestand frozen-faced O'Toole's Oscar nod, either. He was OK, but no way was this one of the top five male performances of last year.

I agree with most reviewers that Steven Soderbergh's film-school treatment (it's all shot as an homage to 1940s noir flicks) of The Good German is more distracting than engaging, but, really? I thought that the tepid, illogical plotting is what truly undermined the mostly fine acting here. I just didn't believe the stated motivations of any of the characters, nor that the US Army, in Berlin, in 1945, would give a rat's ass about two-bit journalist George Clooney, much less cave to his demands left and right. Note: I saw this solo at the Paris on 58th Street, my first film ever at that venerable theater. I was surprised at how plush and well perserved the space was—I was expecting something much mustier—but, talk about old school, there are no cup holders on the seats! Is there any other theater in town that doesn't have those these days?

Debbie was dead on about Puccini for Beginners: "If this had been a mainstream Hollywood movie rather than a low-budget indie," she said, "no way would it have gotten such good reviews." So smart and insightful (and, of course, gorgeous) that Debbie! We liked this story of a commitment-phobe woman who simultaneously dates/sleeps with a man and a woman, who happen to be exes with each other, and it had its cute moments, but we weren't fooled by all those big words in the script.

The most unnecessary, unpleasant movie of the year—and I mean ALL of 2007—will undoubtedly be Alone With Her. Shot entirely through the POV of hidden surveillance cameras, this depressing tale of a nerdy stalker (Colin Hanks... yes, Tom's son) is pure voyeur porn with a violent twist. Creepier than the movie itself? The fact that MOST of the audience at the Sunday afternoon show we attended were single men. I can't think of another movie I've seen where that's been the case.


Wednesday, February 7

Jacques Torres's Chocolate Haven

Yesterday I did some Valentine's Day shopping at Jacques Torres's Chocolate Haven—my go-to spot for special occasion treats—and picked up this extravagant 25-piece heart-shaped box for my beautiful, wonderful, smart and funny daughters. I'm giving it to them tomorrow so they can eat it over this weekend when they're with me, so I'm not too worried that this post will ruin the surprise....

But isn't it beautiful!? Aren't you soooooooooooo jealous!!??

I've written about Chocolate Haven before, and Torres's amazing ice cream sandwiches, but I was reminded again yesterday how great this place is, and how clever Torres gets on the holidays, and how most of these special creations are so reasonably priced. I forgot to take pictures, but the many appealing gift ideas—all for well under ten dollars—include lip-shaped chocolate boxes filled with chocolate hearts and kisses (I gave these out last year); solid bars of dark or milk chocolate "engraved" with a big I [heart] U; and these adorable wafer-thin dark-chocolate hearts with three filled chocolates embedded into the top, wrapped in cellophane with little red bow. As always, there are also small bags of Torres's chocolate-covered cheerios, as well as chocolate-covered corn flakes, cocoa-dusted almonds, champagne truffles, a huge variety of reliably scrumptious filled-chocolates from which to build your own box, etc. etc.. And the store has a hot chocolate bar with (delicious) cookies and pastries, if you want to sit and warm up a bit before moving on to your next adventure.

There a Chocolate Haven in Dumbo, but the one I always go to is on the corner of King and Hudson Streets, one block south of Houston (and one block east of the #1 train stop).

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Sunday, February 4


It seemed like Bo and Co had a hundred days off in January (ok, it was seven, but still...), and so on one of those days I decided: we're going out to lunch. Which is why on a recent freezing Monday afternoon the three of us found ourselves tucking into a delicious hot sandwich-y feast at the Swich, a new, cool place on 8th Avenue, right up from 15th Street.

Swich serves creative, hot-pressed sandwiches (or "deconstructed" salad versions thereof) and that's pretty much it. I had the Trojan Horse: rosemary focaccia filled with ground lamb, tomato, tzatziki, and fresh mint. It was juicy, hearty, full-flavored, as tasty a sandwich as I've had in a long time. Co played it safe with the Cuban, and was rewarded with a well-made version of the classic: marinated pork, swiss cheese, boiled ham and pickle chips on fresh french bread. Bo devoured her Tuna-na-na, starring white albacore with marinated artichokes and olive tapenade on crunchy 7-grain bread. I had bites of both, and both were terrific. We all split a bag of Swich's "Internationally Famous Potato Chips", which are made on premises, and are thin, crunchy, a delight. We also shared a Homemade Banana Lemonade, which was less interesting than it sounds, and not really worth the $3 price tag. For dessert? A totally unecessary but nonethless scrumptious something called Edible Happiness: basically a grilled dark chocolate, white chocolate and Nutella sandwich.

The atmosphere here friendly-hipster, there's one big communal table, the music is loud and pretty good, and one of the flat screen monitors plays SwichTV, which seems to be devoted solely to staffers doing goofy things. Bo and Co liked the place a lot, and we all agreed that it's a welcome, inexpensive, quick-bite addition to that neighborhood.

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David Byrne: Here Lies Love at Carnegie Hall

I can't believe it was 30 years ago that I saw the Talking Heads at NYU's Loeb Student Center. I think I went with Dean, Wally, and probably Tom. A couple of summers later I saw the "T-Heads" play Wollman Rink (the B52s opened), and that was it for me and David Byrne for a long, long time.

Then last night Debbie and I had the great good fortune of scoring seats at a sold-out Carnegie Hall for Byrne's excellent, energetic, dance-in-our-seats performance of Here Lies Love, his as-yet unrecorded series of songs about the life and times, the rise and fall, of Imelda Marcos. Yes, the subject sounds kind of random, but as Byrne explains, "her story is the timeless story of power, politics and psychological needs. Our own recent history is overflowing with unmet psychological needs. God help us when powerful people act out their issues on a world stage!" Imelda was also something of a party girl, a disco queen, which gives a welcome dance-music sensibility to the songs. In fact, Byrne wrote much of the song cycle with "contributions" from Fatboy Slim.

Looking trim, fit and, as is his wont, somewhat awkward and geeky (especially during his extremely appealing between-song banter), Byrne shared the stage with two superb female singers (Joan Almedilla and Ganda Suthivarakom, playing the roles of Imelda and Estrella, the woman who raised her), and a band that included an outstanding rhythm section in percussionist Mauro Refosco and drummer Graham Hawthorne. For the last five or so songs—including the lovely Solano Avenue (on which Imelda grew up) and Order 1081 (the Marcos edict declaring martial law in the Philippines in 1972)—they were joined by a 15-piece orchestra, which of course brought another layer of lusciousness to the proceedings.

Men Will Do Anything, Rose of Tacloban, Dancing Together, Eleven Days... really, there were so many good songs, and I can't tell you how amazing (and nostalgic) it was to hear Byrne belt out his jittery yelps and pretty falsetto. I felt bizarrely proud of the man, who after three decades plus of doing his own creative thing, and influencing the heck out of so many good bands, remains relevant enough to sell out the likes of Carnegie Hall for a concert of songs no one in the audience had ever heard before. A great night; a truly memorable show.

Much more info on the song cycle is available here.

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Saturday, February 3

Friday Night at Comedy Cellar

I forget about live comedy as an entertainment option... and when it does come to mind, I usually dismiss it before the thought could even be categorized as "fleeting." For whatever reason, going to a stand-up show seems somehow too touristy. Or cheesy. Or like it's exclusively for drunk office-buddies-on-the-town. The thing is, it's not like that at all. In fact, I've had an excellent time at four of the five comedy shows I've seen in the past two-plus years, including a couple of Fridays ago, when Debbie and I laughed our butts off at the Comedy Cellar.

We showed up with no reservations probably 15 minutes before the 8:00 show and got great seats, but the place definitely got pretty full. And they pack 'em in here—squeezing in eight people at a table better suited for six (or four)—so don't go expecting a lot of elbow room. Our server was friendly and efficient, and though several people at our table had food (wings, burgers, hummus platters... that sort of thing), Debbie and I just sipped a couple of Diet Cokes.

Anyway, the show: we had no idea who was performing when we arrived, but really, all five of these guys (and they were all guys) were very funny, especially Lucky Louie CK and this other guy whose name escapes me but had dark hair and deep blue eyes and is pictured above and did a great bit about his Panamanian wife. Two other performers whom we had never heard of were also pretty good, and though the most famous comedian of the night, Colin Quinn, made us laugh the least, even he wasn't bad. The show lasted almost two hours, and with the two-menu-item minimum, cost us about $25 each... a little more than a movie and a soda, true, but I definitely laughed far more and a lot harder than I did while watching, say, Borat.

The Comedy Cellar is on MacDougal Street between West 3rd and Minetta Lane. For showtimes and such, click here.

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