Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mr. Deadman Lives!

Mr. Deadman, who made his debut on the website The Cafe Irreal, is back. My latest selection from the tales of Deadman has been published on the appropriately named decomP.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The '80s Are Back, Again

Darinka was one of the downtown clubs I performed most frequently at in the eighties, and I also curated a Sunday night fiction reading series there. I briefly mentioned Darinka in my memoir of the glory days of downtown that I posted here a couple of years ago. Now, these many years later, a bunch of writers who were associated with the club will reconvene to celebrate Darinka and, I suppose, the fact that we're all still here. If you're in New York and want to forget what year it is, head over to Dixon Place next Tuesday.

Here's Gary Ray's press release:


At DIXON PLACE: Tuesday May 5th, 7:30 @ 161 Chrystie St. (between Delancy & Rivington) NYC, advance tix $10, at the door $12.


The seminal performance space Darinka (1984-87) celebrates its glorious past with a reunion gig that recognizes the eighties punk aesthetic that revolutionized avant culture and ripped through the East Village like a cyclone. The energy and talent spawned scores of clubs, coffee shops, theaters and alternative spaces to present the prolific outpourings of subversion. Some of the most influential writers who were part of the Lower East Side's down-and-dirty heydays are meeting up to represent at this event!

Founder & director of Darinka, Gary Ray (whose credits include poetry in New Blood Magazine as well as working in films with Blondie, Madonna, and on stage with Karen Finley amongst others) is hosting a group of the original movers and shakers who helped make Darinka one of the go-to places for hip, paradigm-shifting performance, music, art and poetry during the 1980s. Darinka's relevance during the 80's is talked about in the They Might Be Giants documentary, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. "We were the house band in an amazing club where Steve Buscemi & Karen Finley also performed," John Linnell.

This event will bring together a collective voice of writers whose work pulses with the raw character of New York's Lower East Side. On the bill are Darius James, Bob Holman, Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Holly Anderson, Ron Kolm, Peter Cherches, and newcomer Gail Gerber (see attached bios).

This long-awaited reunion is taking place at the New Dixon Place, May 5th. Darinka indirectly inspired the establishment of the original Dixon Place (which was located on First Street just one block from where Darinka operated). It is pure poetic justice to produce Darinka's first reunion at Dixon Place's new state-of-the-art space.

Darinka Facebook Group

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thumbs Up for the New Chef at Ariyoshi

About a year ago I wrote about Ariyoshi, a Japanese izakaya restaurant in the East 50s. I only went for dinner that one time, but I eat lunch there fairly regularly, as it's close to my office. I usually get the deluxe set, which includes a main course of your choice, a number of daily appetizers, miso soup, salad, pickles and rice, all for $12. Until recently the appetizers always included fresh tofu and a few small pieces of sashimi, in addition to several other small plates that rotated daily. A month or two ago, however, the appetizers began to get more varied and interesting and the food, which had been solid if unexceptional Japanese pub fare, tasted decidedly better too.

Yesterday the appetizers were tuna and salmon sashimi with avocado sauce (sort of a wasabi guacamole), small pieces of grilled mackerel, salmon tempura, and an eel sunomono over thinly sliced cucumbers. My main course was an excellent tatsuta age, fried chicken chunks with a ponzu sauce and grated daikon.

I asked the waitresses if something had changed recently. Yes, they said, there was a new chef. For 16 years he had his own midtown restaurant and decided to sell the business. He comes from a rice-growing and sake-producing region of Japan, and they tell me he's a real sake expert, so I think I'll have to make another dinner visit in the near future, when one can have a palaver with the chef, taste several sakes and order a bunch of small plates a la carte.

226 E. 53rd St. (between 2nd & 3rd Ave.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Franny's is Good

Franny's Pizza opened in 2004, on the cusp of Park Slope and Prospect Heights, not far from where I live, and I finally got there in 2009. Over the years I've seen the reports, which ranged from superlatives, like New York Magazine's over-the-top kvellfest, to the disgruntled locals and foodies who dismissed it as overpriced, overrated designer pizza.

Franny's makes thin crust Neapolitan-pizzas, but chef/owner Andrew Feinberg is not a hidebound traditionalist. He's happy to innovate topping combinations, but prefers to keep them simple:

“I believe that if a dish has 3 perfect ingredients then it doesn’t need anything else. The menu at franny’s is based on leaving out that ‘extra’ ingredient rather than putting it in,” says Andrew. “I want people to taste the purity of each ingredient in every dish,” he says. He adds, “everything that I cook has got to be true to where it comes from.” - from the Franny's website.

So, what would be my verdict? Surely it couldn't live up to the New York magazine review. But would it be as totally overrated as Una Pizza Napoletana, which led to a pissed-off rant here, last year?

The verdict: Franny's is good. Franny's is very good. The crust is thin, with a pleasant chewiness, and the slightly nutty flavor of the wheat flour shines through. It's evident that the ingredients are top-notch and the preparation wholly attentive.

When testing a pizzeria for the first time I always have to try one with mozzarella and tomato sauce, since that's the best benchmark. This time we went for the Buffalo mozzarella, tomato and meatballs pie, dotted with small meatballs. It was quite good, and at $17 for a 12" pie, though not cheap, it's about $4 cheaper than the decidedly inferior product at Una Pizza Napoletana (which offers no meat toppings) and I didn't feel ripped off.

Luckily I went with a confederate, so I got to try two different pies. Boy was I lucky. The clams, chiles and parsley pizza was one of the culinary highlights of this year. I can't quite figure out what kind of alchemy went into this wonder. It wasn't smothered in clams, like the clam pie at Lombardi's, or even liberally covered with clams like the clam pie at clam pie originator Pepe's of New Haven. The clams were scattered here and there, yet the entire pie, every bite, had the most intense fresh clam flavor. Could they have done something with the juice of the clams? The way the clam flavor married with the perfectly subtle chile component and the chlorophyl character of the parsley was mind-boggling.

That clam pizza is totally deserving of an over-the-top kvellfest.

295 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11217
718 230 0221

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Finger

Patti was always finding money on the street. She told me that the secret was to always look down when walking, especially near parking meters. Patti found hundreds of dimes and quarters this way, and occasionally a twenty-dollar bill. Then one day she found a finger–a severed man’s finger with a gold wedding band around it. It repulsed her, but she knew she had to pick it up and bring it to the police. So she wrapped it in a Kleenex and put it in her purse. She took a cab to the police station and handed the finger over to the officer at the desk, explaining where she had found it. The policeman assured her that there would be a thorough investigation and asked Patti for her address, in case there were any further questions. For months Patti couldn't get the finger out of her mind. Her dreams were populated by fingerless men. She had one dream where, at her own wedding, as she was putting the ring on the groom's finger, the finger fell off the groom's hand onto the floor. She woke up screaming. She stopped looking down when she was out walking. She didn't want to know what was on the street, didn't care how much money she was passing up. And eventually she forgot the finger. That is until one day, about a year later, when a policeman rang her doorbell and handed her a package. Nobody had claimed the finger, so now it belonged to her.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Easter Sunday Post

When I was growing up, a secular Jewish kid in Brooklyn with little exposure to other denominations, I knew nothing of the secret or even the public rites of Christians, but I did know about Chinese food. I think I was seven when I first heard a report on the TV news about the White House Easter egg roll, so I figured President Kennedy and Jackie and Caroline and John-John were going to have Chinese food for Easter.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's All About the Masa

Lopez Bakery, in Brooklyn's South Slope, on Fifth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets, isn't a Mexican bakery, though it's owned and operated by a Mexican family. The specialties are breads and pastries, American-, French- and Jewish-style, all of which look very tempting and none of which I've tasted. I'm not sure if they still do, but for a long time the Lopezes baked for Eli Zabar's besides running their own shop, which used to be closer to the heart of Park Slope.

They've been at this new location for at least a couple of years, but the awning still says "Selena's" while the hand-written sign in the window tells you it's Lopez. Anyway, amidst the breads and cookies and Danish, they do sell a couple of Mexican items: empanadas and tamales, absolutely amazing, ethereal tamales. The tamales are the only things I've had from Lopez, and I've had them quite often. I occasionally stop in during my walks from Park Slope to Sunset Park's Chinatown for a tamale to tide me over. The tamales are rather small, just a few bites, really, and at $1.50 they're not cheap, but they're worth every cent. I've never been a big tamale fan, though I love most things corny. Perhaps I haven't had sufficient tamale exposure, but I've found that tamales are usually too dense and pasty for my taste. Not Lopez's. These are the angel's food of tamales, with the lightest, fluffiest masa I've ever experienced. And it's really all about the masa. They make three kinds: chicken with green sauce or mole, and cheese with red sauce, my personal favorite. They go light on the stuffings, and the sauces ought to be spicier, but, like I said, it's all about the masa.

Lopez Bakery, 645 Fifth Avenue (between 18th & 19th St.), Brooklyn. R train to Prospect Avenue.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Is "Regular Coffee" an Obsolete Concept?

I came across this piece I wrote close to twenty years ago but never published. I was about to post it here without comment, but then I realized that the rant has probably lost its bite. Back then I could complain that there was no regularity to the term "regular coffee," but these days does anybody order coffee that way any more? I haven't asked for a regular coffee in years, and I don't think I've heard anybody asking for a regular coffee in years. I think the Starbucks phenomenon put an end to that. If you're not getting a cappucino or a latte, just a plain old brewed coffee, the milk and the half and half are out for you to lighten your own coffee. And in places that don't leave the milk out, people, including me, generally ask for "coffee with milk." But back in the old days, when we still ordered our coffee regular, I wrote . . .


At the risk of sounding like a cultural conservative, I feel compelled to say that we need standards--linguistic standards and coffee standards. I'm at the end of my rope. I can order a "regular" coffee at five different places and get five completely different results. It's ridiculous. Forget taste, I'm talking about color. One deli I go to always makes my regular coffee too dark, another deli always makes my regular coffee too light, sometimes I get lucky and my regular coffee is regular, but sometimes one counter man will make a perfect regular whereas another counter man at the same deli will make it too dark, and I have to remember which one is the dark coffee man so I can ask for my coffee on the light side of regular. Some places put sugar in my regular coffee, and in those places I have to remember to ask for regular no sugar, and that's assuming the color is good. On top of everything else, I'm told that in some cities a regular coffee is black. What good is a word like regular when nobody can agree on what it means? You'd think that if there were one word you should be able to count on it would be "regular."