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

Friday, August 31

Earlimart at Joe's Pub

About halfway through Tuesday night's Earlimart show at the intimate Joe's Pub I had an epiphany: I trick myself into thinking that I like this LA-based band more than I actually do. Sure, they've written some pretty melodies, and some rockers with decent hooks—The Movies, We Drink on the Job, Unintentional Tape Manipulation, The Hidden Track—so their stuff does get stuck in my head. But then when I actually sit down and listen to their music, it's all seems very elusive, and even their best songs are really more like half songs, either all hook, or all prettiness.

Anyway, personal revelations aside, the core Earlimart band was joined on this night by an underutilized string quartet, playing 14 songs—mostly from their new CD, Mentor Tormentor—in a charming and energetic, though ultimately uninspiring, hour-long set. Here's the mostly complete set list (little help on the first song, anyone?):
1. ?
2. Answers and Questions
3. Nevermind the Phonecalls
4. Heaven Adores You
5. Happy Alone
6. Gonna Break Into Your Heart
7. 700 > 100
8. Everybody Knows Everybody
9. Don't Think About Me
10. Bloody Nose
11. The Hidden Track
12. Lazy Feet 23
13. We Drink on the Job
14. Cold, Cold Heaven

We arrived about ten minutes before the doors opened at 9:00, and there was hardly any line. I had employed the usual Joe's Pub reserve-a-table strategy (don't worry about the posted drink/food minimum), and we had great seats.

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Tuesday, August 28

Summer Movies: Part 7

I've fallen way behind in my movie posts, so I'm going to try to be brief...

Relentlessly rude, hopelessly horny, but sweet and vulnerable at its core, Superbad is a classic teenage sex-and-booze comedy that's filled with dead-on performances (especially the three leads) and, although it's about 15 minutes too long, had me laughing harder and more often than any other movie this year. Seth's (Jonah Hill) flashback to the syndrome that afflicted him in the fourth-grade? So stupid; so literally made me fall out of my chair in hysterics.

The biggest surprise for us this summer had to have been Stardust: the trailer made it seem like a mess, so my risk-taking daughters and I set our expectations as low as they can go, and were delighted to find a cute, funny, thoroughly charming fairy tale. Sure, it's a little busy, but the pacing is sure, the script fairly smart, the effects/magic restrained, the characters well and honestly played. Just, um, keep your expectations low.

The King of Kong is an excellent documentary about the admirably passionate, hilariously dorky denizens of the old-school gamer subculture, focusing on the rivalry between cheesy snake Billy Williams, the Donkey Kong world record holder; and his main challenger, the sweet, sensitive, family-man Steve Weibe. Most surprising to me: the amount of subterfuge and absurdly self-serious gamesmanship employed by Williams and his smitten disciples.

Over-played but consistently charming enough to win me over, Dedication tells of an OCD, misanthropic children's book author (Billy Crudup, in fine form) who's forced to work with—and, of course, eventually falls for—a new illustrator (Mandy Moore, also good) after his long-time collaborator (the always welcome Tom Wilkinson) dies. Basically: some funny moments, some tender moments, too many annoying moments, and an excellent soundtrack.

Hipster aspiring actor with a broken past (well-played by Mark Webber) falls hard for a straight-laced but sexy singer (the always pleasing Catalina Sandino Moreno) in Ethan Hawke's semi-autobiographical The Hottest State. Your enjoyment will likely depend upon how much you're in the mood to see 20-somethings talk endlessly about relationships, broken hearts, and themselves, but I was emotionally engaged pretty much throughout.

Adam Goldberg is pitch-perfect in the Woody Allen role in Julie Delpy's yap-fest 2 Days in Paris, the story of what happens when a couple, dating for two years, gets a serious reality check when they visit the woman's (Delpy's) home town, which, of course, happens to be Paris. The first half is clever and often laugh-out-loud funny; the second half grew too strident for my tastes, when the running joke of Delpy bumping into ex-lovers becomes the movie's sole narrative thrust.

More sad and less cute than I expected, No Reservations is nonetheless a reasonably effective romance, elevated by several winning performances—especially Catherine Zeta Jones as the career-obsessed chef who doesn't realize how lonely she is until a tragedy puts her in charge of raising her niece, the terrific Abigail Breslin—as well as a fascinating portrait of the creative chaos in a busy restaurant kitchen.

Though Reece Thompson shines in Rocket Science as a stuttering high-schooler cajoled into joining the debate team, too much forced quirkiness and unreality ultimately sink this well-meaning tale. And, really, it's time to retire Blister in the Sun as the pulled-from-the-past tune to give your flick instant indie cool.


Thursday, August 23


Fellow ramen lovers have been urging me for months to get over to Minca, a hole-in-the-wall near Avenue B that purportedly serves up bowls of noodles to rival the likes of Momofuku, Setagaya, and Rai Rai Ken.

Unfortunately, no.

Maybe it was because I was too early, around 6:00 (and served the remains of last night's batch of broth?); or perhaps the signature Minca Ramen isn't the way to go; but whatever the reason, my dinner was pretty much a disaster.

I started with the Homemade Gyoza, which looked amazing, all charred and glistening, but tasted mostly like scalded scallions and pan scrapings. I'm not even sure I ate all six. Then came the ramen, and once more my hopes leaped high at the sight of this rich, hearty dish. But though the noodles were pleasantly toothsome, and the pork moist and appropriately fatty, the broth had such a sharp undercurrent of bitterness, and burnt-ness (think coffee that's been sitting on a hot plate for days), that I had to shake off the soup's toppings before I could bear to put them in my mouth.

Again, this is just one man's experience with one meal at a place that many swear by... but with so many proven ramen winners in the neighborhood, I don't see the point in risking a repeat.

Minca is located on 5th Street between Avenues A and B, and serves lunch and dinner. The regular ramen runs about $8.50.

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Tuesday, August 21


If the idea of vegan and/or gluten-free cupcakes doesn't immediately sound all that appealing... well, I'm with you all the way. But given the choice between vegan baked goodies and no baked goodies at all—as happened to us the other night on the Lower East Side, ten minutes before showtime—clearly the former will win out every time. And I must say, though Co was decidedly NOT a fan, I enjoyed these Babycakes treats a lot more than those served at plenty of other animal-product venues (ahem, Crumbs).

Not being celiacs, my daughters and I went with the spelt line of cupcakes, sampling a vanilla with chocolate icing, a chocolate with the same, and a chocolate topped with vanilla. The secret here is the agave nectar, derived from cacti, which handles all the sweetening responsibilities in a subtle, yet eminently satisfying, manner.

The cake itself was moist and firm, the icing thick and creamy and, because Co was such a grump about it, I got to eat two of them! Also very good were the chocolate chip cookies which, again, I thought much better than those I've had in countless other non-vegan spots (ahem, Grey Dog's).

Babycakes is located on Broome Street between Ludlow and Orchard. In addition to a full array of single-serving treats, they also bake cakes to order. For lots more information about what goes (and does not go) into their goodies, check out babycakesnyc.com

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Sunday, August 19

The Grey Dog's Coffee on University Place

You've been here before, if you've ever had lunch in a New England college town or beach community (think Middlebury, or Martha's Vineyard): the staff all wearing bandannas; huge hand-written chalkboard menu above the counter where you order; planked wooden floors; hand-painted tables; homey, rural knick-knacks; and, because this really is still Manhattan, in lieu of a big ol' golden retriever lying around (also in bandanna), tons of dog photographs on the walls.

If that sort of atmosphere appeals, then you'll certainly enjoy the serviceable sandwiches and salads, the baked goods and beverages, at the new Grey Dog's Coffee on what I guess is the NYC version of the college town, University Place. And if a pang of nostalgia hasn't been provoked... well, then there are plenty of other (often better) places around to get this type of food.

Anyway, last week my mom took me and my hungry daughters to Grey Dog's for lunch. Co had the Grilled Cheese on sourdough with lots of thick, crispy bacon. Like Ted Allen said on Top Chef recently, "If you want to make people happy, two words: ba - con," and, though I thought the sandwich too bready, and the cheese bland, the sweet swiney meat worked its magic yet again on my younger daughter. Bo went the greener route, with an (overly garlicky) Caesar Salad with (overly dry) Chicken Breast. She thought it was just OK.

My mom got the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato, extra mayo, and was very happy, both with the place itself and with her lunch. (If you're a real BLT aficionado, however, I suggest you try the version at Marquet Café, just around the corner on 12th Street.) I wolfed a Prosciutto Press on sourdough with mozzarella and, despite the menu promise, not-roasted tomatoes. It filled me up. It was fine.

Everything was reasonably priced—lunch, including beverage, will run you less than $15—freshly made and perfectly mediocre, up to and including the jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookie (go to City Bakery or Birdbath, or even Whole Foods, instead) and iced coffee (go to Joe's).

The Grey Dog's Coffee is located on University Place between 11th and 12th Streets. This is the restaurant's second location; the original is on Carmine Street between Bedford and Bleecker. They are open from early morning (6:30 on weekdays, 7:30 on weekends) to late at night (11:30 and 12:30, respectively).

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Saturday, August 18

The National at the South Street Seaport

The rain stopped just in time tonight, because I'm not sure I could have convinced my lovely daughters to stay for The National's entire 15-song, 50-minute set had it been pouring. But I got lucky, Bo and Co had fun watching me have fun, and though it was by no means a perfect show, to hear so much good music for free on a breezy summer's night, I'm definitely not complaining.

As often seems to be the case with these free outdoor concerts, the band had a little trouble gaining momentum early, but around about the sixth or seventh song the crowd really started dancing and singing along, and the show's last half hour or so was excellent... especially, I would say, the back-to-back-to-back pre-encore trio of Daughters of the Soho Riots, Fake Empires, and Mr. November.

Anyway, here's the (nearly) complete set list (little help on song eight?):
1. Start a War
2. Mistaken For Strangers
3. Secret Meeting
4. Brainy
5. Baby We'll Be Fine
6. Slow Show
7. Abel
8. ? UPDATE: Squalor Victoria (thanks anon...)
9. Racing Like a Pro
10. Apartment Story
11. Daughters of the Soho Riots
12. Fake Empire
13. Mr. November
14. Murder Me Rachel
15. About Today

There are two more free Seaport concerts this summer: Camera Obscura on August 24, and Battles (which could be amazing) on the 31st.

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Friday, August 17

Lost: Season 2 on DVD

An idea for a comedy sketch kept popping into my head as I gleefully tore through the 23 episodes of Lost's Season 2. It's probably been done already on MAD TV or SNL or by someone on YouTube, but it's called something like "Lost: the Happy Ones", and it's basically a bunch of men and woman in resort wear whooping it up around a beach bonfire, drinking out of coconuts, playing ukuleles and off camera we hear Michael yelling about "Getting back my SON!", and Jack raging at Sawyer, and Locke screaming about his pathetic little life, and gunfire, and Jin getting all frantic in Korean and every once in a while the partyers give a puzzled look off into the distance, and say things like "What are those guys up to now?" "Why don't they chill out and have some of these mango margaritas!"

Because man, the dozen or so main characters sure have had an awfully dramatic time of it in this tropical paradise.

But, yes, I am now even more completely hooked on this show (though still find the flashbacks far less interesting than the on-island goings-on: for example, did we really need to see the whole Jin/Sun courtship to get to the punchline about... well I won't say); I think the writing is mostly pretty tight and smart; the acting mostly strong (though some characters are starting to get annoyingly one-dimensional); and I'm surprised that they've been able to juggle successfully so many narrative arcs, and introduce so much more unexplained weirdness, without the whole thing dissolving into a mess. Through Season 2, Lost remains a lot of fun, and totally worth the addiction.


Wednesday, August 15

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: Much Ado About Nothing

Honestly? I was more excited about seeing The Drilling Company's take on Romeo and Juliet this summer, which they performed in their usual Lower East Side municipal parking lot in July. Scheduling didn't allow us to get there, however, so last weekend Bo, Co and I were instead treated to their Much Ado About Nothing: broadly played, loud and slapsticky, at times giggly, groanably funny and, for no discernible reason, set during NYC's Fleet Week.

Hamilton Clancy and Dana Stamp were good in last year's production of As You Like It, and they were good again this year as Benedick and Beatrice. And Brad Coolidge was a pleasure to watch as Claudio. Also fun are the frantic scene changes and entrances and exits through the audience; the very occasional but well-timed updating of the script's allusions; and the smoky renditions of such jazzy classics as Fever sung by Jennifer Alfaro-Martinez between acts.

As for the play itself, well... I'm certainly not going to "review" William Shakespeare, but let's just say that all three of us though the comedy aptly titled. Or, as Bo remarked about one particularly pointless sequence, "the whole scene has nothing to do with plot, it's just him saying 'how to be a policeman' a million different ways."

A few things more things you should know about the Shakespeare in the Parking Lot shows:
1. They're free. There are no reservations or tickets... you just show up.
2. You should get there at least 45 minutes early to get a chair, or bring your own... or, if you like, you can arrive any time and sit on a thin straw mat on asphalt for two-plus hours, or stand in the back.
3. The space is a functioning parking lot, and cars can and do drive in and out during the performance.
4. People walking by on Ludlow Street and living in the buildings around you are by no means going to turn down their music and keep quiet just because you want to watch some Shakespeare.
5. You can bring whatever sorts of food and beverages you'd like to enjoy before and during the show.
6. The whole thing works, it's a great way to spend a New York City midsummer's night, and Bo, Co and I will definitely be back again next year.

The final three performances of Much Ado About Nothing will be performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, August 16 - 18, at 8:00. The parking lot is located on Ludlow Street between Delancey and Broome.

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Sunday, August 12

Chickie Pig's

I'm not sure what exactly they're baking at Chickie Pig's Brick Oven Pizzeria and Restaurant, but I know I wouldn't call it "pizza." Roasted flat bread with salad (or piles of meat) on top? Pita bruschetta? Open-faced sandwiches? Either way, this very new, very orange spot on the Lower East Side is up and running and serving pretty good versions of... whatever it is they're serving.

Last Saturday evening my daughters and I had the place to ourselves and mostly enjoyed a huge meal that hit on much of menu, starting with a perfectly serviceable Sweet Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese salad, which Bo and Co showed little enthusiasm for when I ordered, but couldn't stop eating once they tasted these (supposedly) house-roasted roots which, not surprisingly, went well with the generous dollops of salty, creamy French goat. I was less enchanted, especially with the straight-from-the-can walnuts scattered about the plate instead of the promised pine nuts, but it was fine.

As an entree, Co went the pasta route: specifically, Linguine with Goat Cheese, which also came with lemon, pieces of tomatoes and bits of bacon, all of which sounds summery and refreshing—and, in fact, tasted quite good—but was so drenched in a thick cream sauce that it became all but unfinishable. Then it was on to the "pizza", Bo opting for the Chickie the Greek, for which our chef (name of Marty, btw) roasted a salted, olive-oiled oval of flat bread, then piled on a cold greek salad—artichokes, feta cheese, calamata olives, pepperoncini, sundried tomatoes, onions, anchovies, capers—minus the greens and dressing. That's it. No sauce. No melted cheese. No return to the oven. It wasn't bad, if you like these ingredients (and we do), but, c'mon Chickie Pig people, this dish isn't pizza.

My entree, the Pig Pie, at least had some tomato sauce and a little cheese, but the mountain of meat—ham, sausage and prosciutto—was perplexingly cold. Did Marty just forget to put my pie back into his brick oven?

We didn't have time for dessert, and so couldn't try the Brazilian Cream Flan or the Nutella Banana Split, and I'm not sure we'll be there a "next time" to do so. Chickie Pig's is located on Ludlow Street between Delancey and Rivington. The service was heartfelt but extremely scattered (it was 6:30, we were the only people in the place, and our server couldn't remember our order, nor knew anything about the menu.... though to be fair, she might have been the hostess filling in for a late waitress). As of yesterday, they have no liquor license.

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Sunday, August 5

Go jump in a lake?

Don't mind if we do! My super-summery daughters and I are headed into the New Hampshire wilderness for a week of family, food and fun on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee. No movies, no restaurants, no shows, no internet. So keep the city warm for us, and see you next Monday!

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Summer Movies: Part 6

A great ten days at the movies. Here's a quick look...

There have been no movie moments this summer more satisfying than when Jason Bourne outmaneuvers, outwits or outfights (always with extreme ingenuity) his CIA nemeses. The choreography and editing; the hyped-up, hand-held camera work; the build-up and payoff within each scene: all of it is expertly executed by Paul Greengrass. The whole cast is first-rate, and Matt Damon is terrific as the emotionally tortured, breathtakingly capable, amnesiac assassin trying to uncover the secrets of his past. Although there are a few groanable narrative machinations (really? the only scrap of paper that survives the explosion has that address on it?), The Bourne Ultimatum is visually thrilling, loads of fun, flat-out excellent. After United 93 and now this, I can't wait to see what Greengrass comes out with next.

I wish I could say that I pay such close attention to the news, to the War in Iraq, that No End In Sight was just a nicely packaged rehash of what I already knew. But that would be a lie. I learned a ton in this gripping, clear and incisive documentary about how Bush and his cronies launched us half-assed into war, and then let a bad situation degenerate (irreversibly?) into an out-of-control nightmare. Directed by Charles Fergusson and nicely balancing on-scene footage with an all-star lineup of talking heads, this is the story that, among its many other virtues, clearly pinpoints the exact decisions and actions—and those who made them, particularly Cheney, Rumsfeld, and L. Paul Bremmer—that have proved so devastating for American soldiers, for Iraqi citizens, and, really, for all of us still waiting to suffer the unknowable future consequences of these blunders. Yes, the film has a clear agenda, but the people telling the tale are the men (and one woman) who were present at the creation, who tried to implement what they thought were America's policies, only to see their efforts undermined, and then forced witness first hand the devasting results. The smug-ass rich boys who run this country have rarely looked so disgraceful.

Though we've watched a few complete seasons on DVD together —specifically, 2, 4, 5 and 6—my eager-to-giggle daughters and I are not what you'd call rabid Simpsons fans. So we weren't expecting some sort of grand, 18-years-in-the-making culmination of all things Springfield with The Simpsons Movie... we were just hoping to have some fun. Which, if you want to call cracking up for almost 90 minutes straight "fun," we most certainly did. Anarchic, big-hearted, and the most relentlessly hilarious movie of the year (and, therefore, a bit exhausting), James L. Brooks and Matt Groening's feature film sticks closely to the formula that has made their TV series among the longest-running in history: Homer screws up, Bart rebels, Marge is concerned, Lisa is earnest (but gets a huge crush a new Irish boy), Barney's drunk, Chief Wiggum is a moron, etc. The plot is superfluous, of course, and the humor ranges from slapsticky one-offs to biting satire, and just about everyone makes an appearance. Basically, if you think you'll enjoy seeing this movie, you most probably will.

"Parents can be annoying," says one pre-teen sage towards the beginning of the sweet, leisurely-structured documentary Summercamp! "Cats and dogs can be annoying. So you just come here…" Ahhh, to have a "here", which in this case means the Swift Nature Camp in Wisconsin, where filmmakers Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price followed a group of mostly oddball kids during one dirty, bug-bitten, glorious three-week slice of summer. This is not a message movie, and potentially deeper lines of inquiry are quickly dropped (wait… is every kid here on meds?) in favor of the emotional and the nostalgic: scenes of silly songs and crazy relays, wedgies and armpit farts, painful crushes and giggly truth or dare sessions, fights and hugs and homesickness. There's a talent show (one entrant's promised entertainment: "Put poolrack over myself"), a dramatic lakeside rescue when a camper gets a fishhook through his eyelid, and, for dinner one night, a pot of mashed potatoes, cooked over a campfire, stirred with a stick. But for all the film's romancing of "kids being kids", it's the children's struggles with their feelings—awkward, angry, sad, isolated—that lingered most for me. Bo and Co were deeply engaged the whole way through, laughed out loud more than a few times, and quoted the funniest bits all the way home… though neither of them, it should be said, were at all inspired to leave their urban, musical-theater camp anytime soon.

Finally, the least successful movie of the week was still pretty good. Danny Boyle's Sunshine is a kind of homage to those classic deep space/ science fiction films (think 2001 and Alien) that, like most of his efforts, is visually interesting, springs a few genuine surprises, but ultimately lacks an honest emotional core. The movie's first two-thirds or so are by far the best: in the distant future the Sun is dying, and a team of astronauts are dispatched to blast our life-giving star into re-ignition. Needless to say, the trip doesn't go as smoothly as they would like, and there are many wonderfully tense scenes as the geeked-out crew scrambles to solve technical/mechanical problems. Like Apollo 13, but 100 years later. Then comes Sunshine's final act, and the introduction of an external force, and, well... to me, the movie just kind of falls apart. Love those golden suits, though. And the whole freezing thing.