Thursday, January 27, 2011


I think I could make a habit out one truly decadent meal a year. Last year there was Chez Panisse; this year there's WD-50. In the haphazard way of the internet, I first read about the place from Nico Muhly's music blog, rather than Serious Eats or something like that (much like I've learned about books from Vanishing New York or musicals from Infrastructurist lately). This year, already overwhelmed by the material riches of Hanukkah (thanks for the bike, Mom and Dad!) I wanted a more intangible birthday gift so I suggested we go to WD-50...

Where we arrived yesterday at 6, the start of the evening. I have said it before about Chez Panisse and I'll say it here about WD-50: when you go to a fancy restaurant, you worry that they'll judge you. (My sister, half-joking, bowed out of this one, saying she thought she wasn't cool enough for them.) Luckily, just like the staff at Chez Panisse, the people at WD-50 are friendly and accommodating. The place itself is pretty laid-back and minimalist in decor--like a trendy diner, as my mom said. The bartender enticed us to have some water ("nice! ice-fresh! water!") while we waited for the table to be ready; the waitstaff described the components of our meals in a way that was informative and not at all condescending.

And what components they were! There are more technical words ("molecular gastronomy," anyone?) but I will just say here that everything at WD-50 looks like one thing but tastes like something else. Like my mom's appetizer of shrimp noodles, which look like noodles but are in fact composed of shrimp. Or the tasty dehydrated bayleaf cake that came with my dad's monkfish entree. And then there are the signature eggs--funny little dense delicious yolks, wisp-thin crispy Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce in little crispy cubes which melt when you open them. My entree, pork loin, was somewhat less exciting to look at but still pretty tasty; I liked the paprika spaetzle and the crispy greens (I think they were chard) that visually resembled nothing so much as the little flags on cocktail toothpicks. My mom's cod was covered in nori, giving it a cryptic aspect; underneath lurked the cod and a delicious coconut peasoup type broth. It is the broths and sauces that really stood out; flavors that I wouldn't expect to love (celery mayonnaise!) were remarkable. Also worth noting is that the food was surprisingly filling; we'd joked about making a run to Katz's, but that was definitely unnecessary.

Food consumed, we were on to dessert, also a feast for the stomach and the eyes. My aerated coffee ice cream was dotted with two textures of chocolate, crunchy pecans, and argan oil foam (who knew?). I am not normally a grapefruit fan but my dad's grapefruit curd struck just the right texture and sour-sweet note. My mom's milk chocolate cream came with malted milk ball halves that were airy and flavorful like nothing you have ever tried. And, while we were working on all these riches, a waiter came up quietly bearing a lit candle. "You have to make a wish," he said, "so I can tell you what it is." I duly did, and then he explained that the top of the candleholder is made out of some kind of coconut sorbet--which tasted hot and cold and light all at the same time--the bottom, a mousse.

I appreciated the discretion as well as the deliciousness of the moment--if you've ever witnessed a cowbelling birthday at Cowgirl Hall of Fame, another delicious favorite restaurant of mine, you've probably grown a bit wary of spectacle. And all the service was discreet and courteous in this way, with several of the staff asking how we'd enjoyed our meal. At the end, one of the waiters came up at the end of the evening and complimented my boots (thanks for the replacement pair, C.--!). He asked if that day was my birthday and I explained it was actually on Monday. His was on Tuesday; we exchanged birthday wishes and then I went home, wafting on a wave of complimentary rice krispy treat (meringue ice cream coated in rice krispy--probably my favorite part of the whole meal).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Papertown writer

For some reason, I didn't read John Green's Paper Towns for a long time, despite really enjoying his two previous novels. Somehow I got it into my head to try it now, and I'm glad I did. I can't remember the last time I found a story so enjoyable and moving. Quentin, the main character, is an immensely-likeable high school senior, and his quest to locate his neighbor Margo is a hybrid of detective story and soul searching.

The book is quick-moving and absorbing. I saved it for an epic trip to the laundromat, and for a Friday-night ride on the Boltbus. Caught up in the epic road trip near-finale, I almost believed my slowcrawling southbound bus was an overcrowded minivan speeding from Florida to upstate New York.

I talked to J.-- recently about how satisfying young adult fiction can be because of how easy it is to get swept up in the plot. But in this case, it's not only the plot that's moving but also the characters. It's refreshing to find a group of individuals that are are so easy to relate to, at least for me. (Donna Leon's Brunetti and Sheila Heti's Ticknor, two recent acquaintances, are great in their own way but not too much like me. Neither are the schoolgirls in Joshua Gaylord's Hummingbirds, though I am very familiar with their setting.) They think about literature, listen to the Mountain Goats, and make terrible jokes to one another. Quentin's narrative voice is thoughtful and funny and worried in an all-too-easy-to-sympathize-with way. What's not to ilke?

In short, I'd recommend Paper Towns to anyone who wants a quick, fun, yet genuinely emotionally affecting read. Now, onto Infinite Jest...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


No posts this week owing to a confluence of factors including no home internet, an emergency proofreading job, and various other savory and less-savory prospects.

Thanks due to Qathra for caramel apple cider with homemade whipped cream, and for wireless with which to doublecheck proper names for the proofing in question. (Orin Hatch? C'mon.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My little town

When I was growing up, Greenwich Village was just about my favorite place in the world. In fact, the very Hudson Street that Jane Jacobs immortalizes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities was probably my favorite street. Guess even my ten-year-old self could tell that they were doing something right.

Later on in my teenage years, I acquainted myself with Brooklyn, and Park Slope took over the place that the Village had held in my heart (not the hippest choice, sorry, but it was mine). The Slope is sort of like a Village minus the river--the beautiful row houses, cute little coffee shops, funny little shops (I miss the Village's Tah Poozie so much), even the same proximity to a more warehousey district (though I bet Gowanus smells worse than the far west side). And, unfortunately, it exhibits some of the same qualities I don't like so much about the Village anymore--the encroachment of Starbucks, the superexpensiveness, the hoity-toity inhabitants (though Park Slope veers more to the childraisers than the fashion models among them). In fact, I have read so much about the Village, through various grumpy blogs (mentioned here) and books--and have observed so much for myself that Mrs. Jacobs's lovely neighborhood didn't remain the hotbed of socioeconomic diversity it was in her time (all those blog posts about Jane vs. Marc don't lie)--that my affection for the place has fallen of late.

So it was to my pleasant surprise that yesterday I was able to take a walk that reminded me of my old love for the Village. I was meeting S.-- on West 14th at 6, so I decided that walking up from work was as worthwhile a use of that hour as any. I went pretty far west, coming up Varick as it blurred into Seventh Avenue South and then cutting along the little windy side streets that eventually open up onto Eighth. Back in my Village-walking days I did pay some attention to architecture--a friend and I plotted for years that we wanted to buy a beautiful, ivy-covered townhouse on Commerce Street--but nowhere near what I do now. So I was taken aback by once again encountering the beauty of the place (particularly with its coating of snow). The streets are so cozy and the townhouses so pretty, but part of what really struck me on this go-round was the beautiful way that people had modernized their houses--the skylights, the improbable tiny windows, the connecting passageways between little house and littler house and backyard. Let's put aside the outrageous pricetags for a moment and appreciate a house like this or these. And check out the funny curved house in the background of the more charming corner building in the second link. What's up with that one? I must've walked by it 50 times in the past but never noticed it 'til yesterday.

I suspect the reason I left the Village (and Manhattan) was that eventually it seemed too small and self-contained. And Park Slope(/Brooklyn), broadly construed, is definitely larger, even if it's missing some of the narrow winding charm of the Village. And the smallness is probably the same reason I left Park Slope and ventured ever farther into Brooklyn. Sometimes I wonder if I will run out of new wandering grounds. But a return to Bedford Street on a snowy evening reminds me that there will always be a place for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Should add that Ways of Seeing also contains a provocative section about gender relations, which is probably what set me thinking about my recent reading along gendered lines...

Books, books

I was excited this weekend to finally pick up The Finkler Question from the library, after rising to number one in the holds queue (I believe I was at 157 when I started). Already, just 20 or so pages in, it's markedly different from so much of what I have been reading lately--mystery novels and what (wince, wince) I can't help but call chicklit, or women's literature, or something like that. I worry that the difference is that the tone of Finkler is so, well, male in its descriptions of the meeting of a trio of friends from the perspective of a more-or-less perpetual bachelor. This is not to say that the women's lit is bad (Dreaming in French was pretty moving) or even that it's all for and by women (the author of Hummingbirds, a novel about NYC private school politics which I enjoyed more than I'd expected to, is male) but Finkler definitely has a different feel to it. It seems, at this early stage, as crudely stereotypically as I can put it, like a novel of Ideas rather than one of Relationships. We'll see how that bears out.


Another recent read that I found different in an eye-opening way was John Berger's Ways of Seeing, which I'd been wanting to read ever since I saw it on a display table at Williamsburg's always-chic Spoonbill & Sugartown. I first experienced a jolt of recognition about Berger when I realized the song "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos" by The Story, a favorite of my high school years, was in fact a title of his. A while went by and I proofed a novel of his, but I suspect the real weightiness lies in the critical pieces (maybe I'll give Our Faces a try one day). Ways of Seeing made me contemplate art--especially oil painting--and its relationship to advertising in a whole new, and not terribly positive, light. (In short, art as commodity, as a demonstration of wealth, as a way to manipulate consumers into consuming.) I will remember what I've learned but try not to let it get between me and my anticipated enjoyment of the Barnes Collection in a couple of weeks...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another poem, without formatting issues


Housecats catch birds

one eye to the sky

prowling the wilderness

of their everyday lives.

A stroll in the garden—pounce!—

then the parade of proud remains

past the back porch light

and into the kitchen. Cats slink

through impossibly tiny doors

only to lay fresh kills at your feet

for your delectation. Look

at me. This is what it’s like

out there. Go on, make a meal

of my travels. Roast

my enemies on a spit and taste

the savor of my triumph. Season

the tale with onions and don’t

forget the rosemary. Breathe

deep. This is my best

and only offer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

City Hall

Various ideas percolating, but how about just: wow.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Poetry month?

I wrote a poem but I can't get seem to format it here. If you want to read it, comment, and I will work something out. Cheers!