Tag: Chelsea

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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Unini? Panuni?

Monday, April 7th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Eats

El Quinto Pino — the follow-up effort from the team behind successful tapas bar Tía Pol — has collected raves from just about every media outlet in the city since it opened last year. So it was with great anticipation that I made arrangements to meet MLF at 24th and Ninth this evening. When we arrived, the high-ceilinged room was packed with an after-work crowd, but almost right away, we managed to snap up a pair of seats near the front door. It was a stroke of good fortune: there are stools set up along the curved white marble-topped bar (behind which is tucked the diminutive kitchen) and several more scattered around the shallow-shelved perimeter, but otherwise EQP is standing room only. The food and drink offerings are as heavily edited as the decor: the entire handwritten menu fit on two chalkboards displayed above the bar.

Which brings us to the uni panini. I cannot recall a single menu item that’s been showered with as much praise as chef-owner Alex Raij’s spiny sea urchin creation. (Cumulatively, however, it’s possible that the dishes on the Momofuku Ko tasting menu have received more breathless coverage.) Not everyone’s a fan, though; I’ve read some criticism that this sandwich is overhyped and offers poor value.

Hard to disagree with the first charge — The Times‘s Frank Bruni called it “the sandwich of [his] life” in his 2007 year-end review; food blogger Andrea Strong likened it to “really good, hot, sweaty sex” — and upon analysis, this delicate sliver of a sandwich does seem fairly simple and easily replicated at home: scallops of bright orange uni gently pressed into a slightly crisped ficelle from LIC’s Tom Cat Bakery, that’s been smeared with a kicky Korean mustard oil-spiked butter. Not hearty eats, by any means, but the synergy of briny, delicately sweet, custard-like roe (actually: gonads) and warm crunchy-chewy bread seemed to me the pinnacle of deliciousness. I’ve eaten more — if not necessarily better — for less money, and I’ve eaten worse for more money. Not as often, though, have I eaten less for more money. But is what averages out to about $2.50 a bite really so extravagant? (Sushi, after all, is in this price range… and often more.) I didn’t think so when considering my single $15 panini, though $30 for two panini (or $45 for three… which I could have eaten, happily) might seem to approach exorbitant levels for a place with no true tables. Personally, I didn’t mind, and was happy to wile away the hour and a half, savoring the bites, the good wine and the company of my friend.

Of course there is more to El Quinto Pino’s menu than the uni panini. MLF is not a fan of seafood (so sadly, no Soldaditos de Pavia — salt cod fritters — for us), so she employed the assistance of our friendly bartender in deciding between the two other non-uni sandwiches. Without hesitation, the server recommended the Pringa — a combination of braised meats, morcia (blood sausage) and sautéed onions. (Heartier than the uni panini, for what it’s worth.) Ed Levine may disagree: he named the third, the Serranito (serrano ham sandwich), one of his Ten Most Pleasure-Inducing Dishes of 2007.

There was a dish of fine olives, and this intriguingly tasty Berenjena con Miel: pillowy cylinders of deep-fried eggplant, drizzled with honey and topped with bonito flakes.

In her recent round-up of seven sandwiches, The Times‘s Julia Moskin deemed Raij’s uni panini “not a real New York sandwich… [lacking] the compressed, complete pleasures of the Cuban sandwich, the heft and chew of a fully loaded gyro, the cool crunch of a Vietnamese banh mi.” New York or no, I’d go back for it… and the salt cod and the Torrezznos — Spanish pork belly cracklings.

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