Writing about restaurants and books, wine and theater, art galleries and museums

Monthly Archives: June 2014

Today was the first day of the Fancy Food Show which fills the Javits Convention Center in New York for three days.  Organized by the Specialty Food Association, the exhibitors are makers of food and beverage products hoping to catch the eye of representatives of restaurants, supermarkets, and anyone else who buys food for commercial or retail use.

I only walked about half of the show today, but I noticed a few trends:


There were lots of exhibitors with crackers or chips that are made of something not so typical. It went past “multigrain” or “gluten free” to chips/crackers made of things like red fife and spelt, falafel, pasta, sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas, pomegranates and broccoli. And then there were lots of flavor combinations, such as sweet chili, sea salt, maple honey, mesquite cheddar, rosemary and thyme, and another trend, sriracha.


There was a lot of weird stuff going on with cakes and cookies, including making appearances in tubes, jars, bottles and cups.

Cupcake pops

Cupcake pops

I’m not sure it’s advisable to squeeze a cupcake into a plastic popsicle tube. I didn’t taste one of the cupcake pops, but I hate to think of having to eat all the whipped cream before I can get to the cupcake.


Cakes are also being shoved into jars of multiple sizes. Cakelove is doing it with cream cheese icing. Goodbye layer cakes.  The idea is that you can have a little now and store the rest in the fridge for later. Who are they kidding?


You don’t want a glass jar? Well, you can have your cake in a mug. This time, it hasn’t been cooked yet. The My Cup of Cake package includes a dry mix, an oil packet and a ceramic mug. You put everything in the mug with some water and then cook it in the microwave for less than three minutes. Voilá: Belgian chocolate soufflé. The larger size comes with enough for four ramekins–you supply the ramekins.

Cookies in a jar

Cookies in a jar

More than one company is selling a jar that looks like one of those colored sand bottles you made at camp. Inside are the ingredients to bake cookies, just add egg, butter and vanilla. Unlike a mix, the ingredients are layered separately in the jars and include mix-ins like chocolate chips, dried fruits and nuts jelly. The Mason Jar Company allows you to make your own combinations online.

SistersGourmet has a set selection of cookie mixes.  You can select the bows on the outside of the jar — it seems they are mostly intended as gifts.


SistersGourmet cookie mixes in a jar


THE Sriracha

THE Sriracha

Sriracha, a hot sauce modeled after Thai hot sauces, has become ubiquitous.  The Sriracha sauce that started it all is made by Los Angeles company, Huy Fong Foods.  Sriracha has become a common table top condiment like ketchup and soy sauce.  Now, competing Srirachas sauces are made the large food manufacturers and “sriracha” flavor has shown up in all kinds of products like the chips mentioned above.  More recently, a Korean fermented chili paste, Gochujang, is rising in popularity.  Gochujang is more of an ingredient used in cooking than a condiment, but now you can see it mentioned more often in recipes and in descriptions of food items on restaurant menus (and not just Asian restaurants).

So, perhaps partly due to the successes of Sriracha and Gochujang, I noticed today at the Fancy Food Show a lot more companies specializing in Asian style sauces, from Korean hot sauces that bear a resemblance to gochujang, but are intended to be used as a condiment, to Indian style chutneys and ketchups that have been spiced up.  Here are some examples:


The obsession with gluten free only gets bigger.  The GF certification could be seen everywhere.

IMG_6747The lists of what products DON’T have are getting longer and longer:

What's left?

What’s left?


Kara Walker

In New York, we love lines.  If there is a line, that is where we want to be.  So, in the last few years, we have stood in line for events like Christian Marclay’s The Clock, Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room at David Zwirner, Doug Wheeler’s light room also at David Zwirner, the rain room at MOMA.  And now, the place to be is the Kara Walker exhibit at the soon to be torn down Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Kara Walker is a contemporary mid-career artist who is known for scenes done in black paper-cut silhouettes.  At first glance, the paper cuts look like something you might stencil in the baby’s room, but they depict scenes involving rape, violence, sex and slavery. Although the images in her work are mostly from the pre-Civil War south, they are also a commentary on abuses that exist around the world today.

Kara Walker “Auntie Walker’s Wall Sampler for Civilians” (detail), 2013. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York © Kara Walker.

The scale of her pieces can go from one extreme to another — from floor-to-ceiling wall murals (above) to small cut outs in vitrines or on table tops (below).

Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching at the Brooklyn Museum

Walker’s work, which deals with issues of race, gender, violence and sexuality can be unsettling and repulsive and ambiguous and contradictory.  It can be very controversial.  A recent New York times feature mentions how veteran black artist Betye Saar criticized Walker for “her negative stereotypes of blacks as both victims and aggressors.”  Walker has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant, her works are included in many museum collections.

Her current installation is different from her well-known silhouettes.  On Friday afternoon, June 27th, the line to get into Walker’s current show stretched for about six blocks down Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.

Line to get into exhibit with the sugar factory in the distance

Line to get into exhibit with the sugar factory in the distance

Once in the show, you walk into the cavernous, now abandoned, sugar refinery to see a giant sphinx-like sugar mammy at the opposite end.  Entitled “A Subtlety,” there is nothing subtle about it. (By the way, a subtlety is a medieval sculpture made of sugar or marzipan for royal families, often to decorate tables)


Sphinx-like sugar sculpture

Sphinx-like sugar sculpture

As you walk towards her, there are smaller molasses children.  Many of them are carrying baskets.  To me they seemed to be reminders of child labor (which I had just seen featured the night before on The Daily Show in a feature about children working in tobacco fields).  Walker based them on some 10-inch slave boy knickknacks she had purchased on amazon.



At this point in the exhibit–which has been open since April–a number of the sugar children have melted under the heat of the factory and have toppled to the ground and broken.


Kara Walker’s installation deals with many of the issues she has addressed in the past.  The sphinx is a stereotype of the handkerchief wearing mammy who took care of white families’ children.  In addition, she represents a stereotype of an overly sexualized black woman.

In 1984, Sheena Easton had a controversial hit with the song “Sugar Walls” written by Prince.

Some of the lyrics:

“Come spend the night inside my sugar walls

I can tell you want me
It’s impossible to hide
Your body’s on fire
Admit it come inside

My sugar walls
My sugar walls
Come inside
My sugar walls
My sugar walls”

TV and radio stations refused to air the song because sugar walls referred to the walls of a “vagina.”  Well, Kara Walker’s sculpture includes the ultimate “sugar walls:”

Sugar Walls

Sugar Walls

The Domino Sugar Refinery was built in 1856 and for some time was producing half of the sugar in the United States.  The refinery, which is about to be torn down to make room for luxury residences, still has the smell of molasses and sugar can be seen every where–dripping down the walls, at the top of pillars, in every crevasse and behind every wall.  Sugar, which was at one time a luxury product, is making room, for a modern day luxury product.

The walls of the refinery look like abstract paintings:

Sugar Wall

Sugar Wall

Sugar Wall

Sugar Wall

Close-ups of the walls of the Domino Sugar Refinery

Close-ups of the walls of the Domino Sugar Refinery

The show ends July 6, 2014


More Information

NY Times on the exhibit

An excellent ten-minute in-depth look at the creation of the project (video with Walker in it)

Interview with Walker in The Brooklyn Rail on how the exhibit developed

Jerry Saltz’s reaction to the exhibit

Poetry, prose and illustrations related to the exhibition’s central themes, from five innovative and internationally renowned writers and artist on the Exhibit’s website

A discussion and guide to Walker’s art work

Video from the Live at NY Public Library Event (excerpt of interview starts 2 minutes in)

This week I went to a couple of outdoor concerts offering up a some jazz.


On Tuesday, Midsummer’s Night Swing kicked off its season at Lincoln Center with 24-year-old jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant.

Cecile McLorin Salvant and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

Cecile McLorin Salvant and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

Each standing-room only concert of the series costs $17. This gets you on to the large dance floor. You have the option of showing up early to take a dance class. You don’t have to dance—you can hop on the dance floor, get close up to the stage and just enjoy the music.

Salvant sang mostly standards and was backed by the swing orchestra, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Not known a couple of years ago, Salvant has been making a name for herself. The New York Times has done a couple of articles about her and, in April, Salvant won the Jazz Journalists Association award for “Up and Coming Artist of the Year.”  I enjoyed her voice but thought her spark and energy were somewhat overwhelmed by the large outdoor space.

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Someone who’s energy came through to the whole crowd was Norma Miller, a Lindy Hop dancer in the 1940’s. She came out on stage a couple of times to sing and dance and it was hard to believe she is 94-years old.



Butler Bernstein and the Hot 9 at Metrotech

Butler Bernstein and the Hot 9 at Metrotech

Today, I went to one of Metrotech’s Thursday lunch concerts. It’s part of a series of concerts put on by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The series continues through Thursday, August 7

Today was New Orleans pianist Henry Butler and New York trumpeter Steven Bernstein with his Hot 9 ensemble.  They were promoting a new album they have done together, “Viper’s Drag.” It was a wonderful concert with a variety of styles which included modern jazz, blues, traditional jazz and some New Orleans standards by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and others.  It was great hearing Butler on a piano (as opposed to keyboard or organ) and his solo playing was the highlight of the day.

Henry Butler and Stephen Bernstein

Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein

It was a funny sight, because just to the side of the stage was a giant screen showing the U.S. vs. Germany World Cup Match. Many of the people there had their backs to the stage—they were there to watch the soccer game. The applause and shouts didn’t necessarily match what was going on with the music, but both ended at exactly the same time. The people who were there for the concert left much happier than those who were there to root on the U.S. team.

Competing for attention:  World Cup US vs. Germany

Competing for attention: World Cup US vs. Germany
















Hi-Collar Cafe

Hi-Collar Cafe

I love the Hi-Collar Cafe which opened at 214 East 10th Street about a year ago.   Hi-Collar is a kissaten, which is the Japanese version of a Western coffee shop.  Kissaten are places where people can go to relax over a coffee, breakfast, lunch, a sandwich or a sweet.

There are no tables at Hi-Collar–just a counter with about 10 backless stools–so you can’t get too comfortable.  During the day, Hi-Collar serves breakfast and lunch. They used to open early for breakfast, but currently are opening at 11:00–so check their hours before you go. At night, it turns into a bar with a long list of sakes to choose from.

During the day, you can find many typical kissaten items on its menu:  omurice, which is fluffy omelet over rice, Japanese-style pancakes (i.e. thick and fluffy), and katsu (pork cutlet) sandwich.    Of course, they also serve coffee.  You can choose from three methods of preparation:  pour over, aeropress, or siphon.  I’m not sure what the differences are, but they all look like variations of science experiments with beakers and tubes and bubbling liquids and flames.  They have several beans, and if you don’t know which bean you want they will serve as your coffee sommelier, asking: Do you like your coffee strong or medium?  More or less acidic?  More or less fruity?

Coffee preparation

Coffee preparation

Big confession:  I LOVE this place, and I have NEVER had a coffee here.  I’ve had a few of the food items and they have all been very nice, but what brings me back here is the kissaten style daily pasta special.  The first time I went there I asked about the daily pasta–I was told “roe.”  I had no idea what that would mean, but I ordered it.  I got a plate of spaghetti in a very light creamy sauce, some enoki mushrooms with lots of tiny orange flying fish roe.  The taste was subtle and delicious.  It was good as many of the best dishes I had had from some very expensive Japanese restaurants.

Pasta special

Pasta special

Yesterday when I asked about the pasta, I thought the answer was “bonito” followed up with “garlic” and  “pepperoni”.   Of course I ordered it, that’s what I was there for.  I’m not sure where the bonito was in the dish and pepperoni was in fact tiny rings of red peppers (sliced pepperoncini).  It doesn’t matter.  The dish was fabulous.   The spaghetti was perfectly al dente.  I don’t know how they cook it so perfectly especially in the tiny kitchen in the back.  The pasta was in oil.  When they were preparing the dish, the smell of garlic sautéing in oil reached me from the kitchen.  But what came out was a delicate taste, with just a hint of garlic.  There was also some spinach, fresh tomatoes, enoki mushrooms and shredded dried seaweed.  Every once in a while I got a taste of something sweetly pungent.  And don’t forget the sliced red peppers which gave the dish a perfect amount of heat.  This is a dish that could go up against Del Posto’s pasta dishes–in particular it called to mind Del Posto’s spaghetti with jalapeño and crab.  But there is nothing Italian about the pasta dishes at Hi-Collar.  Spending time at Hi-Collar is like taking a trip to Japan.  Hi-Collar’s slogan is “Flirting with the West”, but on 10th Street, it allows us to flirt with the East.

By the way, the pasta dishes at Hi-Collar are $8.50 if you also order a beverage or $10.50 a la carte.

Hi-Collar Cafe
214 East 10th St. New York, NY 10003




Ai Wei Wei 1986 outside Tompkins Square Park

I had seen some small focused exhibits of Ai Wei Wei’s work in New York galleries over the last few years. The show at the Brooklyn Museum provides an opportunity to see a a wide range of his works, including sculptures, photography and video, spanning more than 20 years, and gives a good sense of who he is as an artist and a political activist.

I noticed a few themes:

Old vs. New

I spent 6 weeks travelling through China a few years ago. Construction was everywhere. The smallest towns were full of giant cranes. We constantly went looking for a restaurant or shop we had read about only to find either a giant empty construction site or a giant new skyscraper.   We saw old parts of towns (e.g. Beijing, Pingyao, Lijiang, Shanghai)  torn down and Disneyland-esque towns built in their places.  Ai deals with this directly–there are rooms wallpapered with photos of construction sites–and less directly, as he does in one of his most iconic pieces:

Coca Cola Vase

Coca Cola Vase

In “Coca Cola Vase” (this one made in 2007) Ai has taken an ancient vase from around 4,000 B.C. and painted the Coca Cola logo on it, defacing it and turning it into a piece of modern advertising.

Han Dynasty Urns

Han Dynasty Urns

In “Colored Vases” (2007-2010), he has taken vases from the Han Dynasty and painted them in bright colors with industrial paint.  Ai lived in the U.S. from for 12 years from 1981-1993.  He started making works like the Coca Cola vase (an earlier one not on display is from 1994) in the mid-1990’s after he returned to China.   On view (behind the colorful urns) is a set of photographs from 1995 in which Ai is seen dropping Han Dynasty vases on the ground, smashing them.

When I was in China, I travelled into the hills of northern Yunan province near the border of Tibet in order to visit the oldest monastery in China. Only as we were hiking up to the monastery did I notice something strange in the view up ahead—the monastery was missing. When I got to the top, I found out that the monastery had been torn down. It was made of wood and was deemed a fire hazard. A new modern monastery was being built in its place.

Ai Wei Wei has made art works from wood salvaged from dismantled ancient temples, including “Map of China” (2008):

Map of China

Map of China (side view)

It looks like an abstract wood sculpture, but if looked upon from above (which you can’t do because it is about 6 feet tall) it forms a Map of China.

Map of China from above

Map of China from above

Taking Functional Objects and Turning them into Something New

A number of Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures are made of things that had a functional purpose, such as pieces of furniture or bicycles.

Moon Chest is made up of a series of chests made of huali wood–the highly valued wood of a Chinese quince tree.  Ai has cut four holes into each piece of furniture transforming them from functional objects to pieces of art.  When they are lined up and you look through them, you can see different phases of the moon.

Moon Chests: stand at one end and look through

Peering into the hole in Moon Chest

Peering into the hole in Moon Chest

He has made pieces from stools:



And tables:




The show includes “Stacked”, a site specific installation of 700 bicycles. It is a comment on the importance that bicycles have played in everyday Chinese life. And perhaps it is signaling the replacement of bicycles by automobiles–the bicycle no longer serves the same function it used to.



Multitudes vs. the Individual

Many of Ai’s works make us strain to find the individual in the multitudes.  He questions how we value things, and looks at mass-production.  The piece which best exemplifies this in the Brooklyn exhibit is “Bowl of Pearls”. You can also see a similar quality in his sunflower seed piece (which is not included in this exhibit), in the rebar piece, “Straight,” discussed below, and in the names of earthquake victims that fills a long wall in the room with “Straight”.

Bowl of Pearls

Bowl of Pearls


River Crabs

River Crabs


Art as a Political Message

And, of course, a large part of his work relates to political issues and some of his most recent projects.  He has brought a lot of attention to the response of the government to the earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008.   He has started a project to find the names of the children who perished in shoddily constructed schools.  One room of the exhibit has a wall of the names of the victims, and a large sculpture called “Straight” made of the tangled pieces of rebar from the ruins of the earthquake that he has collected and had straightened out.

Another room has a serpent on the ceiling made of backpacks like those of the children who perished.

The river crabs work shown above also has a political message.  Ai served 10,000 crabs to guests invited to view the demolition of his studio in Shanghai by the government.  The word for river crabs is He Xie, which is  also the word for harmonious–a reference to the censorship of the regime, which is connected with China’s calls for a “harmonious society, free from dissent”.


The exhibit has a number of works related to Ai Wei Wei’s 2011 imprisonment and his persecution by the police. His passport has been confiscated and he is not permitted to leave China. Ai’s lawyer has recently been arrested.

And there a a number of videos on display, including the documentary So Sorry, which had its own room at the exhibit.  Ai’s website has a lot of materials including many of the videos that we in the exhibit and others such as  a music video about imprisonment  written by and starring Ai.

The exhibit is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through August 10, 2014.  A separate admission fee is required.

For more about Ai Wei Wei, I recommend the documentary “Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry“. It is available on Netflix

Read about the exhibit elsewhere:

New York Times review

Time Out

WNYC: listen to Brian Lehrer and art critic Deborah Solomon discuss the show



Mambi Steak House

Mambi Steak House

Yesterday I went up to 181st street to visit a friend who is about to move away from New York.  Washington Heights is a neighborhood I don’t know well.  After I left her I wanted to grab a bite to eat.  I saw an Irish pub, a Chinese restaurant, a sushi place, and then I remembered that I had once eaten at El Malecon, one of the best known Dominican restaurants in the neighborhood.  I headed down towards 175th Street and on the corner where I thought I’d find Malecon (I was a couple of blocks off–actually on 177th), I found Mambi Steak House.  Inside, there are about 10 tables and a long counter with fast food style menus overhead.  Behind the counter there is a lot of hot food and other prepared food.  All the way in the back, is a small bar, where it looked like there was more drinking than eating going on.   I was a little worried about the hot stations.  The waitresses were serving the food from those stations and I wasn’t sure about food that was already prepared and sitting there.  But the place was hopping and I was starving.

Mambi Steak House

Mambi Steak House

I took a seat at the counter and had a fabulously delicious meal.  Everything that went past me also looked delicious.

The menu is huge–there’s sandwiches, there about ten different chicken dishes on the menu, lots of shrimp and fish and about 15 variations of steak.  There’s also a list of about 15 daily specials–mostly stews and soups.

Sunday's daily specials

Sunday’s daily specials

I ordered the pernil (roast pork) with rice and black beans–the small $8.50 portion.  I got a traditional plate of Caribbean food–a big portion of roast pork with peppers and onions, white rice, a bowl of black beans, and lots of sweet cooked plantains.

Pernil (roast pork) with rice, black beans and plantains

Pernil (roast pork) with rice, black beans and plantains

Everything was cooked perfectly and had lots of flavor, including the black beans.   It’s a long subway ride up to the 175th Street stop on the A train, but I can’t wait to go back.

Mambi Steak House is at 4181 Broadway (corner of 177th St).  It is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day!




This week is my one year anniversary of riding Citibike.  Last year, I took my first ride with my annual membership on June 15th.  I’ve taken 203 trips so far.

Citibike has changed how I get around the city.  I used to walk or take the subway.  Now I ride whenever I can.  I live in the East Village, so the bikes are great for getting to the West Village and to Chelsea art galleries.  I also go to the theater a lot in midtown and I now ride both ways.  I also ride to the furthest north bike stations at 59th Street and walk from there to Lincoln Center.  And it turns out that biking is the fastest and easiest way to get to Dumbo–I’m down bike-laned 2nd avenue and over the Manhattan Bridge in about 10 or 15 minutes.

I carry a helmet whenever I might be riding.


An annual membership costs $95.  If you use certain credit cards, you can get a $15 credit and one month free.

I have a plastic widget that I keep on my keyring.  I put that in the slot of any bike at any station, the bike is released and I have up to 45 minutes to return the bike.  I can take as many 45 minutes trips as I would like during the year.  And I can even return a bike within the 45 minutes and take out another bike immediately.


I love riding around the city.

I love the convenience (when things go smoothly, but, see THE BAD).

I love not waiting for buses or subways.

I love turning a 30 minute walk into a 10 minute trip.

I love the sensation of speeding through the streets.

I love the thrill of watching for the obstacles:

*cars turning into my path,
*car doors opening,
* bikers coming in the opposite direction.
*large grates along the curb

I love being able to leave the bike in one place (say 18th street, to see galleries) and pick up a pick in another (say 28th street after spending the day criss-crossing Chelsea).files.php


The BAD is that finding a bike or finding a slot to return a bike is not that easy.  I am lucky to have four stations within a couple of blocks from where I live.  However, they empty out in the morning and fill up early in the evening.  Often, I get to the station and find there is no bike.  I walk to the next station and the next station, calculating if I have enough time to take the subway.

When I return home at 10 or 11 pm at night from dinner or the theater, a lot of the time all four stations are full.  I then have to decide what to do.  Do I circle? Do I stand and wait at a station for someone to take a bike out? Do I start riding farther afield to find an empty station and then walk home from there?

One afternoon, I arrived at the bike station in front of my dentist’s building on time for my appointment.  The station was full.  I was 30 minutes late for my appointment.  I stood there for more than 20 minutes waiting for someone to take a bike out before I gave up and road off to a station a few blocks away.

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual occurrence–it happens all the time and so, I have to factor in extra time whenever I leave the house in case there are no bikes and I often arrive home more frustrated and tired than I should.


Ok, so it is one thing to get to a station to find it empty or full. But what often happens is, as I walk to the station, I am happy to see a couple of bikes from the distance.  I get ready, I put my helmet on in anticipation, I take my plastic key out. And then I see the little red lights, which means a bike can’t be removed.  That is frustrating.  But what is really frustrating is when there are bikes in the slots, there is no horrific red light, but the bikes still won’t come out.

citi17n-2-webIn the same way, I often am returning a bike and see an empty slot or two, but the slot turns out to be broken and it is impossible to return the bike to the station.

Two nights ago, I was returning from dinner.  I went to the station near Madison Square Park.  There were several bikes, but none of them would release.  I continued walking down Broadway to the next station. Same thing.  Someone came and returned a bike.  Before I could do anything, another person came along and nabbed it.  I had to wait for another person to return a bike–for some reason, the recently returned bikes would release, but not the rest of the bikes in the station.

The other ugly thing is that the station map on the app or online doesn’t help with finding bikes or slots.  It never seems to have accurate information and it doesn’t take into account bikes that won’t release or slots that are broken.  If the information were accurate, it would eliminate some of the frustration.


On June 15, 2013, there were around 40,000 annual members.  Now there are about 110,000 annual members.  But as far as I know, bikes and stations aren’t being added to the system.  This means the problems are growing.

Interestingly, it seems that the number of daily rides have not increased in proportion to the number of members.  In July/August 2013, there were around 25,000 rides taken on a slow day and about 40,000 rides taken on a busy day. June 2014, the number of daily rides range from around 20,000 to about 35,000.  Maybe this is because other people are also getting too frustrated.

I have renewed my membership.  I love bicycling as my transportation alternative.  But I am starting to consider taking my own bike out of storage–and leaving it locked up on the street.

Here’s a video someone made from his apartment window of people trying to return bikes to a broken slot:


Smiling because I found one bike left in the station:

Last bike in the Citibike station

Last bike in the Citibike station