Month: January, 2008

Two Thousand Years

Monday, January 28th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

The B brothers had procured tickets to the five hour opera marathon that is Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre at The Met — immortalized in the classic 1957 Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?,” a.k.a., “Kill the Wabbit,” #1 of the “50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals” in 1994. As neither of the men thought he had the endurance to make it through the entire Lorin Maazel-helmed evening, the three of us tentatively planned on swapping out of the seats and dividing the show’s acts among ourselves — two segments apiece, which no doubt would have confused the heck out of our fellow patrons in the front balcony. Ultimately, though, the opera relay plan did not come to fruition. (I was told afterwards that based on how much they did see, it was a pretty amazing show.)

Instead, I was at The Acorn in Theatre Row for The New Group’s American premiere of Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years, featuring onetime troubled actress Natasha Lyonne, which began previews on January 15.

Two Thousand Years

Leigh has written more than 20 plays since 1965; the four which have been staged previously by the New Group — Ecstasy, Goose Pimples, Smelling a Rat, and Abigail’s Party — all date from his late 70s and 80s residence at London’s Hampstead Theatre. For the most part, Americans — I included — are more familiar with Leigh’s film work, such as Naked (1993), Secrets and Lies (1996), Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Vera Drake (2004).

Commissioned by the National Theatre back in 2001, Two Thousand Years is the playwright’s first play in over a decade. As such, there was quite a bit of excitement in theatre circles when its imminent arrival was announced in 2003; before the play even had a title, and with no information available about its content, it managed to sell out the entire 16,000 tickets of its London run.

This is the first of Leigh’s works — film or theatre– to deal exclusively with his Jewish background. The story concerns a well-to-do, intellectual Jewish family in the Northern London suburb of Cricklewood, and the domestic trauma that ensues when their brooding, unemployed, university-educated son becomes religiously observant. The rest of the family is decidedly secular: although several members have spent time on Israeli kibbutzes, and all of them casually toss Yiddish words into conversation, they eat bacon and do not attend synagogue; their “Jewishness” seems mostly reflected by their close reading of The Guardian‘s coverage on the Gaza disengagement, bewailing the loss of their Zionist ideals, and loudly shouting during family gatherings. (That last is a stereotype that’s been reinforced endlessly on American sitcoms such as Will & Grace and Frasier. I know: I’ve watched the late night syndicated episodes more times than I care to admit.) When the son starts sporting a kippah (yarmulke) and skulking out into the patio for morning prayers, his parents are at a loss over how to react. (“It’s like having a Muslim in the house… or a martian,” balks the father; the mother, in the meantime, frets over what her son will be able to eat.) In addition, there are the usual family conflicts: sibling rivalries, an estranged aunt (who makes a sudden, unexpected appearance in the second half) and an argumentative grandfather.

Two Thousand Years cast

An intriguing premise and excellent acting throughout, with scene fade-ins and outs punctuated by original music by the New York-based Klezmatics. Based on the frequent outbreaks of laughter, the audience seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, while the play’s analysis of the strains of religion and family life were both thought provoking and moving.

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Grandaisy Bakery

Sunday, January 27th, 2008 | All Things, Eats

Grandaisy Bakery was known as Sullivan Street Bakery until sometime in 2006 when the original partners parted ways. Despite the separation, the two bakeries seemed to maintain almost identical models: Jim Lahey took the brand (and the wholesale business) to the location on far West 47th Street; Monica Von Thun Calderón stayed on in SoHo, keeping head baker Cristobal Julio Guarchaj and head pastry chef Peggy Jacobs. In the process, Calderón rechristened the Sullivan Street place “Grandaisy Bakery” after her grandmother. Food writer Ed Levine explains the history better; he’s partial to their olive roll — one of his “favorite rolls in New York.”

Excitement spread when word of a second Upper West Side location opening first circulated in September, and then again earlier this week, as the bakery’s Italian-imported pizza ovens fired up for the first time.

Grandaisy Bakery

This afternoon, Grandaisy had four varieties of pizza – identical to the ones available at Sullivan Street Bakery: their pomodoro (tomato sauce, olive oil and sea salt), cavolfiore (cauliflower, Gruyère cheese, bread crumbs, olive oil and black pepper), patate (potato, onion, olive oil, rosemary and black pepper) and funghi (cremini mushrooms, onions, olive oil, sea salt and thyme). Not offered today: the zucchini and the pizza bianca, hand-formed slices of flatbread, dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil, coarse sea salt and rosemary.

It’s not typical New York City pizza: with the exception of the bianca (which is plain), these are small rectangles of thin, crispy flatbread, covered in high quality toppings, and served at room temperature… or given the exposure of the trays to today’s chilly outside air, just a little cooler. Nonetheless, New York magazine named their pomodoro among the “Best Square Pizza” in 2006; the Voice has lauded their potato pizza. The unconventional pizza also was named the third best in New York by Time Out – the best in Manhattan, but lagging behind Brooklyn’s Di Fara Pizza and Staten Island’s Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern.

Grandaisy Bakery

My funghi slice was good. Slightly soft in the center, with a dense, layer of earthy, salty mushrooms — but at $3.25 a slice, a small extravagance.

Funghi Pizza

Related: this week, Serious Eats posted an informative rundown of the regional variations of pizza in the United States.

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Beekman birthday

Saturday, January 26th, 2008 | All Things, Friends

On Beekman Street in the Financial District… not to be confused with Beekman Place, in Midtown — the latter of which is named for the site of the summer home of the prominent Beekman family, whose main estate was on the Street downtown.

It was CC’s birthday today; he and EH were hosting a gathering at their shared apartment to celebrate. (I feel like I’ve been attending a lot of these lately.) I spent most of the evening catching up with newly-minted real estate agent AC. It was difficult, at first, breaching the divide between the teachers and the non, but EH’s cognac and cream-soaked plaintains proved an effective social lubricant.

40 Wall Street

Afterwards, a core group of us set out to continue the evening’s revelries, making our way through the construction that was to be the grand — but now less grand — Fulton Street transit hub. Final destination: Momofuku Ssäm Bar, which may be my favorite late night dining spot in the city.

If only I were the least bit hungry. No matter, there was plenty of house sake and communal seating, a combination which made it all the easier for us to befriend the group of five at our table who had gathered at the restaurant for their own birthday celebration. Through them, we learned about “ghost riding the whip,” or “ghostin'” — an activity which involves a driver leaping out onto the road from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle (the “whip”), and dancing along beside it. (Um, yeah.)  Apparently the trend originates out of The Bay Area’s hyphy movement. Kids today!

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