Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dinner at Isa in Williamsburg.

Tartare at Isa with @tarasuan. Fancy & delicious!

I had wanted to dine at Isa in south Williamsburg since reading the story in The New York Times about the restaurant designer, Taavo Somer. Granted much of my desire was rooted in decor, but I also felt confident that the food would be just as unique.

Walking into the restaurant, through bright crochet'd curtains that seemed purchased off Etsy, I was greeted in every direction with warm wood notes. Every chair was wood, every table, the floor, the walls, there were even wood logs fit into triangular shelves. The stage in the main room is the open kitchen, complete with Carrera marble countertop. It's gorgeous. The side room, to the right, features a long, comfortable bar and more tables. We didn't get to sit near the kitchen, but I would have enjoyed being close to the commotion.

While waiting for my friend I perused the drink menu, settling on a cocktail named Yoga Tuesdays, a drink made with gin, beet juice, mint, lime and limoncello. The drink arrived in a shallow champagne glass, bright pink with a lime wedge. It was, interesting. I don't think I like limoncello, lesson learned. When my friend arrived we settled in to our wood table. A waiter came by and handed us color xeroxes, rather like we were getting a band flyer on the street. "Let me know if you have any questions," he said.

Reviewing the flyer one first had to decipher how the information was laid out, nothing was noted as an appetizer, a main or a dessert. The menu items leapt out like a shopping list for the grocery store. There was Ham for $10. Oysters & Ice for $16. Bread for $5. Beets & Granola for $14. Reading through the items one is forced to think first about what ingredients one likes. And then to flag down the waiter for help. Thankfully our very tall waiter was very helpful and when he walked away we had enough details to make some ordering decisions. Maybe next time we can just use darts?

We shared three appetizers: steak tartare (shown above), beet "salad", and daikon pickles. The tartare was finely chopped and placed alongside a creamy sunchoke puree, a circular pile of crunchy flax seeds and a light poof of pepper. The dish was wonderful, inventive and tasty, if a wee salty for my liking. The pickled daikon was good, but again, too salty (yes, I know they're pickles). The gently curled beet salad, which came with yogurt and granola, was wonderful. The five-dollar bread, which comes with herbed butter is worth every penny, but considering that the prices are already rather UP there, I think paying for bread seems a bit gauche.

For dinner I had the mackerel along with a red blend from a California grower called Coturri. I would definitely track down this wine so I could drink it again. The mackerel was large, a dish that we easily could have split (note to waiter). The fish, reaching both ends of the plate, was hidden by overlaying circles of carrots, radishes and beets, all with a light al dente crunch. It was so pretty I spent a few moments trying to get a photo of it. My date had the pork loin, which just seemed too rich for an entire main dish. The mackerel was light, rich, delicate. It was the star of the meal.

By now we were both stuffed, so we skipped what I'm sure would have been further inventive culinary creations, this time with a dash of sugar. I'd love to go again, perhaps when someone else is picking up the bill.

The Centerpiece of War Horse: The Puppets.

Seeing horses act on stage? Totally amazing! War Horse @ Lincoln Center.

I recently ventured up to Lincoln Center for the theatrical production of War Horse, which tells the story of how horses were used to fight in WWI. I had avoided seeing the big budget Spielberg movie, which wasn't really my thing, despite its Oscar nod. I had heard a great deal about the prodcution and was excited to see the performance.

To talk about War Horse without talking about the centerpiece horses would be like talking about Tom & Jerry without talking about the mice. The horses were created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the founders of the Handspring Puppet Company and is something they refer to as "adult puppet theatre." The horses are the stars of the show in my opinion, and are far from being simple felt faces with a hand stuck in its body. Watching the puppets leap and run on stage had me riveted in my seat for the two and half hour show.

The actual horse puppets are life size. One man stood in front, outside the horse, with one hand on the horses head and one holding a stick, that seemed to move bone structure–perhaps conveying the breathing of the horse, for I could feel it whinny, even from my seat in row O. This man always had his eyes cast downward, the creators say this allows the performer to disappear from the audience's perception. In addition to the man in the front, outside the horse, there were two more men within the horse, one moving the front two legs and one moving the back. While I was aware of the men in the horse they did at times blend in and become one living breathing unit. The three performers worked as one, a feat of amazing grace and agility.

One of my favorite scenes, which I felt brought together all the elements of the play: the staging, the set, the actors and the puppets was during a climax of the war scenes, about midway through the play. Music is at a crescendo, there are military men rushing around and the horses are attempting to leap over barbed wire and cannons. The horses gallop to the front of the stage, in the midst of crashing and burning and leap up, as if they are about to jump directly into the audiences lap. The lights flash and everything seems to go simultaneously black & white and in slow motion. And then everything freezes. And it's intermission.


The second half was less dramatic but it ties up the threads of the story well. I don't often want to see a play or movie more than once, but this one left me considering a second viewing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Bit Untitled: Cindy Sherman at MoMA

Starting my Monday with Cindy Sherman at the MOMA.

Last Monday I went to the Museum of Modern Art to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit. As you float diagonally up the escalator to the sixth floor you are greeted by her newest work: towering color images pasted to the walls, wedged into corners and fanning over the entryways. They show Cindy, the model, in fable like costumes. She's a ballerina, an archer, a clown. I wonder, what does Cindy look like when she's not her model. Would I recognize her on the street?

The museum refers to the show as both a retrospective and a survey. Unfortunately it doesn't really do a complete job of either. It's neither a full blown review of her thirty year career or a broad enough survey to allow me to walk away feeling like I completely know what she's about as an artist. Superficially I know Sherman is a photographer exploring the meaning of identity, using herself as her model, but on a deeper level I had many questions. The show has little text to reflect on and Sherman herself has left every image named simply: "Untitled".

The show is undeniably interesting, it's hard for towering color photos not to be impressive and, the gaze of Sherman as model, is a hard gaze to turn away from. Included in this show is her Untitled Film Stills, a series of black and white seemingly real but fake movie stills that show Sherman in various states of cinematic female whodunit. I enjoyed these the most but could have appreciated them more if they were on their own and allowed to fully take over a room, rather then squeezed into a corner. Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

There were just a few small nods to Sherman's early career, cut out dolls overlapping each other, that give just the barest hint at where she started, but the majority of the work seemed focused on the middle and later part of her career. I left with many questions. And, so, I'm going to pretend a little here, if we could ask Cindy Sherman three questions, what would they be?

Here's mine:

1. Are you tired of using yourself as your model?
2. Have you ever wanted to change medium?
3. If you could do any other job what would it be?