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

Saturday, June 30

Long Beach

If you're Hamptons-less this summer and looking to take a day trip to the beach, there are a couple of easy public-transportation options. Last year I mostly did the A train to Rockaway Beach: it's free (except for the subway ride), it takes about an hour from West 4th Street, the beach is wide and reasonably clean and surprisingly uncrowded. I've also tried New Jersey's Sandy Hook, which involves a ferry and a bus and a beach that doesn't quite seem like it's worth the extra effort and expense.

But when you're going solo, I've found that Long Beach is the better, less lonely, option... so that's what I did last Saturday. It costs more than Rockaway—$18 for a round-trip train ticket and admission to the beach—and there's the good news/bad news of having to take the LIRR instead of the subway: the trains are fairly comfy and it's easy to nap on the way home; you have to stick to a schedule, and deal with Penn Station at both ends.

There are trains leaving the city every hour on the :48, and the ride takes 55 minutes... unless you get the 10:23 express, which is totally the way to go, and puts you on the beach by 11:15 or so, when it look likes the picture at top. The beach itself is large and pretty, the sand definitely nicer than Rockaway, there are adequate bathrooms and snack bars and such, and though it definitely gets pretty packed by the afternoon (see below), it's a young, relatively unobnoxious crowd, so it feels more festive than oppressive.

Long Beach is on Long Island. Make sure to buy the "beach package" in Penn Station, and don't get your tickets on the train, as there is some ridiculous surcharge for doing so. The beach is a short walk from the Long Beach station, and there's a deli on the way to get supplies, if needed.

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Thursday, June 28

Summer Movies: Part 3

There's some good, grown-up movies out there, no? Here's a quick look at my last six trips to the theater. OK, it's not all so grown up...

Yes, Angelina Jolie is very good in A Mighty Heart, giving a dignified, at times gut-wrenchingly hysterical performance as Mariane Pearl, the French journalist whose husband Danny—a fellow reporter who worked for the Wall Street Journal—was kidnapped in early 2002 while the two of them were working in Pakistan. But honestly, I thought it was director Michael Winterbottom who stole the show. Because although Jolie is stellar as the story's crucial emotional core, this is also an extremely adept thriller from start to finish: complicated, fast, smart, sprawling, tense, visually—and politically—striking, and filled with a top-notch supporting cast who are as much the stars of the movie as Jolie. Also excellent I thought was Winterbottom's portrait of chaotic, frightening Karachi, the Pakistani megalopolis where the action takes place. And the love between Danny and Mariane, seen in flashback, and beautifully played by the two actors with longing looks, and secret smiles. And the movie's ending, which you know is coming, but which breaks your heart nonetheless.

I took Bo and Co to see Manufactured Landscapes a couple of weeks ago, when it played at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. I say that only because I was glad we saw this visually amazing documentary on a relatively large screen, because unlike, say, The Inconvenient Truth, there is a frustrating lack of background, and context, provided by the filmmakers. The subject of the movie is Edward Burtynsky, a photographer who specializes in massive shots of industrial landscapes, focusing here on environmental devastation in China and Bangladesh, wrought by our addiction to consumerism. The images are indelible: of the factory in China that seemingly produces every clothes iron in the world, and employs more than 23,000 people; of the building of the Yangtze's Three Gorges Dam, the largest single construction project in history—by 40%!—for which more than a million people have been displaced, after they were paid to destroy their homes; of the ocean-going tanker graveyard in Bangladesh, where thousands of men, women and children slog around in the sludge scavenging scrap from these behemoths. It's all provocative to say the least, and the three of us had a great conversation on our way home.

Emma Roberts is adorable as Nancy Drew—the way she carries herself, that voice, and especially the way she says "sleuthing"—and totally saved, for me, what is a pretty pedestrian (though refreshingly earnest) story in which the buttoned-up Drew gets the fish-out-of-water treatment in contemporary L.A., only to win everyone over by solving a famous Hollywood murder mystery. Bo and Co thought different: both loved the plot machinations, the goofy high school scenes, the humor, and, especially, the tension as Drew unravels the crime... Co, in fact, said: "That was the scariest [read: most suspenseful] movie I've ever seen!" A total hit.

No surprise that opening night of Live Free or Die Hard on 34th Street would feature a loud, appreciative audience, yelling "oh... shit!" at every slick car-chase maneuver, and cracking up at all the crazy ways Bruce Willis comes up with to kill people. And really? There no better way to see a movie like this, the first hardcore actioner of the summer. Although the two best stunts are given away in the trailer, for two plus hours, Willis and company definitely deliver the goods: millions of rounds of bullets are fired from nasty-looking guns, a thousand cars are smashed, the whole country is on the brink of disaster, and every death deserves a clever joke from our smirking hero. But the shrewdest move here might be the casting of the charming Justin Long—you know him as the Mac guy from the commercials—as the hacker-turned-Willis-sidekick, giving the franchise an instant update.

Less cute and romantic (my expectation) than sad and slightly bitter, Broken English—writer/director Zoe Cassevates's take on the woes of a single woman who makes poor choices, in this case Parker Posey—is nonetheless a fairly engaging tale of modern New York City relationships... that, ummm, can sometimes end up in Paris. There's a few laughs to be had here, and Posey is lovely as always, and Melvil Poupaud is cute as her French fling, and who can argue with the moral, which can be summed up by my friend Rebekah's email signature, "Love is not finding the right person, it is being the right person"?

Finally, the only real dud of the past two weeks has to be the pointless 1408—about a travel/ghost-story writer whose gimmick is that he spends the night in the world's most haunted places—and even it wasn't as bad as it could have been, redeemed mostly because of John Cusack's charisma, a relatively interesting backstory, and a few genuinely freaky moments. But as an aside to the filmmaker? Ambiguous endings in psychological horror films can be creepy... or they can say "we have no cool idea how to explain all this, so we're just going to stop now."


Wednesday, June 27

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery

As an unabashed sweet-treat lover, I'm almost ashamed to admit that, before last week, I had never been to what I now know is the unbelievably delicious Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery. I'm not sure why, but it's true. So I went twice in three days. And, heck, I may go again tomorrow. Because, really? These just might be the tastiest baked goods in town.

The cupcakes are without question the best I've had since forever (listen up, Magnolia fans). They're moist and spongy and rich, not too dense, and the icing is perfection: sweet and soft and thick but not so leaden like buttercream can sometimes be. Pictured above is the Sassy Red Velvet with chocolate almond buttercream, and it was a beautiful thing to eat; below is a Pistachio cupcake with what they call "The Moose"—or, Satin Buttercream—on top, and it, too, delivered. At only $1.50 each, pair one with a cup of iced coffee, have a seat in the shop's comfy, found-furniture "living room" and you've got yourself an ideal afternoon treat.

The bars here are also excellent. Bo and I devoured a wonderfully chewy Scutterbotch one afternoon—how often do you encounter great butterscotch these days? not often enough...—and I brought an amazing Yum Yum Bar (shortbread, chocolate, raspberry) to the movies a few nights later. Finished the whole thing. During the trailers. I've heard raves, too, about Sugar Sweet's puddings—especially the Chocolate Bomb—so that's what I'm getting next.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery is located on Rivington Street between Essex and Norfolk. In addition to all their on-the-go treats, they also make and decorate what I can only imagine to be outstanding, custom, double- and triple-layer cakes.

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Tuesday, June 26

Dan Perjovschi at the MoMA

Given its size (110 feet tall) and location (the museum's huge central room), there's really no danger that you'd miss Dan Perjovschi's thoroughly engaging visual rant What Happened to Us?, but just in case...

If you're going to the MoMA to see the Richard Serra show (and you should... and I mean, like, today), you definitely also want to spend some time gawking up at this spectacular exhibition of mostly clever, mostly political cartoons that cover an entire wall in the soaring Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. Perjovschi's of-the-moment themes here include American hegemony, the culture of greed, the abuses of capitalism, war-for-oil, art-for-money, and consumption junkies.

And because of its scale, there's something very serendipitous about the viewing experience— Bo, Co and I had a blast pointing out our favorites to each other, and then went up to see it through the wall's cutouts, and from the stairway on the opposite side.

Dan Perjovschi's What Happened to Us? will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art through August 27.

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Monday, June 25

Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop

When Bo and I found ourselves in need of some lunch on the Lower East Side the other day, our first thought was: sticky toffee pudding at Schiller's! Cooler heads prevailed, however, and we decided on a couple of the amazing creations at Tiny's, a Rivington Street institution (since '99) which makes some of the best sandwiches in town.

The key to a great sandwich, of course, lies in the balance of your ingredients, and Tiny's nails it just about every time. On this day we both went for hot and meaty, but there are 25 varieties to choose from, with plenty of options for vegetarians. Anyway, Bo ordered the $5-sized (on a round roll, instead of a hero) Hot Roast Beef with sauteed onions, melted provolone, and portobello mushrooms. Earthy, juicy and rich without being overwhelming, this was a perfectly executed sandwich. I went for the $7.25 hero-sized Buffalo Chicken: a breaded chicken cutlet drenched in vinegary Red Devil hot sauce and topped with lettuce, tomato and blue cheese dressing. The chicken was moist and meaty, the veggies fresh, the two sauces working beautifully together. Both of our sandwiches were served on just-baked, toasted sesame semolina, which more than held its own in the face of these full-flavored fillings.

Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop is located on the southwest corner of Rivington and Norfolk Streets. There's no signage outside, but that's the place. They serve their sandwiches—and, sometimes, soups—from noon to 10:00 every day.

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Sunday, June 24

Superchunk at the McCarren Pool

Blue sky, hot sun, no humidity: you couldn't ask for a better day to kick off this summer's season of free shows at Williamsburg's fabulous old McCarren Pool. Headlining today's heavily-sponsored Pool Party was somewhat of a throwback band, those early-90s, determinedly-indie rockers Superchunk, who haven't released an album since 2001 and whom I hadn't seen live for at least 14 years. But although they may not have seemed as vital as they did back when, Mac McCaughan and crew were all fit and trim, the band tight and lively, the sound crisp, the crowd eager to rock.

I'll admit I'm a little rusty on my 'Chunk—and they didn't play my two favorite tunes, Mower and From the Curve!—so I can only give you a pseudo set list, but the band's 60-minute show went like this:
• Driveway to Driveway
• a song with "cold" as a theme
• Package Thief
• something with "on time" in the lyrics
• Misfits and Mistakes (Their new single. It was OK.)
• something with "never go back again" as an ending
• the chorus was about being "passed out on the ground"
• a song from their first LP
• a song about "summertime"
• Hello Hawk
• Push Me Harder
• Slack Motherfucker
• something about "walking tall"
• Hyper Enough
• Precision Auto

So that was Superchunk, and that was good (also good was opener +/-; I was less engaged by Oakley Hall, but other people seemed to like them), but there's a lot more to these McCarren Pool Parties than the music. I arrived solo at around 3:30, a good two-and-a-half hours before Superchunk came on, and so had plenty of time to lounge in the sun, eat some food, sip some Red Bull, and watch people goof around all afternoon. Here's some pictures of the beautiful

Nearly empty upon my arrival...

The super-deluxe slip-n-slide was popular all afternoon...

...as was the hyper-competitive dodge ball "arena"...

East Village Radio spun between sets. Wait a sec... is that my man Jack B. and a groupie in there?!?

Today's snack: organic hot dog and pierogies from Sparky's; very much NOT organic mustard from French's...

Some sort of paint-the-guitar participatory thing...

The Superchunk crowd, and the glorious WPA-built bathing-house facade...

The free Pool Parties are going on through the middle of August, and will include such acts as TV on the Radio on July 29, Blonde Redhead on August 5, and Ted Leo and The Thermals on August 12. The McCarren Pool is a short walk from the Bedford stop on the L train. Grilled food, water, Red Bull and beer are on sale all day. The gates open at 2:00, and the music has to stop by 7:00. Today's show didn't come close to "selling out", but who knows what the scene will be like for some of these bigger bands.

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The lines have been out the door since this 25-seat (give or take) noodle shop opened in the East Village last Wednesday, which is no surprise considering 1) it's the first U.S. outpost of an apparently much-loved Tokyo chain; 2) owner Charlie Huh's been bragging to whomever will listen that THIS is what authentic ramen tastes like, and is much better than what that Chang character is slinging a few blocks away at Momofuku.

Christ, how can New York noodle-heads not check it out?

And so there I was on Saturday evening, beating the rush by arriving before 6:30, though there was still a bit of a wait. The menu is extremely limited, especially since they were out of Gyoza, but no matter. I was here for the ramen.... and, as it turns out, for the Shio-Tama ("salt taste egg"), which was my starter and which was somewhere between soft- and hard-boiled and which was far better than it had any right to be: intensely eggy, nicely salty and slippery.

Then came the main event, the Cha-syu-men, or Pork BBQ Salt Ramen, which I'd say was also the choice of 80% of my fellow diners, 90% of whom were Asian. And, yes, this is an excellent bowl of food. The broth is delicious—meaty, fishy, rich, complex—and the ramen noodles are outstanding, with the perfect bite. But. The egg, which worked so well on the side, didn't add much here. The scallion was over-played, and in fact there was one disconcerting bite during dinner that was made up entirely of a tangled nest of these long, finely sliced onions. Most egregious, the pork—the centerpiece of Momofuku's offering—was a huge disappointment here: four medallions, all dry, chewy and flavorless. I imagine this was a kitchen error rather than standard procedure, but still....

Setagaya is located on First Avenue, just north of St. Mark's Place. The noodle bar shares the space with another restaurant—the soon-to-opened Oriental Spoon—and so is oddly penned in behind walls of plexiglass. Right now they accept cash only.

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Friday, June 22

MyMix 6.22

I make a new On-The-Go mix just about every morning. Here's some of what I'll be listening to, shuffled—in fact, on my Shuffle, which is a great, no-jacket-pockets, summertime tool—today.

Chris Garneau: Relief
Ol' Dirty Bastard: Shimmy Shimmy Ya*
Fergie: Glamorous
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Hide and Seek
Rihanna: Umbrella**
The Thermals: Here's Your Future
The Cure: A Forest
Sufjan Stevens: Free Man In Paris
The Arcade Fire: Keep the Car Running
The Sunshine Underground: Commercial Breakdown***
Falling Slowly: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (from Once)
Common: The Game
Elliot Smith: Pretty (Ugly Before)
The National: Daughters of the Soho Riots
Death Cab For Cutie: Marching Bands of Manhattan
Tracey Thorn: Grand Canyon****
Oxford Collapse: Please Visit Your National Parks
The Rosebuds: Get Up Get Out
The View: Comin' Down

* Thank you, Knocked Up, for introducing me to this sloppy, raucous song, which played over what is surely one of the great opening-credits sequences of the year. Talk about setting the mood!

** I had predicted on another site that Fergie's Glamorous was going to be the Summer Song of '07 (you know what I mean: the ubiquitous tune that comes to define the season). Other commenters had better ideas, including Feist, PBJ's Young Folks, Modest Mouse and, best of all, Umbrella... ella... ella... ey... ey... ey.

*** Sent to me by Becky from Nashville, and I can't get enough! Reminds me of the Rapture, but with more heart.

**** Currently the song that most readily brings a lump to my throat, and prompts the tears to start a-welling.


Thursday, June 21

Empanada Mama

I've mentioned Empanada Mama on Scoboco before, and how it's one of my favorite Quick Bite places in town, either for an on-the-go snack (empanadas make excellent ambling food), an inexpensive sit-down lunch, or a fun, tasty pre-theater dinner, such as the one I had with Mom, Debbie and Erika in April before The Year of Magical Thinking.

Anyway, I was reminded again last Saturday how much I (and my daughters) like this place, when the three of us squeezed in a meal between the MoMA and a movie. On this day I wandered a bit across the menu and tasted disappointment, but if you stick to any of the over 30 varieties of empanadas—wheat flour or corn, fried or baked, savory or sweet—you're pretty much guaranteed happiness.

For example, the Broccoli and Cheese Corn Flour Empanada: Co and I get this every time, unable to resist the sweetness of the corn, the salty cheese, the firm broccoli. Co also loves the lively Cuban, on Wheat, which houses the usual ham, pork and cheese. The Reggaeton is delicious (roast pork, sofrito, yellow rice, peas) as is the Cheese Steak, and the Brasil (ground beef with onions, peppers, olives and potatoes), and the Pernil (spicy shredded pork), and the Chorizo.

Bo tried the Pizza for the first time, and devoured it, declaring a new favorite. Even the garlic-laden Viagra (shrimp, scallops and crab), which I had in April, is so good that it's almost worth the discomfort of those around you for the rest of the night. For dessert we've enjoyed the Guava and Cheese, the Figs, Caramel and Cheese, and the Belgian Milk Chocolate with Banana. Obviously, these are not your empanadas of yore... but if you purists out there can stomach a few cutesy names and Hot-Pocket-esque combinations, you're in for a treat.

Like I said, they do serve other dishes here, too, but I'm not sure it's worth the risk. In April my Chicken Arepa was great; in June, tired and stale. But the worst mistake in my dozen or so visits has to be Saturday's Italian Parsley Salad, which, for $6.95, was basically exactly that: a mountain of parsley, getting no support from the scattered grains of bulghur wheat nor from the alleged lemon and oil dressing. Stick to the right side of the menu, then, and you'll do fine.

Empanada Mama is on Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets, a short (10- to 15-minute) walk to most Broadway theaters. Apparently there are other locations in Queens, where co-owners Socrates Nanas and Javier Garcia grew up, but I've never been.

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Wednesday, June 20

Gernika/Guernica at One Chase Plaza

While Bo and I were goofing around the financial district the other day we decided to check out Anita Glesta's site-specific work Gernika/Guernica at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Glesta's mixed-media sculpture commemorates, through oral history, the 70th anniversary of the fascist carpet bombing—and subsequent civilian slaughter—of the Basque town Gernika during the Spanish Civil War, as well as paying homage to Picasso's painting "Guernica" that brought worldwide attention to the massacre. It is, Bo and I thought, a compelling concept that falters in its execution, but still worth seeing if you happen to be strolling through the area. If nothing else, it gave me an excellent excuse to play history professor with my daughter!

Here's how it works: scattered about the giant planters on the western end of the Plaza are eight individual, motion activated bronze speakers that play, at an unbelievably loud volume, in English and Spanish, the recorded memory of a Gernika survivor. On top of each speaker sits a small bronze sculpture, disembodied, if you will, from Picasso's masterpiece: a bull's horn, a foot, a hand, a heart. Problem is, the oral history struck me as too generic to be genuinely moving—lots of memories of "bright flashes" and "heat" and such, all of which is tragic to be sure, but not terribly revelatory. And the scale of the pieces felt off, too. I somehow wanted them to be bigger, perhaps to compete a little more firmly with Chase's monument to money looming above.

Obviously, the location of Gernika/Guernica a few blocks from the pit where once stood the Twin Towers is no accident either. But are there any parallels between the two events, other than the slaughter of civilians? Does there need to be? Hmmmm...

Gernika/Guernica will be on display at the western end of One Chase Manhattan Plaza through July 12. Photo op alert! If you're visiting from out of town, and you plan on walking around this area anyway, may I suggest stopping by the Plaza to see Jean DuBuffet's Group of Four Trees, pictured at right (click on image to enlarge), which does hold its own nicely below the skyscraper.

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Smörgas on Stone Street

Call Smörgas on Stone Street, not a destination restaurant, because you would never go out of your way to eat here, but rather a location restaurant, because you may want to go out of your way to eat somewhere on Stone Street, and if Adrienne's Pizza, which I've heard is good, has a huge line or if, like us, you're only one man and his 12-year-old daughter and so don't feel like eating a ten-piece pie which is all they sell, then you could do a lot worse than enjoy the sun, the scenery and the festive air of this surprisingly pretty financial district alleyway with a plate of serviceable Scandavian fare from... Smörgas. A Good Location Restaurant.

Wait a minute... Stone Street, you say? Yeah, I didn't know about this little pocket of al fresco dining until recently. Here's the story: in the late 1990s a consortium of sorts decided to spruce up what is said to be the city's first paved street by cleaning the historic, mostly low-rise buildings, re-cobblestone-ing the entire area, opening up six or seven restaurants and shockingly restraining themselves from throwing up all kinds of that faux historic decor that makes the nearby South Street Seaport feel so sterile. Well, those old-timey lampposts are lame, but other than that....

Anyway, our lunch at Smörgas. Bo ordered the Fjord Smoked Salmon Sandwich and received a totally fine toast-scrambled eggs-nova combo, with a side of creamy mashed potatoes. I ordered the Chicken Snofrisk salad, received the Chicken Caramel Sandwich (same thing, different format), and was reasonably happy with the way the sweet meat (it really tasted like caramel!) worked with the crunchy asparagus and side of potato salad.

Just for fun, we also got the Swedish Meatballs, which came with more mashed potatoes and topped with what I'm assuming from my IKEA visits to be lindonberry jam. And, as you can see from the pictures, everything here gets sprinkled with chives. All of this was not bad at all—competently-made comfort food, with enough interesting twists to make it seem a little special.

Smörgas is on Stone Street, which is a pedestrian-only, two-block stretch between William and Pearl Streets. Because the restaurants are a little distant from the entrance on William, and sort of around a corner, you definitely get a bit of that satisfying feeling as you approach the maze of outdoor tables that you've somehow stumbled upon a city secret.

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