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

Saturday, December 29

The Best of 2007: Books

I got through a completely unimpressive 21 books this year. (The goal for 2008? At least 30.) And while I'm pretty sure none of the following were actually published in aught-seven, that's when I read them, and they're all readily available in paperback.


My five favorite reads this year:
1. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
2. What Is the What by Dave Eggers
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
4. The Warburgs by Ron Chernow
5. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

Plus, three more that, if you think you might like, you definitely will...
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Suggestions for 2008 are welcome, please.

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Thursday, December 27

The Best of 2007: Performance

I went to more than 30 "performances" of various sorts this year. Here are the ten shows which, for various reasons, I enjoyed the most, with links to the original posts.

1. The National* at the Music Hall of Williamsburg
2. The Arcade Fire at Radio City Music Hall
3. The Thermals at Bowery Ballroom
4. Fuerzabruta at the Daryl Roth Theater
5. Beirut at Bowery Ballroom
6. The Decemberists at the Landmark Loews Theater
7. Spoon at Rockefeller Park
8. The National at the South Street Seaport
9. David Byrne: Here Lies Love at Carnegie Hall
10. Fall for Dance Festival at the New York City Center

* Perhaps my favorite Christmas present? Three tickets to see the BAM show in February! Thanks again, gorgeous.

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Thursday, December 20

The Best of 2007: Art

I saw about 50 art shows and events this year, in galleries, museums and public spaces. These were my favorites, with links to the original posts.

Richard Serra at the MoMA
Simply Droog at the Museum of Arts and Design
Martin Puryear at the MoMA
Robert Wilson: Voom Portraits at Philips de Pury
The Art Parade in Soho
Jeff Wall at the MoMA
Roxy Paine in Madison Square Park

Special mention: The opening of The New Museum on the Bowery.

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ChikaLicious Puddin'

In case you needed yet another reason to pop in somewhere and enjoy a tasty treat, enter ChikaLicious Puddin'. Located right across the street from ChikaLicious proper, this new, mod-looking spot with an impressively focused menu—there's pudding, and beverages that go with pudding—provides just the thing to tide you over from one moment of your life to the next.

My freezing daughters and I tried all three varieties the other night, liked one a lot, liked another even more, totally loved a third. The Adult Chocolate doesn't have booze; rather it's a very dark, almost bitter scoop of creamy pudding placed atop a mound of crispy chocolate soil. This is very good, unless you're really craving something sugary. Then it would probably only be just regular good.

Even better? Brioche Bread Puddin', a dense, generous slab of the stuff nearly drowned in a creamy pool of something sweet and anglaise-y and delicious. This hit the dessert spot in all ways. Best of all, however, was the Vanilla Custard Steamed Puddin', a sublime, warmed-up, cakey delight... intense, gooey, beautifully satisfying.

ChikaLicious Puddin' is located on 10th Street, just east of Second Avenue. There are no seats, but the center island makes for a convenient communal table on which to wolf your dessert. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for now; open from 11:00 until midnight the rest of the week.

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Wednesday, December 19

The Best of 2007: Food

This year I ate in well over 100 different restaurants and dessert spots. And while that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the gustatory pleasures available in this town, I most definitely did enjoy sampling so many new places. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

Best Meal: Belcourt. My favorite night out all year had to be at Matthew Hamilton's new bistro in the East Village, where my lovely daughters and I feasted on opening weekend. The atmosphere, the service, the music, and, of course, the food, were all terrific, and we had a blast. Highlights of the meal: Butternut Squash and Apple Raviolo topped with grilled wild mushrooms, brown butter, and sage; a skewer of incredibly rich and butter-soft Grilled Sweetbread; and Slow Roasted Pork Belly and Sausage, a salty, spicy, crispy, fatty festival of pig products, balanced by terrific, vinegary sauerkraut, sweet pickled beets, and lavender spaetzle.
Close second: Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Best Made-to-Share Starter: Hot Potato Chips with blue cheese fondue, at The Smith. (See also: Best Mouthfeel.)

Best Veggie Side: Shaved Fennel and Pumpkin, from the excellent "Garden" section of the menu at Back Forty.

Best Barbecue: Blue Smoke.

Best Cupcakes: Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery.

Best Dumplings: the amazingly-textured, fat and flavorful Shumai with ponzu sauce at Momoya on Amsterdam.

Best Ramen: Momofuku (sorry, haters, but it's still so true).

Best Milkshake: Toasted Marshmallow at Stand.

Best Pasta: Garganelli with fava beans, pancetta and pecorino at Spiga.
Close second: Malfatti, a gnocchi made from semolina, ricotta, and spinach, at Cafe Emillia.

Best Ice Cream
: Grom
Close second: L'Arte Del Gelato

Best Fried Chicken: Rack and Soul. (See also: Best "Kid's Menu".)

Best Flan: Móle

Best Chocolate Cake: Torta di Ciocolatta, a wonderful, warm, incredibly rich, crispy/chewy creation with deep cocoa flavors, topped with a scoop of sweet vanilla gelato, at Gemma.

Best Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding—cold and warm and cakey and gooey and creamy and sweet—at Schiller's Liquor Bar.
Close second: Toasted Walnut Tahitian Vanilla Parfait at Kyotofu.

Best Sushi: Soto.

Best Empanada
: Broccoli and Cheese in Corn Flour at Empanada Mama.

Best Sandwich: the Pig's Ass Sandwich—fatty, juicy, marinated pork butt with cheddar and foi epi and sweet B&B pickles, all pressed together on crunchy ciabatta and served with a side of chipotlé aoli—at Casellula.
Close second: the three terrine Bahn Min, composed of ham, veal head cheese and chicken liver pate, at Momofuku Ssäm.
Close third: the hot Meatloaf with Cheddar, with thick, smoky bacon slabs and spicy tomato relish, at 'wichcraft.

Best Curbside Treat: warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with creme anglaise—and, frankly, just about everything else—from Dessert Truck. (See also: Best Debbie-and-Chocolate-Sauce Memory.)

Best Deviled Eggs: the trio of creamy and zingy eggs perched atop slices of crispy fried pork toast at Resto.
Close second: Fatty Crab, available only at the bar. (See also: best conversation about Radiohead with a bartender.)

Best Hot Dog: the "Infamous Stoner", a total mess loaded with chili, melted cheese and crushed fritos, at Dash Dogs.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie: City Bakery / Birdbath / Build a Green Bakery.

Best Pizza: Di Fara, especially my slice that he piled high with melty, oily Porcini.

Best Dish
: Sea Urchin with fluffy Whipped Tofu sprinkled with bonito flakes and sesame seeds atop fruity, chewy Black Tapioc, at Momofuku Ssäm.
Close second: Kampachi Tar Tare—chopped Hawaiian jack fish with wasabi tobiko, pine nuts, served with soy foam—at Soto.
Close third: Lansaña de Cangrejo, a crab meat lasagna with mussel saffron sauce, at Ureña (now serving less expensive, supposedly less inventive fare as Pamplona).

Best Cephalopod: the Polipetti E Sedano, an amazing grilled octopus sitting atop celery bits and black olives. Lemony, oceany, oily, unbelievably tender, totally transcendent. At Morandi.

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Tuesday, December 18

Banksy at Vanina Holasek

You've got to give them credit for trying. Perhaps the world's most famous street-artist, Banksy has long been a personal favorite of mine—I think he's clever and creative, plucky and genuine, and I find his work to be enormously appealing, both in content and visual style—and was thrilled to stumble across a couple of his pieces on the streets of his native London a couple of years ago.

But Banksy on paper, framed behind glass? Banksy for sale... and, by the way, for astonishing amounts of money? In no way do I begrudge the guy his success, but wouldn't his stuff lose all of its impact in a gallery setting? Well, mostly... yes, in fact it does. Not that the Vanina Holasek gallery show isn't worth seeing—even if you're not a fan, there's enough original ideas, well executed, to recommend it—but, maybe more than anything, it certainly did make me re-appreciate the miracle of last December's Wooster on Spring show.

In some ways, the narrow, stand-alone, three-story townhouse of Vanina Holasek is the perfect gallery for such a show, and everyone worked mighty hard to create an atmosphere that at least somewhat evokes (however implausibly) the grit and spontaneity of the street, or a squat. Banksy's mascot rubber rats are everywhere, for example, and there's lots of police tape and paint splatters and the like. Problem is, because they also wanted to sell the stuff, it's not like Banksy could just go in and tag the walls (again, HUGE re-appreciation of the Wooster on Spring show!)

Anyway, there are many of the artist's greatest hits here, most of which I love, all packed into the gallery's three stories, and it was definitely a pleasure to see these pieces "live", even in print form. In the end, I think Banksy and Vanina Holasek did a fine job with an extremely difficult assignment. And even if it doesn't entirely work, well, heck, it's better than nothing.

Banksy Does New York runs through December 29. Vanina Holasek is located at 502 West 27th Street, just off of 10th Avenue. If you can't afford several hundred thousand dollars for a signed piece, they are also selling $50 T-shirts and $55 catalogs. My advice? Get Wall and Piece instead, available in lots of places for under $30. It's written by Banksy and filled with hundreds of great images of his stuff out in the world.

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Monday, December 17

The Best of 2007: Music

A few excellent albums from 2007, and my current favorites therein...

The National: Boxer (Fake Empire, Brainy, Slow Show, Blank Slate, Apartment Story)
Radiohead: In Rainbows (Jigsaw Falling Into Place*, Reckoner, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Bodysnatchers)
The Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (Keep the Car Running, Intervention, The Well and the Lighthouse, (Antichrist Television Blues))
Kevin Drew/Broken Social Scene: Spirit If... (Lucky Ones, Tbtf, Fucked Up Kid, Safety Bricks)
: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (The Ghost In You Lingers, Rhthm & Soul, Underdog, You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb, Black Like Me)
Kanye West: Graduation (Flashing Lights, Good Life, Homecoming, Can't Tell Me Nothing)

Other songs that, at one time or another during the past year, made it onto my on-the-go mixes day after day after day.... Yes, I know some of these weren't released in 2007.

Glenn Hansard/Markéta Irglová: Falling Slowly, Trying To Pull Myself Away
Peter Bjorn and John: Up Against the Wall, Objects of My Affection, The Chills
Thurston Moore: Fri/End, Honest James, The Shape Is in a Trance
Sufjan Stevens: The Predatory Wasp, Casimir Pulaski Day
: Paper Planes, Boyz, Jimmy
Rihanna: Don't Stop the Music, Umbrella
Okkervil River: Unless It's Kicks
Joy Division**: Transmission, She's Lost Control
Pinback: Prog
Bishop Allen: Bishop Allen Drive, Rain, Flight 180
Shout Out Louds: Tonight I Have to Leave It, Hard Rain, Normandie
Battles: Atlas
Frightened Rabbit: Square 9, Be Less Rude, Go-Go-Girls
White Rabbits: Kid on my Shoulders, While We Go Dancing, The Plot, Fort Nightly
Menomena: Weird, Wet and Rusting, Rotten Hell
The Chemical Brothers: The Pills Won't Help You Now
Radical Face: Welcome Home
The Sunshine Underground: I Ain't Losing Any Sleep, Put You In Your Place, Commercial Breakdown
Beirut: Nantes, In the Mausoleum, Elephant Gun
Devotchka: Til the End Of Time
Fergie: Glamorous
Elliot Smith: Pretty (Ugly Before), Pictures of Me
Tracey Thorn: It's All True, Grand Canyon
Nas: Hip Hop Is Dead
Brandi Carlile: The Story
Modest Mouse: Fly Trapped In a Jar
Anthony Hamilton: Comin' From Where I'm From
Andrew Bird
: Scythian Empires, Fiery Crash, Imitosis
LCD Soundsystem: North American Scum, Someone Great, All My Friends
Black Kids***: I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance
The Killers: Read My Mind
Iron and Wine: Resurrection Fern
Morissey****: Everyday is Like Sunday
Cold War Kids: Hang Me Up to Dry
The View: Wasted Little DJs
The Coup: My Favorite Mutiny

* A strong contender for best song of the year. And have you seen the video? So simple. So cool.
** Thanks, Control, for reminding me about these.
*** Totally addicted to this tune right now (as is my younger daughter). You can download it free here.
**** Colin Meloy's solo acoustic cover at the Decemberists Jersey City show introduced me to this beautifully bleak song.

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Sunday, December 16

Rheon Cafe

A new quick-bites place—tasty food, counter (as opposed to waiter) service, lunch or a seriously fortifying snack for under $10— is always welcome in any part of town... but in a walking-around neighborhood like Soho, it can mean the difference between grumpy pretend-shopping and a fun, goofing-around sort of day.

All of which is why I was so eager to try Rheon Cafe, with its (somewhat tenuous) Morimoto connection... and so disappointed when Debbie and I showed up at 3:45 last (opening weekend) Saturday and were told that they had already shut down the kitchen. I mean, c'mon guys! The only thing on your menu is cold sandwiches! Anyway, we suffered through a couple of croissants—my chocolate-drizzled pastry looked inviting, but was plasticky and stale; Debbie's regular was, as she put it, "horrible"—marveled at the totally-blew-it, cheesy design, and left thinking, well, that's that.

Two days later, however, I found myself solo and starving in the same nabe, and thought, heck, maybe they're actually serving food this afternoon. And they were. And, I must say, it was pretty good. Totally over-sauced, true, but definitely good. There's only five sandwiches available now (the owner promises 30 varieties, coming soon, so maybe they'll actually use the brick-oven fire that now roars pointlessly at counter's end), and they were out of one, so in one visit I sampled a full 50% of the menu.

First up: half a Roasted Duck sandwich, topped with crispy romaine, cucumber and miso sauce. The meat was tender and juicy, so there's definite potential here, but the whole thing was completely overwhelmed by what seemed like a whole bottle of the sweet, sweet miso. Ask them to please go light on the stuff, or give it to you on the side, and you may have a winner. Next I tried and thoroughly enjoyed the Beet Soup, which was thick and creamy and warm and completely about the beets. Finally I had half of a Grilled Portobello sandwich, which came with many of those canned roasted red peppers, and a ton of chipotle sauce, which I happen to really like, so although this was a total mess—the fillings slipping all around and out of the hardish bread—it was a deliciously satisfying mess. All the sandwiches, by the way, are served on a decent flatbread, which their PR claims is baked on-site, but at least for now that is not true, as Debbie and I watched them unload several crates of frozen loaves on Saturday. Heated up on-site, perhaps they meant?

Rheon Cafe is located on Spring Street between Sullivan and Thompson. They seem to be open only until 4:00, or perhaps 5:00. Closed Sundays.

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Saturday, December 15

Holiday Season Movies: Part 2

I'm pretty amazed that the pretty great Juno was only my fourth favorite movie in the last week or so, but that just shows what an excellent week it was. Herewith, a quick look...

Julian Schnabel's luscious, riveting The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should be held up as a model of how a director can create a visually stunning, creative and unique film—loved the camera work, the jump cuts, the dreams and metaphors—all without sacrificing a bit of storytelling. And what a great (true) story it is, the simple, moving, incredibly human portrait of Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who, after a massive stroke, emerges from a coma with locked-in syndrome: his brain is fine; his body completely paralyzed except for his left eye. How he learns to communicate—he wrote the memoir on which the film is based—through the heroic efforts of by far the most patient and oh-by-the-way gorgeous triumvirate of therapists and "translators" in existence, forms the core of the film. How he learns to live with those he loves—his children, their mother, his father, his mistress, his friends—will break your heart. Schnabel is generous with his vision, welcoming his audience into Jean-Do's world. The film gets a bit slack about two-thirds of the way through, but the most powerful scenes are just around corner. Don't miss this movie.

You haven't seen your father in years—he basically abandoned you—and you're just trying to live your life as best you can, dealing with your own issues, your own messes. Then the call comes: Dad's sick, he's losing his mind, he's lost his home, he needs you. It's an ultimately insoluble problem, but one that demands some sort of action. Do you do the right thing? Out of duty? Out of love? Is there even a right thing, or is it just a case of finding the lesser of multiple indignities? The Savages takes this compelling situation and delivers a smart, unsentimental, occasionally amusing (though this is definitely NOT the comedy the trailer wants you to believe it is), resonant and altogether real movie about responsibility and family and facing yourself and growing up and growing old. The performances are superb, led by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the brother and sister forced to deal with Dad (Philip Bosco, and also very good); the script and direction assured; the whole thing vital, honest and alive.

The casting must have been an arduous process for Jessica Yu's gripping documentary Protagonist, but the result was well worth the effort. Or maybe she just got lucky? Anyway, this refreshing, original film introduces us to four men, all wonderful storytellers, whose lives couldn't be more different in the details (there's a "formerly gay" evangelist, a European terrorist, a Mexican bank robber, a geeky suburban kung-fu fanatic), but whose tales all follow the same narrative arc: terrible childhood pain, fierce attempts at self-control to change who they are, momentary success and freedom with their reinvented selves, profound depression when they see what a sham it is, ultimate redemption and peace when they find the courage to be, to their ownselves, true. Yu interweaves the four stories—told entirely by the men themselves, both as talking heads and using home movies and other archival material—and structures the whole thing as (apparently) a Euripidean drama, complete with titles and simple wooden puppets, which sounds boring and contrived, but most definitely is not.

My eager-to-giggle daughters and I agree: although we all liked Juno quite a bit, and although we did laugh out loud more than a couple of times, this is not a straight-up comedy, despite what the trailer would have you believe... and, really, it's not even a Little Miss Sunshine kind of comedy. That said, it certainly is a pretty great, nice and sweet (but not cloying) little movie, with a good script and a near-perfect performance by Ellen Page as a 16-year-old who gets pregnant (by the always welcome Michael Cera) and, in lieu of an abortion, decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption to a yuppie-ish couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, both also solid). Our advice? No question, you should see it... but just don't expect to be doing a lot of giggling.

Although it was better than either Debbie or I expected (young Dakota Blue Richards holds things together pretty well), and we were both seriously impressed by the CGI, The Golden Compass is still, when you get right down to it, an overblown melodrama featuring gaggles of talking animals, skies-full of witches, an ill-defined mythology, and, most roaringingly, a pack of monstrous, warring ice bears. If that sounds appealing, then by all means you should go.

I don't know... I felt more than a little uncomfortable during too-long stretches of Billy the Kid, a real-life portrait of a hyper, geeky high-school sophmore in small-town Maine. Because although it definitely had some of the trappings of a serious documentary, it just felt a little too close to reality TV for my tastes... a tad too voyeuristic of Billy and his emotional "issues"; a bit too eager to exploit the kid's extraordinary willingness to open himself up.


Wednesday, December 12

Red Mango

The first of a promised horde of invading outlets from the Korea-based chain, the new Red Mango on Bleecker Street is not only now serving first-rate frozen yogurt—as good, or better, than its obvious (and copycatting?) rival Pinkberry—but is doing so in a surprisingly comfortable, unsurprising designy setting, with a definite coffee-house, lounge-all-you-like atmosphere.

The place was pretty empty when I stopped in yesterday, but it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, so maybe it gets as unpleasantly hectic as Pinkberry can during peak hours. Either way, this is a large, well-considered space—a fair number of seating options, plus plenty of standing room while you order, plus an alluring-come-spring outdoor patio in the back—that seems suited to handle a crowd.

Most important, Red Mango's fro-yo is terrific, with that deep tang we've come to demand since Pinkberry came to town last year. I sampled the Green Tea, and it was good, but ordered a small Original with two toppings, chewy, sour dried cranberries and intense Ghirardelli dark chocolate mini-chips. I could have gone for the Bear Naked granola, or the fresh raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries, or even the Captain Crunch, or graham crackers, but I didn't. I admit that, as I watched my exceptionally (but not irritatingly) friendly server construct my treat, I was thinking she was a tad stingy with the toppings, but I needn't have worried: every bite had plenty of everything, and I gleefully devoured my dessert in about 90 seconds. Next time I'm trying a Blender: yogurt plus toppings in a smoothie format.

Red Mango is located on Bleecker Street between MacDougal and Sullivan. Coming soon, supposedly: 14th Street and Sixth Avenue; Eighth Avenue and 45th Street.

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Monday, December 10

Georges Seurat: Drawings at the MoMA

I know what you're thinking. "Wait, a drawings show? I don't know.... sounds boring. Unfinished. Technical. For students and critics only."

OK, so you're probably more open-minded than me, and were thinking nothing of the sort.

But just in case, let me reassure you that the Georges Seurat exhibition now at the Museum of Modern Art features literally dozens of beautiful, memorable pieces that stand on their own—not as "studies" of anything—as complete, and in this case quite brilliant, works of art.

Yes, there are a number of pure sketches here, some from Seurat's early days as a student, more drawn by the artist in preparation for one of his big paintings. These are interesting for what they are, and the full-color "final practice round" of his pointillistic masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte—all landscape, no people—looks amusingly like a photoshop experiment.

But it is Seurat's stand-alone works that are the real draw here. I've been to the exhibition twice, and can't get enough of his cafe series, the performers almost ghostly on stage, the audience's heads slightly in your way, all of it unbelievably evocative of dim, crowded, smoky clubs; or his landscapes, both rural and urban, as well as the more intimate portraits, and the way Seurat expresses an astonishing amount of movement, or energy, or emotion, not with lines, but through shadow, and negative space.

Georges Seurat: Drawings runs through January 7. The Museum of Modern Art is located on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. My apologies, as always on these museum posts, for the surreptitiously-snapped photographs.

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Friday, December 7

Hakata Tonton

Full disclosure: I've now eaten more pig's feet these past few weeks than I've ever had in my life. I mean, I love swine, and offal of all sorts, but clearly I'm no afeetcianado. That said, if ever there was place to get a quick education on the subject, it's the new Hakata Tonton, where nearly every one the 40 or so dishes features piggie peds.

Wait... is this an even remotely viable idea for a restaurant? Well, I've been twice, and though it was early, this small, dreary space (the only nod to any sort of decor is a plastic-encased prosciutto lying flat in the windowsill) was surprisingly full. Even more striking: most tables were taken by groups of young women. This still puzzles me. Not that women aren't as adventurous eaters as men, but the fe/male ratio here was probably 3:1. I mean, seriously... girls night out at the pig's feet place? Could it be the free packages of pantyhose (in three different shades!) offered in the bathroom? The free Q-tips? The fact that pig's feet are, apparently, extremely high in collagen, and some claim that if you eat just a half a pound of feet meat a day, you'll look younger in no time (then why so many already-young women?)?

Anyway, the menu is pretty much all under-$10 small plates, although for those more fancy occasions you can indulge in one of two tasting menu options. Yes, they take their pig's feet—Tonsoku, in Japanese—very, very seriously here. I tried six dishes in two visits, with decidedly mixed results. A good introduction to the genre for me was the Tonsoku "simply grilled with salt," a hacked-up foot's worth of the gelatinous, sticky, sweet, sumptuous meat, all given a nice flavor boost by some wonderful yuzu paste—intense, acidic, spicy, salty—served on the side. If you're looking for something a little less visibly porcine, Himi's Tonsoku Gyoza is excellent: six fat dumplings fried to a crisp on the outside, rich and meaty on the inside, and also served with that terrific yuzu.

Decent, too, was my bowl of sliced up Tonsoku marinated in Ponzu, the citrusy sauce pairing nicely with the fatty meat, although I thought there were far too many too-raw onions tossed in to bulk up the serving. One of the very few feetless options here is Oreilles du Cochon, or pig's ears, swimming in a vinegar soy sauce. It's also the only item on the menu listed in French, but that's neither here nor there. And no matter how you say it, this is not a dish for the timid: the mouthfeel score on these babies is about a negative-4, all crunchy cartilage and mushy meat.

If you're in a hurry, stay away from the Tonsoku Japanese Style Paella, which arrives without warning in an elaborate stove-like apparatus, to be cooked at the table. My server forbids me from opening the lid before the sterno burns itself out, "about 5 to 10 minutes." Twenty-five minutes later I still have no paella on my plate... and when the flame finally does go out, I'm greeted by a disappointing, bland stew of rice and mushrooms with maybe a couple of tiny slivers of pork. Also not worth the effort is the Deep Fried Tonksoku "Kara Age", which is sadly without flavor, though most certainly not without bone.

Hakata Tonton is located on Grove Street, just west of 7th Avenue. Both (week)nights I went the hostess/server looked concerned that I didn't have a reservation, even though it was before 6:30 and there were several empty tables. Both nights, however, the place was almost full by the time I felt. Clearly there's something slightly culty going on here.

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