Thursday, August 31, 2006

Raw meat (OK, not actually raw)

One of the things I've really come to appreciate since coming to NYC is the joy of vegetarian cuisine. But every once in a while, I get this craving for a really good burger. This afternoon, after some appointments over on the East Side, I stopped by one of my three favorite burger places: Prime Burger at 5 East 51st St., right across from St. Patrick's Cathedral. It had a prominent spot in my rotation of lunch joints back when I worked in that neighborhood. And there was something really satisfying to go back there again, like seeing an old friend who moved away, although in this case I guess I was the one who moved away. My other two favorites? Burger Joint, hidden inside Le Parker Meridien between West 57th and 56th near Seventh Ave. And Corner Bistro, down in the West Village on that weird corner near the intersection of West 4th, Jane, and Eighth Ave. Of course, I'm always looking to add a fourth, fifth or sixth burger place to this list. Got any suggestions?

UPDATE: It occurred to me today (Friday) as I was passing Madison Square Park on a bus that there was a glaring omission in my burger triumverate: Shake Shack!

What's cold, $15, and tastes better when guzzled before the audio/visual rounds?

Why, it's a bucket of Rheingold at Tuesday Night Trivia served by your waitress Stephanie at the Baggot Inn. TNT returns from its summer hiatus, according to Caren, next Tuesday, Sept. 5. Woot! (But really, Caren, isn't the Baggot a little too close to Washington Square Park to call it the West Village? NYU land is more Central Village, no?)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

James on returning to NYC

There's a great mention in today's Writer's Almanac of Henry James' famous return visit to the U.S., which began on this day 102 years ago: "James chose to spend his last few weeks in the United States in New York City, and he planned to use that time to gather memories for a possible memoir. But he found that the city was so different from the one he remembered that he almost didn't recognize it. When he went to find the house where he'd grown up, it was gone, having been demolished by the expanding New York University. He remembered a church being built near his house when he was a kid, but that church was gone too. New buildings were being constructed all over the city, and it seemed to James that all the new buildings were uglier than the old buildings. ¶ Those last few weeks soured his whole experience. He began to think of America as a place where all the glorious traditions of the past were being destroyed in favor of the new." Funny how this is such a common sentiment, shared by so many people today. And yet it may be that some harken back to the very period that James found revolting as a grand era worth preserving. I always wonder how much of this nostalgia is the mythologizing of the past and how much could be argued on more empirical grounds. And yet isn't it usually a value judgment, and thereby hard to measure?

ConEd mystery

Regular readers of the site might recall my shock at receiving a $131 gas/electric bill last month. Well, I was shocked once again tonight after I picked up my latest bill. But in a good way. Because it came in at a mere $33, well below what I normally pay. Could this mean there was some mistake last month and they're now correcting things by charging me less? The bill doesn't say. And these are actual readings they're basing things on, not estimates. So between the two months, I'm now averaging $82 a month, which is still high for this apartment, but not as bad.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not working update

Good news from the extended break between jobs: I'm actually checking off some of those things on my to-do list that never get done, like uploading a year's worth of digi pix to get printed—twice, because it failed the first time.

Bad news: The day goes so quickly! I thought I'd have an abundance of time, but each day starts getting eaten up little by little until I don't have nearly as much at all. Perhaps being expected at an office every day isn't so bad; at least you feel like you've accomplished something. What's that old saying? "Got something you need done? Give it to a busy person."

Monday, August 28, 2006

BAMN! ready to kick the automat up a notch

Lisa's on the scene at the opening of St. Marks Place's newest eatery: a Horn & Hardart for the 21st century, complete with hot pink signage and hot pink staff members.

The Sony Building's policy

Saturday, August 26, 2006

PostSecret of the moment

Neko Case at McCarren Park Pool

No diving!

Thursday night, I got to partake of the new Brooklyn concert venue that's started to come into its own this year: the Depression-era McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, where the audience stands in the empty pool with its peeling-paint bottom and the band plays opposite the grand but dilapidated red entrance canopy. Neko Case was the headliner, with elfin harpist Joanna Newsom and singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright as openers. I'd see MW on July 4, opening for Belle & Sebastian, so her set was mostly familiar to me and pretty enjoyable, despite the rain. I remembered an umbrella this time, and yes, it is a little funny to see a crowd standing in an empty inground pool, hoping to avoid getting wet. At one point, I think I heard her say, "We should've brought our bathing suits." During her performance, a red and white ASCAP golf umbrella appeared next to me with a familiar face: It was Jimmy Fallon, I finally realized, after several minutes of metnal SNL cast list searches. Didn't recognize the friend he was with, though. Mike Myers was also in attendance; I saw him between sets getting a beer bracelet and shaking a bouncer's hand and then H. pointed him out watching from the wings during Neko's set. He was with a woman, whom I'm going to assume was not his wife, as they are currently getting divorced, according to the celeb press.

JN's set was so-so—I wasn't as familiar with her music, and thought it was a little incongruous to have play such a large venue as the second of three acts. But she seemed to have a somewhat devoted following among the crowd. She plays the kind of music that I wouldn't necessarily mind listening to while puttering around the apartment, but which doesn't quite sustain the energy needed to make an interesting concert. For Neko's set, we made sure to get up fairly close and thus the venue size didn't seem as pertinent to me. She had some wacky between-song banter going on about unicorns and magical unicorn oracle cards, which had its funny moments, but her singing and playing were just as intense as I'd hoped. Her new stuff especially epitomizes that "country noir" label I remember her mentioning in an interview when I first got turned on to her music. There wasn't as much improv as you might get from a jazz or jam band, but there were a few really great solos by the dobro player who earned some cheers.

As H. pointed out to me afterward, the pool as venue still feels like a work in progress. She said it feels like the place can really sustain larger acts that would fill the pool with paying customers. I said I wondered whether the organizers were trying to go for a distinctly indie feel by signing the acts that they have this year. But she did have a point that the concerts can lack a little bit of energy because of the stage placement and number of attendees who end up filling the space, which is comparable to three Olympic-sized pools. Could the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ryan Adams pack 'em in out in Brooklyn? It'll be interesting to see if or how the lineup of performers changes next year.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Idlewild premiere party

Thanks to the mad hot connections of H. and her new music gig, we saw a preview screening of Outkast's Idlewild movie tonight at the Kips Bay theater, then attended a private party at Providence on the West Side featuring Andre 3000 and Big Boi themselves, along with a live set by Sleepy Brown. Open bar, crabcakes, spicy shrimp, mac'n'cheese, peach cobbler: what's not to like? I'm not normally a hip-hop fan, but I can appreciate good musicianship as much as the next person, and I really found myself enjoying the music featured in the movie, which is a Jazz Age gangster musical starring the two main members of Outkast as lifelong friends who work in a Georgia juke joint called Church, which inevitably reminded me of TheBurg episode that features such classy fictional bars as Office, Gym, and Temple. There are some cliched moments, of course, but the movie has enough style, flair and pizzazz to stand out as a worthy descendant of the great movie musicals of yore. Terrence Howard stars as a mob villain deserving of some hearty boo-hisses. Several dazzling music video type set pieces throughout the film. The party was crowded, but not absolutely wall to wall with people, and I ended up having a really great time, which isn't always a guarantee at such glitzy events. Kudos to the planners who effectively brought the Prohibition-era theme of the movie into the party.

Random item in the post-movie goodie bag: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beach reads

Conclusions after being off the grid for three and a half days: Gmail's spam filter has some cracks in it, but it's still better than Yahoo's. Being away from e-mail for a little while is a good thing, if painful at first. But at least there's always text messaging.

Read while on or near the fine sand of Sea Isle City: An academic paper on H. James' criticism of N. Hawthorne using new English translations of a French literary critic contemporary of Hawthorne. [Thank you, M.A.] That recent big fat issue of Glamour. [Thanks, Kim and co.] Starting from Square Two. [Thanks, Caren.] And a wonderfully rich and complex set of five short stories about ex-pat American women in India and Southeast Asia called Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger. [Whom I don't know in person. Yet.]

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bound for the beach

It was Three of Cups on 5th and 1st and the Back Room on Norfolk in the shadow of Blue tonight as D. and I attempted to show a regular Midwestern reader of this page and her poker partner a little something about the city. They seemed to enjoy themselves. Quite a long day after getting home late last night from Snakes. It's off to the beach for me for several days with the family. Not sure of the internet situation. Perhaps I'll be off the grid, perhaps not. In the meantime, read this great NYT appreciation of the Sontag exhibit that I saw at the Met. And check out this frenetic yet static picture from Tribeca.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Saw SoaP in a half-empty theater with Daryl last night. [Has the Regal Battery Park City ever actually filled one of its auditoriums for a movie?] It's funny enough to see without feeling disappointed, but not as intentionally bad as I thought it could've been. In fact, it felt like there were too many dead moments and some missed opportunities to really send things over the top. That said, we still laughed at the movie, we laughed with it, we cringed on cue, we waited for the famous line that was reshot to make it R-rated, and it basically delivered what you'd expect: B-movie schlock. Oh, and there's a pretty funny music video that rolls during the credits by a group called Cobra Starship. But you don't have to pay for the movie to see it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

NYC TV

It feels a little dorky to admit it, but I kind of like the City of New York's municipal TV station, NYC TV. (Like tonight, I ended up watching the end of "Backdrop NYC," which features short films set in the city or made by city residents.) Sure, there is the occasional moment when you're reminded that you're watching a network with direct ties to the local government. But mostly, it's just like any other channel, and doesn't lack for professionalism. Most of the shows could easily be at home on any number of other cable channels, but they all just happen to be New York-specific. This week's news that NBC 4 will be airing some of the municipal station's self-produced programming just confirms that the shows are slick enough for the big time.

Station identification, or 'Are you out there, can you hear this?'

The end of summer has always spelled transition for me, more so than other season changes. [It also happens to be the title of one of my favorite Dar albums.] Once it was about returning to classes and seeing the community pool shuttered and drained and saying goodbye to summer friends as well as that bouyant feeling that anything was possible. Some people really look forward to the fall. But even though school was never a huge burden to me, I didn't look forward to its beginning; it still suddenly felt like my time was no longer my own. Or there would be less of it to devote to projects and pursuits of my own. [In a much broader and serious sense, that was akin to the progression of feelings I had during this period in 2001 because of what was going on in our country, in what would be my future city. Suddenly, it felt like our time wasn't ours anymore. It'd been stolen.]

So it is again this August-into-September: Some endings and some beginnings, not all of which I'll detail here. I will, however, note that I'll no longer be contributing regularly to Curbed after this week. This was a really tough decision, but I feel that it's for the best, for my sanity, as I embark on a new gig elsewhere that'll be occupying a lot of my time. [Ask me for the details if I haven't already told you.] It's hard to say goodbye to this, because writing for the site was my small New York success story, something I could put in that big box of dreams marked "Move to the big city and make a name for yourself." And it happened without me really even trying that hard. There is, of course, another item for that box, but it's in its nascent stage. Perhaps a few months or a year from now, I'll feel confident enough that I can speak about it in similar terms.

But before I begin anew, I've carved out a few weeks during which I'll be traveling to the Jersey Shore, a place very familiar from my childhood, and also visiting an entirely new place for me: California. There will also be ample time in between, here in the city, for me to tend to a list of things I rarely get around to doing. I'm also free for midday sessions at the coffee shop or the park. I'm going to do my best to enjoy this luxury of time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It just sorta sneaks up on you

It took an away message to remind me, although I really should've thought about it after seeing the latest episode of TheBurg, which features another PSU reference.

Penn State 2006 Football Schedule
(No. 19 in preseason rankings)

Sept. 2: Akron (H) 3:30 PM, ESPN2
Sept. 9: Notre Dame (A) 3:30 PM, NBC
Sept. 16: Youngstown State (H) 3:30 PM, ESPNU
Sept. 23: Ohio State (A)
Sept. 30: Northwestern (H)
Oct. 7: Minnesota (A)
Oct. 14: Michigan (H) 8:00 PM, ABC
Oct. 21: Illinois (H)
Oct. 28: Purdue (A)
Nov. 4: Wisconsin (A)
Nov. 11: Temple (H)
Nov. 18: Michigan State (H)

Monday, August 14, 2006

'Chinatown Bus'

"If you sit up front, you can practice your Chinese. ... When you stop at Wendy's, you can get some French fries."

It was just a matter of time before someone went and wrote a song called "Chinatown Bus." The band is called Project Jenny, Project Jan, and they're featured on this week's episode of The Burg! [MP3 via TheBurg]

PSU in the Top 5!

Washington Monthly ranks colleges a little differently from U.S. News & World Report. And Penn State shoots to the top as a result: No. 3, just behind M.I.T. and U.C. Berkeley. "By devising a set of criteria different from those of other college guides, we arrived at sharply different results. Top schools sank, and medium schools rose. For instance, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 48th on the U.S News list, takes third place on our list, while Princeton, first on the U.S. News list, takes 43rd on ours. In short, Pennsylvania State, measured on our terms—by the yardstick of fostering research, national service and social mobility—does a lot more for the country than Princeton." [Via Penn State Live]

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday night return

Back from a great three-day weekend in greater D.C., catching up with a different friend or group of friends each day. It's relaxing to get out to suburbia for a few nights, to shock yourself with the silence that comes from a sleeping residential street lined with single homes that hide their secrets at night or otherwise tease you with open windows and see-through doors during the day. The fascination with "mysterious" neighbors, or otherwise the unannounced visits of the neighbor boy, a little four-year-old come to question you about the small dead animal in your backyard, seen through a lattice-like fence. The zen of watering a landscaped garden every day. The joy of seeing a new bloom. The fear of having a plant die while the owners are off on their summer travels. 2Amy's. The Grill from Ipanema. Chi-Cha Lounge. The National Portrait Gallery. Mexicali Blues. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse. The strange feeling of walking through the spotty nightlife of the suburban sprawl land that is Clarendon. Buckwheat blueberry pancakes in the morning, independent iced coffee drinks in the afternoon. The long ride home, the relief at seeing the skyline once again, the still somewhat bemused feeling that this is home, these skyscrapers, this grungy subway with its complex, grown-up map and unpredictability and no digital signs to read off the minutes. The first few minutes of being back in my apartment, when the noise of the city is so salient, and the second few minutes when the murmur becomes the norm once again, punctuated occasionally by cicadas and crickets. The cooler evenings, the inevitable approach of fall.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

World Trade Center at AMC Lincoln Square

Director Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is a good movie. But not great. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I didn't feel like it was striving for greatness. What it does strive to accomplish is portray goodness in the small everyday ways that made us proud of 9/11 at the time and not just sad and angry. It's effective in telling the story that we all know, but on a very human scale, one that is worth experiencing as an antidote or perhaps a complement to the mass media version we share. The mother-lode of facts and questions that have inundated us in the past five years are not what this movie is about. It's not about the 9/11 Commission report. It's not even about conspiracy theories, which you might otherwise expect from Stone. There are tears to be shed, of course, but it rarely if ever feels manipulative. Unless of course you see the entire enterprise of making a movie about such events five years later as manipulative. I didn't, even though it's become rather easy to get cynical about the aftermath of that day and the way it's been handled. The president only makes a brief appearance, on a TV screen, and it's played right down the middle; the same goes for Giuliani, who's heard uttering what might just be his most famous line, one of his legacies as mayor, the one about the number of dead being "more than any of us can bear." There are two or three other moments that depict the anger at the perpetrators. But they don't at all overwhelm the sense that here are regular decent people who have an understanding, even amid the chaos, of what they need to do—to prepare for the worst, to shepherd their children, to sacrifice if needed, to stay alive, to keep another person alive, to save someone, to get the job done, even if the job suddenly becomes more than they think they can handle. In short, they know what it means to be good and they try to do it. The challenge with telling the story of two of the mere 20 people to be pulled from the rubble alive is that they were the exception, not the rule. But due attention is paid to the missing posters, the anxious people filling the cafeteria at Bellevue, the breakdown of a mother who probably would not see her son again. And ultimately it's a really uplifting opportunity to trace the experience of the two Port Authority cops and their families, because it highlights the idea that amid everything that went wrong, there were some things that went right. And that's worth remembering.

Monday, August 07, 2006

One Ring Zero at Spiegeltent, Pier 17

Spiegeltent

The pungent stink of the Fulton Fish Market is indeed gone, as noted by Dan Barry this weekend, making it all the more enjoyable to rediscover the South Street Seaport area as a source of entertainment. Currently set up on the pier down there is Spiegeltent, a traveling performance venue (yes, it's a tent) that's set down stakes for August and September here in the city. On stage tonight was the band One Ring Zero. Also featured was a quartet of authors reading or performing their work as an interlude between the music, including Ned Vizzini, who has officially become the first person I've ever known to read an entire selection of short fiction from his plugged-in cell phone, and Amy Sohn, who had a drummer back her up while she read a funny list of lame pillow-talk comments.

I'd heard of One Ring Zero before, but never actually heard their music, and I think tonight's performance minted them a new fan. They use some fun instrumentation, including accordions, trumpet, and theremin. Several songs they played had a carnival waltz flavor to them, which fit the venue perfectly, with its cabaret-style tables in the center, worn old booths around the edge, plus mirrors, smoke, multicolored panels, and swirling star lights. One of the band's recent CDs, subtitled the Author Project, features the lyrics of famous writers like Jonathan Ames, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Denis Johnson, and Daniel Handler. There's even a honku by NYC blogger Aaron Naparstek and a rejection letter as lyric by Michael Chabon. I'm definitely going to look up this band again, and if you get a chance to visit the Spiegeltent, it should be worth it. Two nitpicks, though: The bars in the tent and outside in the beer garden only have Heartland Brewery beer on tap, which I think is extremely underwhelming. And the promotional material advertises the place as being "under the Brooklyn Bridge;" it sure has a nice view of the bridge, but it's not under it.

Bit of a misnomer, no?

I noticed the watering hole at 184th and Broadway today has a sign on its front door. It notes that you must be 25 or older to enter and last call is 3 am. Now, I didn't know they could do that, but I guess maybe places can decide to be more restrictive than they need to be. Anyway, what do you imagine this establishment's called? "21 Bar."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dept. of I'm Really Not Making This Up

Net advertisers will do almost anything to get you to click, including exploiting those unspoken fears about what's really preventing you from finding a date for Saturday night. From the right-hand sidebar of the always authoritative NewsMax site.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Update: Jodie Foster in Hudson Heights

Movie set light balloon
Coming home tonight after a great free hour-long outdoor set by Hot Chip with Kara at the Seaport Music Festival—the air finally cooled down to a bearable level, the smell of salt water wafting in from time to time—I happened upon the reality that is a major motion picture in production: trucks of all kinds, miles of cables, crew members, onlookers galore, etc. Jodie Foster was indeed there, although it took me a while to see her. She was sitting in one of those director chairs with the name of the movie (The Brave One) emblazoned across the back. She's got a very short funky haircut for this role, and she put on a black leather jacket when shooting started. The scene was not the most exciting in the world: They kept doing takes of her striding into a Broadway side entrance of Fort Tryon Apartments, looking like a woman with a purpose (the movie's supposedly about revenge); I watched it from one of the directing team's monitors. I couldn't get close enough to snap a good photo of Jodie herself, but I did take some shots of these massive tethered light balloons (above) that float just out of camera range. Even when it's night in the movies, you need a whole lot of light.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Jodie Foster in Hudson Heights?

Seeing those temporary no-parking signs that announce a film shoot is such a common occurrence around the city that I don't even stop to read most of them anymore. But seeing them on Bennett Avenue is quite the rare sight, at least as long as I've been around this neighborhood. But there were the yellow fliers this week, announcing a Friday shoot for The Brave One. Synopsis: "A woman struggles to recover from a brutal attack by setting out on a mission for revenge." Not necessarily a movie I'd like to see, except for the fact that the woman is Jodie Foster, who's made quite the career out of playing women in peril. Other stars include Terrence Howard and Mary Steenburgen. Neil Jordan's directing, and it's supposed to come out June of '07.

The other, slightly better Room Service Thai

Another Wednesday, another dinner with Heather at a restaurant called Room Service Thai. This is the Chelsea one that I mentioned two weeks ago. It's on Eighth Avenue between 18th and 19th, and it's the slightly more upscale of the two, although not so much that I'd think of them in different price categories. It's bigger, more plush with the hotel-themed decor, and the food is a touch better. The music is also a little louder, although I didn't really notice this until I went to the bathroom and it was like being in a club, which isn't so bad when you're by yourself and not going anywhere. We opted to sit by the window for the waning light, and I found myself dabbing my brow just a bit; as if on cue, they came over with a glass of ice in a small attempt to keep us cool. Monday through Thursday, they have a happy hour, with BOGO Singhas and $5/6 cocktails. I'd recommend both the Chelsea version and the East Village one, but if you're going to make the trip, you might as well check out the one on Eighth Avenue. Still, it is a little funny that there are two places that serve the same kind of cuisine and have the same name. Perhaps they decided to cut corners on the market research, and pass along the savings to the customer.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Go see these two

Two quick picks, because it's too darn hot, and I'm mostly outta brain cells today. But please, go see these fine pieces of entertainment.

First, the movie Little Miss Sunshine, currently in a limited run, but going to wide release Aug. 18. This Sundance darling manages to wrap goofy fun and touching character studies into one modest yet hilarious road trip movie, with great performances all around, especially from the two kids in the dysfunctional family, who are utterly believable. Neither Paul Dano nor Abigail Breslin are new to acting, but they give off that plucked-from-nowhere natural charm.

Next, the play A Stone Carver, currently running at the Soho Playhouse on Vandam Street and starring Dan Lauria, the dad from "The Wonder Years," whom I loved in the not-so-long-ago production of Ears on a Beatle at DR2. I can't say I really cared much either way in the whole eminent domain debate, but this play certainly makes you feel for the homeowner. Yet it's so much more than that: Lauria's performance is so rich, it's worth the price of admission. And the way William Mastrosimone wrote the character, he can make you feel guilty at times for liking the old-country Italian-American stone carver father. Lauria mixes equal parts of rough and smooth to create the portrait of a man who's hard to like at times, but easy to love, despite some of his old-world habits and prejudices. At the end of the day, he's a sweethearted man with a lot of wisdom to pass along, even if his son, played by Jim Iorio, doesn't want to follow in his craftsman footsteps (he'd rather own the business). Elizabeth Rossa, who plays the fiancee of the son, is a little uneven in spots, but she scores several important scenes with the father character that show how the stone carver can really win people over, despite his trademark abrasiveness. And during these scenes, she proves an able foil to his jokes and teasing. His nickname for her is "pasta asciutta" (dry pasta), and it's a perfect example of how he turns a mild insult into a term of endearment during the course of the play.