Category: Arts

Noodle discovery

Saturday, September 6th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Film, Friends

Tropical storm Hannah blew in late this afternoon, dumping 3-4 inches of rain onto the city in a matter of hours, flooding the streets of Flushing and halting play at the U.S. Tennis Open Tournament nearby.

At the corner of Prince Street and Roosevelt Avenue sits Sifu Chio, an unassuming restaurant which my parents introduced to me as one of the best places in town to get a bowl of authentic Hong Kong-style wonton noodles – a simple thing, done very well. (Chowhounds like the dumplings.)  The restaurant isn’t quite a dive, but the aesthetic is rather plain and utilitarian: open kitchen, florescent lights overhead, menus on the table under glass and every dish served in disposable plasticware. We were the only ones in the shop this evening, probably owing in no small part to the river of wretched rainwater coursing along the sidewalk in front.

What had started out as an order of a few bowls of wonton noodles expanded to include a side of Chinese beef brisket, a dish of Chinese broccoli, a bowl of noodles and fish balls, and a bowl of shrimp watercress dumplings.  As the driving rain pounded against the darkened windows, we eagerly scarfed down every bite.

Hard to pinpoint precisely what sets these noodles apart from the hundreds of other bowls I’ve eaten over the years. Dumplings made to order — delicate, tender skins with deliciously fresh filling — are certainly one factor.  Mostly, I think, it’s the perfectly textured noodles. In Cantonese, the word to describe them is “song,” a wonderful adjective which has no true English equivalent. Song can be used to describe a bitingly crisp wedge of fruit, a firm yet succulent shrimp, or here, snappy, springy noodles.  Al dente in this context comes close, I suppose, but doesn’t quite get to the heart of the irresistibly pleasurable sensation: of tooth meeting initial resistance, then bursting through to tender, juicy center.  “Toothsome” (definition 2) is the best general English translation, though I find it lacking in the poetry of “song“.

Later that night, the second annual Sunnyside Shorts Film Festival, which had been scheduled to take place at The Sunnyside Gardens Park, was driven indoors to the newly inaugurated Sunnyside Senior Center at Sunnyside Community Services  (Note to self: 39th Street — not the same as 39th Place. A girl raised in Queens should know this. I plead temporary rain-blindness.)

We sat at round formica-topped tables to watch the 16 submissions by filmmakers hailing predominantly from New York — among them a few Sunnyside locals — with contributions from Europe and South America.  Several of the short films were set in New York City, and covered an array of genres: animation, documentaries, comedic skits, one painfully earnest teen film student exercise, a sock puppet music video…

Quality varied widely. My favorite was Yolanda Pividal’s 16-minute “Two Dollar Dance” — a poignant examination of the Latino clubs dotted along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights where a clientele of immigrant men, isolated from mainstream society, gather in the evening to pay for female companionship, if only for the duration of a song — an update of the “dime a dance” girls of the taxi-dance halls of the 20s and 30s. (Unsurprisingly, the workers at these places are often exploited.)

But as credits rolled on the experimental “interpretive dance” short (oof), I discreetly slipped out with SH and AP, in search of the less challenging pleasures of frozen yogurt: green tea and blood orange for me.

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Hot to globetrot

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Books

At The Irish Repertory Theatre tonight for Michael Evan Haney’s new production of Around the World in 80 Days, presented in association with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.  Previews began on July 11, 2008 for a limited engagement that was originally scheduled to end on September 7, but has since been extended through September 28.

I was last at this theater on West 22nd Street for George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple in December, so knew that the company was well used to accomplishing much with minimal resources – cast and space-wise.  Still, the story, based faithfully on the 1873 novel by Jules Verne, stretched the limits over the ensuing two hours of action: 5 actors, playing 39 characters, and one simple set, representing 24,000 miles of rugged land and high seas.

Mark Brown adapted the adventure of unflappable English gentleman Phileas Fogg (Daniel Stewart), who makes a £20,000 wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in the titular 80 days. The journey, made with his French manservant Passepartout, takes Fogg from London to Suez to Bombay to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Yokohama to San Francisco to New York to Liverpool and back to London. Mistaken identities, skirmishes with local officials, weather delays, a lady in distress and sheer bad luck all seem to conspire against Fogg meeting his deadline, but we all know how things turn out in the end, don’t we?

The 19th century source material veered at times into political incorrectness in its characterization — or rather: caricaturization — of foreign cultures, and that bias unfortunately also colors this production. Passepartout (Evan Zes)’s Pepé Le Pew accent, while good for a few early chuckles, wore thin after a while.  Overall, though, this was a pleasant enough romp that received middling to good reviews in the press.

Most fun to watch was how the indispensable pair of on-stage foley artists kept flawless pace with the action when called upon to suggest swaying steamers, chugging trains, a lumbering elephant, a raging typhoon, a sledge through a snowstorm and gunplay with Apaches. (Contrary to popular impression, however: no hot air balloon.) In an age of ever more elaborate special effects, their work was a refreshing return to basics.

Incidentally, Fogg’s £19,000 in travel fees would have been the equivalent of nearly £1.5M today, adjusted for inflation. It now costs considerably less to make the same trip, even when accounting for fuel surcharges and airline baggage fees.

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I believe in love

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

Another summer Sunday, another street fair.  This one was just a preview of the larger Columbus Avenue Festival which will be taking place on September 21, 2008 between 66th and 86th Streets.

After a late May visit to Central Park’s Delacorte Theater for Hamlet, we continued the summer streak with Shakespeare in the Park’s second production: Hair.  This time, it was SYB who scored a pair of tickets through the Public’s virtual line.  (No Craigslist for us.)

The landmark rock musical was presented here (also for free) last September in a concert staging to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its debut at the Public Theater’s inaugural 1967 season. The music by Galt MacDermot, with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, is notable as an era-defining soundtrack, but remain familiar to the Flower Children’s children through television commercials… and the closing credits of The 40 Year Old Virgin.

The Public’s impassioned artistic director Oskar Eustis, profiled in The Times in June, introduced tonight’s performance by underscoring the continuing relevance of Hair’s anti-Vietnam War anthems by drawing parallels with our current “unpopular war abroad” — a sentiment greeted by enthusiastic applause.

(As for the connection to Shakespeare, one need look no further than the song “What a Piece of Work is Man,” which draws almost entirely from Hamlet’s famous speech.)

Joyous performances by a diverse and wildly charismatic cast (under the direction of Diane Paulus), the 12-piece on-stage band, that famous flash of group nudity… Although Hair is in structure little more than a revue with just the wispiest suggestion of a storyline, this is one situation where the whole truly is more than the sum of its quaintly dated parts. And how about “the duo of hotness” that is Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson? (Groff is best known for his Tony-nominated role as Melchior Gabor in Broadway’s Spring Awakening;  Christopher J. Hanke took over the role of Claude on August 17 and will remain through the show’s extended September 14 run, replacing Groff, who had a prior commitment.)

Check out the lauding reviews from New York magazine, The Post, Variety, Time Out New York, and The Times.

From the opening “Aquarius” to the plaintive “Let The Sun Shine In” finale, it seemed at times that half of those in attendance were singing along with the performers.  When the show reached its explosive conclusion, and the entire audience was invited on stage for a riotous dance with the actors and musicians, we could not help but be swept up in the Summer of Love… or at least the 2008 approximation of it.

Flickr preview: Labor Day at the U.S. Open, 4th Round, featuring Andy Murray and Serena Williams, both of whom advanced to the semis.  Also: cast members from HBO’s Entourage.

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