Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Although I know absolutely nothing about Tina Brown other than what I read and hear, I have a soft spot for her.  Despite the fact that every friend of mine who works in the media industry seems to have unkind things to say when her name comes up, I don't know, something about her I just find sort of compelling.  Plus I loved, in a semi-guilty way, her biography of Princess Diana (and her very glamazon book jacket photo).

She seemed to me to be one of those people who peaked extremely early in her career and for a long time after that peak was searching around for something worthwhile to do.  From the looks of it, she's found it at her (sort of) new website, The Daily Beast.  

The Daily Beast is a cross between The New York Times, The New York Post, and Vanity Fair.  There is legitimate news coverage (the "cheat sheet" serves essentially as a front page for news), and they did a nice job on covering the various aspects of the Mumbai attacks in a more in depth article here.  

Like The Post, the website covers gossip, although The Daily Beast makes it seem more high brow than it might otherwise be because the writing is good, and is done by legitimate people in the literary/cultural/news world (see "Is Adrien Grenier A Good Enough Actor To Play A Bad One?" by Toure).  

And like Vanity Fair there are features on current events ("The People's Panic", by Michael Lewis) that are generally worth a read.  Although I have to admit that I am a bit mystified by the thought process behind commissioning the article titled "A Warning From Reagon's Economist" anyone other than John McCain all that concerned with the Reagan years at this point?  

A nice, somewhat novel feature is The Buzz Board:  Smart People Recommend, which is essentially what it says.  Prominent people from all walks of life, from Bobbi Brown to Mort Zuckerman to Ivanka Trump to Bill Maher to Sherron Watkins to Bill Richardson, discuss books, restaurants, websites, articles, places and products that they like.  Very refreshing to see these kinds of short, informative comments from serious people rather than the ranting lunatics who seem to frequent comment boards on other websites.  

So there you go.  Hours of perfectly good work time will be wasted surfing this informative, entertaining site.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Temperley London: A Sale Worth Braving Soho For

I was wandering through Soho this afternoon after stopping in briefly at the Dwell Studio sample sale (by the way, note to Dwell, 50% off retail is not a sample sale) and found myself walking by the Temperley London store.  Or, rather the door that leads to the expansive, loft-like very stylish store on the second floor of 453 Broome Street.  And the word SALE was stenciled across the windows of the front door.  Hooray!

For those not familiar with this line, it is designed by an Englishwoman, Alice Temperley, who creates sort of a modern vibe crossed with Victorian crossed with a sort of Indian feel.  Don't really know how to explain it, other than that it's very feminine, but the clothes achieve this feel without ruffles or bows, which means that "feminine" is never, ever code for "childish".  

See (below)?  I mean how gorgeous?  It's in the store now and it even looks good on the hanger.

Same with this one:

Anyway, I love it all but the clothes have always been solidly out of my price range.  And at the current 40% off (plus the one day only extra 10% off) they still are.  But as the sale will be running through the end of December, I have high hopes that the discounts will become deeper and that the prices will become only vaguely out of my range.

But for those without student loans entering repayment, by all means, go there immediately.  And if you're currently shopping for a wedding dress you MUST go here.  I hate 99% of wedding dresses that I see (or at least am bored by them) and I loved the racks of white gowns they had in the corner.  LOVED.  Like, I would wear them to a party that wasn't my wedding they were that cool.

Can You Bounce a Quarter Off Of Yours?

I assume everyone overindulged yesterday (or was that just me?), so I thought a post on exercise would be appropriate.

Do you ever see those  impossibly well toned forty-something women (by they way they're probably closer to fifty, given how many talented dermatologists we have here in Manhattan) running around the City and wonder how on earth they look so good?  Well I'll tell you.  It all started with Lotte Berk.

Lotte Berk was a dancer, born in Germany in the early 20th century, and she at some point devised an exercise program based on her experiences as a dancer and brought it to America.  By the way, I have no way to verify whether this version of history is correct, but I will say that it seems strikingly similar to the history of Mr. Joseph Pilates, so I'm hoping Wikipedia isn't yanking my chain here.  Anyway, eventually a Lotte Berk studio was opened on the Upper East Side, and socialites and celebrities alike began to flock to it to tone their nether regions.  It was wildly popular in the 80s and 90s, but eventually, like all good things, it came to an end.

A few years back I recall a mini explosion of new studios opening throughout Manhattan that specialized in exercise methods based on the original Lotte Berk methods (basically, tone your core, do exercises at a ballet barre, make tiny targeted movements that hurt more than you thought possible and stretch a lot).  I guess all of the newly unemployed Lotte Berk teachers wanted to put their prior training to good use.

The first of this new generation was Exhale, a spa and fitness center whose Core Fusion classes are an updated version of the original Lotte Berk routine.  Physique 57 then followed.  I had minor flirtations with each of these establishments, but at $33-$35 per class, I could never afford to make a habit out of either of them.  

However, in the past couple of weeks I have been for some reason the happy recipient of a few coupons for free classes from each of these establishments, plus one from a newcomer, by the name of The Body.  These coupons made me remember what a great workout these places provided, how I avoided getting on the subway immediately after the class was over for fear that my poor worked-out legs would collapse beneath me as I attempted to walk down the stairs to the station.  So, since it was all free, I decided to revisit them all and answer some burning questions.  Do the workouts at each place really differ from one another?  Where are the best teachers?  Am I the only one who doesn't own a pair of those Lululemon pilates pants?

I started with Exhale.  Although there are several locations, even one downtown, I opted for the one on the Upper East Side to get the full experience.  Exhale certainly has the most posh facilities of the three.  It is all very zen, very yoga, lots of natural wood and muted sages and taupes.  And the locker rooms are quite stunning and well appointed.  

However, I find that this atmosphere almost works against the workout.  It's too relaxed, and somehow the perky instructor with her little Madonna Blond Ambition Tour microphone looks a bit ridiculous trying to get the class pumped up in a feng shui studio.  But the workout is very effective, and if you're not used to it you definitely will be feeling it the next day.  And of the three, I would say that this place smells the best...probably all of those essential oils from the spa wafting over.

Moving on to Physique 57.  This has the feel of a very clean, high end dance studio, but with blue carpet.  The locker rooms are not quite as luxurious as Exhale, but they still provide quality bath products to use and plenty of hair dryers.  Either way, it's certainly several steps up from utilitarian.  

Physique 57 has been packed from the very beginning, and once you take a class there it's not hard to understand why.  Although the crowd, at least at the uptown location (they also have a downtown studio on Sixth Avenue and Spring Street), is a little elite and competitive for my taste, the workout is still undeniable.  Just try hanging on to some equivalent of a ballet barre, straighten your arms, bend your legs to a true ninety-degree angle and then lower just an inch, then raise an inch and repeat for two minutes straight, and you'll get the excruciating idea.  After an hour of these types of movements you're going to feel totally spent, and perhaps vaguely immobilized.  Although the moves are almost identical to those at Exhale, for some reason I find the workout at Physique to be more challenging.  I guess they just work you longer and harder on each move.   

My only quibble is that the teachers, most of whom are 20-something current or former dancers, can tend more towards the sunny side than I generally am comfortable with.  But honestly, you'll be in such pain most of the time that you probably won't notice.

And now to the new kid on the block, The Body.  I'll just break the suspense now and tell you that this is my favorite of the three.  It's a totally unfair comparison because I went only a couple of days after it opened so I was the only one in the class, and hence got what was essentially a personal training session.  But, aside from the amazing, quiver-inducing workout (same types of moves as the other two studios, but updated), I just liked the feel of the place.  

It's small (only one studio), comfortable (they give you a key for your very chic dark wood locker) and the teacher I had was distinctly un-sunny (I mean that in the best way possible).  She was a no nonsense mom in ridiculously good shape who was firmly, and seemingly happily, entrenched in her 30s.  She really worked me out, paying absolutely no heed to my pleas for mercy.  The arm and ab workout was superior to either Physique 57 or Exhale, and I don't think my quads have burned so much since I was rowing back in college.  It actually occurred to me that when people say things like "feel the burn" they generally don't know what "burning" feels like.  My thighs literally felt hot.  So hot that, in my slightly addled state, it didn't seem totally inconceivable that they could burst into flame.   

All new clients get one class for free, so give it a shot.  And if you like it, take advantage of their introductory offer of a month of unlimited classes for $250.  Those who walk behind you will appreciate it.  And an added plus, the lovely Fig & Olive is just up Lexington from the studio.  You can hang out here with a glass of wine and some light Mediterranean fare while you wait for your legs to regain enough strength to carry you down the stairs to the subway.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!  With all that's happening in the country at the moment there couldn't be a better time to reconnect with friends and family over (hopefully) good, basic food.

Sorry about the picture.  I know it's a bit odd, but I found it weirdly hilarious.  A turkey mummy.  Ha!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Times in Mumbai

Given that this afternoon was relatively work-free, Paul and I took the opportunity to check out a 4:20 showing of the very buzz-worthy movie Slumdog Millionaire at the Angelika.

It's got something for everyone.  For the cineastes, it provides some gritty moments in the slums of Mumbai, for the lovers of gangster movies, there are some evil brother/crime family moments, and for the romantics, a bona fide Hollywood ending.  Totally worth two hours and $12.

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

Last Saturday Paul decided to be very manly and have some friends over to watch a boxing match...Ricky Hatton (the son of Manchester) vs. the other guy.  So I decided to take refuge elsewhere and dragged Zenia out to a hole in the wall Vietnamese place in Chinatown that I've been wanting to try for a while.  Despite the fact that Zenia was vaguely petrified that she would be assaulted as she walked down the nearly deserted tiny street (Doyers Street) on her way to meet me, dinner was great.  If you ever make it down to this part of town (apparently the block in question was historically known as the "bloody angle" for its gang violence, so her fear was not totally unfounded, but it seems pretty innocuous to me now), do stop in at number 11 Doyers Street for some caramel pork and curry soft shell crab.

I had a vague recollection of reading about a new bar on Doyers Street, and given that the street is less than a block long, I figured it had to be close.  Turned out that it was right next door to our new favorite vietnamese basement establishment, so we decided to check it out.

Apotheke supposedly is located in a former opium den/opera theater/restaurant (see Gold Flower sign below).  Who knows, but given the weirdly deserted nature of the street and the whole "bloody angle" history, the opium den thing isn't impossible.

Regardless, the bar was cool and unusual, and they really went there with the whole apothecary theme. 

Although initially it looked like the door would be a bit of an issue, with very minor cajoling the bouncer let us in with no problem.  Had he not that would have been the end of our night.  There is nothing I hate more than waiting in line to get into a bar.  It is mortifying, and given that my desire to get into a bar is inversely proportional with how long I have to wait, for me, it makes no sense.

Anyway, we walked into a very Victorian-sexy space.  Dark wood, low lighting, and the glow of thousands of apothecary bottles met our gaze.  The chandeliers are made of beakers, and the bartenders wear lab coats.  This whole theme thing could be cheesy except they really do make their own tinctures, which are lined up on the bar, and they actually use them in all of the drinks.  See what I mean about them really going there?

They have a whole menu of drinks, organized by the type of remedy they provide...stress relief, pain killers, health & beauty, etc.  It was extraordinarily cold that night, so I went with the warm persimmon cider.  They broke out a beautiful copper pot and some sort of burner, flamed whatever the mixture inside was, and out came what was essentially warm rum infused with persimmon.  Yum.  It took the chill right off, and the glass that it came in was beautiful.  All of the drinks here showcase the alcohol.  Nothing is sweet, which mitigates the whole $15 drink thing because it's hard to knock back anything quickly unless you're really trying.  You're forced to notice what you're drinking, which is sort of nice.  Thumbs up also on the Jasmine Sour (Zenia's first choice), the watermelon one (my second, can't remember the name) and the Five Points (Zenia's second).

To avoid getting bumped into too much, we decided to throw decorum to the wind and just park ourselves at the bar, despite the fact that we were blocking untold customers from ordering their drinks.  But it's a lot of fun to watch the drinks being made...they all are fairly involved.  At once point one of the very nice bartenders asked that I move my scarf off of the bar because he was afraid it might catch on fire.  I was perplexed, but thirty seconds later no longer was.  The owner (?) had created a pyramid of champagne glasses.  I naively assumed he would just be pouring champagne into them, which on it's own would have been entertaining, but no, it was absinthe.  And it was flaming.  I am telling you, this is a pyrotechnic spectacle worth going for.  He somehow lights two wine glasses on fire, pours the fire over the pyramid, throws it is totally compelling to watch.  No idea how the absinthe tastes though.  At $35 per glass I'll wait until I can find someone with an expense account to drag down here.

Now I'll admit the crowd was a bit annoying.  It was a mixture of stylish europeans wearing giant fur coats, wannabe hipsters (I mean hipsters are annoying enough...but wannabes?  please) and various depressed looking finance people.  But hello, it was Saturday.  Rookie mistake.  I normally steer clear of these types of places Thursday through Saturday for exactly this reason.  The bartender, who I suppose saw that we were neither European, fur-wearing nor in finance, advised us to come back on a Monday, which we actually had already vowed to do.

So Monday through Wednesday, great place, albeit expensive.  Thursday-Saturday, still good drinks and fun atmosphere if you can create some sort of psychic wall between yourself and the crowd.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

All That Sparkles

Zenia is an excellent dinner guest.  She always brings over multiple wine options, rarely brings the same thing twice, and what she brings is interesting, almost always in a good way.  The only notable exception was a sauvingnon blanc that somehow tasted like dirt.  I think the guy in the wine store described it as "grassy".  Sorry buddy, not even close.  Because I love having wine brought to me, I make her come over most Sundays to eat with us (plus she's good company and watches the same Sunday night TV lineup that Paul and I do).

This past Sunday she really earned her keep.  In addition to a very pleasing sauvingnon blanc from South Africa (that did not taste like dirt), she brought over a bottle of prosecco for a bit of a celebration.  Now I've mentioned my love of prosecco before, but for some reason I haven't been drinking too much of it lately.  It started to feel a bit insubstantial, almost too frivolous.  Aside from the fizz, I've been finding that it doesn't make much of an impression in my mouth anymore.

Well, my world has been turned upside down by Zenia's most recent discovery:

Nino Franco "Rustica" Prosecco (non-vintage).  The bubbles are a tiny bit bigger than you normally find in prosecco, so you instantly take notice.  But beyond that, it actually tastes like something!  It is not simply refreshing!  It's fairly dry (though obviously not nearly as dry as a champagne), and tastes almost...I don't know...floral?...but fruity?  Clearly I have not missed my calling as a wine reviewer.  Just try it.  It is good.  You will be pleasantly surprised that prosecco can have this much going on.  And at $15.99 at Astor Wines & Spirits, you're not out too much if you're not as enamored as I am.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sales, Sales, Sales

New York Magazine offers a good run down of upcoming sample sales here, just in time for Christmas (and personal) shopping.  Of the ones they mention I've only been to four, unfortunately I can't vouch for the others.  But here is a rundown of my past experiences:

I did very well at the Diane Von Furstenberg sale in July, but I will warn you that the shoppers are very single minded (read: CRAZY) so you need to brush up on your defensive moves prior.  Also, be prepared for the possibility of a long line outside, as well as for the dressing room Nazi.  The woman gives you fifteen minutes, no more, to try on everything you bring in.  And she means it.  She'll throw your ass out (whether it is clothed or not) when your time is up.
Sale runs 12/9-12/13, 260 Fifth Avenue.

Opening Ceremony is quite an avant-garde store, so you can score some very unique, interesting stuff there but I'll admit that a lot of it I just don't get (hello, $200 women's tighty whitey underwear from Germany?).  The clientele is painfully hip, so be prepared to feel less than chic as you sort through the merchandise.  Prices here are normally outrageous, but the sales generally allow for hefty discounts so you can shop like the cool kids...for at least a couple of days a year.  Sale runs 11/28-12/11, 35 Howard Street.

And Hanky Panky...well, I love the line, but I'm not sure I'd go to the hassle of going to the sale for $10 underwear.  I mean really, Century 21 and Loehman's get them for that price on a fairly regular basis.  But if you're in the neighborhood and there's no line...probably worth stopping in.  Sale runs 12/2-12/5, 260 Fifth Avenue.

Rogan's sale is well run, and when I went the crowds weren't too insane and there was plenty of dressing room space.  Unfortunately I discovered that I look ridiculous in Rogan jeans so the whole excursion was for naught.  But if you're narrow hipped and lean towards the tom boy end of the spectrum, this could be your pot of gold.  Or, I suppose if you are a man.  They have a pretty extensive men's line.  Sale runs 11/29-12/7, 91 Franklin Street.

Treat For Your Feet

I'm generally not one for chic grooming products.  I go through fits of being very concerned about what kind of shampoo and conditioner I use, but then I realize that my hair looks pretty much the same regardless of whether I use Pantene or Kerastase so I eventually revert to drugstore brands.  I occasionally enjoy the odd body scrub or the like, but for the most part I have a pretty simple routine that consists of Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil (do not be alarmed by the price, the large size will literally last you for a year), Weleda Almond Facial Oil (I discovered it when I was on an organic beauty product kick last year), Retin-A, Anthelios Sunscreen and Lac Hydrin Five body lotion.  I've simply found that for me, these are the products that actually have some sort of (positive) effect, which frankly, most of the expensive creams and lotions out there don't.

My one indulgence when it comes to the frivolous products that the multi-bazillion dollar beauty industry tries to foist on us unassuming consumers is Aveda's Foot Relief.

With the weather taking a turn for the absolutely freezing, my skin has been getting that cold-weather ashen cast lately so I've rediscovered pretty much every tube of moisturizer I own.  My reunion with Foot Relief was a particularly happy one.  Minty smell, thick, luxurious but easily absorbed consistency, and the exfoliants in the product actually do make your dried out rough feet smooth and generally presentable.  

Gentlemen, I would encourage you not to consider this "women's stuff" as some of you have got some pretty hoof-like extremities that could use some attention.   

If you need any further endorsement, I actually got my dad a tube of this as a mini retirement gift (now that he had time to put his feet up, I figured he might want something to pamper them with) and years later he actually still uses it!  This is a man who has used the same brand of shaving cream since 1971, who washes his hair twice a week whether it needs it or not, and is so frugal he actually carries around a collection of old coffee sleeves to use in case he gets a hankering for a cup while he's out.  If he is willing to buy and use a $19 bottle of foot lotion, it really is something special.

If you are the type to wear socks to bed, it is particularly effective if you put a healthy layer of lotion on prior to the socks.  You will wake up to surprisingly smooth and lovely smelling feet.  If, like me, you absolutely abhor socks, especially without shoes, using it in the morning before you put your socks and shoes on for the day is almost as good...after a long day the scent of your newly unveiled pepperminty feet can serve as quite the pick me up.  

Friday, November 21, 2008

Porco e Cioccolato

Paul and I were enjoying a leisurely lunch at Shopsin's the other day down at the Essex Street Market (by the way, if you are in the mood for Thanksgiving in a bowl, go and get their Highschool Hot Turkey open faced's lots of turkey, mushrooms, tons of gravy, and there's a piece of bread in there somewhere), and we got to talking with the woman sitting with us at the counter.  Turns out she owns a stall in the market that she sells chocolates out of called Roni-Sue's.  Paul's interest was immediately piqued.

As we chatted a bit more she mentioned that she had recently started selling chocolate covered bacon.  She called it Pig Candy.  Now my interest was piqued.  I have recently bemoaned the lack of salty/sweet candy options in New York, so was pretty excited to have at least one.  It's not a salty caramel, but hell, I'll take what I can get.

So after lunch Paul and I headed over to her shop to taste some dark chocolate covered Jimmy Dean Pig Candy.  The meat is apparently procured from a butcher in the market, Zack over at Shopsin's deep fries it, and our new friend Rhonda coats it in a robe of chocolate.

And you know what?  It was not half bad.  I'll even go so far as to say it was pretty damn good.  Now the chocolate and bacon thing has sort of been done, (a fact Roni Sue is well aware of...apparently Kenny Shopsin was the one who convinced her to give it a try with his deep frying support), but this is a very competent version.  The bacon's actually decently crispy, thanks to the deep frying, and the dark chocolate (haven't tasted the milk chocolate yet) works well with the smokiness of the bacon.

So go ahead, gross out your parents (whether they be health nuts like mine, or ostensibly observant Jews like the parents of most of my peers) and give it a try.  $9.50 for a quarter of a pound.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oh Senorita

I'm a big fan of Nigella Lawson's.  Now I know that making fun of her, of the food porn aspect of her shows, of her marrying "up" after the untimely death of her first husband, of her low cut bosom showcasing shirts is the sophisticated thing to do these days, but I think it's all a bit unfair.  

At heart, the woman is a very good cook.  She's a home cook no doubt, but a talented one.  In fact, she could probably wipe the floor with 50% of the restaurant chefs in New York.  And if you watch her shows, particularly the very early ones, you can't help but be drawn to her.  Nigella's a bit on the shy, earthy side, which I think is probably what made her charming initially, she's clearly very smart, witty, and loves food without regard for whether it's fancy or trendy.  She just cooked what she and her family liked to eat.

Now I'll admit that her most recent shows have a different feel about them.  She's certainly more glam, she plays up the food porn thing to an annoying degree at times, and she's gotten a bit more involved with the five minute meal thing than I would like.  But underneath it all I still admire her attitude, towards life generally and towards food, and think that for the most part her recipes are good (to my mind Forever Summer and Nigella Express did not quite live up to the standards of her other books, but that standard is quite high).

At her best, Nigella gives us all the chance to do some real, but doable, even potentially weeknight, cooking.  Her Spanish Stew recipe out of my favorite of her books, How to Eat, epitomizes all of the qualities that made people respond to her and her food in the first place.  It's satisfying and feels like quite a major meal, but the ingredients are easily procured and the prep time is minimal.  In fact, it's so easy that I often make it for myself if I'm home on my own for the night.

You simply gather potatoes (you can see below that I was experimenting with a purple peruvian potato the other day), chorizo, onions, garlic and sherry, and you're all set to go.

And a half hour or so later out comes this comforting, fabulously fragrant dish.  In fact it's so satisfying, that when I ended up splitting what was meant to be a dinner for one with Marissa when she stopped by for a glass of wine the other night (conveniently enough, just when my stew was coming out of the oven), I felt totally sated by my half portion.  It's one of those things that just clicks.  

For your cold weather enjoyment, I've provided the recipe.  Just a quick note about it though.  A lot of the measurements here are based more on the size of the baking dish you'll be using than anything.  12 oz. of potatoes and 4 oz of chorizo just happen to fit in my dish of choice, and it's a ratio of meat to potato that I like.  But feel free to change these quantities as you see fit, along with the sherry and onion.  It's a pretty forgiving dish.

Spanish Stew
Adapted from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
4 oz. semidried chorizo (approximately one sausage, I like the picante house brand from Despana)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup of dry sherry (I use Wisdom & Warter's Pale Dry (Fino) Sherry from Sherry-Lehman for cooking, at $8.50 a bottle it really can't be beat)
12 oz. potatoes, cut into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the potatoes (I like very small yellow waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and put water in a kettle on to boil.

Put an oven proof  shallow baking dish (like a gratin dish or a round terra cotta dish) over medium low heat, and heat olive oil in the pan.  Add onions and saute for about five minutes, until onions are softened and translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.  Add the chorizo and bay leaf, and cook just until chorizo begins to release a bit of its fat.  Then add the sherry and stir to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Add potatoes, stir and add enough of the boiling water to cover the potatoes (don't worry about the odd corner poking out of the water).  Simmer on the stove for 10 minutes.  Taste broth and add salt and pepper to taste.

Put the dish in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 35-40 minutes, until potatoes are tender.  Serve in bowls with crusty bread (vital for sopping up the lovely juices).  Serves 1.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Up and Comer...In Manhattan!

Several years ago, on a crisp fall evening, Paul dragged me up to the western end of Canal Street to see Lou Reed perform.  Who?  Paul, outraged, informed me that Lou Reed is a legend, the singer in the seminal band Velvet Underground, a major figure in music history.  

We made our way up to Canal to see the living legend, and arrived at what was actually a dedication and celebration of a small park on the street, and the local residents, many of whom are prominent (and not so prominent) artists, were performing in honor of the occasion.  When I say park, I am actually referring to a small triangle in the middle of Canal Street just next to the West Side highway that is planted with trees and a few bushes.  Really more of a parklette than a park, but nice nonetheless.

Anyway, we see upon our arrival a small stage set up in the street, with some sort of modern dance troupe performing.  The "performance" consisted of a few small women clad entirely in black spandex having what appeared to be epileptic fits on the stage.  It reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch that Mike Myers would have starred in during the 90s.

After they had recovered from their fits, the head "dancer" told us to turn our attention to the park at our back.  They wanted to unleash some "ephemeral sculptures".  These sculptures turned out to be structured balloons with open bottoms.  Almost like hot air balloons.  The first was launched with some sort of air compressor with limited success.  The sculpture went about three feet in the air and then fell straight back down.  The second had a much more successful launch.  It went high into the air, floated above Canal Street for a moment, plummeted towards earth, landed on the hood of a police car, and then rolled east on Canal Street like a giant white tumbleweed, causing endless confusion for those attempting to drive in either direction on the street.

At this point, I felt that it might make sense to take cover, so Paul, Sharon (who had joined us halfway through the epileptic fit) and I headed to the only store in the area, just behind the stage.  It was a general store I guess.  It stocked items such as toilet paper, sundried tomatoes (come to think of it, there were a huge number of tomato based-products, and I think the name of the store may have been Tomato something), cornichons, pate and toilet bowl cleaner.  

In the back of the store was a takeout foot counter.  I was cold and traumatized so I settled on some hot apple cider and a cupcake.  A moment after making my purchase I went back to the food counter to ask for a knife to split up the cupcake so I could give my compatriots a piece.  In response to my request, the mad frenchman who was manning the counter cried "Oh, a knife!  A knife!  I will be stabbed!  Through the heart!" while miming stabbing himself in the stomach.  I settled for one of the flimsy plastic knifes available for self-serve at the front of the store.

Confident that the ephemeral sculptures had finally met their end, we decided to take refuge from the Twilight Zone and head back outside.  Just beside the store's stoop we spied Lou Reed (actually Paul did, I had no idea who he was) doing calisthenics in preparation for his set.  Now I feel that I should give you a bit of background here.  This is Lou Reed:

The man has aged only slightly better than Keith Richards, and has maintained a lifestyle not too dissimilar.  The idea of him doing lunges, in leather pants no less, is incongruous to say the least.  In person, it was hilarious.  I feel like he may even have been smoking while doing them, but I could be mistaken.

So the legend got up and sang four songs...recent works that bore no resemblance to Velvet Underground.  At all.  It was kind of like Bon Jovi showing up for a concert and playing nothing but their most recent country-themed album. 

With the finale (such as it was) done, Paul and I headed down to Bubby's for some chicken soup and pie.  After the night we'd had, comfort food was in order.  And we ended up sitting next to one of the storied former heads of Sony Music so Paul got his music legend fix.  

I have good memories of the was a New York experience, and not in the "Ohmigod, I was at the Beatrice the other night and saw so and so and she was sooooo ridiculous" but more in the "Well, it was art.  I'm not sure I liked it, but it was interesting." way.  Hard to come by these days.

Anyway, I was out for a wander the other day and found myself near this neighborhood again.  I hadn't been in the vicinity since the aforementioned night, so I was curious to see how it had evolved.  Turns out I love it.  North Tribeca, as it is called, is the corner that Tribeca forgot.  They're just now getting around to converting warehouses to condos here so you're not yet running into the Pilates moms with the kids in the Swedish strollers yet, and the (admittedly, limited) retail options tend more towards the practical than the silly (if you call a wine store and florist practical, personally, I do).  

The demented general store is now a gallery, so that little gem is no longer there to add funk to the area, but just across Canal is an interesting, vaguely industrial, extension of this mini-neighborhood.  You've got the Ear Inn, a charming old tavern with good food at extremely reasonable prices, a shop called Cookbooks, which specializes in out of print, you guessed it, cookbooks, and Jacques Torres, which is a great stop on a cold rainy day for a whiff of warm hot chocolate.  Or if you're up to the task, I suppose you could actually drink it.  But let me give you fair warning, it is rich.  AND you have the Fire Museum.

I'm a bit late to the party on this one, as the young privacy-seeking celebrity set already seems to have discovered the area.  Apparently Mary Kate lives around here, I believe Beyonce and Jay-Z are local residents, and I just read that Justin Timberlake bought a unit in the Pearline Soap Factory building.  Having toured the fourth floor unit in this building, I can safely say that if you have $5 million to spend, this is not a bad option.  The corner, window lined master bedroom made me very jealous.  Probably because I have exactly zero windows in my bedroom.  Ah, Manhattan real estate.

Anyway, it's my dream neighborhood of choice.  It feels new and a little underground, but without the drawbacks generally associated with a gentrifying neighborhood.  Safety doesn't seem like it would be an issue (aside from the odd mad miming frenchman), and since the surrounding neighborhoods are already firmly yuppified there's not too much local opposition to new residents.  So go hang out there, tour apartments you can't afford, and tell me you don't wish you could live there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Love the Fug

Like most vaguely snarky, slightly jaded big city dwellers, I have a profound love for the Fug Girls.  And the fact that they share my sometimes like it/often hate it/love to make fun of it attitude towards Gwyneth's website (which by the way, supposedly will have the archives posted soon so you can catch up on any fun and fabulous tips you might have missed) makes me love them even more.  Check out their comically superior take on it here.

Best Sale Ever

I mentioned my love of Yigal Azrouel pants last week, those wonderful no-tailoring necessary pants that I scored for $30 at the designer's sample sale three years ago.  I failed to mention, however, how fantastic I think that the rest of the line is.  Yigal makes gorgeous, cool evening gowns, edgy accessories (I also got a scarf at the aforementioned sale for $30 that looks a little like a very warm spiderweb...when I wear it with my leather jacket I feel sort of like a DJ from Berlin or someone equally cutting edge), and great work clothes that will make you stand out from the J. Crew/Theory-clad masses (in a good way).

I missed the sample sale last year, but luckily I caught the item in Time Out New York before it could pass me by again this year.  The sale starts tomorrow (Wednesday) and runs through Friday.  It takes place at the designer's showroom, at 225 W. 39th Street (btw 7th and 8th Aves) on the seventh floor.  9-7 Wed, Thursday, 9-4 Friday.  Ladies, do not let it pass you by.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can You Tell My Parents Came Of Age In Berkeley In The 60s?

I make my own granola.  I have gone through phases of making my own yogurt, my own bread, canning my own tomatoes, pickling my own pickles, but the granola thing is the only one that has become more than a phase, it's really more of a habit at this point.  I know it's a bit tree-hugging of me, but then, I do really like trees.  I even signed up to volunteer for the Parks Department's Million Tree Initiative.  But that's beside the point.

My favorite granola recipe is out of Nigella Lawson's book Feast.  I think that the salt and the applesauce are really what make the recipe.  I'm very into salty sweet things these days...salt the way why is this a craze that is sweeping San Francisco, Paris and Seattle and not New York?!!  And the applesauce basically serves to make the granola smell like apple pie when it is in the oven.  Delightful.

For some reason I have the British version of Feast, so all of the measurements are in weight instead of volume.  This is perhaps unfamiliar to American cooks, but as long as you have a scale (I prefer Salter digital scales), it's actually an easier way to cook than using measuring cups.  Just reset the scale after you add each ingredient and you'll only have to get one bowl dirty.  Genius.  But for those who have yet to buy a scale, I've provided both measurements below.  

Andy's Fairfield Granola
From Feast, by Nigella Lawson

450g/4 1/2 cups rolled oats
120g/1 cup sunflower seeds
120g/3/4 cup white sesame seeds
175g/3/4 cup applesauce (I use Trader Joe's unsweetened Gravenstein applesauce)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
120g/1/3 cup brown rice syrup (I buy this in bulk at Integral Yoga Natural Foods)
4 tablespoons honey (I like the wildflower honey from the second floor at Fairway)
100g/3/4 cups light brown sugar (I use the dark brown sugar from Trader Joe's, which is on the darker side)
250g/2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon Maldon salt (use Kosher if you don't have Maldon)
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
300g/2 cups of raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit.  The exact temperature depends on how hot your oven runs, I tend to bake at 325.

Mix everything except the raisins together very well in a large mixing bowl.  Use a couple of spatulas, the mixture is too sticky to use your hands.

Spread the mixture out on two baking sheets (spray first with cooking spray) and bake in oven, turning over about halfway through baking and re-distributing the granola evenly during the baking process (I find a bench knife works best for this).  The goal is to get it evenly golden without toasting too much in any one place.  This should take anywhere from 40 minutes to about an hour.  The baking process may require a bit of trial and error--it can be difficult to tell when the granola is done since it doesn't harden until it cools.  I would pay attention to the color.  When it is verging on a dark golden glow the granola is done.

How finely you break the granola up once it is cooled is up to you.  I try to leave large shards since Paul likes to snack on them, but if you eat your granola more as cereal, shatter it freely.

If desired, mix cooled granola together with the raisins (I tend to skip this step as I'm not crazy about raisins in granola).  Store in airtight jar (the one in the picture is from the Container Store). 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fall Bounty

I mentioned Paffenroth Farms a few weeks back in my Guide to the Greenmarket post...great purveyor of root vegetables?  Probably one of the vendor descriptions that you skimmed and then moved on from.  But let me tell you, they are really in their element at this time of year.  The beets, particularly the golden beets, are unbelievable at the moment.  I've been eating a fairly absurd number of them lately.  Here's my lunch the other day, in raw form:

A golden beet, a white sugar beet (the one with the Don King-esque tangle of roots) , and a wonderful sweet potato from Cherry Lane Farms.  Below are the beets after I roasted and peeled them:

How beautiful is the gradation of color on that golden beet?  

Roasting is my favorite way to prepare beets (and conveniently enough, it also happens to be one of the easiest).  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, wash and scrub beets, wrap them each in aluminum foil, and roast for approximately forty-five minutes (or until a knife is easily inserted AND removed from the beet).  Immediately upon removing the beets from the oven, unwrap the aluminum foil and, cradling the beet in a few paper towels, nudge the skin off of the beets through the towels with your fingers.  It should come off very easily without any knives or other implements.  My mother has, after many years of peeling beets this way, decided that she is "too old for this crap", so she now peels them beforehand with a vegetable peeler.  I personally prefer the taste of the beets peeled after cooking, and don't think the paper towel thing is that big of a deal, but each person should make this decision on his or her own.

The sweet potato can be cooked in essentially the same way as the beets (I always put it in the same pan) but you do not need to wrap it in foil (just slash an x in it with a knife instead), and if it is significantly larger than the beets the cooking time may be longer.  When it is done, cut in half, add a bit of butter to melt over the flesh, et voila.  Dessert in a vegetable.  

Lovely, lovely cold weather food.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lipstick Jungle R.I.P.

Nooooooooo!  Why NBC, why?!!  

Despite the hokey name this show was great.  Loved the ladies, all of them.  Nice to see pretty women running around the city working, being successful, and (for the most part) not acting like idiots.  They will be missed (although clearly not by enough people, otherwise I suppose NBC would have left it on the air).

The Death of a Tailor

I was hoping to end my week of my favorite services in New York with a recommendation for a tailor, as I've come to believe that tailoring your clothes is crucial to making them look their best.  I think this view was inspired by something Michael Kors said on Project Runway about great fit?

Anyway, after hearing Michael Kors' bit of wisdom, I emailed a Saville Row tailor who had a blog and asked for recommendation for a professional in New York.  He wrote back telling me that Sal, who had a shop on 61st and Lex, would take care of me.  And boy did he.  Actually, a guy named Danny who worked in the shop did, but he was just wonderful.  I took virtually every pair of pants there (with the exception of those from an especially good Yigal Azrouel sample sale, which fit me absolutely perfectly with no alterations), and every fitted skirt.  You see, my waist to hip ratio is smaller than average (translation:  my butt is big) so I almost always need to have the waist taken in on new butt-covering items. 

I also took in what was a fairly average looking suit that I'd picked up on clearance at Loehman's and he completely reworked it.  He nipped the waist in on the jacket, shortened the sleeves, the skirt, reset the sleeves...god knows what else.  Now it fits me perfectly, the way a much higher end suit would.  All I know is that the whole thing only cost me $100 and now I have random receptionists complimenting me on the suit totally unprompted.

Then one day last year, after having not been in for some time, I brought the shop a few pieces that I had had made for me in Hong Kong that I was unhappy with.  Where was Danny?  I have no idea, but he had been replaced by some twenty year old kid wearing True Religion jeans a little too low on his waist.  I was wary initially.  I like my tailors old and wearing slacks, not ill-fitting expensive jeans.   

Now, the Hong Kong clothes really were terrible, so perhaps it is unfair of me to get annoyed that the guy couldn't get them to look good.  But, I think that when I take a pair of pants in to get fixed I should be able to sit down in them once they've been altered.  I wore them to work one day without testing them out in a seated position, and let me tell you, I was SORRY.  Picture it, an entire day of me attempting to sit in a chair without bending at the waist in an effort to preserve the integrity of some very sensitive areas.  Not fun.

A year and a few months has passed since this traumatic incident, so I think I'm ready to give the kid another try.  I suspect he may be related to the owner, so maybe he's been schooled a bit by now.  I'm taking my horrible Hong Kong clothes back, and actually a coat of mine needs re-lining as well.  I will report back on the results.

In the meantime, I will give you what I consider to be a good service recommendation, so as to fulfill my one-a-day-for-this-week commitment.  Sorry gentlemen, this one doesn't apply to you.

After years of wandering, I have finally settled on an eyebrow place that I'm happy with.  For some reason, perhaps because I have a tiny bald spot on my right eyebrow, eyebrow groomers can never get my arches even.  My left one is always higher than the right.  But then I read in some magazine for aestheticians that this is a common mistake, so maybe my bald spot is not to blame.  

Anyway, I had found a woman at Shobha who didn't seem to fall into this trap, so I was going there for a while, and then bizarrely, out of nowhere she started doing it, and I had uneven eyebrows again.  Dismayed, I (skeptically) gave Marissa's recommendation of the Anastasia Brow Studio in the Times Square Sephora a try.  This was hard for me.  I hate Times Square, and frankly am not the biggest Sephora fan either.

But...success!  It's sort of weird that they use a variety of stencils provided by Anastasia herself, literally laying it on your face and waxing anything that lies outside of the shape, but the outcome is consistently great.  I love that they leave my brows thick, I'm very into that Sophia Loren look with the strong, dark brows.  

Speaking of which, how funny is this picture of Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield?  

Sophia's like, Mio Dio, you have got to be kidding me with these ridiculous American breasts.  And Jayne's like, No!  I'm actually not!  Aren't they humongous!  Sophia:  They will be down at your knees in twenty years.  Jayne:  Who cares!  Won't be an issue!  Would you like to see my nipples?  Either way, you will before the night's over!   

At $32 I'm not sure Anastasia qualifies completely as "good service for good value", I mean it only takes like seven minutes...$4.57 a minutes seems a little steep.  But the service is very good, and they're not completely taking the piss like these places that charge $50, even $100 for the same service.  So if you can brave Times Square, give it a try.  If you can't, head over to the location on Fifth Avenue and 48th Street. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Toes, Fingers Knees and Toes

There's an odd phenomenon that seems to have presented itself among Manhattan women:  absolute finger and toenail obsession.  Weekly manicures and biweekly pedicures are seen by many as a necessity, sort of a periodic dose of mood enhancers I guess.  Actually, looking at how gorgeous these varnishes are (the nail photos are from nail obsessed Blogdorf Goodman, and by the way, the perfume she mentions today is AMAZING, I especially love the Rose Noir), I understand the mood-lifting effect they have on some people.   

I am not judging the nail obsession, I mean anyone who goes to the Union Square Greenmarket on a tri-weekly basis shouldn't be obsessions just tend more towards food than fingertips.  Which if you've ever seen my nails, is very clear.  They generally can be described no way other than "raggedy". 

However, every couple of months I get in the mood for a little pick me up, and head over to Eve Salon for some nail therapy.  

I've always had great experiences at Eve.  The pedicures are particularly good, I feel like my toes look sort of like very beautiful pieces of candy when all is said and done.  And the manicures last me at least four days (my usual is about a day and a half, so Eve is well above average).  At $13 and $26 for a manicure and pedicure, respectively, it's slightly more than the rock bottom place that's probably around the corner from your apartment, but I'd call that still in the realm of cheap.  Plus I think the quality is better...never an inadvertent cuticle cut, no stray polish and the lotion smells good. 

Also, I LOVE that they don't use those whirlpool baths that most corner nail places insist on.  Barbara Walters did some expose on those things a few years back and it turns out that something like 85% of those baths have filters that have never been cleaned, which means you can get some horrible fungal infection that may never go away (the pictures of the beauty victims' legs were not pretty), so I've been a bit (probably unnecessarily) freaked out about them ever since.
The service is, of course, no match for The Best Pedicurist of All Time 

that Vivian's 


employs down in Santo Domingo, but then no one in New York, not even the ones that charge panic inducing prices, can match this woman.  So to my mind, in New York, Eve is the next best option.  And, if you're short on time, the waxing services are quite good as well.  It serves as my back-up waxing place if for some reason I can't get in to see Lana and I've got a hair removal emergency.  

For the longest time, Eve was at 400 Bleecker, just across the street from Magnolia Bakery and the queueing customers that love it.  It was a tiny shop, the size of a shoebox really, but it was comfortable and well appointed in the manner a very practical, thrifty but stylish woman might decorate her apartment.  However, after more than twenty years at this location (which by the way boggles my mind...the changes they must have seen in that neighborhood over the years!), they are vacating to make room for a Kate Spade store, and will be relocating to 55 West 8th Street, just off of Sixth Avenue.

There's a bit of a gap between when their old lease on Bleecker expired and when their new space (which apparently is going to be beautiful, looks to be much more spacious than their old digs) will be ready, so for the time being the salon is operating out of their sister salon in Soho, Haven, which is sort of the luxury version of Eve (prices are a bit higher, although still very reasonable, and you get fancy tea and nice pillows to lounge against during a pedicure).  But supposedly the move is imminent, so go pay them a visit in their new home.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Smooth As A Baby...

Gentlemen, I feel that I ought to warn you that I am about to discuss my favorite waxing joint.  And this is not back waxing I'm talking about here, I'm more focused on areas south of the equator.  Although if you are into the whole-body waxing Chelsea boy thing this is probably your place.  It's pretty decent although I was freaked out by my waxer's arm cellulite and her overzealous use of the baby powder the one time I went there.  But let's just say they are familiar with men's special hair removal issues.  Anyway, now I'm getting into the lady waxing part so avert your eyes if you wish.

I hate shaving.  It takes forever, doesn't last and really, stubble belongs on a man's face, not on a woman's legs.  Plus this whole $25 replacement razor blade phenomenon is just getting offensive.  At this point in my life, I don't even own a razor.  

I wax EVERYTHING.  Which, given that I live in New York, could easily get very expensive.  In fact, the venerable J Sisters would charge me $195 for everything that I get done.  Now, I love Brazil and the Brazilians just as much as the next guy (actually, possibly more...I was so depressed to leave the last time I was down there), but I do not feel the need to spend $2,400 a year to be waxed by them.

Thankfully, Brazilians are not the only game in town.  The Russians give them a run for their money at Dyanna, a small, bare bones salon down on East 21st Street.  Now this place is not in a fancy townhouse, nor is the location particularly glamorous, but it's clean, the women know what they're doing, I'm always out of there in under thirty minutes, and they charge about 25% of what higher end salons do.  I will say though, that I've never gotten my eyebrows done here, so I can't vouch for that particular service.  

If you go, you must, must, must request Lana, who I have been going to for the past five years (and let me tell you, I'm not the most loyal person when it comes to beauty services, so this really does speak well of her skill, professionalism and compassion...all qualities necessary in a good aesthetician I think).  She never misses a spot, she is just one of the sweetest women alive, and she somehow fills the time effortlessly with random conversation that I genuinely enjoy listening to.  It's not often that one looks forward to a waxing, but at this point I feel like I'm going to see an old friend when I make an appointment with her.  When I was living in Philadelphia I even made the trek up to New York rather than finding a waxer down there, as I knew it would be virtually impossible to find someone that I liked as much as Lana.

Dyanna's clientele is somewhat varied.  You've got quite a few high maintenance jappy twenty-somethings (it's not all that far from Murray Hill after all), tall willowy blonds and moms who bring their twelve and thirteen year old daughters in for their first wax as some sort of bonding experience.  By the way, I'm a little uncomfortable with this last one.  I think early adolescence is traumatic enough without having to get largely naked in front of a stranger and get your hair ripped out of your sensitive young skin.  But, as Lana says, they are probably very hairy girls, which I guess is traumatic in its own way.  

Anyway, go on Sundays around noon if you're looking for a more relaxing experience.  There's never anyone there at that time.  But, if you prefer weekdays, they're open until 8:00 and Lana's there everyday but Friday and Saturday.        

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Big (Green) Apple

I have a distinct memory growing up of my mom coming home from the dry cleaners with my hunter green wool toggle coat one day, and insisting that it could not be brought into the house.  She took the dry cleaner's plastic off and hung the coat on the porch for SEVERAL DAYS to give the toxins a chance to escape.  At the time, I thought she was ridiculous.  Although why I didn't see an issue with the fact that I even owned the coat in the first place given that temperatures in the Bay Area rarely drop below fifty-five degrees I'm not sure.  I guess even then I wanted to move to the east coast and was practicing my outfits or something.

Anyway, now I find that I seem to have inherited her neurosis.  If I can avoid dry cleaning at all, even by hand washing, I do.  I have always made a conscious choice not to live in a building with a dry cleaner (apparently your chance of getting cancer and neurological diseases if you live above a dry cleaner is like ten times normal or something horrifying like that), and for the longest time I was scouring New York to find an ecologically friendly dry cleaner.  Well, finally, after an afternoon cream tea at Tea & Sympathy, I stumbled across one.

Green Apple Cleaners uses CO2 technology to clean clothes.  As far as I can tell, they use liquid CO2 (sort of like club soda I guess?) and pass it through your clothes at a high pressure.  I have no idea how it works, but let me tell you, it does.  They're gentle on my clothes, no buttons are discolored in the process, and my whites actually come out looking, well, white (I took in a fairly heavily stained white blazer a few months ago and I was practically blinded by it's whiteness when I picked it up...a far cry from the faintly yellow cast that seems to be the result at most dry cleaners).  Apparently Consumer Reports shares my enthusiasm.  In a 2003 study, the publication voted CO2 as the best overall cleaning method out there.  Funnily enough, perc, the standard, extremely toxic, dry cleaning method, came out close to the bottom of the list.

The prices are a bit higher than at a standard cheapo dry cleaner, but they're certainly fair.  Maybe like a dollar more than my guy down the street would charge.  And they are WAY more reasonable than the high end places like Meurice and Madame Paulette's. (I had a particularly traumatic experience years ago with one of these establishments, I won't say which, when they charged me $75 to clean three pairs of pants).  Besides, I'd prefer to spend the extra dollar than to end up with a giant tumor someday.  

Here's the CEO, David Kistner, who started the business because he didn't want his kids exposed to toxic chemicals:

One of Green Apples environmentally friendly pick-up and delivery vehicles:

Green Apple currently has two other locations in addition to the one in the West Village--one on the Upper East Side and one one the Upper West Side.  But fear not if these are not convenient options for you.  Sign up here for pick up and delivery.  They'll get you started with a kit that includes reuseable garment bags (no more drowning in endless sheets of plastic), spot stickers, a hanger recycling bin and a garment checklist and you'll be all set to be clean and green!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Technical Note

Despite my total ineptitude when it comes to computers, you may notice that I have (shockingly) managed to add a button at the end of each post labeled "Bookmark".  This feature allows you to easily bookmark or share a given post using any of sites listed in the drop-down menu, which includes Facebook, Digg, Twitter, and a bunch I've never heard of.  So come on, give it a try.  Humor me.  Make me feel good about having spent such an inordinate amount of time trying to figure this out.

My Blue Suede Shoes

I love heels, and occasionally I can find a pair that is glamorous, shapely, high AND freakishly comfortable.  When this state of nirvana is achieved, I hold on for dear life.  

I wear said shoes constantly on the mean streets of Manhattan (at least, they are mean to shoes, not so much to people anymore), and thus the beloved shoes take quite a beating.  Nicks on the heel from inadvertently stepping in subway grates, scuffed toes, soiled leather...the indignities my poor clodhoppers endure are endless.  Therefore, I feel an obligation to provide them with excellent care. 

This is where Top Service, a shoe repair shop at 845 Seventh Avenue (between 54th and 55th Streets) comes in.  This phenomenal shop provides meticulous repairs for all types of shoes, and I am always pleasantly surprised by the modest amount they charge.  In fact, I'm fairly sure that I have never paid more than $12 for any one service, and I have brought some seriously beat down shoes in for repair.

They will go to impressive lengths to get your shoes looking like new.  I've had the entire skin on a pair of heels replaced ($8!), I've had leather restored, even boots altered.  However, I think the most impressive feat of theirs that I've ever witnessed was when the manager called Prada to get the actual satin used in a particular pump so that they could use it to recover the mangled heel of the shoe in question (this was clearly for another client, not me.  The only pair of Prada shoes I own are a very utilitarian black leather that I picked up on deep discount at an end of season sale at Saks).  

Top Service routinely makes it onto plenty of "Best of New York" lists, and apparently is the go to place for the Manolo Blahnik people.  I pretty regularly run into young women who seem to work as assistants for editors at fashion magazines, either picking up bags and bags of shoes for shoots, or just a few pairs for their high maintenance bosses, so I'm clearly not alone in my love and appreciation for this place.

To my mind, Top Service lives up to its name.  The place respects the customer, the product and the relationship between the two.  The guys are nice, the service is fast, and the prices are always reasonable.  Definitely a business worthy of everyone's support.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

At Your Service

At heart I share the attitude of my grandparents when it comes to consumption patterns.  I feel comfortable spending a fair amount of money on certain things (in my case shoes, coats, kitchenware, in their case American-made cars, furniture and appliances) but in exchange for the higher price, I expect them to last forever.  Nothing irritates me more than buying something that I think (or have been led to believe) is of high quality and then having it fall apart two months later.  Come to think of it, this attitude extends to restaurants as well.  Few things in the world make me more angry than a mediocre restaurant masquerading as a good one, and getting charged as if my meal had been delicious, when in fact I could easily have made something better at home on a hot plate.  But as usual, I digress.

Like my grandparents (and actually, come to think of it, my parents also), I will repair something I love until it is well past the point of resurrection.  My grandparents kept their 1978 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser running long enough, and well enough, that both my sister and I could drive it through high school (the government eventually paid my parents $500 to get it off the road), my parents are the only people I know who still repair their giant pink vacuum cleaner, and I have been propping up a pair of perfect black pumps since about 2002.

As a result, over the years I have sought out and discovered great service providers in New York, both to repair things I refuse to let die, and places like salons that I just think do a good job at a fair price.  I'm dedicating this week to these rare establishments, and will write about one place per day.  I generally try to keep things fairly gender neutral on this site, but things may get a bit feminine this week what with my waxing recommendations and the like, so I ask for the gentlemen readers' indulgence, just this once.

The Food Network Rises Again

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the Food Network was worth watching.  There were real chefs with real shows, topics explored that did not include drive-ins and diners and dishes featured that had origins outside of the United States.  But then, gradually, a new breed of show moved in, and the neighborhood changed.  Canned foods became ingredients, dinners were made in thirty minutes and Noho Star was outed as one of New York's hidden gems.  Now I won't deny that I enjoy Noho Star's margaritas (a lot) on occasion, but has anyone who's lived in this city for more than five minutes NOT heard of this place?

Many hung their heads in despair at the changes that had taken place, and wondered, will it ever get better?  Well, if the new crop of shows is any indication, things are definitely looking up.

I find The Chef Jeff Project, a show about teaching underprivileged young people to cook professionally, to be totally heartwarming and kind of inspiring.  I haven't quite made up my mind yet about Alex Guarnaschelli's The Cooking Loft, but her food looks good and she's pretty charming.  But my favorite?  The show I think will lead the channel towards salvation?  Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.

I remember noticing Anne Burrell for the first time back when Mario Batali was still on Iron Chef America.  She was his sous chef on most episodes, and what struck me was that despite Mario's huge personality, she still stood out.  Maybe it was the cropped bleached hair, but more likely it was due to the fact that she is just very sassafras...she's got a personality that can't help but shine through.  

Turns out she can cook too.  A protege of the corpulent Mario, she finally opened her own place, Centro Vinoteca, a year or two ago.  New York diners saw what she could do at that point  and now, thanks to her show, so will the rest of America.

First of all, everything she makes looks delicious.  I can practically smell it through the TV...especially those shortribs she made yesterday morning.  God they looked good.  And so appropriate for the grey weather!

Secondly, she cracks me up.  She's like that really fun but kind of eccentric midwestern transplant friend who lacks the filter between her brain and her mouth.  She'll tell you to "brown the crap out of [your shortribs]", to pour off excess grease to avoid "an Exxon Valdez slick" on your stew and if she wants you to ignore something for a while, she'll tell you to "treat it like a stepchild".  Plus she punctuates all of these Burrellisms with a weirdly endearing guttural growl....kind of like what  jazz singers do when they're at an emotional crescendo.

Now I would just like to point out that yes, I realize this show is in its second season already (I believe the first season consisted of six or so episodes over the summer).  But I write about it now because a) The Food Network picked the show up for real only after the first season and b) I think Ms. Burrell has really hit her stride with the second season.

So set your DVRs for 9:30 on Saturday morning and prepare to see the redemption of a network.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Local Winos

I enjoy wine immensely, but for some reason, I just can't get interested in it.  I can tell you what my favorite type of wine tastes like (I've read enough menu descriptions to throw around some know, minerally, complex, and when I really want to impress I call for the off-dry white) but I have no idea of the vintage or provenance.  If I taste a particularly lovely wine, my reaction is basically "Wow, yum!", not "Oh isn't that delightful!  What am I drinking?".

As a result, when I shop for wine I tend to rely fairly exclusively on either the salespeople in the wine store (generally my M.O. at places like Sherry-Lehman), or the pithy little written descriptions (Astor Wine & Spirits) for my choices.  But somehow in these stores with huge selections I'm always left feeling a bit cheated.  Is this one bottle, out of all of the thousands available, really the best for my money?

Enter, the owner of which seems to have read my angst-ridden thoughts.  The store, which also is an online seller within New York State, hence the vaguely bizarre name, carries a well-edited selection, probably about 100 different bottles, and is organized in a way that is exactly in sync with my wine decision making process.  On one side of the store is white, on the other is red (question number one:  Do I want red or white?).  And each wall is lined with a row of bottles on a shallow shelf, organized from cheapest (closest to the door) to most expensive (question number two:  Do I want to cheap out or not?).  

Despite the clarity of the display (and his helpful posted descriptions), I never purchase a bottle without checking in with the owner.  He'll always give it to you straight.  Tell him what you're having for dinner or what kind of a person you're buying a gift for, he'll give you the best option in your price range.  And I believe him when he tells me.  Partly because he knows what he's talking about, and partly because there really are only three or four options to pick from in any one price range so I figure he can't go too wrong.

And beyond the merchandise selection and display, I love this store for its location (Jones Street in the West Village, spitting distance from at least five of my favorite food shops), and for its neighborhood feel.  People quite literally hang out on the store's stoop!  The owner knows all the weird characters in the 'hood (there are a few left, despite the aggressive gentrification that has overwhelmed the West Village), and his dogs chill out on the shop's floor (at least they used to, I haven't seen them in a while, which I hope just means they've found somewhere else that they like better!). 

Nice owner, nice dogs, nice wine.  You can't ask for much more.

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