Month: April, 2008

Meet me in Malta

Monday, April 14th, 2008 | All Things, Film

On the slate for tonight’s film seminar: A Previous Engagement, which contrary to its British period piece-y sounding title is a romantic comedy, and one which rather unusually features a cast of characters over 50.

Juliet Stevenson stars as Julia, a Seattle-based woman vacationing in Malta with her husband (Daniel Stern). Unbeknownst to him, she is there to fulfill a long-ago promise to reunite with her French lover, Alex (Tchéky Karyo) with whom she had an intense affair on the island years earlier. The premise called to mind a bit of Before Sunrise — that wondrous film about “two nice kids, literate, sensitive, tentative, intoxicated by the fact that their lives stretch out before them, filled with mystery and hope, and maybe love.” Except here, the two parting lovers decided to meet not in six months, but in twenty-five years, after much of their lives have been lived. In the intervening time, the once aspiring writer Julia has become a middle-aged librarian married to a jigsaw puzzle-obsessed insurance salesman, and Alex an oft-divorced literary journal editor. Once the pair is reunited, complications ensue, and the results are mixed: part screwball comedy, part bedroom farce and part bittersweet romance.

Writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin was tonight’s guest, and talked about getting this film made in a climate where most Hollywood films have a young, often male, sensibility. The economist turned filmmaker well understood the steep challenges a film such as hers would face in financing; in this case her husband, producer David Gordian, was able to fund the film in Canada and Europe, where Carr-Wiggins claims the system is much more welcoming towards women directors and character-based films than in the United States.

Because the film was fully financed at the outset, Carr-Wiggins had full control over her film – a rare privilege for a second-time director. She was able to cast her favorite actress in the lead; Stevenson has a long list of British television and film credits, but is probably best known for her role as cellist Nina in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) — the late great Anthony Minghella’s film debut.

While the film has a certain intriguing “What if…?” premise, the execution was a bit too ham-fisted for my tastes. (Does the husband really have to be so cluelessly boring, the daughters so gratingly self-absorbed?) Credit is due, though, for framing the story around a middle-aged woman — a demographic grossly underrepresented in current cinema — and for the not entirely predictable ending.

A Previous Engagement opened in New York and Los Angeles for Mother’s Day weekend, on May 9.

“There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.'”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Sensible Thing”

Were truer words ever written?

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Greenpoint brunching

Sunday, April 13th, 2008 | All Things, Eats

Manhattan Avenue may be Greenpoint’s main thoroughfare, but parallel Franklin Street is a better indicator of the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification with its quaint collection of eateries, coffee shops, bars, boutiques, record store, and bookstore.

Brooklyn Label opened in January 2007 on the ground floor of the historic Astral Apartments on the corner of Franklin and Java — appropriate, given how seriously the place takes its coffee. The cafe was a Time Out Reader’s Choice nominee for the “Best Brunch” Eat Out Award in 2007, earning raves for chef Cody Utzman’s brunch menu, which includes dishes like the Chile Colorado (stewed pork chili verde with soft cheesy polenta, two poached eggs, roasted pepper and toast). Despite the accolades, Brooklyn Label’s first year seems to have been rather tumultuous: disgruntled reports of rising menu prices and management issues, culminating on February 1 with Chef Utman resigning his position as founder/head chef/owner, citing “un-reconcilable [sic] differences with Financial business partners.”

This was our first visit, though, so we can’t compare the pre- and post-Utman eras. (Brooklyn Label’s new head chef is Ed Bode, formerly of Williamsburg’s Union Picnic.) I do like the laid-back feel of this place, and I will say that the dramas don’t appear to have dampened the spot’s popularity: we waited over half an hour for a table at the not-exactly-prime hour of 3PM. By that time most places in my neighborhood are winding down Sunday brunch service, but it seems that hipsters run on a later schedule.

The Huevos Rancheros — one fried corn tortilla, Spanish-style rice, homemade frijoles negros, and a true chili ranchero sauce topped with two fried eggs and garnished with authentic Mexican crema, guacamole, pico de gallo and limes. I almost didn’t finish this entire platter. Almost. (Well, I had a little help.)

And although it seemed ridiculous to stop for more food after such a brunch, we were determined to scratch off another item from our Greenpoint [To] Hit List: the Franklin Corner Store, an unassuming corner deli which was highlighted by Robert Sietsema for serving his favorite Cuban sandwich in the city. I’d always been partial to the cubanos at Sucelt in the West Village, but since it closed last Christmas Eve after 31 years in business, I had yet to find a suitable replacement. This may be it. Be warned, though: the men here approach their sandwich-making like an art. There’s just no rushing the meticulous stacking of ham, pork roast, pickles and white cheeses. Even without pressing – we were saving our sandwiches for dinner later and thought it best to do the final toasting on our own – it was a twenty minute affair. But worth every minute.

Midtown Manhattan as viewed from Greenpoint’s Commercial Street:

May 2008 marks the 17th Annual Bike Month NYC. Just in time, the NYC Department of City Planning released a new New York City Cycling Map — particularly useful (not just to bikers) for its indication of one-way street directions. Cycling maps are available for download on the Department website, or in print free of charge at the NYC Department of City Planning Bookstore (22 Reade Street), in bicycle shops, libraries and schools, and through the NYC Call Center at 311. Over a million maps will have been printed and distributed since the first edition in 1997.

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A new Habitat

Saturday, April 12th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks

More exploration of Greenpoint’s delights… Check out the rest of the photos here.

I’d read about Brooklyn baker Sarah Magid’s gold-dusted dark chocolate Twinkie-esque cakes earlier in the week, and being highly impressionable, decided then to seek them out at the next opportunity. jan & äya, the Franklin street shop that sells these confections, turned out to be more boutique than bakery; in fact, the “Goldees” (as they’re called) were the only edible items I noticed for sale. Several sat on a cake pedestal in the shop window, looking in real life more intriguing than appetizing. (All organic, though, so at least healthier than their super-processed inspiration.) In the end, we passed on them and left the shop empty-handed.

Continuing along our way, we came upon newly opened bar, The Habitat. Greenpoint’s drinking options are somewhat more limited than those of the nearby h(e)ated Williamsburg scene, so when this spot opened on Manhattan Avenue in a space that that once housed a bodega, the locals were buzzing.

B was excited: I think he was drawn to the cool looks of the place. Behind the sleek glass-paneled façade is a rustic lodge interior, the centerpiece of which is a raised porch built against a wall dressed with exterior siding and faux windows. Quirky details abound – a German cuckoo clock, a cement-topped yellow pine bar – and most of the materials and fixtures are from salvage. Recycling at its finest.

Chef and co-owner Ashley Engmann (former Park South manager and Lotus cook) designed the small plate bar menu, which includes late night snacks of waffle fries and her specialty empanadas after 10:30PM.

The Habitat carries a dozen microbrews on tap, with an emphasis on the local. Over pints of Coney Island Lager, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Sweet Action and Westchester’s Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold, we chatted up friendly bartender and co-owner Ty/Tai, sharing with him our recent experience at Łomżynianka and a few other neighborhood dining recommendations.

For its second day in business, things at The Habitat seemed to be off to a positive start. One thing, though: I could have done without the über-bloody No Country for Old Men broadcasting on the large flatscreen above the bar.


Years ago, I mailed out copies of Esquire‘s fun, fascinating feature on “How to Be a Better Man” to select friends and family. The 14-page package wasn’t (and isn’t) available online, so the task involved my actually photocopying the magazine pages and slipping the sheets into stamped and addressed manila envelopes. (You can infer how earnestly I had sought to enhance/improve the men in my life back then. Let’s just say that results were… mixed.) For what it’s worth, I wasn’t the only one impressed by the piece: it went on to be nominated for a National Magazine Award in the Special Interest category.

In honor of Esquire‘s 75th anniversary, a follow-up of sorts: “The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master.” I’m putting up the link on this blog, so as to avoid flooding your mailboxes/inboxes with unsolicited advice… progress I’ve made in becoming a better woman.

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