South Williamsburg is bundled up in wool pants and black jackets. The umami of sweat smell, like leaded gasoline, fogs the sidewalk, humid and dense. The Hasidim must suffer from New York summers—but you will never hear a complaint. The men just drip, tight-lipped behind tangled beards, and the women are speechless despite the discomfiture of bottlebrush wigs. I regularly run through the neighborhood, cross country shorts flapping high on my thighs, sweat soaking through a mesh t-shirt. We pass on the sidewalk without eye contact. There is a palpable hostility that dissolves in the air like a bitter lozenge. Then again, the hatred and fear do not only circulate between the Hasidim and intruders: smiling and casual conversation are discouraged. Men walk side-by-side, heads bent together, beards growing together, twining like vines and tree limbs forced together from lack of light, whispering, peyes bobbing like synchronized springs. Their wives keep a watchful eye on children from balconies, or push strollers and scold their babies, or conduct serious tribunals on their stoops. Surveillance is reciprocal; purity is maintained within a system of implicit discipline. Gangs of children, all toddlers and adolescents, roam untethered, but never fear, no Clockwork Orange shit here. Chaos boils inside a latex bubble, elastic and capable of absorbing violence. The occasional rupture—child molestation, a kidnapping, race riots—is incorporated back into the membrane and dampened into a silent ripple. History becomes the stuff of nightmares, never discussed or remembered during the day, but a constant threat when the ladies let their real hair down—or run their fingers through air, because many shave their skulls short. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Restaurants
My most restful nights have been by the sea.
I can sit on a vinyl recliner and let the air wash my face. The sea air is delicious and full of extra oxygen. It is especially nutritious and satisfying to breathe. The wind lifts ancient minerals off the waves. They trickle through the nasal epithelium and tickle the brain. My lips tingle. My most restful nights have been by the sea.
If you start from Coney Island and follow the sea you will eventually find Brighton Beach. Last Saturday looked Moscovian. Gray and white clouds dwarfed the sand and sucking waves. Highrise apartments were flat prints on the skyline. The subway lurches across metal stilts and shelters beneath its pantaloons a romantic avenue of liquor stores, groceries and restaurants and fruit markets, Soviet electronics, cell phones, CDs and VHS tapes, souvenirs, dance halls and nightclubs, cheap insurance, doctors, etc. An alternative universe has budded off the train and dangles, contained by its own surface tension—two blocks away from the umbilical bubble, you are in dark uterine trenches, suburban, overgrown and peeling like seashore homes tend to during unseasonably cool summers. Even compared to Flushing or Sunset Park, Brighton Beach is glowering and mysterious. With less friendly teenagers and more grumping octogenarians, maneuvering through the barricaded shops can be stifling. Frankly, if you are young and hanging out you considered a threat to general order and unwanted. Although we encountered welcoming and interested faces, we also met rude clerks who wanted nothing to do with a few Russian Jews strung out along a genealogical strand. When exploring this neighborhood, the intrepid cosmopolitan must prepare for the best: confusion and outright hostility. Continue reading
Little Italy has not been a good place to eat, at least in recent memory. The encroachment of Chinatown on Italian territory, rising rents, dying families, and changing immigration patterns set an expiration date on the neighborhood. As classic restaurants closed up shop, only the most vulgar and bawdy tourist destinations survived. Those palaces of forgetfulness prostituted themselves to the lowest bidders—cheap spaghetti in canned red sauce? Louche lasagna, too sweet with cottage cheese? Floozy pasta e fagioli? All for sale on Mulberry Street. Although many tourist traps maintained a pretense of earnestness until the end of red sauce seemed inevitable, the best restaurants, the dim leather salons and family kitchens where regular customers kept the food honest, disappeared long before the neighborhood’s current decline. Today, however, hipster aesthetics have inflected mainstream consumer preferences. It’s hip to be square. So red sauce is back, baby, in all its kitschy glory. For be not mistaken, hipster isn’t campy. The aestheticization of lower middle class custom and culture does not transform life into style. Ordinary experience fails to and perhaps cannot achieve transcendental aesthetic value. Instead, the supposed disclosure of aesthetic value in ordinariness is a patronizing power play, an attempt to appropriate, rehearse, and eventually perform class difference as social fetish. Hipster red sauce cooking, alias Torrisi Italian Specialties, is the latest incarnation of an old school bourgeois impulse: “slumming it.” Continue reading
In my final column of the semester, I take on Mister Softee. Here are my notes to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mister Softee”: Continue reading
Never season another man’s collard greens. It’s bad manners and a bit emasculating. When a bowl of collards comes smothered in hot sauce—as it does at Pies ‘n’ Thighs, a boho Brooklyn salon serving fried chicken and stroller moms—it insults the vegetable and the diner. I, for one, know how I like my greens: cooked to a soft knot, smoky and haunted with bitterness, a sweet tingle, sour bushes scrabbling through sand and clay. The taste of good potlikker, born from that struggle, resonates in my stomach like a sympathetic vibration; it boils up my esophagus and lodges somewhere near my heart, a rumbling stroke of thunder without rain. That is not to say collards should come unsalted, unpeppered, or bland—again, as they do at Pies ‘n’ Thighs. I just don’t want my vegetables dressed like Buffalo wings. I see’est thou poised with thine sauce, but restrain thy hand. Be not so presumptuous. Continue reading
I have a confession: I wasted three years on bad sandwiches. Although I visit the Upper East Side once a week—for the museums, not the boutiques!—I have struggled to find acceptable lunches. Dean & Deluca? A dirty water dog? Once, I stooped so low as to eat a cinnamon raisin pretzel from the cart outside the Met instead of wandering Madison for more wholesome options. After the Whitney Biennial, I had a salami and cheese sandwich at Neil’s Coffee Shop. Squished between slices of spongy rye, the soft pink meat (like a little finger sliced open and made pate, or a slimy alien fillet) was no Hebrew National. To my left, a 75-year-old army vet ate a raw hamburger with a fork and knife. The claustrophobia depressed me. I will also admit to the occasional eclair at La Maison du Chocolat. There is no shame in excess confectionary, though the subsequent walk across Central Park induced light-headedness, a mild stomachache, and hallucinations. I saw hundreds of Santas and sexy elves heading down Park Avenue. Later, I learned that a charity encourages people to dress up like Santa and get drunk—a portion of proceeds go to the cause! Three boozy Santas accosted me on the subway. I accepted the ho-ho-hoing and the whole pseudo-psychotic episode as just punishment for poor lunching habits. As you prepare for a move to New York—albeit not my New York, but the New York of my dreams, somewhere south of Columbus Circle, a land Columbia students only know from rumor and rain-soaked copies of the Village Voice—I am writing to caution you against settling for improper and depressing sandwiches. Finally, I have found a paninoteca perfectly suitable for post-museum lunches. Via Quadronno, an inconspicuous restaurant on 73rd Street, will save you years of wasted eating. At the risk of sounding disingenuous or pedantic, I will suggest that Via Quadronno’s paninis stimulate the spirit like a good linger before some Roman sarcophagi. Just as a man, who having lived his hours in solitude discovers true love in the twilight of his years, I now feel immeasurable regret. What lunches I have squandered! Continue reading
by Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
The beginnings of relationships are always great. Every action they make is performed with the utmost of grace and charm and you eagerly await the next time you can see them. They can do no wrong in your eyes.
Then things start to change; the honeymoon period inevitably comes to an end. Their unique quirks that you once found so endearing seem less so, and begin to cause irritation. You try to convince yourself that they are just having an “off day,” but the reality of the deteriorating situation begins to set in. Things are different. You long to go back to that time when everything was fresh and exciting, but those days are over.
Community Food and Juice, I think it’s time that you and I start to see other people. Continue reading
I feel compelled to comment on Jin Ramen, a new restaurant located between Tiemann Place and 125th Street on Broadway. Although I have become disenchanted with the generic conventions of “restaurant reviewing,” I would like to offer a few notes on my experience at this addition to the Columbia family. The take-away: Jin Ramen is not nearly as wonderful as its downtown competitors—Ippudo, Totto Ramen, etc.—but its the best we Columbians have. Continue reading
by Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
It is a central irony in high-end restaurants that those who prepare the food often never taste the fruits of their labor. With the exception of those involved in conceptualizing and creating the menu, the majority of the work force, consisting mainly those of Latin American, West African or Southeast Asian extraction, rarely have the means to dine at the restaurants in which they devote their lives. Instead, daily sustenance in the restaurant in which I spent my summer was taken from the quotidian tradition of the family meal: a meal made by a single cook on a rotational basis for the entire staff using whatever is lying around, and more importantly, cheap. Although considered a necessary evil by some because of the rushed and sometimes careless fashion in which it is put together, for most the family meal serves as a mechanism to share in the culinary traditions of others and a much-needed outlet to unwind after a long shift. Continue reading
I spent most of my evening at Ai Fiori looking out the window at Burger King.
Ai Fiori is an Italian restaurant on the second floor of the Setai Hotel off Fifth Avenue. Michael White, the chef, hails from Wisconsin and cooks with a Midwestern sensibility: he has a heavy hand with pork fat. New York Post critic Steve Cuozzo called White’s lobster with white wine sauce “the greatest dish in the world.” I did not order it.
Instead, I started with scallops and celery root, seafood and vegetable sliced symmetrically, both nestled in a bone split lengthwise and slathered with melted marrow. After eating half the serving—and finishing my cocktail, a rare treat now that I am legal and ‘ready to party’—I felt full. It would be a long and distended meal, pregnant with butter—my belly swollen, sore and satisfied. Continue reading