Shakespeare in the Park

It was a beautiful Spring evening in New York City, I was just out of Salon Riz in the Upper West Side, and decided that I actually could make it to The Public Theater’s show that evening. I had won a pair of tickets from that day’s TodayTix lottery, fantastically on the second day of trying.

During the elective Shakespeare course I took my senior year of high school, my group abridged and performed William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and after hitting my third summer in New York City, I was particularly antsy to see this Shakespeare in the Park production.

In processing the results of this past, fateful November 8th, the only silver lining I could come up with was the electric impact this election, and this President’s forthcoming term, would have on our 21st century American society and culture. The frustration it would incite, the commentary it would fire, but most stirring, the popular culture and art it would inspire.

Cue The Public Theater’s, Summer 2017, production of Julius Caesar. Caesar and Calpurnia bear an unmistakable resemblance to a certain orange tinged, red tied leader of the free world & his high fashion, Eastern European accented wife. Pussy hats and “Resist” decorated shirts and arm-sleeves abound.

I find myself disappointed by the news that Shakespeare in the Park has lost some corporate sponsorship in direct relation to this production. Not necessarily surprised, but certainly disappointed. This action is in such strong contrast to what I assume is the opening of any performance held at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. In a strong and comforting voice, they say over the speakers:

This is your theater. It belongs to the City of New York. And all are welcome.

In spite of this recent gesture, Julius Caesar will continue to provide some much needed comic relief and captivation. Corey Stoll as Brutus is an approach to Shakespeare that really moved me. While the typical actor likes to adopt a sort of haughty tone, Stoll modulates so well, making his lines so dynamically emotional and the meaning of the words instinctively comprehensible.

Performances of Shakespeare: for free, for anyone, held in Central Park, during NYC’s terrible and wonderful summers, executed so well… is a wildly important initiative. One that the audience members rightfully and gratefully appreciate, and that sponsors should feel honored to support.

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Alder

It’s been a while since that last New York weekend, but there’s one more experience I would like to share.

Alex, of Chez Sasha, and I had been discussing possible places to visit when we met up in Boston. After she mentioned the opening of Alder, we decided it would be fun to visit a new establishment, especially a place by Wylie Dufresne. Dufresne’s one of Manhattan’s molecular gastronomic types, he owns wd~50, and Alder is a young (since late March) “gastropub” venture of his.

kimchi

I liked the atmosphere, the quirky rubberbands around the water carafe, the wooden accents and white painted brick, but we left the restaurant disappointed, and got pizza.

interior

We started with the pub cheese, this mixture of cream cheese and wine abstractly plated with pistachio/dried fruit crackers with pita chip type things. It’s a clever dish, Alex pointed out how it incorporated all the elements of a typical cheese plate, the fruit, nuts, cheese, and crackers, but imagine the tastes of red wine and cream cheese together, not offensive, but not that delicious either.

Pub cheese

We were informed that the entrees were small plates, and to order a few for the table to sample and share. With pricing averaging $20 per plate, that’s hardly a realistic concept for your typical diner, and yet they highlight their affordability. While we were willing to invest in an exceptional meal, these dishes just did not perform to our expectations. There was no animal protein-less option and when I asked if anything could be arranged, I was given a dish composed of fried cauliflower over banana curry, 2 elements of other dishes on the menu. It was tasty, but I paid $15 for a small plate of bananas and cauliflower.

cauliflower

This makes perfect sense from an economic view, but it showed a lack of interest in engaging the guest and creating a unique experience for them, and isn’t that why passionate chefs get in the restaurant business to begin with? The only reason I make these assumptions is because at the end of our meal, I took it upon myself to address Dufresne. He had been making an event of checking on the dining room every 20 minutes or so, and as we were lingering over our drinks, waiting for the check to arrive, I felt compelled to show my appreciation for our meal. I have never experienced such disinterest before. I introduced myself, thanked him for the meal, and he literally just smiled and nodded, except the smile seemed to be missing. It was not easy to put myself out there, without the wine at dinner I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I figured it would be a nice gesture to show thanks in person rather than in some online review. Seeing as how this was my first encounter with a regarded professional chef, I had no idea what to expect, but an aloof and smug response was hardly it.

fish

At the end of all this contemplation, I can’t help but think that I may have set my expectations too high. There were no claims that Alder could appease a vegetarian, and that they intended to create a revolutionary experience. Perhaps the issue is that their “casual” is overpriced and yet they feel as though they can pass it off because Dufresne’s name is attached. Researching what other people of the online food community had to say about Alder, I learned that we were not the only ones to experience dissatisfaction. There are definitely polarizing views.

Pizza
Attempt at molecular gastronomic plating, using… a piece of chicken from the pizza!

And in all irony, Dufresne was awarded Best Chef in New York City. Well, it’s an incredibly subjective world we live in.

New York City

“New York City, center of the universe.”

This city, peoples, c’est vraiment phénoménal. I find it dirty and offensive, it’s inhabitants typically rude, and the extreme levels of quality of living, on full display, heartbreaking. But I can’t stay away! There’s a concentration and abundance of brilliant people doing incredible things, like writers Mark Bittman and Eric Asimov at the New York Times, incredible chefs like Amanda Cohen @ Dirt Candy Marcus Samuelsson @ Red Rooster Harlem (lots of hype around this guy within the past year or so), and revolutionary food capitalists like Mario Batali (those damn crocs!) and Daniel Boulud. What these people do is what attracts me to the city so strongly. I do try to visit often. It’s hard to afford and schedule, but when the stars align, I have the best time. My next few posts will touch on where I went and what I ate/drank.

Thursday night dinner, Candle 79.

The best vegetarian dining experience I ever had was at Dirt Candy, in the East Village of Manhattan. Definitely a place I’d recommend, but be aware that it gets a lot of attention and it might be a good idea to book ahead. I’m dying to see more vegetarian restaurants open, or at least have restaurants take the challenge of vegetarian cuisine seriously. A few weeks ago, I visited Walnut Grille, a veggie place that just opened in Newton, MA. While I admired the concept of “a vegetarian dining experience”, their execution resulted in numerous contradictions. For example; a vegetarian restaurant with faux snake skin textured booths? what I assumed was some kind of vegan hollandaise…on a poached egg…? The sandwiches my parents ordered were delicious though. The way I see it, vegetarian cooking is a serious test of skill, how creative are you really? For palates accustomed to meat, it’s understandably a very difficult task. The reason vegetarian cuisine deserves attention, rather than dismissal, “damn hippies”, is because it forces a more acute attention to the subtle flavors of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and the nuances of spices and herbs. Believe me, it’s not easy. Even after ~10 years of vegetarian cooking, I haven’t gotten even close to unlocking all the incredible variations possible.

Back to Candle 79.

The food was awesome, so delicious and savory and satisfying. The drinks were great too. We tried the Belle Madame (Catoctin Creek Rye, goji liqueur, orange liqueur, lemon, pineapple, up) which was very tasty, typically sweet and fruity but not offensively so with a cool twist from the rye, and The Reforestation (VeeV Açai spirit, wheatgrass vodka, muddled mint ginger-agave, lime, soda, ice) which was great, like a more herbal/earthy mojito. The best part – for each Reforestation ordered, they plant a tree… somewhere.

The appetizers we ordered were Seitan Dumplings (fried), Black Bean Soup (a special), and Nori Rolls. We could have done without the rolls, just not very exciting. The soup was similar to a chili, which I always love, and had some crunchy tortilla(?) strips in it, which added another textural element. The dumplings were great as well, just so good, as dumplings usually are.

Dumplings

Nori Rolls

Our entrees were varying forms of plant based proteins paired with either a vegetable puree, asparagus (in season veggies, 1 point) and mushrooms vs caramelized onions, or a side of ratatouille. The main items were tempeh (a special), seitan (a special), and cornmeal crusted tofu. They were great, a really unique treat, I have nothing else to say about it!

Tofu
grilled asparagus & portobello mushrooms, sautéed shallots & pumpkin seeds, truffled celeriac purée

Tempeh

Seitan

(Apologies for the poor quality pictures, I was using an unfamiliar camera)

This was seriously a great dining experience. Dirt Candy provided a more visually interesting meal, while I think Candle 79 provided a more satisfying experience, flavor-wise. [(SHABBAT SHALOM) roommate interruptions]

p.s. For about a month & half longer, I will be fulfilling my Culinary Arts internship requirement at Easy Entertaining RI, a Providence based catering company & café that has a strong focus on sourcing local ingredients and products. This weekend, we’ll be involved with the Eat Drink RI Festival, it’s exciting stuff!