Month: January, 2007

Bullet dodging on Baxter

Thursday, January 18th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

Burned out by the Financial District lunch offerings, I embarked on an impromptu midday jaunt to Chinatown for some Vietnamese food. SYB met me in the lobby of my building and we hopped on the subway for the minutes ride to Canal Street.

I’d had a couple of good meals at Pho Viet Huong on Mulberry (though not the seven-course beef dinner… yet!) but the intense cold was not conducive to far wanderings, so we decided to hit the Baxter Street restaurants, a couple of blocks from the subway station. This one short stretch is home to a trio of some of the best, no frills Vietnamese restaurants in the city. I always have difficulty deciding upon my favorite of the three, though many Chowhounds seem to like Nha Trangi.e., the one in the middle — best.

We approached the normally busy lunchtime spot — so popular with the jury duty crowds — to find it eerily quiet. Uh-oh…

No Nha Trang

Well, that settled it: Thái So’n it was. Usually, I prefer New Pasteur just a couple of doors south, but rendered cautious by the imposing bright yellow “Closed by Order of the Commission of Health and Mental Hygiene” notice next door, I opted this time for the ever-so-slightly cleaner and brighter (appearing) venue.

Some warming pho for me; tasty grilled pork chops for SYB. And I’m happy to report: no ill effects for either of us.

Thai Son Pho

Thai Son Pork Chops

For future reference, restaurant inspection information is available on the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene website. Check up on your favorite restaurant: you’ll be glad you did. (Or maybe you won’t.)

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Seraphim Falls

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007 | All Things, Film

Tonight, an advance screening of Seraphim Falls. First-time feature film director David von Ancken is an alumni of the Gen Art Film Festival, where his digital short Bullet in the Brain had its New York premiere in 2002. The film captures the moment of a bullet piercing a bank robber’s skull while a former teacher revisits poignant episodes in his life. Hypnotic, a global distributor of short films, had streamed the film as original content on its website as part of the company sponsored Million Dollar Film Festival. Von Ancken’s was one of five films selected for the contest’s final round by web voters. A five-member jury awarded Bullet in the Brain the “Most Hypnotic Film” title by considering not only the short but the filmmaker’s feature film proposal. At a special ceremony during the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, von Ancken was presented with a $1 million production deal with Universal Pictures for his first full-length feature.

Loews 19th Street

The result is this metaphorical revenge western, starring Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan emerges on the screen like a hero from a Jack London novel: fur-clad, feral, and all but indifferent to the fine art of speaking – essentially the antithesis of James Bond. The opening, dialogueless opening sequence shows him shot in the arm like an animal (necessitating some howl-inducing DIY surgery), chased through snowy mountain forests and down a waterfall by Neeson and his hired-gun posse. Over the next couple of hours, in an escalating spiral of bloody violence, you just know the ranks will be thinned until all that remains is a final climactic showdown between the two men. Along the way, there are encounters with the usual cast of Civil War era characters: a hardscrabble pioneer family, Chinese railroad workers (and their brutal Irish overseers), religious missionaries, a trio of fugitive bankrobbers… all shot in a beautifully-shifting scenic backdrop of snow-dusted rocky valleys, icy rivers, woods and scrub and desert, garden and frontier. The cinematography, for me, was the best part of the film. My sense is that the filmmaker intended to build intrigue in this rather rote drama by leaving it mostly ambiguous as to which side of good and evil the protagonists fall. The reason for the vendetta (a war atrocity tied to the titular location) is expositioned through a series of very brief flashbacks and is not fully revealed until about two-thirds the way through the film.

By then, at least among this screening audience, very few cared, having already sat through a lot of intense, squinty-eyed gazing, but precious little dialogue. By the time a heavily made-up Anjelica Huston appears as a snake-oil peddling vision in the desert, those that lasted through to the end had descended into snickers and groans.

Having bid adieu to my partner for the evening in pile-up of popcorn, I passed on the afterparty festivities at new club Ultra, known for its raised 30-person VIP “Tree House” overlooking the main tree-pillared floor. The 3,500 square foot space, which once housed world music venue Satalla, has been tricked out with scent-generating machines and an 80-foot-wide projection wall. Ultra indeed.

On the way to the subway, past Madison Square Park on a chilly night:

Madison Square Park

Metropolitan Life Building

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Balls and berries

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

At the Bix Beiderbecke building for a home-cooked meal. SYB had meatballs on the brain, so he invited me and JL to his home for an intimate dinner party, a redux of the very first of these gatherings, back in 2004.

Per my own latest obsession, I whipped us up a round of honeyed nut milks and settled in on the new black leather couches (very bachelor pad!) to catch up on my shows. SYB toiled away in the kitchen, rolling out meatballs inspired by the Bon Appétit recipe: a combination of meats, eggs, parmesan, parsley and garlic. When making meatballs, as with pancake and muffin batter, it’s important not to overwork the mixture, which will result in a tough and dense final product. The balls should be gently shaped, so that they just hold together — not packed hard like a snowball.

SYB Meatballs

SYB did a fine job; he need not have worried about the last minute omission of breadcrumbs. His meatballs were crispy and browned on the outside, juicy on the inside — just as meatballs should be. There’s something to be said about not slavishly following cooking directions anyway. I remember a recipe for meatballs that appeared in The New York Times around this time last year. Writer Julia Moskin had profiled cookbook author and restaurant owner Rick Bayless in a piece about Mexican-inspired alternatives to the traditional nachos and wings for Super Bowl Sunday: “Quick Cowboy Beans,” “Crusty Black Bean-Chorizo Subs” and those “Chipotle Meatballs.” It all sounded pretty tasty. But then, the following Wednesday, the correction:

[A] recipe last Wednesday for meatballs with an article about foods to serve during the Super Bowl misstated the amount of chipotle chilies in adobo to be used. It is one or two canned chilies, not one or two cans. [emphasis mine]

¡Ay carumba! As the correction was printed a full week after the original piece, post-Super Bowl, I wondered if anyone had prepared those meatballs for a party as written. Perhaps that was even how the Times was alerted to the error. Worst meatballs ever!

Bliss Street Station

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