Tuesday, March 29, 2011

tourist vista: "following the sun"

(with apologies to mfw, for stealing his post title)

one early evening last week, i left the office and followed the sun.
it took me downtown.
and then we drifted west, and i walked--for the very first time--though the washington square village apartment complex.

this massive, "tower in the park" superstructure is generally not esteemed (certainly not by anyone i know) so i was surprised at just how lovely the interior courtyard-slash-parking lot looked that day. the yellow fooled me for a moment--i forgot i was in new york city. until a guy started screaming at me--a security guard, admonishing me for trying to take a photo.

is the rest of the world as paranoid as we are?

here's all i got from "the inside":

ok. i snuck in one more,
closer to i.m. pei's "university village" (far less charming than the colorful glazed brick of the washington square apartments) :

this 60-ton, 36-foot high sculpture, by carl nesjar --also new to these eyes--is based on picasso's "sylvette." it was rendered by sandblasting norwegian basalt and cement...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

i wanna be with you (elsewhere)

one of my favorite, early memories of my cousin jason reaches back to when he was probably 4 or 5 years old. he arrived at our house for a weekend visit--and i don't know what was cooking or baking on that day--i just remember his eyes (extra-round), his little neck stretched and craned as he wandered through the room, really following his nose. and then he asked in his most innocent, high-pitched drawl, is that butter?

butter? i was a teenager at the time, and while i knew what smells were conjured by different whole dishes (the vinegar and garlic from adobo; the meaty, sweetness of spaghetti sauce; the mustiness of my mom's awful, awful chicken curry), my food senses were not so evolved. i was fascinated that this little guy could be so attuned to a single note. he continued to develop a keen palate. our family thought we had a future chef on our hands. (instead, we have a wonderful gourmand...)

a couple of weeks ago, he sent a link to
elsewhere restaurant's menu to my sister and me. it's a butter hit parade: bacon butter popcorn, biscuits with brown butter and crushed black pepper, salt-baked fingerling potatoes with bacon butter and anchovy mayo... there was no question he'd found the perfect place for us to celebrate his 30th birthday. i only wondered how elsewhere had eluded me to that moment.

elsewhere opened in december of last year, and apart from a modest mention in florence fabricant's diner's journal, there seemed to have been little buzz. but this is the second enterprise undertaken by brian keyser and megan johnson of casellula, a wine and cheese and tapas utopia in hell's kitchen. so while their devotion to cheese is duly-noted here (hooray, the shushan snow!), elsewhere gives them the opportunity to flaunt a little more with mains. though with so many dishes to tempt, you'll likely still be inspired to share the big plates, too.

as is true of some of new york's best new restaurants,
elsewhere keeps to local, sustainable, seasonal food; herbs from their back garden are front and center in these very fine dishes.

this is the best sangria i have had in new york.

i like mine juicy and strong, but balanced. hibiscus is the surprise charm here.

my sister was driving that night, so she "settled" for a their special hot chocolate with just a splash of bourbon. you like how she rolls?

bacon butter popcorn.




smoked caviar, puffed rice and herb crème fraîche. jason surprised me by making this choice, but like i said, he's got a good palate.

this is really a "snap crackle and pop" dish:

the snap of chopped green beans, the crackle of puffed rice, and the pop of salty caviar bubbles.

luscious crème fraîche and bright chives don't hurt the cause one bit.

5 SPOKE TUMBLEWEED POUTINE, you made me love you. i didn't want to do it. i didn't want do it.

(actually, i did. and you will too.) i had no earthly idea what a "5 spoke tumbleweed" was--it's a cheese. and it melts perfectly, with gravy and fries.

a nice grapefruit-glazed cod with escarole and chorizo–the second lightest dish at our table, after the caviar.

i wasn’t sure what a chorizo-crusted pork chop was going to look like. bits of sausage cobbled around a big slab? but actually the chorizo is sort of minced and mixed with a panko crust. less intimidating than in my imagination, but still seriously hearty and good.

this was my favorite of the entrees. they try to fool you with ho-hum description: braised rabbit, spinach, olives and mushrooms. maybe the kitchen wants there to be leftovers for themselves? I wouldn’t blame them. you’re looking at 2 kinds of rabbit meat, the sweet white and dense dark. the mushrooms, spinach, and olives laze in a reduction that is pert and salty. this dish is properly dressed–they don’t skimp or drown in sauce. i would make someone order this, next time too.

in my opinion, the desserts comprise the weakest section of the menu overall; 1 fruit, 1 chocolate, 1 custard, a selection of ice creams and sorbets and a cheese course. with the front and middle sections being so heavy, it's probably prudent on their part? but to trouble things a little more, this is also where the most exotic combinations exist--rose snow, pistachio, kumquat, lime custard, anyone? i felt a little like i was about to "settle" rather than go out on a real high note?

i opted for the palate cleansing sorbet: pineapple pink peppercorn.

this is george michael circa 1992 --just too funky for me. pineapple, like lemon, can be too intense to the point of bitterness, or just too aromatic. that's what happens here. and the crunch of the peppercorn wasn't as interesting as i thought it would be. the experience was rather like eating potpourri...

but the sweet potato cake with brown sugar sour cream, buttered pecan ice cream was perfect--this is the nfl meets dancing with the stars. thick-bodied, but still so light on its toes.

opt for that, or the cheese plate, and you won't be sorry.


one of my favorite things about elsewhere is the actual dining experience. the food is of-the-moment and eclectic, but it's not a trendy scene. the room is wide and welcoming, with a dining garden (home to a 30 year old ficus tree), and the spirit of the service is the same. they let us linger over this meal, allowed us to feel really at home.

for a lovely occasion--or none at all-- you'll find elsewhere is just the right place to be.

(and yes, i'm referencing a fleetwood mac song in the post title)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

rainy days and mondays

925 broadway
march 21, 2011

nyc: the only geometry i'll ever understand

“This is the purpose of New York’s geometry...that each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.”..
. Roland Barthes


is there any city in the world that is easier to traverse than new york? i have been partly around the world, and still haven't found a place with such a logical way about it. maybe cities like buenos aires and paris, where one neighborhood or district slips into the next are more sexy, romantic, or more mysterious. but new york, she is smart.

today is the 200th anniversary of the grid--certainly worth commemorating, so cheers to the nytimes for the quick history lesson and the interactive map .

i like to (try to) imagine what it was like to be the person whose job it was to survey this town. it took john j randall three years of walking up- and downtown, to determine the grid (a seven mile hike a day isn't too bad--it's about the distance i run from home, through the long loop in central park, and back) but having to ax your way through the trees and shrubbery along the way? that is wild.


if you're interested in expanding your sense of the city, i'm going to suggest "mapping new york" (on my wish list). more than street plans, it offers clues to its social and cultural developments, dating back to the 16th century, and some fun artistic renderings.

the guardian published 15 maps from the book: have a look.

I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite aerial views of ny, circa 1961, courtesy of daniel l. fapp, the director of photography for west side story. the nyc views start at the 5:42 mark.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

supermoon, take 2 (the big white ball)

i love my camera (a canon rebel xsi) and my lenses (a sigma 50mm 1.4 and a tamron zoom), but i was pretty sure neither lens, nor my little g10, would be able to offer a proper "picture" of the supermoon, as big and bright and clear as it was to my eye last night. but i went for it anyway.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


by way of fifth ave, near 25th street, nyc
(click the image, to really see her hat)
march 19, 2011
© anita aguilar

super duper

by the time i heard about last evening's supermoon (hat tip to mfw), the clouds had come out to shroud it. was the moon BIG, the night clear, a few hours earlier?

well, here's the view from 38th street/park at 10:03 pm.
super? maybe not.
but not too shabby...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

inspiration: mfw at the IW/todd hido


i've recently converted another smart cookie to
maximum favorite writer's camp. my cousin, jenny, declared herself officially to me, to my deep delight. she likes tennis, but obviously she already understands you don't need to be tennis-obsessed to appreciate his work. she just likes his writing. she called it relatable.

for me there is always something (a few somethings) in his posts, a phrase or image that will linger. there is one in particular that i relate to (and love) from the
notebook post this week, on the view from the skies:

I’ve always liked looking out the windows of a plane; somehow the long view relaxes me, and this trip offered mostly cloudless, unimpeded views of the United States. I’ll never get enough of the sight of the lights of small cities dotting the countryside at night. There’s something warming about them, about the way they stick outside in the darkness, against the darkness. Like snowflakes and Grateful Dead shows, no two are exactly the same. Looking at them pass by slowly, I think, What can possibly be going wrong there, in that safe spot where people have decided to gather?

i am afraid of heights and flying--i actually cried the first time i got on a plane by myself, and believe me i was "old enough--but while actually aloft, i do love the marks of the land by day and the twinkling at night. it can be hard to explain to those who are unafraid, and to those who are upended by flying.
he describes it simply, clearly and beautifully.


his line: what can possibly be going wrong there, in that safe spot where people have decided to gather? reminded me of some of the work of a favorite photographer of mine, todd hido.

he explores that idea-- from street level and from an outsider's point of view--with a series called "homes at night." unlike the dreamy, warm view from the plane, his series can suggest something disquieting, or at least not entirely....easy.

i've only selected a few here.
the night glow here is lonely and haunting. i think they are stunning.
he uses film, which allows for long exposures...you cannot capture this light with digital (except in photoshop).




all images by todd hido, which you can find at toddhido.com
check out the landscapes, please.

pretty city: red/light

broadway. soho, nyc. march 17, 2011.
© anita aguilar

inspiration: goings on about town

a floating screening, part of the rooftop films series. august 29, 2005. photo by sylvia plachy via thenewyorker.com

every week, when the new yorker arrives in the mail, the first thing i look at is...
the critics section. but the second thing i look at is the photo that opens the "goings on about town" section. and i admire. and dream...

elisabeth biondi, who has been the "visuals editor" since 1996, a couple of years after photography first started appearing in the magazine, is leaving to pursue curatorial projects.
the new yorker put together a tribute and slideshow, highlighting her favorites. i haven't pulled together my actual new yorker favorites yet (that should be a fun exercise) but i have loved sylvia plachy's work...and her book's been on my wish list for a while. have a look at the small selection here.

i'll leave you with these tonight...

“Jomama Jones * Radiate,”/Daniel Alexander Jones. photographed by Lisa Kereszi. via the newyorker.com

“new york city, 1953,” by elliott erwitt’s, which was part of a wonderful exhibition that i actually caught at the edwynn houk gallery a couple of years ago.via the newyorker.com

this one is for my sister...

carla bruni and comtesse jacqueline de ribes, in venice, italy. photo by jean pigozzi. 1991. via the newyorker.com

Sunday, March 13, 2011

way out...west? octavia's porch

whenever i think of ethnic food, i imagine dishes that are earthy and intense, with distinctive flavors that by sight and smell and taste remind someone, somewhere abroad, of “home.” when i think of korean, indian, filipino, japanese, italian, i can think of 1, 2, 3 flavors at least that mark the meal as a sensory experience, and it doesn’t have to be pleasing to everyone (kimchi is my kryptonite). perhaps it is an affinity for the most strange or stinky or the most intolerably fishy or salty thing that separates the natives from the rest?

so, i went to octavia’s porch, a restaurant that celebrates global jewish cuisine–as they describe it, encompassing eastern europe, south africa, morocco, spain, portugal, italy– with some "flavor" expectations: a punch of lemon, rich and thick tahini and beans, nut and olive and dried fruit accents, and dill. i expected smoky preparations and pickled sides. but i suppose more than anything, i expected the fare to be good and hearty. the cultural references were wide, and the thoughtful menu presented one deliciously hard choice after another.

but as much as i enjoyed the selections my friend rachel and i made during our first visit, the modern, fresh but lightly flavored fare reminded me of only one place: california...


i love white bean dip, but think it needs one dominant flavor added to it, to bring it to life. my sister makes a family favorite that’s heavy on garlic and rosemary. this one could have used more lemon, more chive –and maybe a dollop or two of tahini to give it a rich note. and a bit of sea salt.

duck and sweet potato hash: i had high hopes for this one, because it’s rarely a bad combination. the problem here is that it’s not a hash. these finely prepared components were mixed, but not married. and they were barely salted.

red quinoa salad green beans, pumpkin seeds and citrus: this is perfect. a must have, again and again.here you have nutty grains, crunchy green beans, juicy fruit, mingling with a perky reduction–i think balsamic.

salmon & scrambled eggs on rye with lime creme fraiche, cinnamon-honey roasted tomatoes.

call this one the beauty queen: pretty, stacked…not much else…
here’s where we realize a pattern: as with the other dishes, there is imagination and hints of technique here, but a really weak instinct for seasoning. the salmon is gently poached, but the skin wasn’t crisp or salty; the eggs tender, but also wan. i was principally sold on this dish for the cinnamon-honey roasted tomatoes, but i think i missed the sweet spices entirely? the creme fraiche was plain wrong: it was too limey, too sweet (it reminded me of cheesecake) and too thick to spread. what was i supposed to spread this on anyway? the rye toast was to delicate and dry to handle it. this assemblage badly needs something to unify it, to make all these elements become one dish..

but: there is a big finish, in the form of banana challah bread pudding. it is beautifully realized.

the slices of fresh banana that live inside this loaf, and are caramelized on top, give a clean flavor. i prefer this to other banana bread puddings made out of, well, banana bread. the fresh fruit does the work of amping all the flavors here. in the pudding itself there is lightness–and it’s a surprise here, too. but it’s a right one. love the slivers of fresh mint, too. one thing: the syrup wasn't chocolate as promised, but it was still a good touch.

i feel a little bad writing some of this now–=i had a lovely time with rachel and we cooed about the meal as it was happening, talked enthusiastically about coming back… only in retrospect did i realize what was missing, for me. sure, the dishes we had lacked the strength and depth to “transport,” but there are still good things at octavia’s porch. and with so many other intriguing dishes on the menu, i still think it’s worth booking a return.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

read a good poem: cher

this seems right for a saturday night.

i sort of love 70s cher. i used to want her hair. (maybe still do.)

(come to think of it, i have this outfit...)


I wanted to be Cher, tall
as a glass of iced tea,
her bony shoulders draped
with a curtain of dark hair
that plunged straight down,
the cut tips brushing
her nonexistent butt.
I wanted to wear a lantern
for a hat, a cabbage, a piñata
and walk in thigh-high boots
with six-inch heels that buttoned
up the back. I wanted her
rouged cheek bones and her
throaty panache, her voice
of gravel and clover, the hokum
of her clothes: black fishnet
and pink pom-poms, fringed bells
and her thin strip of a waist
with the bullet-hole navel.
Cher standing with her skinny arm
slung around Sonny's thick neck,
posing in front of the Eiffel Tower,
The Leaning Tower of Pisa,
The Great Wall of China,
The Crumbling Pyramids, smiling
for the camera with her crooked
teeth, hit-and-miss beauty, the sun
bouncing off the bump on her nose.
Give me back the old Cher,
the gangly, imperfect girl
before the shaving knife
took her, before they shoved
pillows in her tits, injected
the lumpy gel into her lips.
Take me back to the woman
I wanted to be, stalwart
and silly, smart as her lion
tamer's whip, my body a torch
stretched the length of the polished
piano, legs bent at the knee, hair
cascading down over Sonny's blunt
fingers as he pummeled the keys,
singing in a sloppy alto
the oldest, saddest songs.
by Dorianne Laux via the writer's almanac

it pains me to post this without knowing who the photographer is...if i find it, i'll fix this.
cher, 1975.