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

Friday, November 30

Holiday Season Movies: Part 1

Surprises and disappointments start off my sure-to-be-busy Holiday Season of movie going. The standard quick look:

Frank Langella has been getting raves for his work in the excellent Starting Out In the Evening, and with good reason: his Leonard Schiller is brilliant, a wonderfully subtle portrayal of a dignified, aging New York City intellectual/writer—once celebrated, now out-of-print and "respected"— trying to finish his last novel before time runs out. But almost as impressive here is Lili Taylor as his protective, warmhearted daughter Ariel, on the cusp of 40, a little lost in life, longing to have a child, in love with a man who does not; and Lauren Ambrose as the pretty, precocious graduate student Heather, who, under the guise of writing her Master's thesis on the man, convinces Schiller to let her into his home, his mind, and, ultimately, his heart. This is just a great, grown-up movie, intelligent and true, about decent people whom you can root for to find some measure of peace and happiness in their lives.

We've been excited about Enchanted since the first trailer months ago... but after a dozen or so such viewings I was concerned that I was already sick of a movie I hadn't yet seen. Not to worry. This sweet, brisk and clever romantic comedy about an animated-turned-flesh-and-blood princess (a terrific Amy Adams) and her attendent prince-in-pursuit, talking chipmunk, and evil queen, all flung from a Disney cartoon fairytale land into present-day Manhattan, has enough honest emotion and genuinely hilarious moments that even an unnecessary—and unnecessarily loud and frantic—final act can't ruin the fun. While not as completely subversive as some viewers would like, if a fresh take on happily-ever-after appeals, this will not disappoint.

About half of Stephen King's The Mist is a ripping thriller featuring legions of horrifically skin-crawling creatures doing horrifically skin-crawling things to the good people of SmallTown, Maine. Unfortunately, the other half feels like a TV miniseries in the worst way. It's not that all the acting is terrible (Toby Jones and Andre Braugher aren't given nearly enough screen time), though some of it definitely is (I don't understand why people keep giving Thomas Jane work). But the script is hopelessly ham-fisted, the plotting clunky, and the film stars a character you've never wished would just please DIE already more than Marcia Gay Harden's crazy evangelist. That said, if you're at all intrigued, I would suggest checking it out, if only for the deliriously cruel ending, which had a packed house in Times Square hooting with glee and disbelief.

The more you know about Bob Dylan's life and music, the more you'll enjoy I'm Not There, Todd Hayne's impressionistic, creative, beautifully filmed, incredibly frustrating sort-of biopic. By now you know the central gimmick: six different actors play six different aspects of Dylan's life and personality, highlighted, in both my and Debbie's opinion, by Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Ben Whishaw. It's all very interesting and cool in theory—and, really, there are many very good individual moments here—but ultimately Haynes is annoyingly unhelpful to his audience, flexing an exclusivity that's totally unneeded. It was completely unclear to me for most of the movie how much of the action/emotion was based on reality, and how much was fiction. Should it have mattered? Maybe not... but because there's no real narrative here, admiring the director's imagination and technical skill is only compelling up to a point. The parts of the film I liked the most, by far, were the parts that I "got": Haynes's portrait of Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival, to give just one example, was funny, ingenious, and powerful. I think if Haynes had just been a little more welcoming, just helped us non-fanatics a little more, my opinion of the movie would have changed dramatically. I don't like being pushed away so firmly by a filmmaker—especially for an overly-long 135 minutes—my only failing having been insufficient research on his subject. There's an underlying smugness to it all, as when anyone uses their knowledge of a certain set of facts or ideas—facts or ideas which we all could learn, but just haven't, for whatever reason—as the basis for feeling and asserting their superiority. There's no teaching in I'm Not There, no generosity, and I think Haynes really blew it.

Debbie put it best: Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding is little more than an exercise in "horribleness for horribleness's sake". The story is simple: one sister comes to witness another's nuptials, and everyone treats everyone else like garbage. Kids, parents, neighbors, siblings, lovers, fiancés, exes, babysitters... all of them. Just horrible. Sure, the acting is first rate, especially the three leads, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nicole Kidman, and Jack Black. And the script is sharp, though this feels like a much longer movie than its actual 90-minute running time. But, honestly, why do I need to spend any time at all with such miserable, vindictive, ugly, manipulative people? And the answer, of course, is that I don't. So, next time Baumbach, forget it... I'm NOT going! Now, I thought the same thing about his Squid and the Whale, which many people also loved, including my aforementioned girlfriend (in fact, I actually liked Margot more than Squid), so let your conscious, and your stomach for meanness, be your guide here.


Thursday, November 29

Georgia's Eastside BBQ

Say you're totally starving to death, and your movie at the Sunshine starts in an hour, and you're not feeling especially wealthy, and for a few days now you've been quietly nursing your semi-annual craving for some Southern-style eats.

Ring a bell? Then definitely head on over to Georgia's Eastside BBQ, a small, friendly spot that's been slinging all your basic home-cookin' meats and sides since it opened over the summer. The decor here is ironic Americana, the portions large, the prices graciously easy on the wallet, the food unspectacular but unquestionably satisfying.

I pulled out all the stops last Tuesday evening and ordered the Rib Dinner, a full rack of baby backs which were mostly juicy, fatty and fall-off-the-bone tender (the thick end of things suffered from unpleasant dryness), the tips fired to a nicely burnt crisp, the whole monsterous mess slathered in a nothing-fancy, not-too-sugary BBQ sauce. For my sides I went veggie with some well-cooked, quite tasty Roasted Beets and a bowl of sweet Collard Greens. And because I felt like testing my stomach's outer limits, I also tried the Baked Potato Skins with cheddar, bacon, and sour cream. It's tough to screw up a dish like that, and they didn't.

Georgia's Eastside BBQ is located on Orchard Street between Houston and Stanton. There's no liquor license, and it's closed Mondays... which perhaps explains why they "usually have dessert, just not tonight" on Tuesday.

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Wednesday, November 28

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

The short review is this: however you felt about Curtis Sittenfeld's first book, Prep—liked it, loved it, hated it—is probably exactly how you're going to feel about her second book, The Man of My Dreams. Me? I liked alot, and so I liked a lot.

Not that this is a sequel in any way, but our star Hannah Gavener is pretty much the same sort of excruciatingly self-conscious, hyper-aware, deeply uncomfortable AND condescending person as Prep's protagonist Lee Fiora. The biggest difference in The Man of My Dreams is the scope—Hannah takes us through her life from her early teens to her late twenties—and the author's focus, which is not so much on the friendships and the social pitfalls that befuddled and befell Prep's Lee, but rather on Hannah's often painful, always overly self-complicated search for love, through flings and crushes and romances.

Among Hannah's men: office buddy Ted, with whom she almost loses her virginity after a drunken afternoon... until she tells him of her sexual status; Oliver the anti-monogamist, who toys with her for years while openly screwing every woman in sight, including, quite possibly, Hannah's free-spirited cousin Fig; Henry, Fig's decent, much-suffering boyfriend and with whom Hannah is obsessed; Mike, who treats her like a queen, even as she breaks his heart; and the boy she meets in the park when she's 14, who asks to see her "bathing suit" and shows her his eagle tattoo... an image she'll call to mind years later during sex with Mike in order to achieve orgasm.

I think Sittenfeld is a terrific writer, as much for her broad strokes and the way she nails intense, complex emotions as for her small, sharp observations of the meaning behind the most mundane details of everyday life. Here's an excerpt:


She wishes she had sunglasses, but otherwise it's so nice to be headed down the highway on a perfect late-April afternoon, so nice to just be going somewhere. She hasn't ridden in a car since she was home for spring break over a month ago. And she was prepared for Henry to listen to some terrible kind of male music—heavy metal or maybe pretentious white-man rappers—but the CD that's playing is Bruce Springsteen. Quite possibly, this is the happiest Hannah has ever been in her entire life.

Henry does have sunglasses, with a faded purple strap, a sporty strap, around the back. He keeps an atlas in the car, already folded open to a two-page spread, also faded, of Massachusetts. "You're navigating," he said when they got in the car, and when Hannah saw how far away Hyannis was, a flash of excitement went off inside her.

They don't talk at first, except Hannah saying, "Do you need to take Ninety-three to get on Three?" and Henry shaking his head. Almost half an hour has passed by the time he turns down the volume on the car stereo.

"So she called out of the blue and said 'Come get me'?" he asks.

"More or less."

"You're a good cousin, Hannah."

"Fig can be pretty persuasive."

"That's one way to put it," Henry says. Hannah does not point out that he, too, is in the car.

They don't speak—"I got laid off down at the lumberyard," sings Bruce Springsteen—and then Hannah says, "I think I got frustrated with her more when we were younger. In the beginning of high school, especially, because that's when Fig would get invited to parties by juniors and seniors. Or I'd hear people talking about something that had happened, like she'd be doing Jell-O shots in the parking lot at the basketball game, and I'd think, wait, my cousin Fig? That Fig?" The fact that Henry seems vaguely annoyed, and that fact that he's Fig's—even if he and Fig are broken up, he's still Fig's, and off-limits to Hannah—are both liberating, and Hannah feels uncharacteristically chatty. It's not like she's trying to appear attractive to him, or to impress him; she can just relax. "Of course, I'm not sure I even wanted to be invited to go to junior and senior parties," she continues. "Probably I wanted to be invited more than I wanted to go. I'm kind of a dork, though."

"Or maybe Jell-O shots aren't your thing," Henry says.

"I've never actually tried one." She wonders if this seems like a confession. If so—ha! Given that she still hasn't even kissed anyone, Jell-O shots are the least of what she's never tried. "But my main point about Fig is that you don't expect her to meet you fifty-fifty," Hannah says. "You sort of appreciate her good qualities and don't take it too personally when she blows you off."


Tuesday, November 27

Tara Donovan / Damien Hirst at the Met

One of the great things about the Metropolitan's "suggested" admission price policy? You can bamboozle your exhausted-from-skating daughters to stop in for just 15 minutes or so and look at two pieces of art, and, if you're like me, it will only set you back $3.

First we headed over to the mezzanine in the modern wing to see Tara Donovan's new installation, for which the artist covered all three walls of the gallery with rolled strips of mylar tape in seemingly random, organic patterns. Debbie introduced me to Donovan a couple of years ago—she creates amazingly obsessive sculptures out of plastic drinking straws, or styrofoam cups, or pencils—and I must say that this new piece is not her most exciting. Bo, Co and I all agreed that although we liked the "bubble" or "drops-of-water" effect created by both the shape of the loops as well the reflections off the mylar, the whole thing was disappointingly 2-D , and didn't really command the space.

Up one flight of stairs: Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, more popularly known as The Shark. Now, the most obvious reaction to Hirst's most famous work—a 13-foot tiger shark floating in formaldehyde—is that a more appropriate home for this sad, decaying beast might be across the park at the Museum of Natural History. The flip side, to paraphrase my insightful girlfriend: if you installed any of the MNH's animals in the Met and called it art, it would look somewhat cool just because it seems so out of place. That said, my daughters and I also all thought that there is definitely something poignant and compelling about this piece. And you've got love the list of materials on the wall card.

Tara Donovan's exhibition runs through April 27, 2008; Damien Hirst's Shark will be on view through the Fall of 2010.

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Monday, November 26

Speech and Debate

Debbie and I had a great time on Saturday night with three of the out-est of outcasts from Oregon's North Salem High School, the setting for Stephen Karam's funny, engaging, dead-on portrait of those treacherous late-teenage years, Speech and Debate.

The three protagonists here are all social losers in their own way. Jason Fuchs and Gideon Glick deliver excellent, note-perfect performances as, respectively, Howie, the queeny, out-since-he-was-10 transfer student whose chat-room trolling for sex gets the plot (such as it is) rolling; and Solomon, a deeply awkward kid in tucked-in polo shirt and pleated khakis who channels his anxiety and nervous energy into being "mature" and reporting on controversial issues for the school newspaper.

But the brightest star is Sarah Steele as Diwata, a self-described "odd and frumpy" senior whose frustration over never getting cast in the school musical leads her to form a Speech and Debate team as a vehicle for her own creations, one of which features her playing her idol Mary Warren (of The Crucible) traveling through time to chat it up with a teenage Abe Lincoln. This bit is hilarious—Steele plays it completely straight—as are most of Diwata's utterly delusional ideas. Karam gives Diawata most of the best lines, and Steele knows what to do with them.

Anyway, the narrative is essentially about how Diwata convinces (blackmails, really) Howie and Solomon to join her Speech and Debate club, and the subsequent bonding that occurs as all three slowly reveal their (unsurprising) deepest secrets. But, of course, the enormous appeal of this show isn't in its mechanics; its in the terrific performances and Karam's knowing portrait of the ways in which teenagers—lacking adults they can trust or even respect—try to deal with their fears, loneliness, shame and insecurities through both righteous indignation and feigned indifference. And, again, watch for Sarah Steele in the hopefully near future.

Speech and Debate has been held over for second time, and will run through December 30. The Roundabout Underground, a new initiative dedicated to putting on the works of young playwrights, is being hosted by the Black Box Theater on 46th Street just west of Sixth Avenue, an industrial-looking little space with very comfortable chairs. Tickets are $20.

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Saturday, November 24

Skating the Pond at Bryant Park 2007

My winter-wonderlandian daughters and I were up-and-at-'em yesterday morning for a lovely skate at the recently reopened Pond at Bryant Park. Now in its third year, this pretty, large, efficiently-run rink has become a great annual addition to our holiday-season rounds. We love the somewhat incongruous setting, amidst the midtown towers and librarial columns; we love the skates (especially as compared to the lace-up rentals we remember from Lasker Rink); we love the cookies and coffee during the Zamboni break.

We arrived at around 10:15, and there was virtually no line, though the ice got progressively more crowded as the morning wore on. Even so, I never felt anything but exhilarated to be flying around the ice, or taking a break in the sun and skater-watching for a bit. And Bo and Co were like machines, going non-stop for almost two hours, minus the Zamboni time. All three of us agree: this is a highly recommended holiday activity.

The Pond at Bryant Park is located on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Skating is free, skate rentals are $10 (up $2 from last year!). Remember: bring your own lock for your shoe/purse locker (or buy one there for another $10), and don't bring a large bag, or you'll have to check it for $7. Hours are 7 am (!) to 10:00 pm, and until midnight on weekends. When you're finished, and you're famished, DON'T eat at the snack bar; instead get a meatloaf, cheddar and bacon sandwich from the park's 'wichcraft kiosk.

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Wednesday, November 21

Top Five Fall Movies

I saw 35 movies between the day after Labor Day and the start of the Thanksgiving weekend. Here are the five I enjoyed most:

1. Michael Clayton
2. Helvetica: A Documentary Film
3. American Gangster
4. The Darjeeling Limited
5. Lars and the Real Girl

Close six and seven:
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Wristcutters: A Love Story

And eight:
In the Valley of Elah

I'm totally right, right?


Fall Movies: Part 6

The Fall Movie Season is now officially over; ending, for the most part, with a whimper. So before we leap into the always-busy Holiday Season, here's the usual quick look back...

Above all else, the riveting, boisterous, poignant, surprisingly joyous documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten made me so grateful that I was a teenager when The Clash were at their peak. My God those were/are good records: The Clash (a friend had the early-release import), Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista... so urgent, and genuine, and unafraid, and propulsive. I still remember the way it felt the first time I heard some of these songs, in awe of the energy behind I'm So Bored With USA, for example, or surprised and moved by the sweetness of Stay Free, or, perhaps most of all, I remember the day London Calling came out, and Tod and I hitched into town to get it (though roommates, we both bought copies), returning to our dorm room and blasting the title track probably five times in a row before we could get any deeper into the double-LP. We had the whole school addicted to this record within days.

Anyway, the movie. The structure here is pretty standard Behind-the-Music stuff, combining archival and home-movie footage (love the opening bit of Strummer recording the vocals to White Riot) with talking-head reminiscences from bandmates and friends as well as appreciations from the likes of Flea, John Cusack and Bono. These are mostly shot by campfire light, an homage to Strummer's late-in-life affection for such communal gatherings, which adds a warmth and intimacy to the memories. All the highs and lows are dutifully covered, from his renunciation of his rockabilly and hippie friends right after forming the Clash to the riotous Bonds Times Square shows in 1981 (one of which—old school cred alert!—I was lucky enough to go to at the time) to the dissolution of the band and Strummer's years of depression, lifted toward the end of his life by his music with the Mescaleros. And if you don't get chills during the impromptu "reunion" of Strummer and Mick Jones, performing White Riot at a Save-the-Firehouse Benefit, then, well... you probably never felt, at some point in your life, that this truly was "The Only Bands That Matters."

Occasionally cute and completely harmless, The Martian Child is the story of widowed science fiction writer John Cusack (bullied as a kid, he grew up to be rich and famous with a beautiful house) adopting an emotionally damaged boy who deals with his issues of abuse and abandonment by claiming (believing? is actually?) that he's from Mars, and will be called back as soon as his mission here on Earth is completed. Co loved it, Bo liked it, and I was less convinced: a couple of good laughs and some genuine sweetness didn't quite outweigh the annoying tendency of every character to talk in an earnest whisper all the time, as well as an authorial subplot seemingly thrown in just to try to choke us up even more. Amanda Peet was fun to watch, though. Where's she been?

An interesting idea gone wrong, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes takes a terrific cast—including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Mandy Moore, Kate Winslet, and Steve Buscemi—puts them into that alternative Musical universe where people burst into song to express their emotions (in this case singing along with old standards like Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart, Engelbert Humperdinck's Man Without Love, and, in the movie's best moment, Tom Jones's Delilah), and then uses fart jokes and nudge-nudge campiness to try to keep our attention. I wish Turturro had trusted his concept, and his actors, and played it straight. Maybe a genuinely sweet love story might have broken out.

Brian DePalma shows impressive restraint in Redacted, relying on none of his usual (and usually irritating) filmmaking tics. The concept is sound: show us the terror, the boredom, the isolation, the confusion, the travesty of the Iraqi War with immediacy and intimacy by potraying the life and horrific crimes of a single squadron entirely through "visual diaries": a soldier's camcorder, Arabic news reports, videos embedded into web pages. Unfortunately the movie is so poorly acted, and the script so annoyingly ham-fisted and expository, that by the time the story's defining act of violence rolls around I felt too detached from it all to even care. I wasn't in Iraq with these guys; I was at the Sunshine, checking my watch.

A twisty story that desperately needed more twistiness, the rewritten (by Harold Pintar) Sleuth was even worse than anticipated by my exceptionally low expectations. Michael Caine and Jude Law are pretty good moment to moment, but there's no consistency to their actions or reactions—no reason, external or internal, why one suddenly gets the upper hand over the other—and the script is all smugness and smarm pretending to be wit and intelligence.


The Smith

Put The Smith on your short list of go-to places in the East Village/Union Square area. In fact, put this spanking-new spot right near the top. I stopped by early this evening for a quick bite, hoping for serviceable comfort food, and was blown away by the care and thought that went into each part of my meal. The flavors were bold and balanced, the kitchen's execution near-perfect, the portions heaping, and the prices very low, with pretty much everything comfortably under $20.

Basically: Welcome to the neighborhood.

Owned and operated by the crew behind Jane and The Neptune Room, the unGoogleable The Smith (how soon before it's nicknamed Morissey?) is bistro-y in its look and feel, all white tiles, dark wood, and small wooden tables. Also of note, decor-wise: vintage pinups cover one wall, and downstairs there's a photo booth, an ancient barber's chair, and an open, communal bathroom—stalls on the left, sinks on the right—designed for maximum interaction between the sexes.

The food. My feast began with what may be the best sharable starter of the year: an overflowing bowl of Hot Potato Chips with blue cheese "fondue," a simple but genius take on nachos, the warm, creamy cheese sauce turning the thin, salty chips just slightly—and beautifully—soggy and chewy. The mouthfeel is terrific, the flavors lively, the whole thing hopelessly addicting.

For my Main Course I went complicated, ordering the Lamb Schnitzel, which turns out to be an excellent choice of meat to pound, batter and fry. Because even coated in a sharp parmesan crust, spiced up with chili flakes, accompanied by lemoned-out greens and placed upon a mountain of wonderfully gummy, lumpy, dijoned mashed potatoes, I could still taste the (by the way tender) lamb. On all levels, this dish was a smashing success. If the pastas, burgers and salads are even half as good as this, The Smith is going to be packed and loud, well into the night. And my side of Brussels Sprouts? Charred to a caramelized crisp, exactly the way I like it.

The Smith is located on Third Avenue between 11th and 10th Streets. The dessert menu looked terrific, highlighted by several cake-and-ice-cream-sundae combos, but I was already ridiculously full. Definitely diving in next time, though—heck, maybe even be tomorrow night!—with help from Bo and Co.

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Tuesday, November 20

Grandaisy Bakery on West 72nd

I've gone out of my way more times than I care to admit these past couple of weeks to sample the serious baked goodness they're serving at the new Grandaisy, an offshoot of the Soho original and a delicious new addition to what's fast becoming a major treat zone in the West 70s (think also: Grom, the just-opened Jacques Torres, Beard Papa, and, if you're so inclined, Crumbs).

So far, these baking wizards can do wrong. Three times already I've been back for their Ossi di Morte, beautiful crackly meringues studded with almonds. Get a couple on-the-go with, say, a cup of coffee, and you've just made your day so much better. Or share the love and bring someone gorgeous a dozen in one of their pre-packaged bags.

Last night I polished off a Tortino di Cioccolato, which is basically just your dream brownie come true: crunchy on the outside, rich and fudgy in the middle, with a distinct cocoa flavor AND a hint of almond, probably from the crushed up biscotti they use for texture. I had half right after dinner, solo; the other half at around 12:30 topped with coconut ice cream. Yes, it was totally worth it. Even more incredible, however, is the Tortino di Ciliegie, a chewy, buttery cake infused with frangipane (basically marzipan), topped with sour cherries, all sitting in a shell of chocolate. Seriously, it may look pretty innocent, but this is amazing.

Grandaisy is located on 72nd Street, just east of Broadway. They also serve several kinds of paninis, which sound great but I haven't tried, as well as a large variety of rolls and loaves of bread. I had an green olive roll yesterday for lunch and it was excellent.

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Sunday, November 18

Momofuku Noodle Bar 2.0 [BETA]

It's pretty much our favorite restaurant in town, so of course my noodle-head daughters and I had to check out the spanking-new, upgraded and expanded Momofuku 2.0 as soon as possible. Which, in this case, meant last night, less than a week after the grand opening.

The new space is handsomely designed by
Swee Phuah, all light wood and minimalism; the 55 seats—up from 27, and including two bars and a bunch of communal tables—are jammed in tight; the place was packed and Led Zeppelin-blasting loud even at 6:20 when we showed, though we did get seated right away. In other words, nothing's changed in the land of the 'Fuku.

Or has it? I've have double-digit delicious meals courtesy of David Chang and Co., so I'm going to give them the BETA benefit of the doubt, but I must say that, until the kitchen gets adjusted to the volume of orders, and what must have been a substantial number of new hires added to the line get their feet a little wetter, a Momo-newbie might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Take one of our favorite starters, for example, the great Anson Mills Yellow Grits & Gulf Shrimp. At first it all seemed like the usual heaven: the grits creamy and rich; the bacon the best you'll ever eat anytime, anywhere; the poached egg perfect; the five fat grilled shrimp... totally without taste??? Seriously, it's strange enough to eat food as flavorless as these shrimp even in sub-par places, but at Momofuku, where bracing, uncompromising flavors are practically a religion, it was pretty shocking.

Also arriving as a First was a heaping funnel of Fried Veal Sweetbreads, which were wonderfully moist and tender but, again, oddly lacking punch, though the accompanying bowl of excellent chili sauce—the balance between sweet and heat exactly right—more than made up for any timidity in the batter. Even Chang's classic Pork Steamed Buns were a little off... not that Bo and Co didn't devour them in seconds, but the ratio of fat to meat was a slightly disconcerting, oh, let's say 75 - 25, especially since it was by no means cooked to a crisp.

We've never been able to resist the Ramen, and this night was no exception. Bo and Co split a serving of the standard Shredded Pork, and happily slurped their way to the bottom. I strayed from my usual Momofuku Ramen, simplifying instead with the Pork Neck, and was somewhat dismayed to find the meat a little dry, the broth a little too greasy, and, most surprising, a tangle of egg noodles in my bowl (and starchy ones at that). Apparently the Pork Neck Ramen is always served this way (instead of, you know, with ramen), so next time I'm sticking with the familiar.

As you can tell from our meal, the menu at the new Momofuku is pretty much the same as it was half a block down the street... except for the extremely welcome addition of Cousin Leroy & Arlo's Soft-Serve Ice Cream! The only flavor available on Saturday was Cream Cheese, and it was superb: tangy, rich, totally addictive, and twirled atop a sweet, crispy cone that came with an unusual surprise in its tip.

Momofuku Noodle Bar 2.0 is located on First Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets, about four doors up from the former, smaller, Momofuku Noodle Bar, which will soon be the tasting-menu-only Momofuku Ko. There are no reservations accepted, though there's now a fairly large standing-room area set aside up front in which to wait. Despite my nit-picking above, I would eat there again right this second if I could.

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Saturday, November 17

Noche Mexicana

I had dinner here a few years ago, definitely involving tacos, prompted by a downright giddy Eric Asimov $25 and Under piece in the Times. I don't remember much about the meal beyond its total mediocrity, and it never occurred to me to eat here again.... until I noticed that it was listed in the 2007 Michelin Guide.

Huh? That Noche Mexicana? In the Michelin!?

So when the opportunity for a repeat visit presented itself, I leaped, thinking maybe I had missed something the first time around.

And... no. This is, no doubt in my mind, mediocre Mexican. "Authentic," sure—and certainly a huge step up from that atrocity Mama Mexico around the corner on Broadway—but mediocre nonetheless.

I started with a Chorizo Taco, the ground sausage plentiful and appropriately spicy, the tortillas reasonably fresh, the whole thing fine. I've had worse; I've had better (from the nearby Taco Truck on 96th Street, for example). Next up? Quesadilla de Flor de Calebeza, probably the tastiest thing I've had here, the pumpkin flowers adding a nice vinegary sweetness to the salty and surprisingly sharp cheese.

Disaster awaited, however, in the form of the Pipian de Pollo, my overcooked chicken smothered in a sea of bland, gritty pumpkin seed sauce. This, I thought to myself, is what it must be like to eat dirt. The beans were good, though. For dessert: the Flan, of course. It was OK (Móle has nothing to worry about in the Scoboco competition for best Flan of the year), remarkable mostly for his unconventional squareness. The glib lesson from all of this? Don't believe the French about Mexican.

Noche Mexicana is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 100th and 101st Streets.

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Thursday, November 15

Kara Walker at the Whitney

Yeah, I'm not convinced. The Kara Walker exhibition at the Whitney—My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love—has received the best reviews of the season: "Brilliant is the word for it," said the NY Times, to quote just one gush. But when Debbie and I went last Saturday, we were both remarkably unmoved.

Granted, Walker's old-fashioned silhouettes depicting all manner of slavery-era violence, oppression and degradation are undeniably striking spread out on these large, curved white walls. And I thought the room in which Walker projected colored light upon her figures added an interesting other dimension to her work. And Debbie liked the typed-out notecards, surrounded by the framed collage-y pieces.

But. Maybe it's the shapes themselves, all sort of feathery and curlicued, that didn't grab me. Or Walker's use of the plantation as a way to rattle our cages about latter-day racism that felt tired (as opposed to the Whitney's excellent, absolutely contemporary Lorna Simpson exhibition last year). Or perhaps the relentless, deliberate crudity of the imagery was ultimately a turn-off, as if the viewer (in this case, me) wouldn't get it if there were any subtlety to the work.

Anyway, if Walker's style resonates, then by all means see the show. But if, like I was, you're feeling skeptical going in, I promise you it's OK to skip it.

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love is at the Whitney Museum of American Art through February 3. Admission is $15, except on Friday evenings, when it's pay-what-you-wish.

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