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

Wednesday, October 31

Dessert Truck

If there's a better place to live in this world than New York City, then... well, there isn't. And now, in addition to all of the other incredible things we have in this town, enter Dessert Truck. It's like an ice cream truck, or the Treats Truck, but instead of dispensing mobile frozen delights or baked goodies, this spanking new vehicle serves fully-realized, home-made-with-love, totally scrumptious, sit-down-fancy- restaurant-quality desserts, right there on the street!

A. Frikken. Mazing.

I waded through the costumed masses tonight to see if the story of Dessert Truck could really be true, and let me assure you my friends: it is. First I ordered the warm Chocolate Bread Pudding, its rich, sweet and full-cocoa-flavored sponginess lurking beneath a sticky pool of creme anglaise. This was a beautiful thing.

Did I mention that I purchased this on the street?! No waiting for a table, or a waiter... no dinner necessary... just me and my treat.

That would have been plenty on most nights, but seeing how it was Halloween and all, I bought a second dessert, this time going seasonal with an excellent Pumpkin Custard, creamy and autumnal, made even more delicious by the inclusion of gingerbread crumble, all surrounded by a bounty of crunchy, caramelized pecans, and topped with a gooey meringue. I was tempted to order a third dessert—Vanilla Creme Brulee? Molten Chocolate Cake?—but, you know... that would be kind of piggy.

Dessert Truck is parked on University Place between 9th and 8th Streets. Chef Jerome Chang (formerly of Le Cirque, says the website) and business partner Chris Chen were friendly, charming, and looked like there were having a great time. Dessert Truck will be open on weeknights starting at 6pm, weekends at noon, and will stay open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Tuesday, October 30

The Geometry of Hope at the Grey Art Gallery

I was finally able to stop by NYU's Grey Gallery last weekend to check out the Latin American Abstract Art exhibition, an interesting, occasionally striking and cool collection of paintings and sculptures from the 1930s through the 1970s; works united by their geometric, mathematical structure and, in the words of the catalog, "a Utopian belief in progress and idealism," or the opposite of the "Geometry of Fear" that apparently dominated the art world in postwar Britain. This is not a destination show by any means, but the great thing about the Grey Gallery is that it's on your way to most everywhere, and it's almost (or completely) free.

The exhibit is organized by city of origin: Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janiero, Paris (?), and Caracas. I liked the visual vibrations of the wall sculptures of France's Carlos Cruz, the largest of which is below, seen from the front and the side.

The Brazilians, too, had some great stuff, including the piece at top by Hélio Oiticica, and these minimalist pencil drawings.

Not at all to my surprise, however, I liked the Argentinians the best—their energy and cleverness (and, in another context, gorgeousness)—including the three paintings below by Tomás Maldonado, Virgilio Villalba, and Gregorio Vardánega, respectively.

The Grey Art Gallery is located on 100 Washington Square East, between Waverly and Washington Places, right across the street from the park. There is a $3 suggested donation, which I waived without getting any dirty looks. The gallery is closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Monday, October 29

Fall Movies: Part 4

An excellent week at the movies. Here's the usual quick look...

The genius of Sydney Lumet's bleak, mesmerizing, almost perfect Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, of course, is how two-bit the whole thing is: the payoff from the crime at the film's center—the action that puts the final nail in the coffin of these already destroyed lives—would have "solved" the problems of the two pathetic, desperate brothers for maybe three or four months. After seeing the film I read several reviews, and was surprised at how much they gave away, so I'm just going to say that I loved Lumet's jumpy structure; and, unshockingly, the acting is superb, all of it (favorite scene: Philip Seymour Hoffman's quiet tantrum), though I was definitely disappointed that Marisa Tomei wasn't given more to do than look good with her shirt off.

Maybe it was partly the relief it provided from the intense nature of everything else I saw this week, but I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Wristcutters: A Love Story. In the wrong hands, the premise here could have led to indie-film disaster: everyone who kills themselves winds up in a sort of purgatory that, in the words of our hero Patrick Fugit (who slits his wrists in the film's opening scene), looks and feels like the regular life, except that everything's "a little bit worse." But instead of a forced exercise in quirkiness, Croatian writer/director Goran Dukic delivers a movie that's funny, sweet, clever, imaginative, and so lovingly, exceptionally well art-directed that, even on what must have been a tiny budget, the suicide's world completely comes to life. The sleeper of the season.

OK, back to bleak... and more excellent art direction. Based on Dennis Lehane's novel (I forgot how much I loved his Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro books, which I devoured at one point in my life), Gone Baby Gone is a gripping thriller about a little girl kidnapped from her grim South Boston neighborhood, and the far-reaching, sometimes surprising aftershocks of the crime: moral, emotional, and physical. Though ultimately too far-fetched to retain its credibility, there are many memorable moments here, the pacing is brisk, the action smart, and it's filled with terrific performances (loved seeing The Wire's "Omar" show up!), in particular by Casey Affleck as Kenzie and Amy Ryan as the missing girl's near-junkie mom who wears her victimhood a lot more easily than she ever did in her motherhood.

A not-great film with several nearly-great scenes, Reservation Road is an emotional wringer of a movie-going experience that, I thought, honestly earned my tears (and there were plenty) through strong performances, confident pacing, and, of course, the story's central, wrenching event: in a small, too-pretty Connecticut town, an SUV slams into and kills a ten-year-old boy releasing fireflies by the side of the road; scared, distracted (his own son is slightly injured in the accident), and uncertain as to what just happened, the driver (an always welcome Mark Ruffalo) keeps going... and then spends the rest of the movie wrestling with his actions. The mother (an excellent Jennifer Connelly) and father (an OK Jaoquin Phoenix) of the dead boy obviously have plenty of wrestling to do of their own.

A Western in setting only, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is really more of talky, male ensemble drama—heck, it's really more art film than genre piece—exploring themes of power, fear, betrayal and what happens when one's idols turn out to be assholes. The cast is outstanding: Casey Affleck (again), Brad Pitt (not usually a huge fan, but he's great here), Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider (also so good in Lars and the Real Girl), Garret Dilahunt (whom you'll recognize from Deadwood)... you can't take your eyes off of any these guys when they're on the screen. Be warned: this is a long (2 hours, 40 minutes), slowly paced film with virtually no music, but it definitely does reward the alert, patient viewer. My strategy: I had a venti Caramel Frappuccino on my way to the theater, and I suggest you do the same.


Sunday, October 28

Spitzer's Corner

Bo was busy Bat Mitvahing last weekend, and Co and I needed some lunch. I was thinking Tiny's—my go-to spot for an LES midday meal—but the lure of Pork Fat Popcorn, spotted on the menu posted outside this brand-new eatery, proved to be too much for my younger daughter, and so Spitzer's Corner it was.

On a beautiful day, as last Saturday most certainly was, Spitzer's Corner proved itself to be an excellent spot for some relaxing people watching and mostly quite satisfying food. Breezy and bright from the wide-open front, the interior is all massive wooden communal tables and rough-hewn walls made from (presumably never used) pickle barrels. The main downside here: there are no chairs with backs... it's all benches and stools.

Anyway, about that popcorn. We both agreed that, had we not been told about the pork fat, we never would have guessed. It didn't really taste bacon-y, or piggy, in any way. No question, this is a good bowl of popcorn: light, crunchy, nicely popped, well salted. If that sounds exciting to you, then by all means you should indulge.

Next came our real food. Co got the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and the verdict was unanimous: amazing Sullivan sourdough; skimpy, disappointingly unmelted ascunty cheese; oddly un-complementary tomato relish. It all got eaten, and the greens were fresh and lightly tossed, but still. I ordered the Hickory Short Rib Burger, and this beast was near-perfection. Delivered medium rare, as requested; the meat thick, juicy and intensely flavorful; the bun firm enough to hang in there, but soft enough to bite through with ease; all topped with greasy sharp cheddar, pickles and tomatoes. And the fries, too, were a success— again, cooked as requested (well-done, crunchy) with plenty of real potato taste. This filled me up for about three days.

Spitzer's Corner is located on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow Streets. They have a lengthy wine and beer list, there's a huge back room, and I imagine it gets insanely packed at night.

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Saturday, October 27

Shout Out Louds at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Here's something I noticed throughout the Shout Out Louds's 18-song, hour-long set Friday night at the great Music Hall: the more Cure-ish the song, the better it translated live. So several of my favorites from Howl Howl Gaff Gaff fell kind of flat—notably The Comeback and Wish I Were Dead—while much of the stuff from their new (and quite good) disc Our Ill Wills really soared, especially, I thought, Impossible and Normandie.

Anyway, I arrived at about 10:45 and still managed to snag an excellent spot against the rail on the platform, stage right. The show was sold out, the crowd in the mood for dancing—particularly several large pockets of extremely enthusiastic Swedes—and the band energetic and in good spirits, if a little goofy, and sloppy in their execution.

The complete set list:
1. Time Left For Love
2. The Comeback
3. Suit Yourself
4. Oh, Sweetheart
5. Impossible
6. South America
7. Shut Your Eyes
8. Your Parent's Living Room
9. Normandie
10. Please Please Please
11. 100º
12. Wish I were Dead Part 1
13. Blue Headlights
14. Tonight I Have to Leave It
15 Hard Rain
16. Meat Is Murder
17. Very Loud (with an interlude of Train in Vain)

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Friday, October 26

Richard Prince at the Guggenheim

It's always good to have an excuse to head back to the Guggenheim... I love walking down the ramp (yes, I go backward), the art nicely contained within—and framed by—the vestibules, that comfortable feeling of expansive space behind you. Anyway, it had been about a year since my last visit, so a couple of weeks ago I took advantage of the museum's "pay-what-you-wish" Friday evening deal and saw the big Richard Prince retrospective, Spiritual America.

First, let me say this: the show's title has little if anything to do with the subject matter in any sort of overt way. I was afraid that the work would be a lot of fish-in-a-barrel attacks on money-seeking evangelicals and the like, but Spiritual America is actually a good deal more broad and interesting than that: it's both the name of one of Prince's most famous pieces, an appropriated image of 14-year-old Brooke Shields, above; and, in the far-more-articulate-than-I-could-be words of the museum's liner notes, sums up "the powerful conflicting impulses that characterize American culture: the deeply ingrained Puritan ethos countered by a desperate and often degrading desire for recognition."

Prince is most known for his appropriations—photographing images from magazines, mostly advertisements, then enlarging, re-cropping, framing, and selling for thousands of dollars—and there are plenty of examples here of that work. My favorites among these were from the Fashion and the Girlfriends series (taken from the long-running feature in Easy Rider magazine, for which guys would send in "sexy" pictures of their woman and their bike), both above; and the great Women Looking Left, below.

There are also (too) many of his Joke and Check paintings here, in which bad Borscht-belt one liners are, in the latter, put into grids of blank checks, or old porno pics, and then painted over. These are engaging, because the jokes can't help but elicit a smile, and I'm always a sucker for art that incorporates typography, but it does get repetitive.

But what I liked perhaps most of all was Prince's Upstate series—straightforward photographs taken near a small town in upstate New York—of forlorn man-made structures left to rot in their scrubby landscape. Abandoned dreams, creeping poverty, grinding despair... these pieces are simple, evocative, powerful.

As always, I apologize for the lameness of my surreptitiously taken photographs. Richard Prince: Spiritual America is at the Guggenheim through January 9. Adult admission to the museum is $18, except on Fridays between 5:45 and 7:15, when the place stays open late and you can pay whatever you want. I wanted: $3. Given the special deal and the fact that it was the show's opening night, I was pleasantly surprised that the museum did not feel crowded.

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Thursday, October 25

Back Forty


It had been less than a week since they opened the doors of this casual, remarkably inexpensive, ingredient-obsessed tavern, and Peter Hoffman and crew (almost) totally nailed it—the second time this season a brand new restaurant has blown me away. Really, even though I ordered four things, this was the kind of meal that I didn't want to fill me, just so I could try something else. I can't wait to go back, this time with daughters in tow. So I can eat off their plates, too.

The room is pretty in a rustic kind of way, I guess: antique farm implements hanging on the wall; metal toy truck filled with garlic bulbs; unfinished wood tables, with paper menus doubling as place mats, etc.. But for me, the food is the thing here, and the thing is very very good. I started with Red Maine Shrimp and Bacon Beignets (because, really, how could you not), four or five deep fried, crispy/doughy creations stuffed with a garlicky surf-n-turf mash, nicely paired with an intense sweet chili sauce. Basically, an excellent excuse to eat donuts for dinner.

The "From the Garden" section is the menu's lengthiest and most tempting. Any number of the ten choices sounded great, but in the end I opted for the Shaved Fennel and Pumpkin, and it was amazing: the veggies bright and lively, the creamy lemon turmeric vinaigrette a beautiful complement. Then it was on to "The Core", and the House Made Pork Sausage—spicy, dry, delicious, with just a hint of maybe cinnamon—on a bed of sweet and vinegary cabbage slaw.

The only mistake of the evening? Instead of ordering another Garden dish, I got dessert. Susan's Fall Fruit Pie turned out to be an uninspiring slice of cold apple, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream... which, because the pie was so not-warmed, just sat there, being a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next time: vegetables for dessert, too!

Back Forty is located on Avenue B between 12th and 11th Streets. I arrived at 6:00 on a rainy Wednesday evening and, unsurprisingly, was the only one there for most of my meal. Given how good this is, that may be the last time the place will ever be empty, ever. Perhaps out of boredom, my server approached me at least six times to ask how I was enjoying my dinner... each time just as I had put food into my mouth (because when you're dining alone, what else are you going to be doing?) so I had to do that awkward nod, grunt and smile thing.

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Wednesday, October 24

Momoya on Amsterdam

Last Sunday evening two things happened almost simultaneously:

1. Our stove broke.
2. We developed a serious yen for a Japanese feast.

Well, I had the yen, but my empathetic daughters were kind enough to play along, so the three of us headed out to sample the sushi and soba at Momoya on Amsterdam... and arrived back home total fans of this spanking-new offshoot of the popular Chelsea spot.

The good news began before we even sat down: this a beautifully designed place, with the main wall in the front room composed of the rough-hewn ends of wooden planks, all protruding at irregular distances, all running horizontally. In the cozy, secret-hideout-feeling back room, it's the same thing, except the planks run vertically. Very cool. We thought maybe it was the work of Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (think: Fluff, and Xing... plus they were on my mind because I had just seen the by-the-way excellent free Winner's Panel discussion at the Cooper Hewitt last week), but according to Momoya's host the space was designed and built by Swee Phuah and Hiro, of Momofuku, ChikaLicious, Soto, etc, fame.

And the food? There's nothing exotic, or even unusual on the menu, but much of what we ordered was truly top-notch. Take the Shumai: five fat dumplings, soft but not mushy (the usual downfall of these things) with a chewy, patchwork coating of firm noodles, the filling chunky enough that you could actually taste the shrimp and chicken, accompanied by a perfect ponzu sauce. We all agreed, these are as good as we've ever had. Also as a starter we shared the Seaweed Tasting, a generous sampling of six varieties of the sea greens (and purples... and whites), topped with an interesting shiso soy vinaigrette, which I happened to like, but if you're not fond of shiso, don't bother with this dish. Finally, we split a plate Usuzukuri, the fluke appropriately melty and thin, the ponzu a never-enough condiment for my kids.

Next came the mains. Co went the noodle route and was rewarded with a "yummy" bowl of Tempura Soba, the toothsome buckwheat strands swimming in a rich, earthy broth filled with, among other things, many sorts of mushrooms. The tempura in this kind of situation always gets too soggy for my tastes—in fact, Co and I we both wished we could have ordered just the soba and mushrooms—but vegetables themselves were good.

But the highlight of meal, and rightly so, was the fish. I had the Chirashi, Bo the Sushi Entree, and though the selections were standard sushi/sashimi fare—tuna, salmon, yellow tail, mackerel, eel, fluke, etc.—we were totally impressed. These pieces were uniformly soft, fresh, and lively with flavor... better, for example, than I've had at next-door Haru, and at less than two-thirds the price (and served in a much more friendly manner). All in all, this is absolutely our new go-to spot for Upper West Side sushi.

Momoya is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 80th Streets.

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Film School at the Mercury Lounge

Not for the faint of ear, a show like this: the sonically-inclined Film School at the delightfully intimate Mercury Lounge. And, I must admit it, there were times during last night's mostly tight and reasonably rockin' hour-long set when I felt like the music drifted (and, thus, did my attention) into an almost headachey drone. But don't forget, I'm kind of an old man, and there were plenty of young'uns there who seemed to be loving every minute.

The set was a good mix of stuff from their newish CD, Hideout, as well as a few gems from their great self-titled disc of 2006, the one with the tulips on the cover (though personally I would have also really liked to hear Breet. And Harmed. And Like You Know). Anyway, here's the complete set list:

Plus two encores: Dear Me and Sick of Shame. Encores are so goofy at the Mercury Lounge because there's no backstage, so the band members just kind of milled around in the dark for a minute or two as we all clapped and screamed for more. When the stage lights came back on, Greg Bertens deadpanned: "We're back." The show ended a little after midnight.

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Sunday, October 21


There's hope!

That's what I thought, at least, when Nanoosh was getting prepared to open. There are tons of these sort of small, interesting-looking places serving cheap, interesting-tasting food all over town... but not so much on the Upper West Side. Especially on Broadway, where it's like: diner, diner, Cosi's, diner, pizza, filthy Big Nick's, diner, Cosi's, pizza, diner. Why no ramen, or paulitos? Where's the cheesesteaks, the arepas, or the empanadas?

Anyway, getting back to Nanoosh, aka home of dashed hopes.

Now, I admit that I'm not a huge fan of hummus, which is pretty much all this modern-designy, communal-table-having, organic-chick-pea-crushing spot offers. I am, however, a huge fan of food that has taste, which, sadly, they don't seem to serve at all. I tried the signature dish, the Hummus Nanoosh, which comes with "natural" ground beef and unfortunately under-roasted pine nuts. It's looks pretty good, right? Yeah, well, let me just say that the warm pita that came with it had more flavor. I also ordered a side of Quinoa Salad, just to mix things up, which tasted pretty much like raisins and onions, and nothing like the also-included red peppers, or cilantro, or walnuts, or lemon juice, to say nothing of quinoa. A minor point: I had to ask for my menu-promised pickles and olives, and received a tiny, miserly crock, obviously pulled straight from the fridge, all dried up and cold.

Nanoosh is located on Broadway, between 68th and 69th Streets. The location is ideal for a quick pre-movie bite, but I guess for now I'll be sticking with La Traviata, a hole-in-the-wall pizza place on 68th Street just west of Amsterdam, to fit that bill.

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