Month: February, 2007

First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007 | All Things, Arts

The Brooklyn Museum of Art hosts a popular event the first Saturday of every month, during which the museum schedules a range of events, from lectures to musical performances to films to dancing — all free and open to the public. The galleries remain open until 11:00PM on that night, drawing crowds from all around the city. For years, I’ve missed out on this great tradition, but a series of changes suddenly freed up my weekends, opening up a whole new range of possibilities.

It was the first time I’d been back to the museum since just after the Polshek Partnership Architects plaza redesign during that cruellest month in 2004.

Brooklyn Museum

The museum was jammed with visitors: endless lines for the coat check, the café, the elevator… Tonight’s movie was one of my favorites, but we passed on the crowds to wander the galleries instead. Here, a part of the museum I’d never seen before: the Visible Storage Rooms — crammed floor to ceiling with encased treasures.

Brooklyn Museum Storage Room

This was the last weekend of London-based model artist Ron Mueck’s solo exhibition, after which the pieces would be traveling to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (March 2 — May 6, 2007.) The visceral ultra-realism of the sculptures offered uncompromising facsimiles of the human form right down to their skin, hair, teeth, nails and facial expressions. Overscaled figures loomed threateningly large and almost grotesque (“Unititled” (Big Man), “Wild Man,” “A Girl,” the “Mask” series); I found myself both disturbed and moved by “Dead Dad”, which cast a pitiable, vulnerable figure, and the delicate miniature Spooning Couple. Like others, I stood quietly riveted before the two tiny, curled figures, pondering what it is to be human inside our isolating skins, in such close proximity to another, yet so achingly alone.

Downstairs, the Devorah Sperber exhibit (on view through May 6, 2007) was creating quite a stir. Oohs and ahhs (and some murmurs of confusion) filled the gallery where the New York-based artist’s multi-colored thread spool installations were on display. The large-scale installations explore personal vision and optics, light and perception, using ordinary objects to function as low-tech pixels. Viewers first perceive the spools of thread as a random arrangement of colorful cylinders, in front of which Sperber places a clear acrylic viewing sphere, to invert the image and condense the colored pixels into a recognizable image.

Here, “After the Mona Lisa 1”, which incorporates 425 spools of thread:

Sperber Mona Lisa

Also included are full-scale recreations of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and a more detailed “Mona Lisa”, Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein and van Eyck’s “Man in a Red Turban”.

Smiling faces and sore toes in the Beaux Arts Ballroom, where a swing lesson was in full… uh, progress. The dance party that followed would last through the end of the night, with music provided by the Lapis Luna Orchestra.

Brooklyn Museum Dance Party

There's 1 comment so far

A night in DUMBO

Friday, February 2nd, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

Just after knocking off of work for the week, I met up with SYB and JC, and the three of us hopped the 2 into Brooklyn. Slowed slightly by injury, we made our way through foggy, rain-slicked sidewalks to the Fulton Ferry Landing area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges for dinner.

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria on Old Fulton Street is consistently rated by Zagat’s among the top pizzas in the city. The pizzeria was founded in 1990 by Patsy Grimaldi, a nephew of Patsy Lancieri (the man behind the original Patsy’s in East Harlem) — but has the look and feel of a place far older. On fine days, the line stretches down the block for the coal-oven pizzas — no reservations, no delivery; tonight, the early dinner hour and inclement weather kept most of the crowds away.

Inside, the scene was all red-checkered tablecloths and Sinatra memorabilia; Johnny Cash rumbled on the jukebox. We each picked a topping and within mere minutes, the pie arrived at the table, steaming hot and perfectly charred. Fresh, homemade mozzarella, crushed basil-infused Italian tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers, black olives… and that crust! Crispy, smoky and chewy all at once — it set the pizza on a different plane. We sat blissfully chewing as the rain-dampened crowds trickled in around us, considering whether we’ve ever had better. I don’t think so.

Grimaldis Sign

Grimaldis Pizza Makers

In better weather, Grimaldi’s pizza is the perfect way to cap off a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. And, according to one of the framed articles on the wall, a marriage proposal.

Which brings me to the main reason for our trip: MW and MA’s engagement party. The rains had tapered off by then, and bellies full, we strolled into DUMBO along cobblestone streets, past the galleries and funky boutiques. The affair was being hosted by a friend of the couple’s in one of the swanky warehouse conversions overlooking the waterfront, in a building known for both its striking lobby sculpture and its rodent problem. (Eek.)

The apartment itself was stunning, offering a swell space in which to mingle among the other guests, including one whose path I must have crossed many, many times, yet never met until this night. One of those serendipitous New York moments. It called to mind the opening lines of ABC’s Six Degrees : “In New York City, they say you walk by the person you are going to marry three times before you even meet them.” Aside from the use of the amorphous “they” — which irks me — the idea is intriguing, if unprovable. Perhaps the reason I’m attending engagement parties (and not hosting them) is because I don’t walk the streets enough.

Or perhaps it’s because I quote indefinitely hiatused J.J. Abrams shows.

Old Fulton Street

There are 3 comments

(New) Wonton Garden

Thursday, February 1st, 2007 | All Things, Eats

My new Thursday afternoon ritual: lunch in Chinatown. New Wonton Garden has been a fixture on Mott Street for over a quarter of a century. (I’ve heard rumors of some graduate students from New Jersey driving into the city just for those noodles in the 1980s.) A sign outside the restaurant touts their daily made wontons (natch) and dumplings as the best in town.

Wonton Garden Sign

I don’t recall if “New” was always part of the restaurant’s name; for as long as I can remember, it’s always been just “Wonton Garden” to me. In any case, there’s nothing particularly new about this utilitarian noodle shop: the bright fluorescent lighting, the perpetually steam-clouded windows, the close-set formica tables, all speak to a lack of concern for decor that you’ll find at just about any restaurant in Chinatown. The food is fresh, fast, cheap, and consistently good — what else do you need?

Most of the kitchen is in the front window — a stoveless area laden with tubs of hot broth, wire cages of noodles, and assorted soup fixins. It seems to be carved out of the dining area, which is comprised of an irreguarly-shaped room about the size of a Manhattan one bedroom apartment. There’s usually just one man working among the bowls piled high, waiting to be filled with noodles, wontons, dumplings and fishballs. Presumably there’s a full kitchen hidden away downstairs.

Wonton Garden Dumplings

Wonton Garden Kitchen

A recent article in the The Phoenix queried several Boston-area chefs about their “yardstick dish,” the single dish they use to guage a restaurant’s quality. The dish — or component of a dish– is usually rather simple to prepare, e.g., roast chicken, caesar salad, spaghetti with fresh clam sauce, which suggests a chef’s mastery of the basics. At Japanese restaurants: sushi rice. At Italian trattorias: the risotti. And at Chinese noodles shops, that dish could be the wonton noodle soup.

The wontons here at New Wonton Garden are delicate, flavorful, tender-skinned lumps of fresh shrimp, shiitake mushroom and pork. The thin, toothsome noodles arrive steaming hot, after being dunked in their broth just ten feet away. Simple. Perfect. Best in town? Quite possibly.

There are 2 comments