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

Sunday, April 29

Buddakan in Philadelphia

I knew something was going to happen last Wednesday, the day before my birthday, but I didn't know what. This, in fact, was the full extent of my instructions from Debbie: "I'm picking you up at 9:30 am, so be ready." And so, I was... and had a totally fun, adventurous, loving, beautiful day in Philadelphia—my first time ever in that city!—capped by an excellent, extravagant feast at the original Buddakan.

I haven't been to Stephen Starr's NYC spin-off of the same name, so I can't compare (Starr also operates both Morimotos—in Philly and here in New York on 10th Avenue—as well as a number of other spots, one of which, Jones on Chestnut Street, was where we ate a serviceable, satisfying lunch), but taken wholly on its own merits, I can understand the hype that swirled around his bringing a Buddakan to the Meatpacking District last year.

Anyway, my birthday dinner. There was no tasting-menu option, so Debbie and I ordered three starters and two mains, just to get as much of a taste of the place as possible. Our first dish was possibly the best: three wonderfully chewy/creamy Edamame Ravioli sitting in a thin truffled shallot broth that gave the dish a nice bite. The Buddakan Style Sashimi was also very good, with its five thinly-sliced pieces of fresh, melty fish drizzled (and thus slightly cooked) in a hot, citrusy oil. Our third appetizer—Ginger Cured Salmon—was most notable for its superb tempura-fried pieces of nori, which managed to be both crispy and chewy and full of salty, seaweed flavor, and made for a nice counterpart to the soft smoked fish, especially when we skipped the too-sweet wasabi bavarian cream.

Next were the entrées. Debbie ordered the Sweet and Crispy Jumbo Shrimp, which was certainly visually appealing, if a bit sugary for my tastes, given that the intense citrus-radish salad, a dollop of which was placed on each piece, was difficult to eat in conjunction with the rest of the dish (but maybe I'm just a spazz). Meanwhile, I was busy tucking in to a monster plate of Asian Barbecue Pork, cooked just right, all rich and juicy and perfectly paired with a lively wasabi sauce.

Dessert came complete with a sparkler (when Debbie made the reservation they had asked if it was a special occasion, and then without any further reminders included the fireworks), and was completely scrumptious: a dense, milk chocolate ganache torte covered with buttery caramel, topped with vanilla ice cream and garnished with caramelized bananas. Sweet, sticky heaven. The best part, of course, was sharing the celebration with the woman I love (thanks for everything, gorgeous!)... but it's nice that the food was so special, too.

Budakkan is located at 325 Chestnut Street in the city of Philadelphia, a sort of strange part of town that seems to be home to tons of ugly discount stores (a la NYC's 14th St.), as well as lots of design-y bars and restaurants. We both thought Budakkan's decor was fun and interesting (I especially liked the face chairs), and the service super friendly.

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Saturday, April 28

Landmarc TWC

I turned 44 years old last Thursday, and thought that the new Landmarc TWC might be a festive spot for a family celebration. I was right. The six of us—me, Bo, Co, Mom, Dad, Kristina—had a few laughs, ate a lot of good food, and very much enjoyed the terrific Columbus Circle view, the friendly (if a tad clueless) service, and the stylish, buzzy atmosphere. Yes, despite mixed reviews and the mall-ish location on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, this huge place appears to be a huge hit, with every table full by around 7:00, and a big crowd at the bar.

Landmarc TWC's been open for just a couple of weeks, and we could tell: the staff was definitely confused at times, the kitchen struggling to get up to speed. There were certainly no disasters among the eight or so menu items we tried, and much of the food was quite good, but several dishes seemed poised on the brink of true tastiness, only to be undone by a bit of carelessness. Take Dad and Co's Monkfish entrée, for example: perfectly pan-seared, on a bed of wilted watercress, roasted onions and spicy ground chorizo, potentially a brilliant dinner, all sadly overwhelmed by too much vinegar. Or my Thursday pasta special, Orecchiette alla Norcina: the sauce a satisfying, creamy concoction of salty cheese and well-fenneled sausage; the little ears themselves, however, cooked to the point of gumminess. Or my Crispy Sweetbreads, which were rich and tender and excellent, on a saucy plate of overly-garlicked, undercooked haricot verts, which were not.

Mom raved about her Grilled Salmon; Co's favorite thing on the table was a side of Roasted Potatoes (she ate half of her Monkfish before giving up... I ate the other half, vinegar and all); Bo liked her Shrimp Salad—a generous serving of the sautéed crustaceans over frisée and with lots of marinated artichokes—but it was also sauced with too heavy a hand; and Kristina thought her Grilled Skirt Steak Salad just OK. We started the proceedings with two plates of Warm Goat Cheese Profiteroles (total crowd-pleasers, these) and the disappointingly bland Roasted Marrow Bones (the sweet onion marmalade was the highlight there).

And then something amazing happened. We had finished most everything without fuss or complaint (my entree had arrived with the starters, and so I quietly asked that they recook and return it later, please, but that was it) and requested the dessert menu. After cleaning the table and bringing out little sharing plates for everyone, we again requested the dessert menu. Our waiter replied: "We have something special for you instead"... and out came a comprehensive sweet-treat sampler platter and a half-dozen ice cream cones and an enormous pillow of cotton candy, all for free! Was this some kind of birthday surprise? Couldn't be... we never mentioned it anyone. An apology because my entrée had arrived at the wrong time? Seems a little extreme. Because we just looked like such a fun-loving crew? Because Co had a bandage on her arm? Because they thought I was a movie star? I guess we'll never know, but the desserts were delicious—especially the Ice Cream (apple, mango, vanilla, chocolate, lemon, banana), the Chocolate Mousse, and the marzipan-y Tiramisu—the gesture extremely appreciated, and even though I would have returned anyway, now it's a total lock.

Landmarc TWC is on the third floor on the Time Warner Center, on 59th Street and Broadway. They are open from 7:00 am to 2:00 am, and only take reservations for parties of six or more. Dinner prices are extremely reasonable, with most starters and half-plates under $12, and most entrées under $25.

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Tuesday, April 24

Spring Movies: Part 2

I feel like there have been a lot duds so far this season, but maybe that will change now that the weather's finally doing what I want it to do. Anyway, here's a look at my four most recent movie-going experiences.

The biggest surprise for me this spring has to be Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's WWII thriller of a young Jewish woman who, while working for the Dutch resistance during the last days of the Nazi occupation of Holland, falls in love with the local Gestapo chief. Sure, it's all terribly melodramatic (especially that bombastic score!), but there were more than enough thoughtful twists, genuine tragedies, and sinister betrayals to keep me fully engaged through the whole 2:25 running time. The cast is good, too: playing it to the hilt but mostly pulling it off, especially Carice van Houten in the lead role. And Verhoeven is honest enough to give his heroes flaws, and his villains strengths. Plus, there's something sort of I-Love-NY about sitting in a crowded Times Square theater watching a subtitled, Dutch-language film.

There were several moments during Richard Gere's turn as con artist/author Clifford Irving that The Hoax seemed on the verge of becoming a great movie. In the end, however, I found that the surprisingly draggy, repetitive nature of the action (this is a movie about writing a book, after all) and Irving's basic unlikeabily as a person made this not much more than mediocre. Yes, Alfred Molina is excellent as Irving's doting friend and sucker/researcher, but I wish the rest of the supporting cast, particularly Hope Davis and Stanley Tucci, had been given more to do. And though Gere/Irving can be charming in a desperate kind of way as he's scamming McGraw-Hill, he's much less so when he (repeatedly) cheats on his wife and basically blackmails his best friend. I wasn't convinced by the whole how-Irving-brought-down-Nixon angle, either.

The trailer makes Year of the Dog seem like a quirky romantic comedy, right? Wrong. Both Debbie and I thought this was a completely depressing film, mostly because the Molly Shannon character is so lonely and people-pleasing pathetic even before her dog dies (that's her with Pencil, above, in "happier" times). So the whole premise of the movie—her quest for love after Pencil eats poison teaches her that humans only disappoint, and so it's OK to be your own person with a life devoted to expressing your love for animals—is rendered slightly ludicrous. And, frankly, those scenes when she has all those "replacement" dogs living with her are just gross. There are some good performances here, especially Josh Pais as Shannon's boss, and John C. Reilly as her neighbor, but really, this was pretty much just a downer.

I hated Grindhouse. Maybe I should have prefaced that by saying that I loved and laughed with and totally admired the creativity of Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills. But to put out a note-for-note homage—however technically brilliant—to movies that were incredibly stupid and boring in the first place just strikes me as self-indulgence of the worst kind. Honestly now, does anyone really like those 70s flicks, or is this all a case of false nostalgia? Maybe if the whole thing—both Tarantino's Death Proof and Rodriquez's Planet Terror and the (very funny) fake trailers—had lasted, say 90 minutes, tops, it would have had an appealing energy... but at three-plus hours? Total torture.


Sunday, April 22

The Inn LW12

Last night Bo had a dinner gathering with some friends, so Co suggested that she and I hit the Meatpacking District and get us some poutine! Yeah, not really. The poutine was actually my idea... but once Co figured out what the heck I was talking about, she was more than game. And so to the spanking-new Inn LW12 we went, enjoying a consistently satisfying and tasty meal amidst the earliest of the MePa hordes.

In case you haven't heard, poutine is classic French-Canadian comfort food, and in its purest form consists of
1. french fries;
2. brown gravy;
3. melted curd cheese.

It's not a subtle dish... which fit right in with everything else about our meal, starting with the atmosphere in the bar area, which was loud and desperate, even at 7:30. Apparently there were no tables in the supposedly more sedate "canoe room" upstairs, though Co ran some recon and expressed her enthusiasm for the decor, including the Native American garb pinned to the wall.

Anyway, the food. We started with the succulent Crispy Pig's Trotter (read: feet), which was breaded and pressed and fried and served with dabs of dijon mustard, frisse and a peppery pile of French lentils. This was an excellent dish, especially the intense, prosciutto-like shavings of smoky pig scattered about the plate.

Then it was on to the main course, for which we split a Grilled Lamb Burger with chickpea fries. Heeding Restaurant Girl's disappointing experience with a too-dry patty, we ordered ours medium rare, and it arrived plenty juicy, plenty fatty, plenty rich. Fearing too much heat, I asked for the harissa mayonnaise on the side, but I needn't have worried, as the condiment was, if anything, too tame for the dish. But no matter, as Co and I were by now far too distracted by our just-arrived plate of poutine. We opted for the Classic—it's also served vegetarian style, or with spicy pork belly, or with braised beef and stilton—and it was large, crunchy, chewy, saucy, salty, totally addicting, totally delicious. Really? If this was all we had ordered for dinner, we would have walked away happy and full.

We were now thoroughly stuffed, but there was Sticky Toffee Pudding on the dessert menu, and we were helpless. Though not quite as good as the version at Schiller's (and not even close to the one Debbie and I had at Andrew Edmonds in central London), this is still a highly respectable entry into the genre: dense, gooey, more molasses-y than most, unbelievably sweet.

The Inn LW12 is in the townhouse on the southeast corner of Little West 12th Street and Ninth Avenue. In what I presume to be an attempt to heighten the anonymous-hence-coolness quotient, the signage outside still says Rio Mar, the building's previous tenant.

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Friday, April 20


New from City Bakery magnate Maury Rubin comes this second "sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, recycled, recyclable" baked goods shop. The first branch, on First Avenue right below 14th Street, now seems to be officially called Build a Green Bakery, though for a time it was known as Birdbath; this new outpost, on 7th Avenue South at Charles Street, has no sign outside, but also appears to be starting life as "Birdbath," though I've also heard it referred to as "Sparrow." Sort of annoying, no?

Anyway, here you'll find servers in hemp uniforms working behind a counter made from "Paperstone" (100% recycled paper; solid as a rock), supported by the packing crates in which were shipped the wall display, which is partially composed of banana-tree fiber and is hanging from a wall made from wheatboard which is made from, yes, wheat. This is all totally admirable—who can complain about someone trying to do the right thing?—but there's also a bit of a self-congratulatory atmosphere about the whole enterprise, especially when Rubin is standing up front giving his spiel, which he was on the day Debbie and I walked in to buy some...

...seriously delicious goodies. Sorry, I almost forgot about the food part of our visit. Because no matter what you think of Rubin the man, he and his bakers definitely know how to crank out some of the city's best treats, starting, of course, with those big, gooey, crunchy Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, the same ones that made City Bakery famous (with me). Also excellent at Birdbath, though definitely a bit grainy/birdseedy, is the Sesame Banana Cake with Agave—a sweet, dense and intensely flavored muffin-sized cylinder that I put in my bag and picked at all day—and the rich, buttery "Carbon Footprint" shortbread cookies. Less exciting was the "Green Energy" cookie, which you can see has candied jalapeños embedded into the top, as advertised, but neither Debbie nor I could taste anything of the sort. The one real sour note was the iced coffee, unbearably burnt and bitter, but when I went back to return it Rubin was holding court with some big tour group and I didn't have the heart to interrupt. Maybe the organic teas are more the thing to get here...

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Thursday, April 19

Di Fara

Let me just start by saying that Debbie is the true pizza connoisseur in this relationship—the pizzafficionado, if you will—but after nearly three years of sharing slices together, I've grown to appreciate the genre more than I ever thought possible (way too many 1:00am monster wedges at Koronet on Broadway and 111th had me convinced that pizza was about fuel, not flavor). Anyway, last Saturday we finally made it out to Brooklyn's legendary Di Fara Pizza, and were truly amazed that it actually lived up to its hype. Yes, there are some things that you should consider before jumping on the Q train—the potential for an unbelievably long wait, for one—but I must say that, on taste alone, Di Fara's is the best slice in town.

Honestly, we've never had pizza that tasted this fresh. Each of the ingredients—the tomato sauce (made from fresh and canned), the creamy mozzarella (imported from Italy), the nutty parmesan (or maybe a close relative), the basil (whole leaves), the olive oil (poured liberally on top, both before and after baking), the crust (full-flavored and burnt to a beautiful crisp)—held their own against each other, in exquisite, perfect balance. Put a pile of melty, oily porcini mushrooms on top and—really?—I had no clue pizza could be this good. (Put artichokes on top and the result is less transcendent, but still pretty freaking tasty). In fact, the intensity of perfectionism at Di Fara is kind of insane. Owner Dom DeMarco is the only one who's ever allowed to touch the pizza. No prep cooking is done: DeMarco carves the mozzarella fresh for each pie... he grates the parmesan... he pulls the individual basil leaves from the branch, for crying out loud! An enormous amount of love goes into these pies, each and every time, and it shows.

The downside to the Di Fara routine: excruciating waits. We got extremely lucky with our slices—Debbie stood at the counter for maybe 10 minutes for our second round, which is lightning fast here, considering I talked to some folks who had been waiting an hour and a half for their pies! The other downside: because it's so crowded, and it's only DeMarco and his daughter (?) working, the grease and grime level is high... yes, even after the much-publicized Department of Health shutdown a few weeks back, which resulted in the freshly-painted green walls you see below. The tables are never cleaned, there's trash all over the floor, and it's definitely best to not even look at the kitchen. So the squeamish and the impatient should probably not bother with the 20 minute ride on the Q from Union Square (the restaurant is a block away from the Avenue J stop).

That said, if you like pizza—and, especially, if you love pizza, as my gorgeous girlfriend does—then you owe it to yourself to make the pilgrimage.

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Wednesday, April 18

The Year of Magical Thinking on Broadway

What would The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's one-woman show on Broadway starring Vanessa Regrave, be like without having first read the book?

Impossible to experience in hindsight, of course, as Didion's memoir of grief—her open, moving, sometimes harsh, always deeply intelligent sharing of what she did and how she felt upon losing John Gregory Dunne, her husband of 40-plus years, while their daughter Quintana lay in a coma—was perhaps my favorite book of 2006, and I had finished it just a few weeks before tickets to her show went on sale in January. But as I sat in the Booth theater last Friday night (a lovely evening, by the way, spent with Debbie, my mom and Erika), I couldn't help but wish that I had no prior knowledge of Didion's insights and epiphanies into what it's like to lose the people you love and depend upon the most... I couldn't help but wish that I was hearing it all for the first time.

Don't get me wrong: this is a very good night at the theatre. Redgrave's performance is riveting, effortlessly capturing the often complex rhythms of Didion's writing, earning every ounce of the emotion of her character, and, for me, making the play seem too short at an hour and forty minutes. And the staging is beautiful, too, both the lighting and the massive, subtly-painted curtains which fall to the ground behind Redgrave during the course of the show, often with a melancholic "whoosh". Life moving on, even as all Didion wants to do is go back. And, yes, I got choked up and teary-eyed throughout. But I think some of the material's power was lost upon this second "reading," even though the play includes much that was not in the book. The bit about Didion's unwillingness to throw away Dunne's shoes, for example, hit me hard on the page, less so on the stage. One of Debbie's favorite passages in the book, about how grief makes you literally crazy, also lost some of its initial impact. My mom felt a deep indentification with Didion's repetitious wish, whispered to Quintana, "You're safe, I'm here", when, of course, the opposite was true... but again, the overall effect was somewhat diminished by its familiarity. So although there are many excellent reasons to see Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking, if you haven't yet read the book, I would suggest maybe holding off until after the show.

The Year of Magical Thinking runs through August 15.

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Monday, April 16

Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey

I recently tore through Sean Wilsey's energetic, engaging, often funny (though at times definitely unfocused) memoir, Oh the Glory of It All, about his life as the messed-up son and stepson of some seriously sick San Francisco socialites.

Much has been made of Wilsey's portrait of his (step)parents, and rightly so. His father and mother—mega-millionaire Alfred Wilsey and flighty, flakey, Nobel Peace-Prize nominated Pat Montandon—are two of the most narcissistic, pathetic, emotionally manipulative (yet admittedly also charismatic) people you'll ever meet (shown below with Sean, age 3). His stepmother, Dede Wilsey, comes off even worse: a cruel, greedy homewrecker who was best friends with Pat before stealing her husband away. Once she married Al, Dede ruthlessly set about making young Sean feel horrible about himself. This is all well presented by Wilsey, with only a minimum amount of bitterness.

But my favorite part of the book by far was the big fat middle section in which insecure skate-punk stoner teenage Wilsey is shipped off to (and kicked out of) a string of boarding schools. Maybe it was because his first two destinations—preppy, elitist St. Marks; hippie, party-school Woodhull—are like extreme versions of my two boarding schools, Concord Academy and Solebury... or maybe it was because, now away from his confusing family, Wilsey drops the more pastiche-y approach of the book's first part, and the narrative really kicks in. Either way, I couldn't get enough of his high school memories: the time he turned on his only friend at St. Marks—a geeky Russian kid—in order to save himself from a brutal bout of teasing; or his affectionate description of a Woodhull roommate, who looked—and, so, acted—exactly like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club; or when he got over on his Dad by running away from the Nolls program before it even started (he even got them to mail him the refund); or when he finally found some inner peace and a measure of confidence at a short-lived alternate school/rehab for troubled teens in Italy.

Anyway, despite a few missteps (too much time on his ancestors during the aught-six quake, for example, and his mom's Children for Peace trips got a bit tedious, as well), Oh the Glory of It All remains entertaining and likable pretty much throughout. Here's an excerpt, a scene typical of Wilsey's desperate attempts to fit in with—and, even more important, be loved by—his new family once his dad marries Dede (seen below in a picture from 1975). Trevor and Todd are Dede's older sons from her previous marriage to John Traina (who went on to marry author Danielle Steele, who herself was a former lover of Al Wilsey).


In January of eighth grade, following another Christmas peace trip with Mom (Japan, China, India, Russia, France), Dad, Dede, Todd, Trevor, and I went skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. At dinner in a dim restaurant, looking for a good conversation starter (nobody asked me about the trip), I remarked on the colors of a sweater Dede'd given me for Christmas. They were always talking about the color and pattern of draperies, or the rare hues and qualities of rugs—I thought I'd give it a shot. The sweater was dark green with three horizontal bars across the chest. Putting it on that evening I'd noticed that the center stripe was white and the other two were pale yellow: This seemed like conversation.

I said, "Hey, one of these stripes on my sweater is actually white, not pale yellow, like the other two are. They all look the same, but the center stripe's white!"

Dede said, "They're all yellow, Sean."

This was exciting. Dede considered herself an authority on color. Here I'd noticed something she hadn't noticed.

I said, "I think it's an optical illusion. Because it's between the other two it looks yellow, too."

Dede said, "No. They're all the same, Sean."

I said. "It's hard to distinguish between white and pale yellow in here. But I looked in the sunlight. That's how I noticed the difference. And you've probably only seen it in store light, when you bought it, and now, in candlelight." I was getting nervous.

Dede paused for a moment, the replied, "I bought that sweater for Trevor four years ago. All three stripes are identical. You're color-blind, Sean."

I said, "My left eye won't turn all the way to the left—but I'm not color blind!"

"Sean—enough!" Dad said.

I thought, Am I color-blind?

The waiter came. He took all their drink orders. When he got to me I said, "Can you tell me what color the stripes on this sweater are?"

He said, "White?"

I said, "Look closely."

"Oh, is one different?"

Dede said, "Do not look at his sweater! Do not talk to him about his sweater! He will have water to drink."

I said, "No Coke?"

Dede said, "You will not talk about this anymore with anyone. Not with the waiter. Not with Trevor. Not with Todd. Not with your father. And you will not have any dessert. You are hyper on sugar."

I was still convinced that the truth mattered. That the truth was the truth and it would come out eventually. But that was just one of my many mistakes.

Back in San Francisco I tried to get Dad to look at the sweater when we were alone in the garage. He growled, "Enough about the sweater, Sean."


Thursday, April 12


It was a few years ago, in I can't remember which book (I think it was a novel), and one of the characters is riffing on how inadequate the English language is because it lacks the ability to convey many complex emotions with a single, specific word. For example, he says, the feeling you get when you walk by an empty restaurant during dinnertime... there should be a word for that! I knew exactly what he meant: that swirling mixture of pity (poor bastards...), admiration (must have taken a lot of hard work...), guilt (maybe I should try this place...), and completely unearned feelings of superiority (what were they THINKING?!?).

Anyway, if a word did exist for that feeling, I would have used it every time I passed Ariyoshi over the past four or five months. Opened last fall on a sparsely-traveled stretch of lower Broadway—right where 11th Street doesn't go through to the east side, next to the Halloween store—this tastefully (and, I would guess, quite expensively) renovated, high-ceilinged sushi place/izikaya is seemingly always, absolutely, completely, utterly empty. Maybe it's the block, or the ugly exterior (really, though, it is pretty inside), or the non-existent PR, but the place appears to be stone cold dead every night.

Finally Debbie broke the ice a month ago to check out their new lunch specials... and was impressed. Two more visits (one good, one less so) confirmed that Ariyoshi was definitely a viable neighborhood option. So then I went, and totally agree. First it was lunch, Fred's treat, and we both enjoyed a large and tasty bowl of udon noodle soup, a serviceable green salad, and a nice-sized serving of don, which was four bright and melty slices of fish (I had the tuna; Fred the yellowtail) draped over vinegared rice. All of this was included in the lunch special, for an extremely reasonable $10.95.

Then Debbie and I returned another night for dinner, and I couldn't believe how good it was, starting with a truly first-rate seaweed salad—four different kinds of sea-veggies, no lettuce filler, briny and clean-tasting, understated sesame dressing—through to the sashimi appetizer and sushi deluxe (nine pieces, plus a roll, only $23!). All the fish was fresh and tender and richly-flavored... which, if nothing else, represents a remarkable achievement in food inventory management, considering there were only two others tables taken in the entire place that night. Don't get me wrong: this is no Blue Ribbon, or Ushi Wakamaru, or Japonica. But to get this kind of quality fish for these prices makes Ariyoshi well worth rooting for.

Total coincidence department: After reading nothing about this place for months, TimeOut NY singled it out in yesterday's issue for its yakitori, especially the chicken meatballs, fatty chicken skin, and chicken hearts. I was definitely planning on going back anyway, but now I'll be sure to try the izikaya side of the menu.

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Wednesday, April 11

Spring Movies: Part 1

I went to four movies the first week of spring and haven't been able to get to the theater since. That should change soon, so here's a few thoughts on what I've seen so far...

I've got to hand it to Reign Over Me's writer/director Mike Binder... he almost pulls off this small, relatively quiet, emotionally-charged mid-life buddy movie starring Adam Sandler and the excellent Don Cheadle: the former destroyed by the death of his wife and three daughters on 9/11; the latter his dental-college roommate who runs into him one day on the street and tries to heal him through friendship and therapy, acceptance and love. This could have been a disastrously poor film (imagine Robin Williams in the Sandler role), but for the most part Binder deploys the exact right touch, whether it's Cheadle's boredom with his perfect life (nicely underplayed... and, by the way, I found it totally refreshing to spend two hours with a character who's such a decent, honest, friendly man); or Sandler's terror at facing the past, or the dynamics of their burgeoning re-friendship. Sure, there are some misses here, but I laughed and cried in all the right places, and was engaged throughout.

I was a little skeptical going into Air Guitar Nation. Sure, I've dabbled in the form (Jimmy Page was my favorite muse), and I totally enjoyed Wordplay and Spellbound (also documentaries that immersed you into a subculture of people who can only be called geeks pursuing their very specific passion), but, yeah?... 90 minutes of air guitar contests? Well... Totally!!! This is a sweet, often very funny and always appealing portrait of a "season" in the lives of these air guitar heroes, from the first-ever regional semis in New York City (when Howard Stern mentioned it on the air, the stunned promoters had to deal with lines around the block) to the glittery national final in L.A. to the tense World Championships in Finland (in front of 5000 people!), focusing especially on the rivalry between the lanky, charismatic, tenacious Bjorn Turoque and the somewhat chunky, Hello-Kitty-breastplate-wearing, technically perfect C-Diddy. Rock on, dudes.

If Mark Wahlberg hadn't been so great in The Departed, I don't think I would have even considered Shooter. But he was, so I did, and I must say that this is definitely an entertaining movie... albeit in a dozens-of-heads-blowing-up kind of way. The story is ridiculous—an elite ranger sniper gets lured out of "retirement" to help protect the President, only to be set up as an assassin by a mysterious cabal of CIA types—and completely beside the point, which is to watch many, many really cool explosions. The action is well-choreographed, the pacing brisk, the acting fine, and there's even some humor thrown in to complete the deal. If you're in the mood for this sort of thing, you could do a whole lot worse.

Finally, Debbie and I were both disappointed by First Snow, starring Memento's Guy Pearce as a somewhat sleazy flooring salesman who, to kill some time while his car gets repaired, has his fortune told in a trailer by the always reliable J.K. Simmons. Unsurprisingly, the news is not good, and Pearce spends the rest of this pretty pointless movie trying to change his fate... or surrender to his destiny... or something. Piper Perado is also involved, though she's given absolutely nothing to do.


Tuesday, April 10

Boiled Peanuts at an IGA in Georgia

Scoboco just got home after spending a beautiful week with lots of family in, of all places, Georgia. But because we vacationed in a beach community—specifically, Jekyll Island—and didn't really interact with anyone other than ourselves, there really wasn't much Georgia-ness to the experience. Except for the Boiled Peanuts, sold in big cauldrons right up front in the local IGA grocery store.

Now, neither I, nor Bo, nor Co had ever sampled this ubiquitous Southern snack before, so I have no way of knowing whether the Vidalia brand peddled at the IGA represents a typical version, but I must say we were totally impressed. It seems that, when boiled, the peanut's shell remains hard, but the meat becomes surprisingly tender, even mushy... in fact, it becomes very bean-like, unmasking this so-called "nut" to be the legume it really is. And it's not like they've been boiling there for God-knows-how-many-hours in plain old water—no, these legumes have become saturated by a smoky, tinged-with-sweetness and amazingly delicious marinade, adding a whole 'nother level of addictiveness to this already hard-to-resist snack.

So this is the scene, around 5:30 in the evening: a crowd of kids and me, hands fighting for position around little Styrofoam buckets of steaming nuts, hot liquid splattering everywhere, no one's talking, just cracking and sucking and chewing and going back for more. Nice.

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Tuesday, April 3

Open City: Tools for Public Action at Eyebeam

I finally made it over to Eyebeam on Saturday for Open City, a lively, clever, funny (although often familiar) and engaging (if slightly amateurish) exhibition of the "current media and tactics" of various street art practitioners, including taggers and pranksters, guerrilla sculptors and performers. Overall, Debbie and I liked the show a lot (some "booths" more than others, to be sure), though we wished the video installations had been better handled. Only Improv Everywhere broke out the flat screen, to excellent effect, while everyone else was left with too huge, poorly lit wall projections. Either way, there's lots of interesting ideas and techniques on hand. Here's a quick look at a few highlights...

Those geniuses over at the Graffiti Research Lab have several works up, including a video of the Night Writer (in a much more clear format here than you'll see at the show), Laser Tag (this is amazing: watch it here), and their brilliant LED Throwies, set beautifully to music here.

Aram Bartholl has a few projects on display, such as this one, for which he placed a "life-size" Google Maps marker balloon in the courtyard of a building complex...

I liked this quite a bit, from a group of Detroit artists called Object Orange, who are seeking to call attention to that area's housing problem by painting dozens of dilapidated buildings in "Tiggerific Orange."

This graffiti-writing robot—programmed to spell out specific words and phrases, releasing shots of spray to form the letters in the manner of a team of skywriters—was pretty awesome, courtesy of the Institute of Applied Autonomy...

Borf contributed a stencil...

Charlie Todd's Improv Everywhere "booth" focused on just a few of his pranks, including the time they pretended to be U2 and played on a rooftop across the street from Madison Square Garden, where the real U2 was playing that night... or their annual No Pants Subway ride (below)....

Or their Best Buy ruse, when 80 agents infiltrated the store on 23rd Street in full employee regalia and stood around as if they worked there... Hey, wait a minute... what's that picture in the middle there, on the lower left-hand row....???

Holy smokes it's those crazy pranksters Scoboco! Now hanging in a Chelsea gallery!

Open City will be at Eyebeam, on 540 West 21st Street, through this Saturday April 7, only.

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