Archive for:March, 2008

Upper Manhattan Dining: Inwood’s ‘La Estufa’

March 16th, 2008

I’ve lived in Washington Heights for three years, and there are three restaurants that keep me consistently grateful for their existence: Park Terrace Bistro, Garden Cafe, and La Estufa. I’ll be reviewing them in ascending order of foodlust, La Estufa being somewhat slutted after, and Park Terrace being the most likely to reduce me to a grub-rutting fool. First up’s La Estufa.
   

         La Estufa Restaurant
   
La Estufa Inwood

I love La Estufa more and more with each visit. They serve healthy fare, loosely Italian-American, presented unassumingly, priced reasonably, and delivered with gracious & attentive service. It’s not often I feel this taken care of in New York during the course of a meal — & in a way that’s free from unctuousness, irony or uncomfortable fastidiousness.

La Estufa excels in simple grilled meat, fish & vegetable dishes, & has a solid wine list to pair these with. The restaurant doesn’t wow with innovative plating, striking flavor combinations, ambitious dish structures or arty ambience — and it absolutely doesn’t need to. Every dish I’ve had there has been tasteful, tasty, proportioned well, seasoned properly, fresh & wholesome (but not bland), & presented with sincere smiles & follow-up.

Food highlights include their bread (grainy & dense but moist & touched with what tastes like honey); their vegetables (zucchini and squash often accompany the meat entrees in a lightly oiled, garlicked, thin-sliced fan-spread); and their transcendent Pear Cabernet tart: silk-textured, simple & seductive.

My carps are minor: for starters, their brunch dishes I’ve found sparse — especially egregious was an over-priced & meager strawberry & apple fruit-dish. I also feel their dinner entrees could use a touch more creativity, daring, innovation — a signature dish here, a novel bit of flavor-alchemy there — something to set La Estufa apart in what’s increasingly becoming a competitive, Wahi+Inwood eating hub.

Still, with consistency, service & prices like these, I’m happy to keep coming back whether or not they change a thing. In an eating market like New York’s, cluttered with gimmick & forty dollar finery, graceful, honest basics like these stand out with very little need for improvement.
   

La Estufa
5035 Broadway (between 214th and 215th)
New York, NY 10034
La Estufa’s Website
   
   
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2008
   
Next up: Garden Cafe

[posted by: C Way at 10:40 PM]

[file under: Culinary Arts]
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The Narrow Bed: Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog (Song Review)

March 15th, 2008

Nick Drake

“A black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog. A black eyed dog.

I’m growing old and I wanna go home
I’m growing old and I don’t wanna know
I’m growing old and I wanna go home.

A black eyed dog he called at my door
A black eyed dog he called for more.”

   

Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog”: the narrow bed upon which fear of death and longing for death sleep side by side:

Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog
    (from the anthology Way to Blue)
   

Drake’s quavering voice, ageless, simultaneously 9 and 99. Singing from within this life, and at the same time from outside it. Voice that’s prophet of its own extinguishing. The hunger for release (“growing old and I wanna go home”) and anxiety around the details of that release (“and I don’t wanna know”). The push and pull of death and life while breath and blood moves in us.

Then the extended guitar line: the agitation, the energy, the gorgeous stop-muted syncopated run of it, expressing perfectly that vacillating agitation of fear of and desire for end.

This Swans cover of “Black Eyed Dog” features Jarboe’s haunting vocal:

Swans – Black Eyed Dog
    (from the collection Various Failures: 1988-1992)
   

I don’t love this cover, but I like how it takes the urgency & fear of the original and turns it into spit-flecked seething.

So many narrow passageways into and out of this song with its bone-lean lyrics, raw and elemental as a myth: The dog, the door, the name, the home; the asking for more, the not wanting to know. It seems there’s not much here.

But there’s everything here. Everything we need to know about living, dying, wanting not to die and wanting not to live. Fear of the unknown and hunger for whatever blackness lurks beyond that door.

The moment I heard this song I felt myself fall apart in grateful and scared recognition.

Years later — tonight — it does the same. Comforting me even though everything about it lyrically and musically should do the opposite. Out of death, out of time, that weird keening voice sounding as tremblingly alone as humans can be helping me feel less so.

Thank you Nick, Swans & Jarboe; thank you dog and door and name and home.

   
   
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2008

[posted by: C Way at 12:34 AM]

[file under: Music ||| music - mp3s]
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Red Garden Maze: Boris Gongs the Knitting Factory (NYC) March 4th, 2008

March 8th, 2008

incus malleus sapes ossicles
   

I should have worn earplugs. It’s been four days and when I stop and listen to my skull there are still saws & scraping sheets. Muffled some by time & days of quiet music. Like floodlights absorbed by but still mostly soaking through heavy curtains.

Boris is a metal band from Japan, and I saw them at the Knitting Factory last Tuesday. They’re a 3-piece, they’ve been around since the mid 90s, & they just play catastrophically loud music which, whether fast or drone-slow, feels traumatically unhealthy to be standing in the presence of.

Their first song was “Farewell,” and after a few moments of set-up drone & swirling fog, there was this moment that still makes me shiver a little to remember. It was this breach, like the room split open. This vast gonging annunciation, this elemental sundering, and I was completely done in. Up until then I had been debating buying some plugs or snatching a bar napkin to tear into bits for my ears, but after that Rubicon all-chord I had no fucking choice. I just stood there, appalled and in love with all that snarl.

Then came Michio Kurihara’s solo (of the Japanese band Ghost, joining them for their whole set): gorgeous and wild, winding & carving in and out of “Farewell”‘s ocean of sound like an arctic sea snake.

Their whole set was just like that, a seductive corrosion, like some Rothko in rust; an irradiated cathedral that you probably shouldn’t kneel in for very long.

That acid-etch of it all, for me, is the music’s appeal. It bathes ears and skull the way whiskey washes the throat: the scrape & burn’s the draw, and what the burn confers: that moment of loss of self in bright blinding sear. Because artful noise — like Boris builds, like Sonic Youth or Swans or Les Rallizes Denudes deliver — can be no less than another means to achieving non-being. Pure noise can grant a kind of death, and that’s the brass ring we yearn for, knowingly or not, in arranging our moments of transcendence — a moment so deafeningly beautiful that it pauses life and all its fears and troubles, blacks it out, stops its breath.

But still, I should have worn some goddamn earplugs.

I think about my tiny ear bones — the stapes, the malleus, the incus — all still outraged by what I subjected them to, and I’m vaguely nauseous and almost ashamed. I want to assure them I won’t do it again, that I got caught up in it all. I want them to forgive me, as ridiculous as it sounds. The way you want your guts to forgive you after you’ve puked up half of dinner and a carafe of cheap white wine.

But then I think of being happily lost in pure noise’s red garden maze: standing there and feeling my substance shift while this terrific cocoon of crackling static closes in around me. Getting wombed in noise until you can’t even think.

And I just don’t think I would have done it differently if I had another chance. I’d probably still stand, close my eyes, feel that vast amped palm scoop and cradle me for an hour. Gentle & motherly & torturous & redemptive. Until the lights hit, the sound’s clipped and the last twist of maze is echoing behind me.
   
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2008

   
   
Photos from the show
   
Buy Boris Albums
   
Boris’ website

[posted by: C Way at 10:31 PM]

[file under: Music]
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‘Town, We Had Our Hopes For You’ – Restaurant Review, Town Restaurant, New York

March 4th, 2008

Town New York Restaurant
   

“Dear Town,

We had our hopes for you.

Everywhere you were marked with stars and red ink. You were settling into late youth, like us, and we thought you might not mind our scuffed heels if we polished them first. You were our Special Occasion with your floating sterile fireplace and three story front door.

The boy’s soup was amazing; Vietnamese-style lobster bisque gussied up with western cream and ocean bits. I had vegetables pickled in rainwater which soaked my salad into wan watercolor.

Then the weird sea preparations: his stingray wing lopped off into pot pie crust and my bass draped over beans and fungi that slithered away under its muddled eyegreen sauce with every bite.

But dessert is where you lost us, despite your good wishes looped in chocolate letters on the rim of his plate. My little cake sat deflated on one side and deffered to the hard Chinese Checker sauce bumps to its left. His cherry crisp wasn’t and the fruit huddled outside its crepe.

Where was your joy, Town? I looked at your plump walls and thought about climbing them; I wondered if your spiky palm was real. But I didn’t think about you at all. And I wanted to.

Love,
M.”
   
   

Town Restaurant
at the Chambers Hotel
15 W 56th St
New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 582-4445
Town’s Website

[posted by: Vole at 12:12 AM]

[file under: Culinary Arts]
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Apples, Mottles & Dapples

March 2nd, 2008

Starkey Apple
   

Give me more pocks. Give me the ones with maps on their skins. Give me the ones that wear freckles, nodes, weird sinkholes & dimples. Give me anything but plastic, smooth, resiny, Red Delicious lacquer. Give me fewer apples, give me more mottles and dapples.

They feel better in my palm. That satisfying gruffness of texture. Greeting the hand like a wool mitten. Supermarket Granny Smiths are inert in the palm like a cold steel handle.

The first few times I visited the Inwood farmer’s market, I made my new friends: the Golden Russet, The Stayman Winesap, the mysterious apples with only 3 digit numbers for names. I’d recently read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, still wild over the part where he visits the apple orchard to end all apple orchards: some vast biteable catalogue of endless variety & shape, with apples little bigger than walnuts, apples that tasted like oranges and pears, apples with strange wild feral flavors and wrinkled skins like prunes (I’m paraphrasing loosely from memory). And now here they were in front of me, cousins of the ones he’d written of, heaped pell-mell in wooden crates, stems still on, cratered, pitted, unkempt and brazen. Their supermarket sisters elsewhere in tidy rows, tired and vacant like well-dressed children on SSRIs.

I walked the market stand, watched them. Every one was a personality. Some sassy ones, some cowed ones, some martyrs, some firebrands, some braggarts. One had what looked like a bad rash. Little peppery indentations tinged red around the stem. I was afraid to bite it. And when I did I saw that the red had suffused the white flesh beneath, as if a wound. My girlfriend told me later that hail could cause this, when the apple was first forming. The taste was unaffected, but watching the subterranean patterns formed by the hailrash transformed how I ate. I marveled at the designs while I chewed, seeing the pink wound-roots of this apple’s history.

Golden Russet Apple
   

Golden Russet became my favorite. Its flavor was crisp and subtle and always only flirted with sour and sweet, could never commit, just weaved around taste buds leaving trails of honey and almond and walnut behind. It clove in even wedges from the tooth, as if built for biting. I can imagine its taste and touch now, as vividly as when I had one months ago, which I almost can never do with food.

Mottles and dapples, so many of them. Those weird magic blends of flavors, complex and lingering, all bred away to the blunt blow on the tongue of Red Delicious and Granny Smiths. And all that rich wild topography of appleskin sieved and filtered and winnowed down to familiar cheap flashy supermarket wax-sheen.

I had always thought all this was silly. People crowing about varieties of apple, squash, oyster. Wine. Whatever. Seemed indulgent, idle, snobbish. Neo-hippyish and offensively granola. Ponytailed prissiness. But then you taste or experience something that wakes you up. Makes you revel in your senses, reminds you you have a tongue, a nose, sense organs built to know and hold so much more than you had realized was out there.

Like when you first try yoga and you feel some weird part of your back or thigh light up and crackle with pain-pleasure, some backwoods territory of your body you never even knew existed. And you stop, you take a breath, and you think: “shit, I live in this thing, and how much of it am I really aware of?” Even a lowly little apple can make you feel the same way, can cause you to marvel at how broad sensory experience can be and how much within it there is to sample — and how much of it that unpredictable variety people actively seek to curtail.

Nature is so vast, yet we choose to cull and promote such a small swath of it. As if resenting its enormity, its reckless variety. Whether it’s flowers, tomatoes, apples, anything that can grow and be consumed — we try to control and shape and create a demand, and anything wild and untameable & strange — anything that isn’t easily marketable — we shove away until we forget it ever existed. It’s part of what we do as humans, and must do — and at its best, it’s a beautiful act of harmonious tending and shaping (think Bonsai). At its worst, it’s petty and fearful; small-minded and profit-thralled.

We think we know Nature, its growths and types & creatures and patterns, but none of us ever will, even those of us who want to. Most of us only know the safe and manageable images of it we’ve created from it or forced upon it. Like growing up thinking all deers are Bambis, all elephants Dumbos, and only animals in cute hallmark cards are worth trying to save.
    

Broken Tulip Unbroken Tulip Broken Tulip
(broken) (unbroken) (broken)


Nature will save itself. Nature always innovates — in flower terms, “breaks” — whether tulip or apple or superflu. It wreaks wildness out of the shapes we impose, expect, plan for. And this is why we love it and are troubled by it. Its gorgeous chaos & defiance.
   
   
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2008

[posted by: C Way at 9:56 PM]

[file under: Culinary Arts ||| non-fiction & essays]
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