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

Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Pan fried chicken, okra, mac and cheese, collard greens, smothered chicken. These are some of the things you can get at Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem. We headed up there for lunch because we heard Charles’ chicken is legendary.

 

The place is mostly a take-out spot, but they have three or four tables where you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. At lunchtime it is $13.00 a person. You can pick anything you want from the hot food tables, including the famous fried chicken. Not a typical help yourself buffet. Here, you point, they serve.

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I started with some fried chicken, smothered chicken and BBQ chicken. I specified how many pieces of each I wanted (one) and which type (drumstick). Plus macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and an okra and corn stew. Everything was delicious. The fried chicken was crunchy and not greasy. The BBQ is much better than it looks. It is in a thin sauce that is thick with flavor. The sweet potatoes weren’t overly sweet–just how I like them.  I had seconds of everything on the plate–I liked them so much, I didn’t try the other items.

My plate  of food

My plate of food

While we were eating, I could watch a soap opera on TV or chef and owner Charles Gabriel cooking up some more chicken in a big skillet at the stove behind the food counter.

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

BBQ chicken and mac n cheese and

BBQ chicken and mac n cheese and

You also had your choice of smothered turkey leg or stewed pig’s foot.  I passed up the rice, corn, collard greens, and beans, but I tasted the greens and beans on Lee’s plate–yummy.

Some of the side dishes

Some of the side dishes

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Main course choices

The New York Times agreed that the chicken and the experience are superb.

The New Yorker magazine profiled Charles this week here

The Lee Brothers call Charles Gabriel a legend

Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken is on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 151st and 152 Streets–just a couple of blocks from the 155th Street stop on the B and D subway lines. It is one subway stop (or about a 15 minute walk) from Yankee Stadium.

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Sex with Strangers at the Second Stage Theater

Sex with Strangers is an enjoyable old-fashioned love story in the social media age. Two people meet in a secluded inn in the woods. No one else is staying at the inn, including the owner. There is no cellular signal and the wi-fi is not working—the repairman has been delayed by a storm. One of them is almost 40-year old Olivia: teacher, and author of a failed, out of print novel. She is at the inn to work on a new novel she is writing with no intention of publishing. Olivia is played by Anna Gunn, best known for her leading role on Breaking Bad. She looks and sounds different here—she is much thinner now and she seems younger and less matronly.

Enter 28-year old Ethan, played by Billy Magnussen, who was terrific in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. He tells Olivia that he is a writer on a deadline. His first book, Sex with Strangers, spent 5 years on the New York Times bestseller list and is about to be turned into a film. The book began as a dare and a blog. His friends told him that girls no longer want to pick up guys in bars—they prefer the internet, because they can find out a lot more about people. Ethan, a cocky, charismatic guy (who, by now, everyone has decided is a jerk) decided to prove his friends wrong by having a one-night stand at least weekly with someone he picks up in a bar. He then wrote about it on his blog. He became so popular that “I Slept with Ethan” websites started popping up where the women told their sides of the stories.

Of course, in the play “Sex with Strangers, “ we know that Olivia and Ethan are going to have sex and they do, very soon after meeting. But the play headed in a completely different direction to what I was expecting.   I thought Ethan would turn out to be something very different from what he said—kind of like a face-to-face catfish. Since they had no internet access, none of his information was verifiable. In fact the first act ended with Olivia finally getting wi-fi access, googling Ethan, and then exclaiming something like “Oh Shit”.   But, I learned in Act II, I was wrong.

Anna Gunn and Billy Magnusen

Act II. We jump ahead in time. Ethan and Olivia are still seeing each other. Everything he told her was true. Olivia is trying to reconcile the Ethan she knows with his public persona. In the meantime, he has used his publishing connections to help Olivia get her novel published, but now he would like to start an online publishing venture and he would like her to help him with the rights to her book.

It turns out the play is an old-fashioned love story, exploring questions like how well do we know our partners? How do relationships change as partners grow and mature? How much of relationships are love and how much opportunism? How much is timing? How does the success of a partner change a relationship? How much does age matter? Where does lust end and love start?

Sex With Strangers

By Laura Eason; directed by David Schwimmer; sets by Andromache Chalfant; costumes by ESosa; lighting by Japhy Weideman; sound by Fitz Patton; production stage manager, Scott Taylor Rollison; associate artistic director, Christopher Burney; production manager, Jeff Wild; general manager, Seth Shepsle. Presented by Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, artistic director; Casey Reitz, executive director. At Second Stage Theater, 305 West 43rd Street, Clinton; 212-246-4422, 2st.com. Through Aug. 31. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.

WITH: Anna Gunn (Olivia) and Billy Magnussen (Ethan).


Yesterday I had a fabulous meal at M. Wells. A couple days earlier the M. Wells folks sent out an email saying that they were having a Labor Day party. There would be a DJ, food for a fixed price of $30 and a cash bar. As is usually the case with M. Wells’ special events, there were no details about the food. The email only stated they would “celebrate the best of our summer specials and take a peak at our upcoming fall menu”.  You have to be prepared to jump in without any details.  You have to ignore the press who usually get it wrong (Time Out said the menu would include fish quenelle and lobster, veal kidney with sea beans and salt-crusted squab–none of which were served). With M. Wells, you have to put yourself in their hands, go in blind and trust in Hugue. Whatever it is, it is bound to be surprising, generous and wonderful. Yesterday was a case in point.

We got our wristbands and a couple of drinks from the bar, sat down at a table and over the next couple of hours, the following dishes were brought out to the two of us:

Seafood platter

Seafood platter

The seafood platter had 6 oysters and 4 little jars which contained geoduck, mussels, clams, and roe. What a way to start! (Later we saw that king crab legs were being added to the platter)

Baked potato

Baked potato

A baked potato was served with the seafood platter. The roe with creamy horseradish sauce from one of the jars was a perfect topping.

Hamburger

Hamburger

We shared a juicy hamburger and fries.

Fries

Fries

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate

The pan con tomate was loaded with flavor.

Stuffed guinea hen

Stuffed guinea hen

The guinea hen roulade was stuffed with something sausagey (foie gras was mentioned) and topped with a mushroom sauce.  The best part with the exterior–it was wrapped in a thin french toast.

Pork chops w/anchovy butter

Pork chops w/anchovy butter

One of the regular items on the M. Wells Steakhouse menu is a “stack of pork chops.” We got a beautiful stack of two delicious chops.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

The cauliflower was roasted, topped with puffed rice and served with a sauce with a little heat and Indian flavors.

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

Fried chicken with a yummy gravy for dipping.

Foie gras gnocchi

Foie gras gnocchi

Much more a croquette, than gnocchi, this was oozing foie gras. OMG!

Wild hare in civet

Wild hare in civet

A special meal at M. Wells has to include wild hare.

Dessert

Dessert

We were stuffed by this point, but managed to eat all of our dessert-maple pie, something like a chess pie and a chocolate icebox type cake.

Oh, and the music was terrific–it started out with New Orleans music and built up to dance music.  A lovely way to spend Labor Day.  Thanks M Wells!