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

Sunday, September 30

Caffe Emilia

How often do you walk into an Italian Caffe/Bistro these days and get to order something that a) you've never tried before or, in my case, never even heard of; b) turns out to be totally delicious?

The answer, of course, is not often enough... but that's exactly what happened to me last week at Caffe Emilia, a sliver—a mere hallway—of an East Village restaurant that's been open for about three months now. This is an informal, inexpensive place, run by Italian hipsters, with a warm, contemporary feel and a cozy garden out back that about doubles the seating capacity. In other words: a nice neighborhood spot for a leisurely date or gathering of friends.

Anyway, the dish I discovered, and which the kitchen appears to handle quite well, is Malfatti, a form of gnocchi made from ricotta and spinach, held together by, I think, semolina, and served here in a Parmesan butter sauce. This was light ("pillowy", I believe, is the preferred adjective), perfectly balanced, beautifully satisfying. I also ordered a Carciofello Tramezzini, which was like a large, triple-decker tea sandwich: cold, almost soggy white bread, crusts cut off, made surprisingly good by the top-notch fillings of sweet ham, sharp fontina and a rich artichoke spread. For dessert I had the thickest Panna Cotta in history, the intense milky cheesiness broken up by a tart strawberry and pistachio core. This was definitely good, but was also way too much for one person.

I liked my meal (and its price) so much that I returned to Emilia a few nights later. And although there was no revelation like the Malfatti this time, dinner was again agreeable enough to make this a regular East Village option. This time I tried a Piandina, the Classica, which consisted of warm, thin, almost pita-y bread stuffed with prosciutto, mild stracchino cheese and an (over)abundance of arugula. I also ordered the Roasted Market Vegetables with bechamel and Parmesan, which was fine—the veggies were fresh and tasty—but would have been much improved by more roasting, more cheese, and less sauce.

Caffe Emilia is located on First Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets. It was completely empty on Wednesday evening at 6:00, slightly less so on Saturday at 6:30. They also serve to-go coffees, pastries and sandwiches up front.

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Saturday, September 29

Art Under the Bridge Festival in Dumbo

If you're looking for something different to do tomorrow, I highly recommend heading over to Dumbo for the 11th Annual Art Under the Bridge Festival. I had such a good time there this afternoon, wandering around and chatting with artists and feeling the sun and just enjoying the friendly, festive atmosphere.

There are open artists' studios and galleries galore if you're so inclined—and, of course, plenty of high-end, designy stores to browse, as well as lots of food and drink—but I mostly stuck with the event- and site-specific stuff, the performance art and sculptures and interactive pieces, which easily filled two and a half hours or so of my day. Anyway: just go. Here's a look at some of the things you may see (as always, click on any image to enlarge)...

Ianthe Jackson and Pauline Marcelle's "Floating Picnic". Got me seasick just watching them.

"Keep Off the Grass" by Myk Henry and Cynthia Rise. Not really, though... you can go on it.

"The Poetics of Night Soil", for which smudge studio invites you to "use the loo as you normally would", then add a cup of compost to the box. Needless to say, I declined to interact with this piece.

Cabbage football. Team Cole Slay won.

I spent many minutes loving the work at the Museum of Modern Arthur—or, MOMAR—before I realized that the Arthur in question was in fact Joseph Arthur, the excellent musician. So cool.

I thought this "painting" elephant was ridiculous (the old hippie guy is clearly moving that poor beast's trunk!), but it sure was a crowd-pleaser.

"The Tub Project", by Chloe Douglas and Fred Brehm. Occasionally, people did things in these cast iron tubs, all restored by hand, as below...

John Bonafede's "Clean Cream(a lot) Cave". That's all shaving cream on the walls and ceiling; in the interior is a video in which someone gets... can you guess?... a shave. I didn't see the piece which goes with the Cave, but I wish I had: apparently it involves three cream-covered performers dragging two business women atop a manhole cover through the streets.

Plastic-bottle chickens, in the dramatic beauty of Empire Fulton Ferry State Park.

Matt Pych laid down his "Dispersed Arguments" using individual letter stencils and birdseed... so I'll guess they'll last about as long as the importance of most of the arguments in which we've been reduced to using lines like these!

Sponsored by the Dumbo Arts Center, the Art Under the Bridge Festival continues tomorrow, Sunday, September 30. I took the F train to York Avenue (the first stop in Brooklyn) and that puts you right where you want to be, but there are, of course, other travel options. For a complete schedule, map, directions and such, you can download a guide here. Or do what I did and just show up and explore.

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Friday, September 28

Okkervil River at Webster Hall

You know what it's like, to have a band that you're kind of on the fence about. They have a few good songs, and maybe even a couple of great ones, and you definitely like certain things about them... but for whatever reason it doesn't ever fully click between you two. So you go see them live, just to settle the issue once and for all. Will you stay "just friends"... or will get into bed with them and fall in love—or, at least, in lust—for the long term?

Anyway, Okkervil River? We need to talk.

It's not you, it's me. Because, really, you put on a terrific, tightly-executed, high-energy show tonight, and the packed house at Webster Hall (not an insignificant number of people) were totally yours, singing along and swaying and dancing throughout your entire 90-minute set, which included:
A Stone
Unless It's Kicks
Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
Plus Ones
John Allyn Smith Sails
For Real
and, I think,
Okkervil River Song
Black Sheep Boy #4
...and lots more that I didn't recognize.

Clearly, you have something special going on with a lot of fans. But although I'll definitely keep Our Life Is A Movie or Maybe and, especially, the excellent Unless It's Kicks in heavy rotation on my daily mixes, I'm afraid that's all I can give you for now.

Be well, Okkervil River. Stay in touch, OK?

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Please help.

UPDATE: Helped (see comments). Thanks Susan! Though Time Out NY totally cheated, as the "A" in question seems to be from a chain that's not even in Manhattan.

Above is a section of the cover of last week's Time Out New York. My typography-savvy daughters and I pretty quickly named which logo each letter came from... except for that second "A".

It's totally driving us nuts. It's got to be something really obvious, but we've spent a week now thinking and arguing and scoping signage all over town, and have come up empty.

Please release us from our torment, and, if you know, let us know, in the comments.

Thank you very VERY much.


Wednesday, September 26

Dunny Series 4

No, we're not entirely convinced by some of the designs (though sometimes these things look better in your hand than on the webpage), but it's still HUGE news in the Scoboco household that tomorrow, September 27, at 11:00am, Kidrobot is launching Dunny: Series 4.

In case you don't know what the heck's going on, this is a series of, well, Dunny-shaped vinyl objets d' art (aka "toys"), each created by, in this case, 20 different designers and artists. They're fun and beautiful to look at and display (move aside Series 3... here comes Series 4!!), make for excellent gifts, and, of course, are insanely collectible.... especially since 1) they're sold "blind," so you never which Dunny you're buying; and 2) the odds of getting any individual design range from annoyingly common to maddeningly rare.

Dunny Series 4 are likely to be sold in lots of places (Urban Outfitters carried 3, for example), but Kidrobot, on Prince Street between West Broadway and Wooster, is sort of Dunny ground zero. By the way, we found one of only 400 "Golden Tickets" last time around, and plan on doing so again. And here's a great page, offering an up-close-and-personal portrait of every Dunny ever designed.

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Tuesday, September 25

Thai Market

Intrigued by the over-the-top design (if they put that much money and energy into the front of the house—however ill-conceived—there has to be some love going on in the kitchen, right?), I took my ever-game daughters to the newish Thai Market for an early dinner on Saturday, fingers crossed that their first exposure to this particular branch of Southeast Asian cuisine wouldn't be a disaster.

It was only half a disaster.

The room, wide open to the street on a lovely first evening of Fall, is fun in a cheesy way... as if Epcot had a "Bangkok food stalls" world. The service was totally scattered and unhelpful (granted, we may have caught the staff between shifts); the prices low, with most everything in single digits; the menus made to look like grubby old newspapers.

And the food? I thought we were in real trouble with the starters. Under "Grilled" we tried the Loog Chin Ping, or Thai meatballs, which tasted and were textured like those canned vienna sausages with chili sauce; Pla Meok Ping, which was two skewers worth of, literally, the worst squid we've ever had—gummy, soggy, flavorless, unfinishable; and Moo Ping, satisfyingly juicy bits of pork in a sweet sauce. Also to begin, a forgettable, over-refrigerated Thai Salad; and Salmon Wrap, which sounded good—minced roasted salmon with all kinds of standard Thai spices, like lemongrass, bird's eye chili, and mint—but was so overseasoned that the fish was completely lost.

So after all that my kids had had only a few bites of food. Fortunately, we were saved by the entrees. Co played it safe and ordered the Pad Thai, which she photographed (above... pretty good, no?), then devoured. Bo also went the noodle route with Pad Se-ew, and was rewarded with a tasty plate of wide flat noodles, chicken, egg, none of the promised broccoli, in a sweet soy sauce. It's hard to screw up dishes like these, and they didn't. More impressive was my Gra Prow Kai Dow, a nicely balanced pile of moist minced chicken, chilis and such, and a perfectly cooked deep-fried egg. None of this warranted a return visit, mind you, but at least we didn't leave the place hungry.

Thai Market is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 107th and 108th Streets. We were there very early, on our way to other entertainments, but given the low prices and lively decor, I bet it gets crowded and loud.

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Sunday, September 23

Fall Movies: Part 1

Before the fall season really kicks in, a quick look at what I've seen these past couple of weeks...

Probably the biggest hit for my I guess somewhat nerdy daughters was In the Shadow of the Moon, the documentary about America's early space program in general and the Apollo moon landings—especially, and naturally, the first, Apollo 11—in particular. Alternating between still-goose-bumpy archival footage and engaging, informative and often funny interviews with all of the astronauts (save for the reclusive Neil Armstrong), this is an entertaining, briskly-paced film that does an great job of selling the now-forgotten thrill and wonder of space travel.

Maybe my expectations were a little too high for David Cronenberg's thriller about the Russian mob and an English midwife, but I thought Eastern Promises was a little slight, and a little slack, feeling like a much longer movie than its 100-minute running time. That said, there are some terrific performances here, especially Viggo Mortensen—so cool, so menacing, so in control of everyone even though he's just a chauffeur—and Armin Mueller-Stahl as the crimelord. And the naked, unbelievably painful fight scene in the sauna is as brilliantly choreographed, shot and edited as everyone says. And I loved the glimpses into the more epic story of the Russian mafia as a whole. And, yeah, this was actually a pretty excellent movie.

Who knew I could ever get Evan Rachel Wood's version of Hold Me Tight stuck in my head for days? Too long by about 20 minutes, but still far too visually creative and hopelessly romantic to miss, Across the Universe is Julie Taymor's musical homage to the sixties, told almost entirely through the songs of the Beatles. Although it can't seem to decide whether it's a narrative-driven or a more impressionistic piece (acid trips make for a good excuse to digress with lots of very cool, very Taymor touches, like puppetry and collages), the setting is (to some, including me) nearly endlessly fascinating, the cast is entirely appealing, and they deliver mostly credible covers of some of the best songs ever written.

My giggly daughters and I were thoroughly charmed last Friday night by the new Amanda Bynes vehicle Sydney White, a for-no-particular-reason retelling of Snow White, set in the deliberately generic Southern American University. Here the Seven Dwarves are recast as seven ultra-nerds, the Evil Witch is the campus sorority queen, the Prince... well you get the idea. (The updated poisoned apple was actually pretty clever, though, I thought). Anyway, it's too bad the filmmakers didn't trust their audience more, instead turning everyone into broad, unrealistic caricatures, but overall this is a cute movie that knows what to do with Bynes's considerable adoreableness.

I laughed quite a bit through the first half of Ira & Abby, a small film about love, relationships, heartbreak, and trying to deal with it all through therapy (these sessions, whether individual, couple's, or round-robin free-for-all, consistently delivered a knowing parodic punch). And the two leads are enormously likeable: Chris Messina as the neurotic, Woody Allen-ish Ira; Jennifer Westfeldt as the open-hearted, free-spirited Abby. And writer Westfeldt did an excellent job of shifting my allegiances throughout. However, I thought the film's final act became too much about the young couple's parents (who, despite being relatively bigger stars, I found far less interesting), with too much infidelity, and the movie's moral—all relationships fail in one or another—too depressing to really believe.

If you haven't seen the trailer for I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, you're lucky: put the movie on your Netflix queue, or, better yet, watch it tonight at IFC on demand. I went in cold to this meandering comedy—written, directed and starring Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin—about an overweight actor struggling with his career, with his love life, with buying candy in a supermarket, and I laughed so hard in parts (especially those involving Sarah Silverman) that I couldn't breathe. Apparently, however, the trailer gives away all the best jokes, and they are considerably less funny the second time around.

I thought The Nanny Diaries would be far too zany for my tastes, but Bo and Co wanted to see it, so we went... and it was actually far too depressing for my tastes. Seriously. Though Scarlett Johansson acquits herself well as Annie the Nanny, and Laura Linney manages to bring some depth to the clueless, self-absorbed Mrs. X, and Paul Giamatti plays the unbearably cruel Mr. X with glee, these Upper East Siders are all so horrible to their nannies, to their children, to their spouses, to themselves, that I just found the whole thing too disheartening to bear. Bo and Co, however, did laugh throughout.

As the Times put it, Daniel Radcliffe makes for tempting audience-bait in the very small, very slow Australian flick December Boys. Our advice: resist. Radcliffe plays only a smallish part in this story of four tween-/teenage orphans sent on holiday to a seemingly magical beach town where, among the five or so homes, there lives not only a beautiful girl eager to teach Radcliffe how to kiss, and then shove his hand up her skirt (that always used to happen to me when I was 14), but also a kind, attractive couple who can't have children of their own, and so decide to adopt one of the boys. Bo, Co and I were bored, disbelieving, disengaged.


Saturday, September 22

Hair at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park

I kept thinking during tonight's 40th-anniversary performance of Hair how blown away people must have been by this show back in 1967. Imagine having a foot (or two) in the "straight" world, and walking in cold, or even halfway knowing what to expect, to the Public Theater in the East Village, and hearing song after traditionally-arranged song celebrate—in the most explicit terms—promiscuous sex and the glories of drugs; and seeing these young men and women strip naked; and hear them shout out the coarsest of racial epitaphs, and the most venomous of anti-government slogans.

Heavy, man.

Anyway, although some of Hair definitely shows signs of age (obviously, it's very much of a time and place—dig all that wonderful, goofy hippie naivety burbling just below the anger), there's still enough genuine power and solid songwriting here to make this more than just a nostalgia trip... though, tellingly, Bo and Co enjoyed it considerably less than me or their mom.

Highlights for me tonight included Manchester England (and, really, everything sung by Jonathan Groff as Claude), I Believe in Love, Where Do I Go, Black Boys, White Boys, and, especially, the last three or four numbers, performed almost like a medley, and ending with a true goose-bump moment when the company—or, I should say, the "Tribe"—launched into Let the Sun Shine In.

Hair is playing for free at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for two more nights, Sunday and Monday, September 23 and 24. Tickets are distributed at the Delacorte and at the Public Theater on Lafayette Street at around 1:00 on the day of the show. Bo and Co's mom did most of the line-waiting for us today: she arrived in the park at 7:15 in the morning, and we got some of the last seats—all singles—available. However. Friends of ours missed out on the 1:00 distribution, received vouchers (numbers 44 - 48, I think), showed up that night and got MUCH better seats than us. Also: apparently everyone on the evening's "stand-by" line also got tickets, so who knows what the best strategy might be.

And I apologize for the terrible pictures... security was tight, I saw several people forced to delete camera-phone shots while staff looked on, and there were several pre-performance speeches on the no-photo rule, emphasizing without irony before this anti-authority celebration that to do so would be "illegal."

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Thursday, September 20

Mike Nelson: A Psychic Vacuum

If you ever thought it'd be cool to explore an abandoned building on the Lower East Side, but for obvious reasons—an aversion to rats, crackheads, bad smells, filth—have resisted the temptation, then I suggest you spend 30 minutes or so at some point over the next few weekends getting lost in Mike Nelson's creepy, obsessively detailed, sometimes witty, labyrinthine installation in the old Essex Street Market, A Psychic Vacuum.

Now, there are no great artistic epiphanies to be had here—Nelson used found objects from all over the city to decorate the nearly 6,500 square-feet space, the broader significance of which for the most part escaped me—and some of the assemblages feel forced.

But the dead ends, the claustrophobic corridors and dimly-lit rooms, the pallor of dust and aura of decrepitude all definitely gnaw at you. And the art work's final space packs a brilliant visceral punchline.

Although my courageous daughters probably would have gotten a kick out of the work's maze-like setup, I think the bones, the grime and the suggestion of violence might have freaked them out a little, and so I'm glad I decided to go alone.

Mike Nelson's A Psychic Vacuum runs through October 28th. The installation is open from noon until 6:00, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The entrance is on Delancey Street, just east of Essex. Admission is free: you sign a waiver in an open storefront, and then enter through the boarded-up Chinese restaurant.

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Tuesday, September 18

Helvetica: A Documentary Film

Just a quick post to get the word out as best I can about Gary Hustwit's totally engaging, funny, inspiring, all-around extraordinary documentary about that most ubiquitous of fonts, the much loved, much hated, Helvetica.

Seriously: if you have any interest at all in typography, or graphic design, or advertising, or, as Hustwit puts it, "global visual culture," then this really is a must-see, both for its thoughtful historical perspective on how and why this font conquered the world, and for its stellar line-up of designers—both pro- and anti-Helvetica—including Massimo Vignelli, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut (who gets in some of the best lines), David Carson (also very entertaining ), Paula Scher, Experimental Jetset (who, I discovered, did that Beatles shirt you see everywhere, pictured below), Eric Spiekermann, Jonathan Hoefler and Bruno Steinert, all of whom speak with wonderful eloquence, wit and passion about their craft and aesthetic beliefs.

I had such a big smile on my face for the entire 80 minutes. In fact, my only regret about the film was that I didn't take my daughters... though it's already on our Netflix "saved " list.

It's unclear how long Helvetica will playing here in New York—it's now exclusively at the IFC Center—but I wouldn't count on it being around for more than another couple of weeks. The website has a complete list of upcoming screenings in cities around the world. And for my favorite use of Helvetica, by one of the best designers in town, please see here.