Month: January, 2008

Burrata at La Bottega

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008 | All Things, Eats

After popping in at Pasita for an apéritif with SK, I left him to his dinner while I set off to meet MLF at La Bottega inside the possibly haunted Maritime Hotel. I strolled in through that familiar lobby, where my friend was waiting at the bar with a glass of red wine and a smile.

The hotel restaurant has a casually rustic Italian feel, reminiscent of ‘inoteca or a slew of other downtown Keith McNally clones: long bar, prominent wood pizza oven, white tile, wooden tables, wine bottle-lined walls… The Times less charitably described the decor as a “mix of Italian trattoria and 1950’s high school.” La Bottega’s biggest draw, though, is its beautifully lit, tree-lined patio; on warmer evenings the deck overflows with the bold and the beautiful — or is that the beautiful and the damned? — and offers a prime vantage point for MePa people watching.

La Bottega

We were spared the crowds this chilly winter night, but the green twinkling lights just outside the picture windows cast their own warm glow over us.

La Bottega

Tonight MLF, who knows how I love cheese, introduced me to the joys of burrata, a specialty fresh mozzarella originating from the Puglia region of southern Italy. The decadent cheese derives its name from burro, the Italian word for “butter.” To produce it, cheese makers stretch a still-warm, thin layer of fresh mozzarella curd around a pillowy soft blend of heavy cream and tender, unspun mozzarella curds, or stracciatelle (“little rags”). Traditionally, the delicate pouch is sealed off with a topknot, brined and then wrapped in asphodel (similar to leek) leaves. The relatively recent trendiness of burrata in the United States poses a challenge for suppliers of the extremely perishable cheese: burrata imported from Italy is usually two days old by the time it reaches New York, one day old if it’s flown in from California, where artisanal producers like Gioia Cheese Co. hand-form up to 1500 pounds of burrata balls a day.

At La Bottega, it’s served up in a lusciously rich Insalata Caprese: the soft pouch surrounded by halved grape tomatoes and torn basil, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper. Once pierced, the burrata gives up its sweetly creamy, oozing center — perfect for scooping up with pieces of crusty bread. Wow. 

Dim lighting doesn’t do the dish justice, but here it is:

Burrata

The San Francisco Chronicle, in a 2006 article about burrata, wrote that the cheese’s “gushing inner richness has sent shivers of desire up and down the West Coast.” Here on the East Coast, pound-size servings are available for sale at purveyors like Fairway, Zabar’s, Agata & Valentina and Williamsburg’s Bedford Cheese Shop — check out their rather evocative description — a few of which also carry versions of burrata filled with porcini mushrooms or black truffles.

Tagliatelle al Ragú Bolognese — fresh pasta ribbons with beef, pork & veal ragú:

Ragu Bolognese

As we made our way through a leisurely meal, our seats vibrated to pounding beats coming from the Hiro Ballroom below, where the Hip Rock Reggae show with guest DJs Biz Markie and Roxy Cottontail was in full swing.

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More pencils, more books

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008 | All Things, Books, Film, Music

My visit uptown coincided with the first day of Spring semester classes at Columbia. Remember how exciting that used to be?

Columbia University

I was last on campus in late October for the talk with New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. Since then, his cultural history of music since 1900, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, has landed on several “Best of 2007” lists including those of The New York Times, New York magazine and Slate. Earlier this month, the book was selected as a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

Gothamist posted an interview with Ross today, in which he names Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood‘s score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as his current soundtrack to the city. Disappointingly, the 33-minute piece (which has received raves all around) was disqualified from Oscar contention as it recycled parts of Greenwood’s 2005 BBC-commissioned suite “Popcorn Superhet Receiver.”

Ah, we still love you, Jonny.

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“I saw it. It’s alive. It’s huge.”

Monday, January 21st, 2008 | All Things, Film

Yes, I bought into the hype. Last summer’s viral marketing campaign surrounding fanboyfavorite J.J. Abrams‘s new project, the nameless trailer, the cryptic film website www.1-18-08.com (Cloverfield‘s release date), the flurry of possibly affiliated websites… it all proved irresistible to my inner — and outer — geek.

The conceit: a videotape retrieved from the area “formerly known as Central Park” after an apocalyptic incident code-named “Cloverfield.” Described as Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project (sprinkled with 9/11 anxieties), the entire film is shot with a handheld camera, so those sensitive to motion sickness should consider themselves forewarned. (With a running time of 84 minutes, the shaky camera work is intense, yet mercifully brief.) The movie begins at a downtown loft party, populated by a certain type of insufferable New Yorker, on a night when Manhattan comes under attack by an enormous, briefly-glimpsed monster. What is the morbid fascination movie-goers have with watching New York City get destroyed?

Cloverfield has a lo-fi look, but impressive special effects, which allegedly cost a little over $30 million. To put it in perspective, that’s just $10 million more than Will Smith’s salary for I Am Legend, the other NYC-based apocalyptic film in theaters now.

Here, the single camera POV works well in conveying the chaos and mass confusion. The disorientation and visceral panic of being down in the streets in the midst of the destruction kept the tension high throughout. As typical for this type of film, my emotional investment in the characters was minimal — let’s face it, they’re not a particularly sympathetic group — but the alternating glimpses of original tape footage, showing one of the telegenic couples during recent, happier times does work effectively in jarring juxtaposition. (It is in those sweetly intimate snippets that we see hints of director Matt Reeves‘s previous work with Abrams on the WB’s “Felicity.”)

Columbus Circle

The Times‘s Manohla Dargis appreciated Cloverfield quite a bit less (“Rarely have I rooted for a monster with such enthusiasm“), but other critics responded more positively. More importantly, from the studio’s perspective, so did audiences, who flocked to theaters opening weekend to the tune of $41+ million in ticket sales, surpassing the January record of $35.9 million set by the Star Wars special edition re-release in 1997.

By the way: a gigantic reptilian beast laying waste to Manhattan, dropping vicious crab/spider creatures along the way — sure… could happen. Cell phones working during the siege — hmm, seems unlikely, but… well, okay. But reaching Bloomingdale’s from Spring Street on foot via subway tunnel in a few, albeit action-packed, real-time minutes? The audience at our afternoon screening audibly scoffed. C’mon… it’s clear that writer Drew Goddard, director Reeves and producer Abrams all hail from L.A. because as any New Yorker could tell you: that just makes no sense whatsoever.

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