Mainly Asian with a touch of Mexican spice

Sunset over Manhattan

Hunters Point is well served by Asian restaurants, whether Sushi, Malaysian, Chinese or Thai. There’s a nice range – from smart Shi to mid-range Tuk Tuk and cheaper BANY. There are others I haven’t tried yet and then there are the delivery specialists who slide their menus under your apartment door and you wonder how far they are prepared to bicycle in order to sell their wares.

I’ve talked about Tuk Tuk (http://www.tuktukny.com) before so won’t spend long on them today. I was there last night, having been tempted by their current “special” of Salmon with Lemongrass Sauce. This was a generous portion of Salmon, it could easily have been half a pound, covered with a spicy deeply flavoured dark mushroom, lemongrass and chili sauce; all on a green salad with Jasmine rice, for $15. So, with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc this came to a bit more than my “cheap meal” standard of $40 for two, with drinks. The salmon was tasty and the sauce rich and spicy. Placing the fish on top of a green salad provided for a nice contrast, the fresh clean leaves providing a good foil to the richness of the sauce; which itself set off the texture of a perfectly prepared piece of grilled salmon. Once again I enjoyed the warmth of the welcome and the relaxed, yet smart ambience of the restaurant, which was busy on a friday night, but not noisy. They do well in placing a board with their “special” on the sidewalk so that you are tempted to enter on your way past from the subway! Just when you are thinking “what shall cook for dinner?”, Tuk Tuk makes a suggestion that you make other plans! The power of advertising to hungry people cannot be underestimated!

It was a while after moving here last year before I ventured towards Jackson Avenue. It’s a busy thoroughfare and has a dustier, not-quite-so-well-cared-for feel. I’ve loved Manetta’s family Italian restaurant and have tasted the French style “Macarons” from the Little Oven (http://www.littleoven.com/). I’ve drunk the excellent coffee in “Sweetleaf”,  which is the only local barrista that offers flat whites (great coffee but a really awkward place to get a less than comfortable seat); but had yet to try some of the other cafes in the neighbourhood. Last week turned out to be an Asian week and we came back late from an evening with New Zealanders in Manhattan and needed food. Having found the kitchen  closed at Cranky’s we ventured to BANY (http://banynyc.com), an unassertive Japanese/Malaysian style restaurant on Jackson Avenue, just next to the Chase Bank at the Jackson Avenue entrance to the 7 subway.

Although late we were greeted in a friendly way and offered a table, only three other people in the place after ten o’clock, and we were the last to leave. We only needed a simple meal so ordered examples of what I refer to as “hawker” food – classic noodle dishes that, are often the quickest to appear and are usually well cooked and flavoursome. So we had Pad Thai and and Malaysian Flat Rice Noodles (chicken prawn, egg and soy). Both compared well with the kind of dishes we had eaten on a trip to Malaysia a few years back – unpretentious but well cooked and at $9 each a good alternative to 45 minutes at home over the wok. With a Sapporo beer, our check before the tip was only $28 – well below our $40 standard and a good option for a spontaneous meal late in the evening. BANY has a simple, pleasant ambience. Not quite as stylish decor as Tuk Tuk but certainly better than your average deli/cafe. I’d certainly go there again.

Shi (www.shlic.com), on Center Boulevard is our closest restaurant. As style goes it is probably the most sophisticated of the neighborhood restaurants, with a pleasant cocktail lounge area, a bar and restaurant seating that offers spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, especially at night. It’s a place that changes as the evening progresses and becomes a gathering place for groups who want to meet up for late night drinks, when the music gets louder and the place has more of a night club feel. In warm weather there are also outside tables. These, however, were not to be used on one of my first visits. That night the party with whom we dined were greeted to a display of thunder and lightning over the city; a vivid and entertaining spectacle which made me think of the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” in Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” series, where the meal is paid for by the interest accumulated over a few million years on the dollar you invested in your own time. Check out the original BBC radio series on http://hggbbc.podomatic.com/.

Shi  is a pleasant and relaxing place to go for a cocktail in the evening. Although there is sports TV projected onto a large screen above the bar this is no sports bar. The sound is off and the captioning is on. Of their cocktail menu I particularly enjoy their Ginger Mojito and Tamarind Margarita, as well as other nicely prepared and presented cocktails. The have a reasonable wine selection with the usual beers and spirits from the bar. You can eat snacks from the menu at the bar or in the lounge, including some delicious pot stickers and satay sticks offering temptation if you are not there for a full meal.

As meals go, Shi offers well prepared and imaginative dishes that have their origins across South East Asia: including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese,  and Thai. Their menu is long and the choices are difficult. One thing I  find with Asian dishes is that their menu descriptions are often very little help to what will actually arrive. It’s not that anything is misrepresented, it’s just that titles like chicken w/ garlic sauce really tell you very little about what you are about to receive (and for which you may be truly thankful). I’m not sure about prosciutto wrapped prawns, not that I’ve tried them – it’s just that the sound of the combination of flavours doesn’t appeal, much like scallops wrapped in bacon. They may be “fusion” but I think fusion should be something that builds on the finest of traditions and not one that randomly mixes and confuses tastes and textures.

Shi deserves its Michelin recommendation (that’s not a rosette, just a recommendation). It isn’t highly priced and fits well in the moderate range with very few dishes over $20. It’s a popular venue, especially at weekends. I’ve had mixed experiences with trying to book ahead but have never found it hard to get a table as a “walk in”. They’ll also do take-outs and deliveries, and even have their own separate counter off the sidewalk.

Low Clouds across from Shi

Three new eating establishments have recently opened in Hunters Point – Petey’s Burgers, Corner Bistro and Casa Enrique. We tried the latter last week and came away pleased with the experience.

Casa Enrique (apparently an offshoot of Cafe Henri – corner of 51st and Vernon), on 49th just next to the children’s park, is a modestly presented Mexican Cafe in a space which, in my time here, has been distinguished only by a large tantalizing yellow awning with “Bistro” in big letters, that advertised an empty premises. The awning has gone and the premises are now occupied by a team that is taking great care with a simple presentation that does not overwhelm its clientele with fake Mexican “authenticity”.

Casa Enrique offers a range of dishes that tempt from the very start and are served in a plain white painted environment where the staff is pleasant and easy going and we are not thrust into an artificial “Mexican” set up that owes more to Hollywood than Oaxaca. This small restaurant offers a selection of ordinary tables at the rear and a large community table at the front. I often walk past this place and have never actually seen anyone sitting at the community table and wonder whether they would do better to place this at the rear, for large groups, so that the smaller tables, and their occupants, can be at the front, visible from the street and thus attracting those customers who, like me, are not attracted inside empty places.

We had a good meal at Casa Enrique. I chose a Chicken with Mole sauce and rice, with PJ chosing a Poblano Pepper stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and covered with tomato sauce. My chicken was well cooked and smothered with a tasty sauce that had that clean kind of spicyness that one expects from fresh chili. The chicken was well flavoured and tender, the rice was a mix of white rice and diced vegetable – plain and simple – and both our dishes were accompanied by plain freshy made tacos, which were useful for soaking up the sauce that remained on the plate after the chicken leg had been cleaned of meat. PJ (unlike me, is someone of few words when it comes to food) described her poblano as “nice”.

We were going to leave after our main dishes but were tempted by the offer of a complimentary dessert, this being the restaurant’s first week. We were glad that we did. PJ is an aficionada of creme caramel and has compared these simple but yet complex desserts in restaurants around the world. The Flan that was offered at Casa Enrique was “really nice”; the chef there should take that as a great compliment. I had a layered cream sponge cake that was laced with some kind of alcohol and was light, creamy and delicious (also a compliment),

The restaurant is in its early days; they didn’t have any electronic payment options and did not yet have a liquor licence (hence a limited selection of Mexican sodas and water as drinks). They don’t have a website and their printed menu is still in transition.  I imagine that the payment options will be available soon but that the liqour licence will depend upon the vagaries of the city council. They do, however, offer take-outs and are likely to do deliveries – all you need is the menu.

I will definitely return to Casa Enrique. Try it –  it’s a welcome addition to the range of eating places in the local community.

One last excuse to include another photo:

It has been good to be able to see Jupiter and Venus in the clear evening skies earlier this week.

Jupiter and Venus over Manhattan

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Music Gluttony

This is New York, and you can hear great music any night of the week and many times in a night. Yes, I do go across (and under) the sea strait (“East River”) into Manhattan, and across the creek into Brooklyn (check out my “Now again in Manhattan” blog). Over these past couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few. “Do you go to music every night” said one of my friends as we met for the third night running in different places. Of course I said the same to him. It’s like that here; a big place but a village feel, especially in Long Island City where you can hear live music on at least four, if not more, nights in the week. Check out: LIC Bar (Sun,Mon,Wed and Sat – see http://www.licbar.com/eventcalendar/evcal.html); Domaine Wine Bar (Jazz on Sun, Mon and more) http://www.domainewinebar.com/calendar.html; Dominies Hoek (Wed.), Madera Cuban restaurant (Fri.). Occasionally you might get music at the New York Irish Center on Jackson Ave. (http://www.newyorkirishcenter.org/events.htm) at Creek and Cave on Jackson (http://creeklic.com/calendar)and LIC Art Center complex (http://www.licartcenter.com/).

Last night I went to a charity event in a nearby apartment building, Avalon Riverview North, organised by opera singer Kirstin Olson. This was in aid of her trip to Paraguay to join in a Habitat for Humanity project where volunteers spend time building houses for poor communities; a charity with real practical tasks that involve people on a very direct level, good for the communities and also good for fostering international understanding. (http://www.habitat.org) This event was just across the road from my apartment building, and a triumph for the community spirit of local businesses including Shi (http://www.shilic.com), Skinny’s Cantina and Manducatis Rustica (www.manducatisrustica.com)who provided the food and drink, as well as the many others who provided raffle prizes and silent auction vouchers.

Kirstin Olson - operatic dramatics

Three local Jazz artists were involved in this charity event; Anthony Cekay, Christian Coleman and Broc Hempel, offering some nice, finely wrought at the beginning of the evening.

Christian Coleman and Broc Hempel playing for Habitat for Humanity

Kirstin  offered a range of opera, lieder and “songs from the shows” that showed that she has a great talent. She’s a young singer, properly trained and starting to make her way in her career. Her operatic training  showed in both her ability to express a wide emotional range and also to project her voice across a talkative audience. As the evening progressed the two other singers, P J Lovejoy and Sally Swallow suffered from a lack of amplification. They had nice voices but struggled to make themselves heard over the increasing hubbub of the crowd. Sally Swallow (www.sallyswallow.com), in particular has a good theatrical presence, showing that she is a professional and well used to entertaining an audience with a nicely chosen range of songs from musical theatre. Piano accompaniment for the evening was very ably provided by Scott Wheatley, an expert and expressive pianist who played some challenging music with great skill, which showed especially in the complicated and ernergetic lied “Hexenlied” Op 8/8 by Mendelssohn.

Sally Swallow

I had seen Anthony Cekay and Broc Hempel earlier in the week at an LIC Bar evening which also included singer songwriter Danny Mackane and Leah Gough-Cooper’s “Human Equivalent” band.

Leah Gough-Cooper (http://www.leahgoughcooper.com) played in Emily Wolf’s “Project” band a few weeks previously (see https://sometimeinlongislandcity.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/a-jazz-virgin-in-lic/) and was impressed then by her alto sax playing. “Human Equivalent” allows her to show that she has a wide range of taste and has considereable writing ability. This is a jazz band that rocks in ways that reminded me of Weather Report and Frank Zappa, with driving bass lines from Bryan Percivall, bluesy tough liquid guitar playing from Andrew Baird and solid drums from Bob Edinger.

Leah Gough-Cooper

Leah herself was superb in leading this  band and providing sinuous and provocative sax lines that showed she has a huge musical talent. The contrast with her playing for Emily Wolf shows that she has the flexibility and real musicianship that will hopefully offer her lots of work opportunties in an environment where making a living is hard, even for the most talented of musicians.

Originally from South Eastern Scotland, Leah has trained in the US for the last few years and has been very active on the local scene for the past year or so.  She chooses her band well. This night’s band had a completely  different lineup (except for LGC) to the Human Equivalent that features on their first album “Future Pop“, yet the music has the same rock/jazz feel and shows that  she is a young artist who really knows how she wants her music to sound and who chooses musicians who are of like mind and capabilities.

Human Equivalent

Check out http://www.myspace.com/humanequivalent .

Anthony Cekay

Anthony Cekay is one of those local musicians who pops up on many different occasions at LIC Bar; whether offering sax backing to a tribute show, as part of the band of folk/pop singer Julie Kathryn or, as on this occassion, pairing up with local keyboard man Broc Hempel for a late night improvisation session. Anthony plays a big saxaphone. The tenor sax sits one down from the baritone sax in size and, in a small space can take up a lot of room, both in physical presence and in sound. Anthony himself is not a small guy and in the past I have felt that his habit of moving around a lot on stage has detracted from his music making. However, I was pleased to see that this late night session offered a part of Anthony that I had not seen before. He offered performance that showed considerable concentration. The almost meditative stillness of the music matched stillness in his body. This was not the Anthony who seemed to be showing off, this was the Anthony who just demonstrated skilled music making.

Broc Hempel

I have great respect for Broc Hempel. He is a hugely talented keyboard player whose playing is always interesting; whether thoughtful and introverted or sparklingly exuberant. I realise that in the past week I have heard him three times (at Domaine Wine Bar on Sunday with Sam Trapchak, Christian Coleman and the amazing Greg Ward, just back from Africa; at LIC Bar on Monday and last night at the Habitat for Humanity event. I do not tire from hearing this man’s music making. he is one of a small group of local musicians whom I credit with having turned me on to Jazz (see my previous blogs https://sometimeinlongislandcity.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/jazz-in-small-spaces/”Jazz in small spaces”  and “A Jazz Virgin in LIC”).

Danny Mackane (http://www.myspace.com/dannymackanesound) is a singer songwriter who shares his thoughtful and intelligent songs with a self-effacing but carefully considered performance style. He reminded me, in presence, of the younger Neil Young – hair falling over his face as he moved from guitar to keyboard. Although he does not have Young’s individual voice he shares a perfectionist attitude to the sounds that he wants his guitars to make, whether in themselves as instruments (he had three on stage with him) or in the way that he uses electronics to create the sound he needs. He is a performer who demands to be heard with attention, not an easy task in a popular place like LIC Bar. He did, however, bring his own fans and will have hopefully given others, like me, a first opportunity to really listen and want to hear him again – especially in his own material.

Danny Mackane

Singer songwriters are not just solo folk artists who sit at the mic in bars, some also have band incarnations within which they express aspects  of themselves that more intimate settings do not permit. One such local artist is Little Embers, a young woman who often shares the stage as a backing singer with other singer songwriters like Michele Riganese, Shelly Bhushan and Jeneen Terrana. In fact this  group of four (currently known as the Queens of Queens) are coming to LIC Bar in May as a resident act for the five Wednesdays of the month. Embers also has own band and also shares the limelight with Danel Verdugo as the “Darlin’ Clementines“. I caught her full band version of herself at Mercury Lounge last week, when they were the support act for Wormburner. The Mercury Lounge is a popular venue on East Houston Street in that area between East Village/Bowery and Lower East Side that is a true nest of venues like the Living Room and Rockwood Music Hall.

Little Embers - burning brightly

I was pleased that they sold earplugs at the bar as the sound there was one of the worse I have heard in New York City. It was not so much the volume but the quality and frequency spectrum produced by a combination of the system and the sound engineer’s choices. This made it hard to listen to the music, and especially the lyrics. Little Embers writes songs to be both heard and appreciated lyrically. I know I might be sounding like an old grump but, in my defence, I must say that I am not averse to loud music. I have sat 6 feet away from Jimi Hendrix playing “3rd stone from the sun” in the Marquee club in London (a small venue) and only a few weeks ago listened with great pleasure to rock band Alamance ( a great band with a lot of potential) playing loud, energetic and powerful  music at the Bowery Poetry Club http://www.bowerypoetry.com/). They have a sound system and engineer that I would place in the top 5 of the sound systems I have heard in small clubs around the world.

Alamance at the Bowery Poetry Club

Fortunately I was able to buy ear plugs at Mercury and listened carefully to the music from Little Embers; a forceful rock/melodic set that offered energetic performance from Embers, her man, guitarist Anthony Rizzo, Shelly Bhushan (vocals), Rachel Swaner (keyboard, vocals and Accordian), Tony Oppenheimer (bass) and Dave Burnette (drums).  I have their album on the rack to listen to next, and I know that they’re are due to go into the studio again in the next few months. I enjoyed this music making and look forward to hearing them again in a better acoustic environment.

Little Embers and Band at the Mercury Lounge

I’m aware that there is much music that I haven’t written about here, in fact I’m getting behind with putting band photos up on my facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/profile.php?id=100001041228357) as well. That means I will have to do a catch up sometime soon and talk about Runaway Dorothy, Sam McTavey, Niall Connolly (how have I not praised this man’s music yet in this blog?), Warren Malone, the Sky Captains of Industry, Janeen Terrana, Jefferson Thomas as well as numerous others whom I have had great pleasure in hearing over the past year or so in LIC.

Here’s a plug (is that term used in the US?) for tonight’s show at LIC bar. In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, an impressive line-up of musicians will present a Tribute to Van Morrison from 7-9pm. Also come along on Sunday 18th from 5 until 8 to hear Niall Connolly and Anthony Mulcahy in a Big City Folk special.

A spoonful of……..?

New York City Council inspects cafes and restaurants and gives them hygiene ratings dependant on their findings. These can make dismal reading and make one not want to eat out ever again. Your favourite eating place can sound like a fly and rodent infested throwback to the time of Dickens. The way that the council pulls together a range of issues and places them within one description is really of little help to the customer, and certainly not to the restaurant involved. An example of his clustering is the category relating to flies:
“Filth Flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) present in food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies include house flies, little house flies, blow flies bottle flies and flesh flies.” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/dining/new-york-health-department-restaurant-ratings-map.html?ref=dining).

That’s a very broad spectrum. I know that some of my favourite places had a problem with fruit flies last year, hovering around the beer taps.This is very different  from blow flies, or other “Filth flies” that might have just come in from feeding off dog excrement. Fortunately such findings do not in themselves downgrade a restaurant from their “A” rating, but they certainly don’t help attract customers. I’d like to see more accurate and finely tuned descriptions so that the public really know what the inspector found.

And now for something more tasteful…….

I’m aware that I’ve not talked about some of the other restaurants in my neighbourhood, places to which I return because I like the food, the ambience, the convenience and/or the price. One of these places is Tuk Tuk (http://www.tuktukny.com), an unassertive Malaysian/Thai restaurant not far from the Vernon/Jackson subway. This is the kind of place I like to go to on the spur of the moment, meeting friends or just eating out when I don’t fancy cooking at home. It’s a simple place with unpretentious decoration, a friendly greeting and well-priced tasty food. Tuk Tuk serves a mix of what I would call “hawker” type dishes – mainly rice, noodle or dumpling based – and house specials – stylish dishes that range from nicely cooked fish to interesting  preparations of duck. They have a small range of domestic and imported beers and wines that suits this kind of place. You don’t drink a “Grand Cru” with a Massaman curry.

I’ve eaten here on quite a few occasions, in groups and just the two of us. I have friends who’ve had take-outs and deliveries too. For all of us it’s a favourite. I’ve walked away satisfied on most occasions. The only disappointment was a Chicken, Mango and Cashew special – where I thought that the mango was absent and replaced  with pear and it seemed more like a stir fry than a “special”.

I can make allowances for the rare disappointment and continue to go back to this casual, popular and well-priced local restaurant. Of my favourite dishes I can thoroughly recommend the Red Snapper in the Garden, which is a visual as well as tasty treat, a whole snapper cooked to perfection with a colourful display of vegetables decorating the fish and the plate. Amongst the other “specials” I can recommend the Duck dishes: Tamarind duck, Pineapple Duck and “Duckaholic”, and amongst the cheaper “hawker” dishes – the Pad See Ew, Pad Kee Mao, and Pad Prik King (all of which you can get with a choice of vegetable, shrimp,, chicken beef or “vege duck”). You can walk away from Tuk Tuk having eaten your fill, had a glass of wine and only paid $40 or less for two.

A big contrast to Tuk Tuk is well known local French restaurant “Tournesol(http://tournesolnyc.com/). This small establishment is well favoured and gets full very quickly. We’ve eaten there twice and have come away both times with mixed impressions. I am well known in my social circle for making a mean Cassoulet, a dish that I associate with French farmhouse cooking where you slow cook a mix of beans with a selection of left-over meats and vegetables, cooking the day before with wine and herbs, letting cool and then reheating for the dinner party. It’s one of those classic dishes that has as many recipes as the cooks who prepare it, so I’m always curious about others’ versions. I suppose, then, that you might say that I set myself up for  disappointment, for a cook has to love their own productions, and when you love the ways that you do something then it is a hard comparison to make with the same dish in a restaurant that has to allow for customer’s tastes, the constraints of preparation and cooking times and the economics of the commercial kitchen. So you will not be surprised that my partner and  I were under-impressed by the cassoulet.

On our second visit we walked away again with mixed impressions. We had had an interesting and enjoyable hour next door at Tournesol’s sister establishment the Domaine wine bar (my “University of  Wine and Jazz” – UWJLIC), with half a dozen freshly shucked Bluepoint oysters and knowledgeable chat and a wine taste with Cipriani the sommelier. We were early guests in Tournesol, but the place filled quickly, even though it was only just after 6:00pm. I was tempted by the special appetiser, sweetbreads (a meat that I had first tasted when I worked in a hotel restaurant as a silver service waiter, very many years ago). These were delicious, nicely cooked with a smooth creamy sauce and served over grilled asparagus. I followed this with the Duck Breast with Celery Puree and Honey sauce and lastly (against the better judgement of my calorie counter) the Crepes Suzette. PJ had a green salad and the plat du jour, Gigot d’agneau (lamb). Together we enjoyed a bottle of Gaillac, one of our favourite wines and one that we first tasted in a little bistro in the Paris 16eme arrondissement a couple of years ago.

My duck was excellent. This can be a difficult meat to choose and cook but I found that the chef at Tournesol had chosen their meat well and cooked it just right, rare, tasty and melt-in-the-mouth. PJ could not say the same about her lamb. Although also served rare she found it tough and fatty, and in the end could not finish it. She also found the white beans in herb sauce rather too bland. This is a challenge to the buyer, lamb should not be chewy and hard to cut. I had been given a steak knife for my duck and it was hardly necessary. PJ had the usual silverware and could have done with sharper knife and teeth! I’m not sure if my crepes had been freshly made or stored, they were not as light as I would have expected. The dish was also very sweet, but this is America and Crepes Suzette are supposed to be sweet.

So, a mixed impression. Although more highly priced than Tuk Tuk, Tournesol is not an expensive restaurant by New York standards. My duck was only $16, only a dollar more than the duck dishes at the Asian restaurant. The plats du jour are more expensive (the lamb was $22) and in the end you would place this establishment in the mid-price category. The wine list is excellent, as one would expect from a French restaurant that employs a trained sommelier.

Last but not least, some news from Cranky’s (crankyscafe.com). The team at Cranky’s are following up their growing reputation for finely crafted Creole dishes by finally discarding their “coffee-shop” remnants and are now promoting themselves as a full service restaurant. The sofas and easy chairs have gone and there are more tables; laptops are only allowed during the daytime during the week, and outside dinner and brunch hours at weekends. Not surprisingly their reputation  for good food is growing – whether you have their excellent soups, burgers, sandwiches or salads or, in the evening, the Gumbo, Jambalaya, Creole Steamer, and other Creole dishes, or choose from their range of freshly prepared other dishes. Most recently I have tried their Fradiabolo Spaghetti – a spicy seafood and tomato dish that was excellent. Once again, cooked with fresh ingredients and with the pasta “al dente” to perfection.

More news, three new eating places on the near horizon – Casa Enrique, just off Vernon on 49th Ave (not sure if this is related to Cafe Henri on 50th Ave and Vernon); Corner Bistro at 47–18 Vernon Boulevard, an offshoot of the 50 year-old West Village burger bar, of the same name (http://cornerbistrony.com/); and Petey’s Burger, an offshoot of the well known Astoria burger joint (http://www.peteysburger.com/), on the corner of 47th and Vernon. As new apartment buildings grow tall on the waterfront the Hunters Point area is attracting more and more eating places to feed an increasing population – tough work for a foodie like me!

Well that’s it for another food romp through Hunters Point, off to hear some music at LIC Bar (licbar.com) now. They have a treat for late nighters next Saturday March 10th; the dance group “Shut the Front Door” will join the throng and inject their special brand of synchronised dance into the occasion.

Shut the Front Door at their last LIC Bar appearance (with Billy Ryan)

(licbar.com

Now and again in Manhattan

Yes sometimes I do go over the borders to Manhattan and Brooklyn. This has been a busy week and I have mainly been away from LIC. It’s also been a New Zealand week, with a session of poetry with a group of NZ poets, sponsored by Saatchi and Saatchi and Phantom Billstickers; and also a showing of Taika Waititi‘s movie, “Boy” (http://www.boythemovie.co.nz/ ) – (check out Angelika and Lincoln Center movie times) – together with his Oscar nominated short “Two cars, one night.” Also a T.S.Eliot event in West Village.

“Boy”

Taika Waititi’s Oscar nominated short film: “Two cars one night” stands as a companion to this full length story about a boy’s relationship with his father. Both are written and filmed  with a sharp eye for the world of the child;  both are set, like “The Whale Rider” in East Cape New Zealand rural Māori communities and both touch the balance between bravado and intimacy; themes which transcend the New Zealand setting and touch us with humour and pathos.
In some ways this movie portrays an idyllic kind of childhood, away from the “dangers” of the city. Yet it also deals with the challenges of parental absence, in this case through the mother’s death in childhood and the father’s incarceration. It understands how children fantasize about absent figures, how they take on blame and how they struggle when their fantasy meets reality; in this case when the father (played by Waititi) returns home. The boy faces his father’s own childlike nature, his foolishness and his avoidance of responsibility. All this at a time when he is facing his own prepubescent challenges of developing manhood and sexuality.
It would be easy to view this movie with a western adult’s eye that judges the family and community; a family of children left to fend for themselves in the absence of their father (in prison) and their grandmother (gone to a funeral 300 miles away in her battered Hillman car). The setting of this movie is, in fact a small community where most will be related to each other and the children, although seemingly running free will have the watchful eye of the adults, including the marginal “mad” man on the beach.

That said, this is not a film where adult males get a good press.  The “Boy” (played superbly by James Rolleston) is let down by a father and male teachers. Apart from the “gentle, foolish giant” on the beach the other men are either gang members, stupid petty criminals or tired cynical teachers. They are triumphs of bravado, self interest and insensitivity. The only real authority figure is a woman, Boy’s aunt. Against this background Boy’s processing of his “coming of age’ experiences offer (to quote NZ Band Fat Freddy’s Drop) “Hope for a New Generation” .

 http://www.myspace.com/music/player?song=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.myspace.com%2Ffatfreddysdropnz%2Fmusic%2Fsongs%2Fhope-1173912) .

The balance of the child in the man and the man in the child is played out beautifully in the characters of Boy and his father, Alamein.
It’s not surprising to learn that Waititi is also a comedian, he skillfully exercises his own “child in the man” and  points his wit-loaded finger at some of the idiocies of life in this world of “civilised” adults. ( I found myself wondering whether “”Boy” is to some extent autobiographical, after all it was filmed inthe community where Waititi grew up). He has a keen and compassionate eye, and knows how to entertain.

See his recent appearance on US TV station WPIX http://www.wpix.com/news/morningnews/wpix-ff-taikiki-waititi,0,6279282.story.

A word for the music, excellently composed by Wellington band “The Phoenix Foundation”, who also provided music for Eagle vs Shark. (http://www.thephoenixfoundation.tumblr.com/).
Watch this movie, laugh, remember your own innocence and those of people around you and laugh again. And if you are a man, think about it and reflect on your own “child/man” balance.

Poets

Grand Central Station

New Zealand has a strong literary tradition, writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame stand high in the pantheon of western writing. A group of New Zealand poets were in New York over the past week appearing with some US poets in a performance evening at the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi, promoted by Kiwi company Phantom Billstickers (http://www.0800phantom.co.nz/), who have spent the past few weeks posting New Zealand Poetry in locations around New York. I like poetry captured in this way, when it comes unexpected in the middle of a journey, unplanned and unsought. A long set of performances can lose me, a kind of poetic gluttony which leaves one full but unsatisfied, because the taste is drowned in the volume.

Janet Frame's Poem "The End" in Times Square

I know Hinemoana Baker from my incarnation as a World Music radio presenter in New Zealand. I had interviewed her at a WOMAD (www.womad.org.nz) festival in New Plymouth and had also heard her partner Christine White perform a very moving piece about her grandmother in a composition competition at Victoria University in Wellington. Hinemoana is both a singer and a poet. She writes intelligent, moving and intelligent poems and lyrics and is a natural unselfconscious performer. Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjZsIaDE0tY&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19DBiLIEOUE . I was pleased to hear her in performance at the beginning of what was, for me, quite a long night of poetry, interspersed with a little music.

Another high point was hearing Pamela Gordon reading her aunt Janet Frame’s poetry, once again early on in the evening. Some of you may know Frame’s work as an author of fiction, or through the film of her autobiography, “An Angel at my Table”, by NZ director Jane Campion (“The Piano”, “In the Cut”, “Sweetie”, Portrait of a Lady”).

If you have read her fiction you will be aware of her sense of the essential nature of things, at times like a childs eye finely crafted into sparingly beautiful words.

For example: “Electricity, the peril the wind sings to in the wires on a gray day”

Her poetry is less well known and, like poetry must be, is similarly crafted – in fact to the finest degree. I find it hard to read, or hear, her poetry in more than short doses. Not because I don’t like it, it’s just because it strikes so deep that, like caviar or oysters, it must be digested in small morsels. Pamela Gordon is Frame’s literary custodian. In some ways she reminded me of her aunt, in manner and looks as well as her voice. I was impressed by the way she allowed her aunt to speak again here in New York, a city she had visited when she was alive.

Check out this rare TV appearance  http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/holmes—janet-frame-2000 .

Others appearing at the poetry fest included Kiwi musician-living-in-nyc Hamish Kilgour, (“The Clean”); American poet Gerald Stern, Jay Clarkson, Sandra Bell, David Eggleton, Tusiata Avia, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Otis Mace and (The “Bard of  Cookeville Tennessee“) Jeffery D McCaleb.

T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – an unexpected direction

As many of you will know, I take a lot of photographs of musicians around New York. Nearly all the photos on my blog are mine (not the two above – they are from Phantom Billstickers). These often take me in to unexpected places. In fact New York is best appreciated from these unexpected directions, when you allow chance meetings to take you to unplanned destinations. In my last blog (the “Jazz Virgin” one) I talked about a band that I had heard at LIC Bar, The Black Butterflies. I usually put a selection of my photos on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100001041228357) and often “friend” the artists to draw their attention to the photos and so that they can keep me in touch with gigs etc. Merecedes Figueras is the sax player in The Black Butterflies and this Facebook connection took me in an unexpected direction last week: a collaborative venture created and curated by Brasilian musician Mossa Bildner (http://www.myspace.com/mossabildnermusic  and http://mossabildner.wordpress.com) of extracts from Eliot’s “Four Quartets” at the Cordelia Street Cafe in the West Village.(http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com/)

I hadn’t been to this venue before. The performance space is downstairs in what is basically a cellar bar. It is small and intimate, with tables and a small bar area. Small enough that the instruments used in this performance hardly required amplification.

The Four Quartets were Eliot’s pathway to the Nobel Prize for Literature. They have contributed to our language –

“We shall not cease from exploration,

And the end of our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time”

The title “Four Quartets” lends itself to musical adaptation, in other settings the poems have been paired with existing compositions (for example Beethoven’s final Op 132 string quartet), but I do not know of any other musical interpretation that involves, as this did, extemporisation around written musical pathways – here written and led by Mossa Bildner.

Mossa Bildner

I became immersed in this performance very quickly. The character of Mossa Bildner, standing in front of four musicians (five for the last section) stands strong, but does not dominate; attracts but does not detract. She leads but does not impose her will in ways that are detrimental to the creative process. Mossa had brought together a group of skilled musicians who were well versed in improvisation: Bass player Ken Filiano, guitarist Charlie Rauh, Drummer Christine Bard, Saxophonista Mercedes Figueras and violinist Frederika Krier. Together they each played their own parts in the various sections of the poems selected by Bildner, playing both with her singing and in extended improvisational sections that allowed each to express within the structure that Bildner (and Eliot) has created.

This was a memorable occasion. I was reminded of music I heard in London in the early seventies, Luciano Berio in particular, and appreciated that the differences between “Classical” and “Jazz” compositions might differ only the degree of improvisation involved and the training of the performers.

Improvisational works are essentially “of the moment”, and recordings are thus almost paradoxical to the intent and energy of the extemporised moments. However, they can stand in ther own right, both as mementoes and, perhaps more importantly, as opportunities to hear new ideas, to listen again with diferent ears – for we do listen differently again when we already have some familiarity, we hear new ideas, nuances, links, repetitions and references that were not apparent when we were faced with the newness at first listening. I hope, then, that Mossa may bring a recording of this event to the public at some time in the near future.

Frederika Krier

Mercedes Figueras

Ken Filiano

Charlie Rauh


 

 
(my apologies that I do not have a photo of Christine Bard, the drummer. I try to be inconspicous at gigs and the layout of the room made it impossible for me to take her photo without walking to the other side of the room)

Next week Check out:

at LIC Bar (www.licbar.com):

Saturday, March 3rd 11pm-1am
2/3 Goat

Sunday, March 4th 5-8pm
Big City Folk Sunday Social
Niall Connolly
Kevin Goldhahn

Monday, March 5th
8pm Tim Porter
9pm Xavier Cardriche
10pm Sam McTavey

Wednesday, March 7th
8pm The Stone Lonesome
9pm Michael Louis
10pm Brandywine Creek Boys March residency

Saturday, March 10th 11pm
Shut The Front Door Dance Party!
Dancing and live bands!

LIC artists:

Sky Captains of Industry

Saturday 3rd March 8pm, Bar 4, Brooklyn

Michele Riganese:

Saturday March 3rd Rockwood Music Hall 6pm, 196 Allen Street

Little Embers

Mercury Lounge 8th March at 7pm