Favorite Things Lately, Volume 7

1 The Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal: Stand in the corner of the domed chamber outside the entrance to Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, diagonally across from a friend a loved one. Whisper a question. Listen as they answer back, their voice traveling across the ceiling through the power of reflected sound waves. It’s a magician’s parlor trick rooted in the science of physics. The gallery hosts a steady stream of people, whispering to one another, looking up and smiling.

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2. The park bench plaques in Central Park: Whenever I find myself alone in Central Park, I like to wander around and read the engraved plaques that decorate many of the benches. Mostly, they speak of loved ones lost and the deceased’s appreciation for this most beautiful of city attractions. I imagine the immortalized taking the same steps I’m taking. Did they love to people watch as much as I do? Did they find the park loveliest in the spring or the fall? What stories could they tell? Central Park’s Adopt-A-Bench program was born in 1986, and currently, a plaque will set you back $7,500 ($10,000 starting Jan. 1). The endowment is used to maintain the benches and conserve the landscape.

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3. Christmas Morning Cereal from Dominique Ansel Bakery: After excitedly munching on this dangerously delicious treat, my husband inquired as to how much it was, since the world-famous bakery is known to be pricey. My expression betrayed me. “$10?” he asked? “$12?!” his face growing more incredulous. “No way it was more than $15!” he said. “$15.50,” I blurted out. So, that’s the major caveat. Here are the positives: this “cereal” is everything I want out of a post-dinner dessert: sweet, salt, crunch, texture. It features a balanced combo of Rice Krispies, caramelized milk chocolate, sugared hazelnuts and mini cinnamon meringues. You only need a handful or two to feel sated. When you look at it that way, it’s almost a bargain, right?

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4. Spiked everything: I believe it was Jean-Paul Sartre who said that everything tastes better when spiked with Maker’s Mark. Or was it Socrates? The holiday season is the absolute best time to add alcohol to your favorite foods and drinks. My favorite wintertime beverage is a bourbon-spiked hot chocolate. It has a double-warming effect. Plus, well, there’s chocolate! I also recently added bourbon to this pumpkin cheesecake recipe per the offhand recommendation of a commenter (thanks, stranger!), which gave it added complexity. One of my favorite baking successes is this chocolate pecan pie with bourbon. If it could speak, it would say, “I love winter, the holiday season, and you, sweet friend.”

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Memory Currency

Be forewarned, I’m about to get a bit philosophical.

Maybe it’s the pace of city living, or growing older–with fewer milestones to measure the years–but time seems to be moving exponentially faster with each passing day. Was that friend’s wedding two years ago or four? Did I turn 30 this year or last? The growing elusiveness of time and its shift from steady construct to malleable force can feel, well, disconcerting.

How do we reflect on our lives as we’re living them? What do we remember of the last year or the last decade if our immediate surroundings haven’t changed all that much? Enter what I like to call “memory currency.”

Memory currency, as I define it, refers to a database of meaningful memories that we can access when reflecting on our lives and ourselves. To get a bit existential here: it’s an affirmation of the nature of existence, that life–our lives, specifically–matter in some way if for no other reason than we have lived them. Unlike tradition understandings of harping on memory as “living in the past,” this sort of heartfelt nostalgia, according to research, actually imbues us with a better sense of self and with excitement for the future. The concept of memory currency is catching on. A psychologist quoted in a 2013 New York Times piece referred to a new line of research surrounding the seeking of soon-to-be-memorable moments as “anticipatory nostalgia

What is it that we remember? Unless we’re born with the gift (or, as some see it, curse) of hyperthymesia, most of us accurately recall only a tiny percentage of our waking lives. Events that are significant in some way are more likely to be remembered because of the intensity of the positive or negative emotions with which they’re often associated. Negative events are, in fact, more likely to be remembered because of the rumination that takes place surrounding them. The more we think about something, the more likely it is to be stored in the brain’s “filing cabinet.”

But what of the positive, or even just peaceful, memories? How do we build that stockpile? My approach is two-pronged. First, though it sounds like a self-help book cliche, schedule events that make memories, something to take you out of the work-eat-sleep-go-out-on-weekends doldrums. A local college course, a book club or volunteering are good places to start. Or, it can be something simpler, like starting a tradition with friends (pancakes every February, for example) or with a significant other (summer nights out in Brighton Beach). The easiest option, of course, is going on a trip. These don’t have to be grand, international excursions, and personally, I’m irked by “experience collectors” who’re only obsessed with their country count. Adventures are ready to be had an hour drive or a 20-hour plane ride from home. Pick a place you’ll anticipate going to (per a recent Atlantic article, we’re happiest when we spend money on experiences we’re excited about as opposed to on material things) and will want to document.

Second, facilitate the remembrance of events as they’re happening. Photos are important to the concept of memory currency–just a few, and not for the purposes of posting on social media. I also love the hippie-dippy but actually useful concept of mindfulness. Stop and asses what’s happening and how you’re feeling. As an example: My husband and I had the best snowed-in day two winters ago. Nothing of importance happened aside from us playing in the park and making a gourmet lunch and from-scratch hot chocolate, but I took photos, and I tried really hard to capsulize those contentment-filled emotions. The day is fresh in my memory while I’d be hard pressed to recall the details of many other days from around that time period.

Living in a global city like New York can make us complacent, that just by virtue of existing here, in this kinetic space, we’re creating memorable moments. It’s not always so easy. Memory currency, much like regular currency, should be sought, earned and stored safely away.

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Image courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

My New York

I have some exciting news: I’m officially a New Yorker! According to conventional wisdom, a resident earns the right to call him- or herself a New Yorker after living in the city for a consecutive decade. My 10th anniversary was just a few weeks ago, on September 26th. That was the first day of my magazine internship in 2004. I was terrified and bright-eyed that first sunny morning, arriving at work nearly 40 minutes early. In that time, the city has kicked me around, picked me back up, consoled me, gutted me, loved me and inspired me. I often compare living in NYC to being a teenager–all of your feelings about the city are amplified to an almost unbearable level; the highs are deliriously high, while the lows are crushingly low. No one is blasé about this place. In order to celebrate my time in this great city, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite places, memories and foods from the past 10 years.

Favorite Memory: As far as nights out go, both my bachelorette party and recent 30th birthday at competing Russian supper clubs Rasputin (now closed) and Tatiana were insanely fun. On a more sentimental note, it’s hard to pick a favorite inspired memory, but most recently, I remember my husband and I standing on our tarred (unauthorized) Brooklyn rooftop on the Fourth of July, watching dozens of fireworks displays from as far away as central Jersey. We could see other people standing on their roofs and hear the echoes and cheers from our neighbors all over the borough as the fireworks started over the Hudson. The city felt incredibly small at that specific moment.

Favorite Thing I’ve Eaten Recently: The brisket at BrisketTown.

Best Pizza: This is actually a three part question. Whole New York-style pie: Guiseppina’s. Slice: Prince St. Pizza for square Sicilian-style slices and Joe’s for traditional. Neopolitan pie: Franny’s and Don Antonio.

Best Bagel: Absolute Bagels and Murray’s Bagels. If I want a great smoked salmon sandwich, Russ & Daughters.

Best Burger: Reynard for a fancy burger. J.G. Melon for a restaurant-style burger. Shake Shack for fast-food style.

Favorite Dessert: Lady M crêpe cake.

Favorite Place to Collect My Thoughts: The Brighton Beach boardwalk. Something about all those old Russians strolling near the beach makes me feel like I’m far away.

Favorite Walk: Down Manhattan’s Westside waterfront, starting at Riverside Park all the way down to Battery Park.

Favorite Place to Explore: Queens! There’s so much to see. I have yet to get to the Bukharian Jewish enclave of Rego Park. It’s the place to eat one of these.

Favorite Restaurant in the Neighborhood: I love the ramen at Prospect Heights favorite, Chuko. James, a modern American restaurant in the same ‘hood, is a close second.

Favorite Bar in the Neighborhood: The Double Windsor in Windsor Terrace. They have good beers, a tasty dark-and-stormy cocktail, and a chill, neighborhoody atmosphere that’s not too divey.

Perfect Day in the City: It’s almost unfair to try and pick a perfect day–there are so many directions in which the day can go! Different “perfect days” can be suited to fit a particular mood or season. The following, though, would be a great Manhattan-centric summertime itinerary. Homemade bagel sandwiches (smoked salmon from Blue Apron Foods and bagels from La Bagel Delight, both down the street from our apartment) then a visit to our local greenmarket followed by a stroll through Central Park and a visit to the Met or Neue Galerie. If we went to the Met, we’d grab a drink on the museum’s rooftop. Then, a burger and beer at J.G. Melon. If we’re not too tired, a leisurely late afternoon movie at classic-movie house Film Forum and a dinner adventure in Brooklyn or Queens–maybe Uzbek food in Sheepshead Bay or Greek in Astoria.

Favorite Tourist Trap: I’m a sucker for the High Line. The converted elevated train track is a feat of urban design surrounded by some of the best architecture in the city.

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From top: Fireworks from our rooftop; a clam pie at Franny’s; the Brighton Beach boardwalk; the unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens; the view from the Met’s roof

A Merging of Cultures in the Crescent City

It’s probably a cliche to call the city of New Orleans unique. So I won’t. I’ll call it “particular” or “singular” or even “distinctive.” (Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) It exists as a place of contradictions. Even though it’s located in the geographical and cultural South, much about it flies in direct contrast to traditional Southern mores. Unlike the puritanical blue laws of  Southern (and plenty of Northern) states, many bars in New Orleans are open 24 hours. It’s also the only place in the United States where open plastic containers of alcohol are permitted throughout the entire city (not in motor vehicles, though) at any time; there’s nothing like taking your $14 cocktail to go in a see-through Dixie cup. Though people were friendly, there was no over-the-top stereotypical Southern politeness. In fact, there was no stereotypical anything. New Orleans felt much like New York City–an amalgamation of multiple cultures, people and even accents. The dialects vary widely neighborhood to neighborhood. In an interesting NYC parallel, Irish and Italian residents speak in a dialect known as “Yat,” a recognizable Brooklyn-style squawk. The locals have an enormous sense of pride in the unique culture of the city, which was ruled by France, then Spain, then France again, before being sold to the U.S. by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The wide variety of food speaks to that–the Creole meats and Cajun po’boys–but so does the music, with its brass-heavy jazz beats and wailing blues. It booms and ricochets off the wrought-iron balconies and lush courtyards night after night. It’s a city with no inhibitions, a place that’s not ashamed of itself, a town where, on any given night, anything can happen.

 

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From top: Sazeracs, the official city cocktail at the original Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel; $.50 Gulf oysters at Lüke; a view of the stately mansions on St. Charles Avenue from the Streetcar; homestyle cooking at Jacques-Imo’s; beignets at the 24-hour Cafe Du Monde; the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square; Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter; Boutique du Vampyre in the Quarter; shrimp and oyster po’boys at Johnny’s Po-Boys; New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden; Walter “Wolfman” Washington preforming with his band at d.b.a. on Frenchman St.; shrimp and grits at Commander’s Palace; bread pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace; the exterior of Commander’s Palace; bead decorations on Magazine St.; wine and music at Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits; late-night fried chicken and a to-go Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon St.; an exterior of Cafe Beignet; craftsmen at Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights; Pimm’s Cup and Sazerac at the historic Napoleon House; the Napoleon House courtyard; an amazing musical duo off Royal St.; Bourbon St. action

A Dinner with Complete Strangers

New York is not a place where you–willy-nilly–engage people whom you don’t know. If tourists are lost and confused, you might ask them if they need help and guide them to where they need to go. If something especially strange is happening, people might murmur about it between themselves. You might even have a bit of small talk with your local business owners or the girl reading the same book as you on the train. (Scientist think these brief interactions make people happier.) All of these conversations have two things in common, however: they’re short and they’re non-intrusive. Small-town folk might call us rude. We view it as a courtesy extended to us by fellow city dwellers–in a place with almost no privacy, you let people have theirs in public.

Except we broke those rules, as did the total strangers we were dining with a few weeks ago. My husband and I bought tickets to a crab boil at Back Forty, a locavore restaurant in the East Village. Seating was communal, and we were seated outdoors with two other parities of two. We introduced ourselves and after my husband gave a crab-eating tutorial, dug in. I think we all expected to go back to our intimate conversations after that, but we didn’t. For two hours we talked to one another as though we were at a mutual friend’s wedding. We learned about each other’s careers, backgrounds, thoughts on living in the city. A member of the party was from Dublin, and he taught me a fun new idiom: “chin-wag”–meaning a chat or conversation.

It felt very un-New York and very New York all at the same time. These are probably not people I’d be lifelong friends with; I don’t even remember any of their names. It was a nice evening, though, and it reminded me how, in the right setting, a conversation with strangers can be almost as satisfying as one with old friends.

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Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Brighton Beach and Coney Island

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No, summer’s not winding down, and I have proof! This past Tuesday, September 2nd, was the hottest day of the entire season. This means summer plans on sticking around for a while longer. Venturing out to Brooklyn’s iconic Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods is one of my favorite ways to capture the spirit of a summer in NYC. The two neighborhoods offer food, people watching and entertainment–the trifecta of a fun night out. Brighton Beach and Coney Island are about a 10-15 minute walk from one another along a nice, wide boardwalk.

1. Eat: There’s pizza! There are hot dogs! There is mediocre Russian food (I’ll explain below)! Let’s start with the pizza. One of the best pizza parlors in the city, Totonno’s, is in Coney Island, not too far from the boardwalk. This is a classic New York pie. If you’re going to sully it with toppings I suggest crowd pleasing fresh garlic and pepperoni. Consistency varies, but on a good day, the pizza here is nearly unbeatable. Last seating is at 7:30 p.m., practically an early-bird dining hour in NYC.

(Image via Liz, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

(Image via Liz, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

Then, of course, there’s Nathan’s Famous, home to one of the best hot dogs in the world and the yearly Hot Dog Eating Contest. I’m a sucker for the chili dog, but the original, topped with sauerkraut and onions is great, too. The dog itself is meaty with a satisfying snap. A bit of advice: go to the sprawling original location instead of the smaller oceanside outposts. Though the service there is painfully slow, the original has the freshest inventory.

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

And then there’s the riskier Russian food option. If you decide to go this route, make sure to follow my rules exactly. First, it’s better to go at night when the restaurants aren’t clogged with beach goers. Second, get a small bottle of chilled vodka at a liquor store on Brighton Beach Avenue, below the elevated subway track. Most Russian restaurants in Brighton are BYO, and we were actually once admonished by a waitress for paying for a few shots instead of bringing our own (it was late! the stores had all closed!), and thus, according to her, wasting our money. Next, grab an outdoor table at one of the Russian boardwalk cafes. If you’re primarily after great food, go to inland cafes Oceanview or Skovorodka. Since it’s summer, ambiance is probably more of a priority. There are only three boardwalk options (Volna, Tatiana and Tatiana Cafe) and the quality is fairly comparable between them, so no need to fret about this decision. Now we’ve come to the most important guideline. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, order from the “American” section of the menu. Just don’t do it. “But I’m really craving a burger,” you say, “and “it’s hard to mess up, so I just thought I’d…” NO. Please, for the sake of all that is holy, do not do this. I can’t even guarantee it will be edible. Get traditional Russian (or Russia-appropriated) things like blini with caviar, fried potatoes with mushrooms, shashliks, etc. Those dishes will be good, if not life changing. Next, sit back and enjoy some of the best people watching in New York City. Russian families celebrating, elderly men and women walking arm-in-arm, surly Russians being surly. It’s a fascinating slice of Brooklyn that feels almost entire removed from the rest of the city. It’s like a wormhole to seaside Odessa circa 1975. Another point: expect your service to be slow and probably somewhat rude. It’s okay, you’re using them for their location. You’ve got a 375ml bottle of chilled vodka, the sweet company of the person you’ve brought with you and the salty breeze blowing off of the Atlantic. You’re good.

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A recent meal on the boardwalk

2. Play: Aside from the preternaturally entertaining boardwalk and beach, you can indulge in a bit of minor league baseball or in a few amusement park rides.

The Brooklyn Cyclones play in MCU Park, which abuts the boardwalk and overlooks the old parachute tower. Personally, I love everything about baseball except the actual game. I love the spectatorship of it, the beer drinking, the Dipping Dots eating. Did the Cyclones strike out again? Ho-hum. The Brooklyn Cyclones are also an organization that knows how to have fun with theme nights. This past July they hosted a Seinfeld-themed night, marking the show’s 25th anniversary. There were creative costumes, inventive signs and even a marble rye fishing competition. After every Friday and Saturday evening game the stadium puts on a fireworks display that rivals the pageantry of any small town July 4th show. Sounds fun, right? Well, unfortunately, the Cyclones’ season is over so save this idea for next summer!

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Luna Park, Coney Island’s amusement park, is still open on weekends through October. Come and ride the famed 87- year old Cyclone (not recommended for those with frail bones or the easily bruised) or the makeout mecca Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel with fully enclosed passenger cars for privacy. More than just a collection of historic rides, Luna Park also features brand-new coasters and rides that spin a full 360 degrees. Me? I’m more of a ride observer. My own coaster riding days are behind me, but it’s fun to watch the youngins’ have a grand time. I prefer the arcade sports–basketball and skeeball. Just leave me a bunch of tickets and check on me every few hours. Oh, and don’t forget to buy me a funnel cake.

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Ice Cream Sandwich Roundup, Updated

Last summer I posted a comprehensive roundup of the best made-to-order ice cream sandwich in NYC, and there were plenty of formidable contenders. This season brings a few new examples that up the ice cream sandwich ante.

1. I mentioned a version of the brioche-gelato sandwich before, but the Italian-by-way of Brazil gelato shop A.B. Biagi does it one better by offering their take. The Pain Gelato features a choice of three brioche flavors–chocolate-chocolate nibs, orange blossom and regular–sourced from stellar Brooklyn bakery Bien Cuit. Each pairs well with a different gelato flavor. My stracciatella (similar to chocolate chip) went well with the chocolate brioche, which I wasn’t at all angry about. They place the brioche and gelato in a special, waffle-press-like contraption until the sides of the brioche are sealed. The result is a warm, crisp pocket filled with cold, silky gelato. There’s something especially indulgent about eating dessert in the form of a sandwich. There are two caveats–one, at $8, it is pricey and two, because they don’t want the gelato to leak out of the sides, the scoop is pretty small.

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2. Dominique Ansel Bakery is best known for the perpetually imitated Cronut, but the shop’s signature item is a smaller version of the classic Breton pastry kougin-amann. The pastry is flaky, layer-y and sugary, similar to a croissant, but with a more pronounced caramelized, rather than butter, flavor. For their version of an ice cream sandwich (which technically isn’t new, but it’s new to me!), they take a DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), cut it in half and fill it with two scoops of ice cream. The prailene ice cream creation below, for $6.75, was, for lack of a better word, awesome. The pastry is solid enough to hold the ice cream in place, and it’s sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, providing a perfect complement to the richness of the ice cream.

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3. So this creation from recently featured ice creamery Hay Rosie Craft Ice Cream Co. is utterly insane–in the best possible way. Referred to as “the barnburner,” and costing a reasonable-for-its-size $8, this take on the ice cream sandwich incorporates ice cream nestled between a rotating roster of bookends. The day I went there was a choice between slabs of raw chocolate chip cookie dough or actual PB&J sandwiches. After assembly, both the filling and the shell are placed into the very same machine used to create the Pain Gelato, above. The chocolate chip cookie dough barnburner, which I paired with Grape Nuts ice cream, was rich. Like, this-is-really-good-but-I-can-only-eat-a-tenth-of-it rich. The dough had been warmed just enough to create some crispiness, but its DNA was still very much dough. I indulge in a bit of raw dough eating every now and then, but it’s not my absolute fave, the way it is for some. If that means you, you have found your kryptonite.

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4. Newish Park Slope bakery Buterrmilk Bakeshop specializes in homestyle desserts, and their take on the ice cream sandwich reminds me of the sort of satisfying concoction you’d create in your own kitchen. Pick any two of their cookies–I went with one peanut butter and one chocolate chunk–and add a scoop of their homemade ice cream–I opted for coffee almond. The cookies are soft, buttery and crumbly, which makes the sandwich easy (no rock-hard cookie to fight your way through), albeit very messy to eat. At $5.50, it’s also a pretty good deal in the NYC ice cream sandwich market.

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Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Park Slope

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I’ve often employed the following rigidly tested formula for NYC events: NYC + seems fun + free = usually not worth it. Free events, especially really fun-seeming ones, tend to be uncomfortably crowded. There are, however, ways around this. Mainly, don’t go directly into the scrum. One of my summer bucket list activities is sitting outside a show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. True, the acoustics aren’t amazing, but you can still make out the words to every song, and you have all the space in the world to spread out. There’s only a little over a week of performances left ! Media darling St. Vincent, preforming on August 9th, is sure to draw a big crowd.

1. Picnic: Before you head over, you need provisions. If you’re coming from central Slope, grab a few classic banh mis at neighborhood staple Hanco’s.

If you’re trekking from North Flatbush, El Gran Castillo De Jagua makes an extremely filling Cuban sandwich. It’s less than $7, and big enough for two. Or, you can go all in with a rotisserie chicken dinner and sides.

There’s also R&D Foods (from the team behind 606 R&D restaurant) in Prospect Heights, which offers a wide assortment of sandwiches, veggies and sides by-the-pound, drinks and sweets.

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Sandwiches and sides from R&D Foods

A word about alcohol consumption: it’s technically illegal to drink in public in NYC, but many people do it anyway. I think colorful beer cans that resemble soda–21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon beer–are a good bet and are safer than glass bottles in terms of attracting the least amount of attention. The key is to be discrete. My husband once witnessed a group of corporate softball league players in Prospect Park get tickets for consuming Brooklyn Brewery beers. Those rowdy hooligans!

2. Concert: Now it’s time to settle in. I prefer the north side of the bandshell, near the ticket entrance. The ground is flat and easy to sit on and there’s ample grass coverage, which isn’t always true for the south side of the stage. The major caveat is you have absolutely no view of the performance.

But! There is a major advantage to sitting here. When we parked ourselves outside the National concert a few weeks ago, multiple people came by to give away free tickets (why? I don’t know). We had the chance to enjoy the second half of the show from inside the concert area, free of charge. There are no more paid shows (well, technically every show asks for a suggested $3 donation) on the Celebrate Brooklyn! schedule for this summer, but definitely something to keep in mind for next year.

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Thank you, random stranger, for the free National tickets

3. Drink: Leave before the end of the show to beat the crowds and grab a seat at The Double Windsor, a nearly perfect iteration of what a cozy neighborhood bar should be. They have over a dozen craft beers on tap, in addition to well-made versions of beloved cocktails like Dark & Stormys. The also serve a truly delicious Pat LaFrieda beef burger if you’re still hungry post-picnicing.

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Favorite Things Lately, Volume 5

Garry Winogrand exhibit at The MetPhotography often elicits the most visceral reaction of any art form. A single shot can invoke beauty, joy, struggle and serenity, all within the same image. When people are the subjects, the photographs become a kind of mirror, reflecting ourselves back to us, conjuring and illuminating the entire of spectrum of human emotion. I, admittedly, hadn’t heard of Garry Winogrand until this exhibit (on view through September 21st), but now count him among one of my favorite photographers. I especially loved his vibrant shots of late fifties and early sixties NYC, which showcase the beautiful, controlled chaos of the city’s streets. What’s amazing is how many of these photographs were printed posthumously, so we as an audience get to experience the power of the shots he took but was never able to fully digest. An evocative quote accompanied one of his images: “Sometimes I feel…the world is a place I bought a ticket to. It’s a big show for me, as if it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t there with a camera.”

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984) New York World's Fair 1964 Gelatin silver print San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. L.F. Peede, Jr. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984)
New York World’s Fair
1964
Gelatin silver print
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. L.F. Peede, Jr.
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

2. Buffalo chicken sandwich at Bobwhite Lunch &  Supper CounterSome people search the city far and wide for the best iteration of a burger or New York-style pizza or even soup dumplings. For the past 10 years, I’ve been on a quest for one of my favorite dishes ever–the most mundane of suburban staples: the Buffalo chicken sandwich. It’s easy enough to find in small-town USA but nearly impossible to track down here.  All of this is why I may have shed a tear when I bit into Bobwhite’s version for the first time last summer (and then a few more when I had it again a few weeks ago).  The chicken, usually subdivided into large strips, is incredibly flavorful–Bobwhite brines their chicken overnight in sweet tea!–and is coated in tangy-hot-buttery Buffalo sauce. It’s technically a special, but I’ve seen it on the menu every time I’ve come in.

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3. The Falls cocktail at Weather Up in Brooklyn: I’m not sure why this is the case, but fancy cocktails tend to taste better in the summer. Perhaps it’s because a good drink is best enjoyed outdoors, basking in the warmth of a summer evening (or, desperately swatting at ferocious mosquitos hellbent on your destruction; potato, po-tah-to). Weather Up in Prospect Heights serves one of my favorite drinks I’ve had this season. It includes all of the best things in the world: honey, lemon, bourbon, mint, ginger and, since it’s a fancy Brooklyn cocktail bar and including these is the law (see Sec. 102.3 of the libation code), Angostura Bitters. They like to change things up every few weeks, so it’s technically no longer on their official menu, but they’ll make it for you if you ask nicely.

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4. New catch Holland herring at Russ & Daughters Cafe (and original shop): My love of herring was instilled in me from an early age while crowded around celebratory tables filled with Russian delicacies. I didn’t know what herring could be until I had this variety. New Catch Holland herring is to regular old herring as pasta at the best trattoria in Italy is to Chef Boyardee. This herring is salty and buttery in a way only the best fatty fish can be. The newly opened cafe serves it the same way as the original takeout shop has for years, with chopped onions and chopped cornichons, and with an optional hot dog bun. It’s a seasonal specialty and only available for a few more weeks.

newcatchhollandherring

 

25 Years of Seinfeld’s New York

Seinfeld, probably the greatest sitcom of our time, premiered on NBC 25 years ago, on July 5th. Though ostensibly a show about nothing, Seinfeld proved to be about nearly everything. It had a unique way of honing in on every kind of social triviality, lending the most mundane interactions a comic ridiculousness and relatability. At its heart, it was a show about who we think we are versus who we really are. Jerry, George and Elaine all longed to be viewed as decent people and to pat themselves on the back for their good deeds all while doing some pretty reprehensible things. As an example: George buys a chair for a security guard so the guard doesn’t have to stand all day, and, in a separate episode, pushes children and the elderly aside so he can be the first to escape a fire. Kramer, on the other hand, was the foil, content to be just who he was.

Elaine Benes is one of my favorite female TV characters ever, despite being a not-so-great person. She could hang with the boys without having to emulate them. She was sexual without being sexualized. And she was funny. Like, really funny. And not funny by doing gender-specific schtick. Just, well, funny. I’d say, punch for punch, she landed some of the best zingers on the show. The character is a testament to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s range as an actor.

It was also a show about New York City. Yes, the situations were relatable no matter your zip code, but NYC dwellers had a unique window into the world of Seinfeld. A few storylines that would garner knowing nods from New Yorkers:

  • Elaine giving a false address in order to have really good Chinese food delivered to her apartment. (“If we deliver to you, then what, 85th Street, Wall Street, Mexico, 84th Street…?”)
  • George, Elaine and Jerry’s ultimately fruitless hunt for the perfect apartment
  • Elaine’s screaming inner monologue when the subway breaks down
  • Elaine leading a group that includes a pregnant woman and a priest under a set of bleachers in order to find an escape route out of the Puerto Rican Day parade
  • Elaine and Jerry’s determination to bring a chocolate babka to a party (“You can’t beat a babka.”), then settling for cinnamon.
  • Kramer telling Jerry that if he doesn’t want to be a part of society, he should move to the East Side.
  • Kramer, lost and scared, calling Jerry and telling him he’s in the “Nexus of the Universe”: the intersection of 1st Street and 1st Avenue. (“How can the same street intersect with itself?”)

 

babka

“Cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka”

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