Month: May, 2007

Dining — and drinking — downtown

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Events

The 9th annual Dine Around Downtown event, hosted by the Alliance for Downtown New York, is a celebration of lower Manhattan’s food and beverage. As in years past, the festival was held at Chase Manhattan Plaza, with live entertainment and food tents drawing lunchtime crowds in excess of 20,000. Food samples from over 50 downtown restaurants (including Harry and Peter Poulakakos‘ newest financial district venture, Gold St.) were available for purchase at $3-$6 apiece.

On this beautiful afternoon, the plaza was more crowded than I’d ever seen it. As the happy sounds of jazz floated in the air, CS, SYB and I wandered among the snaking lines, trying to narrow down our selections from among the vast variety of food before us.

Dine Around Downtown

I sampled Brasserie Les Halles‘ Mini Hamburger Rossini with Foie Gras Terrine, seared and juicy, and topped with a surprisingly generous slab of foie gras. (I know, I know… so un-PC.) Realistically, I probably won’t splurge on chef Daniel Boulud’s famed DB Burger any time soon, so this was a reasonable substitute. The DB Bistro Moderne version is comprised of 9 ounces of “ground sirloin with a filling of boned short ribs braised in red wine, foie gras, black truffle and a mirepoix of root vegetables” and accompanied by a silver cup of pommes soufflées. (Well yeah, for $32 fries had better come with that.)

Grills

Assorted pastries from another Poulakakos holding, Financier Patisserie:

Pastries

Dine Around Downtown

SYB picked up a quartet of Harry’s Café and Steak‘s Mini Kobe Beef Hot Dogs with Poppy Seed Sauerkraut to share. (Yes, Poulakakos grub yet again! They’re everywhere!) Only beef from black-haired Wagyu cattle, which are raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture can carry the appellation “Kobe.” Wagyu beef from identical cattle raised elsewhere is technically not “Kobe” – just as sparkling wine made anywhere outside the Champagne wine-growing region of France may not be legally labeled “champagne.”

The cattle themselves are famously pampered and raised (at great expense) on a diet of organic grains, Japanese beer, and sometimes sake mash, all of which results in an intensely marbled flesh. Kobe beef is prized for its full, rich flavor, supreme tenderness and almost buttery mouth feel. The term “foie gras of beef” is employed a lot, which, given the extraordinarily high fat-to-lean ratio of the meat, is probably an apt analogy. I don’t know… maybe our palates could use some refining — and this probably isn’t the best way to show off Kobe beef’s luxurious qualities — but these tasted like regular hot dogs to us. Above average hot dogs, certainly, but regular just the same.

Kobe beef hot dogs

These Kobe beef dogs are cropping up all around the city. Last month, the meatpacking district’s Old Homestead Steakhouse rechristened its sidewalk seating area as Prime Burger Café with a $15 foot-long(!) Kobe beef hot dog – and New York’s Insatiable Critic Gael Greene’s new favorite burger — on the menu.

Later that night, SC had scored us invitations to West Chelsea’s Home for Maxim’s Trump Super Premium (Ultra Fantastic) Vodka launch party. Yup: buildings, resorts, casinos, a menswear collection, on to bottled water… and now it seems that The Donald has moved on to the hard stuff – at least in name, as Trump himself is known as a strict teetotaler. Is there anything this man won’t put his name on? (Actually, no.)

In the pimped out, mirrored, chandeliered den of banquettes, we sipped the evening’s specialty libations which included the “Trump & Tonic” and the “Trumptini” (Trump Vodka martini, garnished with a blue cheese-stuffed olive — not shredded money or prenups, as we had hoped), as a promotional video clip was looped on a projection screen behind us, touting the Trumptastic brand. “Success. Distilled.” Seriously.

Eventually, the man with the Hair arrived, making the obligatory rounds and looking oddly out of place among the Maxim crowd. The pounding, thumping 80’s/pop/dance/hip hop beats made group conversation all but impossible – and resulted in a persistent ear ringing that lasted hours after the evening ended — but CS and I still managed to share one special moment on the dance floor:

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up, and turned you around
Turned you into someone new

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On the block

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007 | All Things, Events, Friends, NYC History

My block association hosted a wine and cheese reception at Maya Schaper Cheese and Antiques on West 69th Street. (For those of you who know: no, technically, this isn’t my block, but close enough.) The first time I passed by this quaint-looking shop, cheese and antiques did strike me as an unnatural combination (unlike my combo bar/laundromat idea: “Buds and Suds”– hey, it could still work!), but most of the antiques do seem to be food-related items, so perhaps not so strange a pairing.

The shop, though, is best recognized as the exterior stand-in for Meg Ryan’s children’s bookstore in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail — an association proudly displayed on a movie poster at the front cash register wall.

Nora Ephron’s gauzy film was a valentine to this part of town (and to America Online) – as much a love story about the neighborhood as it was about the characters. The movie website even offers an interactive tour of some of the actual Upper West Side locations featured in the movie: the café where Meg Ryan arranges to meet Tom Hanks, Gray’s Papaya (also rhapsodized about in the Matthew Perry-Salma Hayek romantic comedy Fools Rush In ), H&H bagels, Zabar’s – even one of my favorite local warm-weather spots, the W. 79th St. Boat Basin Café.

Maya Schaper Antiques

Maya Schaper Antiques

Maya herself hosted the evening, which was a rare opportunity to meet a few of my neighbors on the block. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised to find that most of the guests that night were quite a bit older than I, having lived on the block, in a couple of cases, for decades. Still, the attendees as a whole were welcoming and pretty sociable – granted, a self-selecting group – and seemed very willing to expound upon bits of the block’s storied history, and even to gossip about one of my own building’s more notable residents.

Maya’s shop is also a stop on the Location Tour’s “New York TV and Movie Sites” tour — and was seen briefly during the final season Sex and the City “To Market, To Market” episode. In a scene culled from a hundred nightmares, before a storefront of cheese and antiques, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) randomly encounters her ex-fiancé Aidan (John Corbett)… and his newborn son. Awkward amiability ensues.

Time Out‘s 2006 listing of the best residential blocks in New York City was based on a combination of factors: aesthetics, nearby amenities, the “green factor” (trees, parks, waterfront access); noise and traffic; proximity to public transportation; a wild card “New York–ocity” factor; and affordability (certainly relative), as defined by median sale and rental prices in the immediate vicinity. No, my particular block didn’t quite make the TONY cut — boo! — but we’ve got our eye on you, West 78th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues (#10) and West 72nd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue (#29).

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No regrets

Monday, May 21st, 2007 | All Things, Film

In film class tonight, La Vie En Rose, a biopic of the iconic French singer Édith Piaf, referred to by some as the Gallic Judy Garland.

The film follows the singer’s life from her troubled childhood to her death. Colorful stories about the 4’8″ piaf – sparrow – are the stuff of legend, in some cases, perpetrated by the artist herself: born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville in 1915 (in a hospital, not on the street under a gas lamplight, as the story sometimes goes), she spent her early years living among prostitutes in her paternal grandmother’s brothel, during which young Édith may or may not have experienced an extended episode of blindness as a result of contracting conjunctivitis. What is more verifiable is that she was discovered singing on the streets of Paris by impresario Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu in the film) who booked her at the popular Parisian nightspot Gerny’s, where she became an overnight sensation. A recording contract soon followed, launching Piaf into what would become international stardom, after a dark period of infamy during which she was suspected of involvement in Leplée’s 1936 murder. The film, for the most part, glosses over the French chanteuse’s passionate affairs – Jean Cocteau, actor Yves Montand and Marlene Dietrich count among her many lovers – maintaining the romantic focus on her ill-starred relationship with married world boxing champion, “Casablanca Clouter” Marcel Cerdan.

The rest of her sad story follows the familiar “Behind the Music” arc: illness, heartbreak, morphine and alcohol addictions, a stint in rehab, and an early demise in 1963, at the age of 47.

Piaf is played by French actress Marion Cotillard, best known in America for playing Russell Crowe’s romantic interest in 2006’s A Good Year, based on Peter Mayle‘s international bestseller of the same title.

Cotillard’s physical transformation is remarkable — she disappears into the challenging role, which spans over three decades of Piaf’s life from a gamine teenager to a stooped, shockingly frail, woman. The film makes liberal use of Piaf’s iconic songs (all expertly lip-synched): the title, of course, is taken from one of her most famous, though the particular performance of it featured in the film is — sacré bleu! — in English. It closes with her signature Non, je ne regrette rien (translated as “No, I regret nothing” or more pithily as “No regrets”), a fitting anthem for the artist’s turbulent life.

Times Square

I did not hear “Tu Es Partout,” the song featured in the 1941 film Montmartre-sur-Seine, but recognizable to me from the wonderful scene in Saving Private Ryan in which the soldiers enjoy a lull as they prepare to defend Ramelle against German attack. Corporal Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davies) provided a translation of the song as it played on a phonograph amidst the blasted out remains of the French village:

Even life itself only represents you
Sometimes I dream that I am in your arms
And you speak softly in my ear
You say things that make my eyes close
And I find that marvelous

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