A Play, a Songwriter, and A Lot of Furniture

Tonight is your last chance to catch 1952, a play written and directed by Yekaterina Minskova, debuting at W.i.P (34 Vandam St.). It starts at 8pm. It’s live theatre and film, and a portion of the proceeds going to The National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City, Inc. From the PR team:

"Everything isn’t always what it seems in 1952… The author boldly addresses many hard topics and the far too common misdiagnoses that went along with the times.  The subject matter is inspired by actual patient accounts and addresses many hard topics manifested in the dark corners of the 1950s American Mental Health System."

Among the notable cast is the ever-dapper Errickson Wilcox. He is known by denizens of the deep dark night as a gentleman doorman at all the spots in town. He was Wass Stevens’ right-hand man at Marquee years back. Now, he is popping up as an actor and will soon wear the glamorous label of "As Seen On TV’ in a major production that I’m not going to talk about yet.

After that, I am totally psyched for “Westgay at Westway.” Frankie Sharp’s weekly party at Westway has taken the town by storm. Tonight there will be a performance from Natalia Kills. The English singer/songwriter’s set will surely feature her track “KILL MY BOYFRIEND” off her PERFECTIONIST album. They advertise  $6 frozen flirtinis, $10 FUCKTINIS!!!! ALL NIGHT, and 2-4-1 Vodka Sodas till midnight. Yeah, it’s like that.

According to Wiki – my number one source for everything from the population of the US of A to spaghetti sauce recipes – she "called Kate Bush and Alanis Morissette her most important musical influences, highlighting them as emotional artists who write honestly about their own experiences. She has also gone on to cite Gwen Stefani as her hero. She also claims that Depeche Mode, Prince, Vanity 6, and Freddie Mercury inspire her live performances." Yeah, it’s like that.

Lastly, I had too much fun at BINGO last night, and now I’m late for the final day of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Javits. All of nightlife’s serious players are stopping by to check out furniture, lights, and other design stuff that will be part of their future expansions or renovations, so I’m just about out the door.

After BINGO, it was our traditional dinner at Joe’s Shanghai and then a walk-it-off to the Tribeca Grand Hotel to catch up with honcho Matt Green. I chatted up Kid Cudi, who reminded me that he had played my birthday a few years back for a whopping fee of a cheeseburger. He’s a great guy and deserves of all his continuing success.

Then, we joined Bantam partner Seamus Regan and his lovely Tatjana Gellert at The Double Seven who was celebrating her actual birthday (the events of the last week were shams). We opened up a bottle of Beau Joie and toasted to many reasons to be cheerful. The Double Seven’s rock-based Mondays will see a lot of me. A couple bands, a rock DJ, and a seriously fun crowd took my breath away.

Rock & Rock and Vodka in Iceland, Magic Monday at Tammany Hall

Our post-BINGO Monday night crawl, which almost always ends up at Joe’s Shanghai, took a detour this week. Dana Dynamite, that Sailor Jerry Rum P.R., was intent on meatballs – and a man my age knows to never get between a gal and her cravings. Shoot, I ended up married a couple of times to women that could have done better following that advice for me. Amanda was a willing lemming as well, as we vowed to follow Dana off any cliff. Waylaid at the door of Tammany Hall by my old friend and newish manager Christine Jennings, my stop-and-chat had the girls wandering into Mission Chinese Food, 154 Orchard Street. I’ve seen the lines and heard the news about folks from Momofuku and Blue Hill Farm and the Mission Chinese San Francisco joint that the NYC spot was all the rage. It was 11pm on a Monday night and the dapper maitre d’ told us 20 minutes. Seemed like a plan.

It was red hot chili peppers meets Mean Mr. Mustard and Steve vs. the Volcano. Hot stuff! Dana was doing her thing and telling me all about this Icelandic Vodka, Reyka, and this rock and roll festival. I was all ears, as my mouth and nose were too numb to be of use. The Icelandic Airwaves Music Festival will whisk Dirty Projectors, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós, and 70+ other bands to that fiery rock with those sexy people October 31 – November 4, 2012. They say it’s “the hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar.” This is Reyka’s second year in a row sponsoring this thing and there has been an online screening process to choose the bands, called “Breakthrough at Airwaves.”

Today is the last day for bands to submit tracks to www.Reyka.com. "Two bands, selected by the festival will win a weeklong trip to Reykjavik, including travel and lodging, and get to perform alongside some of the most exciting and inspired names in music." They’ll announce the winners August 14th. Iceland in November gets, like, 16 hours of night – perfect for Goodnight Mr. Lewis. I’m just saying.

Anyway, after surviving the ridiculously delicious but way too spicy meal, we decided to pop into Tammany Hall to check out the infamous Magic Monday soiree. It’s been running six months now and Christine and Ky told me all about it:

"Breedlove performs every week, along with the guest bands booked by Ky. The party starts at 10pm, is always free, and there is an open Bud Light bar for the first hour, which happens to be Breedlove’s beer of choice."

Ky impressed me. She seems to have those musical chops that are so rare in this biz. Managers are a dime a dozen, door people maybe a quarter, and I wouldn’t go past two cents for a waitron or bartender. They are all replaceable in hours. A person who can book bands and get it right…now that’s a rarity. We’ll be back, but this time we’ll opt for the meatballs.

Chef Noel Cruz Takes Us on a Flushing Food Tour

Most tourists — and New Yorkers, for that matter — think Manhattan’s Chinatown is the prime destination for authentic and cheap Asian grub. Location-wise, they’d probably be right. But in the further reaches of Queens lies a neighborhood so packed with bustling Asian food spots — some flashy, some rickety — that boarding the 7 train and making the long journey can be transporting in more ways than one. That hood is Flushing, Queens, a favorite destination of the adventurous and food-obsessed. And we’re about to bust it wide open. Welcome to our culinary tour of Flushing with chef Noel Cruz, owner of Carmine Club Cafe and the genius behind upcoming artisanal food pop-up “First Sinners’ Club,” as he takes us to ten of Queens’ best, not-so-hidden gems.

image

Dim Sum at Dong Yi Feng: Just off Main Street, Chef Cruz tells us that this two-floor dim sum emporium does brisk service on weekends. “I’ve come here with my friends before and the line is always out the door,” he explains. The Cantonese owners have dressed the cheery space with backlit scenes from China’s southern provinces, requisite circular ten-tops and red wall murals. Aside from a variety of carts on the weekends, they specialize in à la carte seafood dishes and it’s worth it to come during off hours to try plates like “delicious jelly fish” (an appetizer served cold in vinegar that is noodle like in texture) and fresh and fragrant steamed clams with garlic and greens. “This place has clean flavors, lighter preparations and quality ingredients,” says Cruz. 135-29 37th Ave. (Just off of Main St.) 718-886-8233

image

Soup Dumplings at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao: Sounds of clinking, slurping and cell-phone ringing can be heard at this homey two-room Shanghai soup dumpling spot tucked away on a side street. Popular with Flushing teens as in-the-know Manhattanites, the goodness goes beyond the steamy, silky broth in the dumplings made to order by hand in the center kitchen. “I like this place better than Joe’s Shanghai,” says Cruz. “These have better flavors and texture.” Beyond the trendy snack, spicy beef and tripe ($5.95), perfectly plumped pork buns ($5.50), crackly beef pancakes with a sweep of Hoisin sweetness and scallions, done Peking-style (only $3.75) are the secret finds on the menu. 38-12 Prince St. (b/w 38th & 39th) 718-321-3838

image

Breads & Bao at Apollo Bakery: Cravings for midnight microwavable pork buns, or bao, can be sated at this small shop off Main Street where they come in bags of six pre-steamed for takeaway. Bakers arrive at 5 a.m. each morning to turn out special versions of Taiwanese goodies like taro buns, rolled sponge cakes, pork pastries and their version of Pullman bread, a favorite of Cruz’. The warmth from the ovens heating our buns is tempered by cool attitude of cashiers, probably tired of being beleagured by foodies on bao pilgrimages, but don’t let that stop you. 135-36 39th Ave. (b/w Main St. & Prince St.) (718) 961-0596

image

Cold Noodles & Lamb Face Salad at Xi’an Famous Foods: Oh, the Flushing Mall. If the exterior neon lights don’t put you in a lighter frame of mind, the hawker-style food court stalls serving everything from bubble tea to Korean confections will. Tucked unassumingly at the end of the stalls, outpost #2 of much-loved Xi’an Famous Foods advertises its many types of handmade noodles, soups and stir-fries influenced by the Silk Road traders known for its use of cumin and chili oil. Xi’an’s Spicy and Tingly Goat Face Salad (E3) and Liang Pi Cold Skin pulled-to-order noodles (A1), are cheaper than St. Mark’s and better or maybe it’s just that the overhead mall lights and yellow-and-blue bench style seating leave little distraction for appreciating this intoxicating and numbing warmth of sichuan peppercorn-laced crack food. “The sensation of the peppercorns add such a deeper dimension not only in flavor, but also physically,” says Cruz. Flushing Mall, 133-31 39th Ave. @ College Pt. Blvd. & 39th Ave. (No phone or delivery orders at this time)

image

Bubble Tea and Shaved Ice at Water Empire: The most polished of the Flushing Mall stands, but the offerings lose no depth of flavor in their gleaming perfection. Plum ices, green tea ice cream and almond milk with tapioca bubbles are a refreshing and sweet quaff after a heavy food court meal. “It’s rich, but at the same time refreshing and light,” explains Cruz. Flushing Mall, 133-31 39th Ave. (@ College Pt. Blvd. & 39th Ave. (No website or Phone)

image

Duck Buns at Corner 28: Directly under the 7 Train overpass lies this part-take out, part sit-down restaurant where roast duck is basted in hot oil until crisp giving it a wonderful deep brown glaze and shine. “I was shown this place randomly after wandering the streets of Flushing after having a couple of dinners before. We just couldn’t resist,” says Cruz. At the takeout window, vendors carve tender pink two-inch selections from a glazed duck breast, then sandwich them between puffy white buns, topping them with generous hits of Hoisin and smatterings of slivered scallion. $2 for two buns is the deal, though it probably functions as a bait and switch, considering that in one bite, you’ll be tempted to go home with a whole or half duck, chosen from the many hanging seductively from the ceiling racks at the front inside counter. Pushy customers just bring out competitive streaks. 40-28 Main St. (@ Main St. & 40th Rd.), 718-886-6628

image

Scallion Pancakes at Flushing Snack Shop: “Embrace simplicity,” wrote Lao-Tzu. This nondescript street-side counter offers a spare, three-item menu of scallion pancakes, dumplings and purple steamed corn, keeping in line with the Zen principle. Once fried in a vat of vegetable oil, flour patties filled with snips of scallion are patted down on the griddle to build just the right amount of golden bubbly crispness. No weak, wimpy cake, these salty snacks hold up their sponginess for hours. “I like the flavor and texture and how they’re freshly made on the spot,” says Cruz. Go at night, since the small galley kitchen window operates a separate daytime business as well. 40-40 Main Street, 646-261-7518

image

New Year Sponge Cakes at Ding Tai Restaurant: Eye-catching displays of pastel-colored sweet rolls, cakes and confections draw passersby at this Taiwanese bakery and café. Chef Cruz didn’t have it on the list, but the pink, yellow and white sponge cakes made it impossible for us not to stop. During the new year, Chinese buy sponge cakes called nian gao to attract good fortune since nian sounds like “making money” and gao means “high” and “promotion.” Inside, cafeteria trays display cold salads and hot dishes and there’s also a quieter seating area in the back. 40-46 Main Street, 718-359-6655

image

Small Pork Buns, Fried Dumplings at Zhu Ji Guo Tie: An ethnically Korean family of vendors may run this no-frills snack portal on the downward sloping side street next to Main, but menu offerings reads like a “Best Of” list from all of China’s provinces. Green tea marbled eggs fill up white plastic buckets, supersize buns sit pleasantly on the counter, frozen dumplings fill the freezer cases and pressed soy bean milk in plastic to-go cartons are piled high near the cash register. Men of all ages amble in for elbow room at the tiny counter for post-work snacks. The snuck-in smile from the owner and the warmth generating from the extra-large woks and industrial style metal steamers are the only hint that this muscular food factory is all heart, but when you taste a bite of its panfried dumplings, there’s no surprise. 40-52 Main Street (window on 41st Ave.)

image

Grilled Meats at Xinjiang Barbecue Cart: Street meat of any kind brings out the inner nomad in us all, and at the Xinjiang Traditional BBQ cart across from the vegetable and meat market on Main Street, you’ll find lamb, chicken, beef and offal, such as chicken hearts and lamb kidneys (though you have to ask) fit for any warrior. Cruz found the cart while stumbling around one night and tells us that there’s always someone friendly helming the charcoal fired grill. For $1, $2 and $3, skewered meats are fired to order, then sprinkled with red spice powder (don’t try to ask what the exact blend is), but the sweet, smoky taste reminds you that China’s food history was also steeped on the steppes where Middle-Eastern tribesmen brought kabobs across the plains, adding more layers to its rich food cache. Even more interesting when you realize it’s made it’s way across the world again to Queens, and you learn this through a Bangladeshi customer, waiting right in line beside you. 41st Ave. @ Kissena Blvd.

Photos by Sheree Wu.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was published, it was brought to our attention that a similar food tour of Flushing’s Chinatown was also recently published on FoodMayhem.com. Check out the explanation from chef Noel Cruz and writer Meghann Foye.]

Industry Insiders: Vinegar Hill House’s Jean Adamson, Sam Buffa, & Brian Leth

Jean Adamson and Sam Buffa met while both were working at Freemans. Their relationship gave way to sharing a love of the food and aesthetic that formed Vinegar Hill House. Sam is also partners with Taavo Somer in the FSC Barbershop. Six months into their Brooklyn venture, the Vinegar Hill House team found Brian Leth, the chef de cuisine since April, formerly of Prune and Allen & Delancey. Leth excites patron with his locally sourced menu with ethnic flairs.

How did you start in the business? Jean Adamson: I started cooking in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had a fascination with cooking and went to the French Culinary Institute. Then I worked for Keith McNally for nine years at Balthazar and Pastis, but it was too easy there for me. I was just expediting the process, so I said, “I have to get out.” I started consulting for Frank Prisinzano of Frank, Supper and Lil’ Frankie’s. I helped him standardize things. I was getting their recipes in order so that in each restaurant everyone was doing the same thing. A friend then called me to say this guy Taavo Somer was looking for a chef at Freeman’s. Their consistency was really poor, and I’m good at producing large amounts of food at once. They were transferring into the first expansion so they needed a day-to-day chef to run everything. So I worked there for three years, and that’s where I met Sam. Sam Buffa: I was helping Taavo with the basic construction of their expansion. At the same time, the space at the front of the alley became available and I proposed the barbershop idea to Taavo. It’s still sort of my day job. Jean and I, from day one, have had similar interests. I always wanted to open a restaurant but had never worked in the field. I always liked the idea of building a restaurant.

How did you come across the space for Vinegar Hill House? JA: When Sam and I met, we were showing off the cool neighborhoods we knew in Brooklyn. I was living in Park Slope at the time, and the next day my landlord came to me and said the carriage house was becoming available in Vinegar Hill. It’s the house behind where the restaurant is now. I told him that I wanted it and I waited a year for it. SB: I told her to ask him about commercial spaces. Once we got the space it was like, “Oh shit now we have to open a restaurant.”

So you did. JA: When we told people about the location they were like, “No way.” When you’re milling around on a bicycle you just end up here. We opened last November after Sam designed the restaurant. We call the downstairs space “the den” and people rent it out for private events. I was the chef but was looking for a way to segue out. Then this gem, Brian, walked in the door. He’s changed the landscape of the restaurant. I always intended on being a local farms and local produce restaurant and he made that happen. He also wanted Brian wanted a Vita-Prep. It’s amazing watching the stuff he makes with it. Brian Leth: I’m a puree guy.

Where have you worked before? BL: I started cooking in New Mexico. A friend of a friend helped steer me towards a job at Prune and I learned a lot there. Then, I worked at Blue Hill and Café des Artistes. I was at Allen & Delancey for about a year. JA: Brian has a broad spectrum of food knowledge from having worked at so many places.

Are you already thinking about the next project? SB: I think its always on our mind. JA: We want to be solid here before the next place.

Something people don’t know about you? JA: That I’m nice. SB: I used to race motorcycles BL: I’m a serious Scrabble player

What are your favorite places? JA, SB, BL: Hotel Delmonico and Rusty Knot.

How about restaurants? BL: Ippudo, Prime Meats, and wd-50. JA, SB: Sripraphai for Hawaiian pizzas, Roberta’s, The Smile, Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings.

What’s on your favorite playlist right now? JA, SB: Lady Gaga and talk radio. BL: The Replacements and Steely Dan.

New York: Top 10 Best Appetizers

Sometimes the first course is worth the whole meal.

1. Grilled corn Mexican style at Café Habana (Nolita): The corn comes two to a plate, grilled and topped with a generous pile of chili powder, lime, and cotija cheese. 2. Devils on horseback at Freemans (Lower East Side): The bacon-wrapped figs are the perfect mix of sweet and salty. 3. Carcofi at Bacaro (Chinatown): The stuffed, lightly breaded artichokes here are a must-have.

4. Any mozzarella at Obika (Upper East Side): The mozzarella here is a veritable smorgasbord of smoked and sweet flavors. 5. Soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai (Chinatown): Put the dumpling on your spoon, gently break the shell until the soup leaks out. Eat. Repeat. 6. Crispy potato gnocchi with foie glazed balsamic figs at Thor (Lower East Side): The best gnocchi I’ve ever had, anywhere. And I’ve lived in Italy. 7. Half-pint of prawns at Double Crown (Greenwich Village): The heads are the best part … just pretend they’re deep-fried potatoes. 8. Chorizo champinon fundido con queso at Xicala (Nolita): Delicious homemade chorizo or mushroom (or both) with melted cheese in a small pot. I dream about the cheesy goodness. 9. Local diver scallops at Park Avenue Winter (Upper East Side): The seasonal menu changes, but if scallops are on the menu, order them. 10. Tuna spring rolls at The Mercer Kitchen (Soho): I can’t come here without ordering at least one, sometimes two.