Culturesplosion.


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Peeking into fashion

I always feel like I’m a little behind on movies, probably because I hardly ever go to the theater anymore. It’s all about the Netflix now. While browsing the streaming selection, I happened upon The September Issue, a documentary about the making of the super-thick September issue of Vogue magazine. I thought I would give it a try, having heard of it before, and it turned out to be really good!


The trailer would have you thinking this film is “Anna Wintour: The Movie”, and to a certain extent it is, but I thought it offered a great glimpse into the making of a high-level fashion magazine and all the hard work and real people behind the glossies.

I also particularly enjoyed the scenes with Grace Coddington, creative director at Vogue. A warm, poofy-haired foil to the sharp pageboy, Grace plays an essential part of putting together the September issue. A former model (her old pictures from the 60s are so cute!), she has been involved with Vogue, first in Britain and now in the U.S., for almost 40 years, so she knows her stuff. She is also a survivor, still making soft and beautiful things after so long in such an intense industry. She’s writing a memoir now, and I totally want to read it when it comes out.

I recommend checking out this movie. It’s an easy hour and a half, and I felt like it taught a few lessons about dedication and the value of keeping your eyes open too. If nothing else, you get to see pretty clothes and pretty pictures!

And the soundtrack? AMAZING.

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When in Philly…

…I have to have a cheesesteak. After disembarking from the trusty MegaBus, the first thing I wanted to do on that chilly winter day was to check out the fare at rival cheesesteak shops Pat’s King of Steaks (map!) and Geno’s Steaks (map!).

It’s very convenient that they are across the street from each other:

Pat's in the foreground (blue & red), Geno's across the street (orange & white)

We tried Pat’s first. The service is lightning quick, so you had better know what you want when you get to the counter. Gimme a wiz, no onions. Done.

Wow. I’ll never speak ill of cheez wiz ever again. This was an amazing sandwich. The meat was tender and juicy, the bread was fresh, and the whole thing was a warm, wondrous heap of deliciousness that I barely have words to describe. So, uh, yeah, that was awesome.

Barely out of the initial reverie, we strolled over to Geno’s for cheesesteak round 2. Same deal, wiz with no onions:

Where has this cheesesteak magic been all my life? It’s a good thing I don’t live in Philly because I would probably eat cheesesteaks every single day and gain 200 pounds. Geno’s served up a mean contender to Pat’s. The meat and cheese were about the same level in terms of flavor, so I liked both equally, but Geno’s bread was a little different. Maybe a bit more chewy? It had a crispy exterior with chewiness in the fluffy dough part.

So the verdict? I have to say……Pat’s. (Please don’t flame me, Geno’s fans!) Both were excellent, but I think I preferred Pat’s bread to Geno’s. I will say, though, that Geno’s wrapped up their cheesesteak when they served it to me, and some of the steam had condensed onto the bread, making it a teensy soggy. Pat’s did not wrap it up, so maybe that made the difference?

Well, the only solution is to try them both again for a rematch. Hopefully that day will come soon.


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Get your cheap noms on at Sushi Lounge

I always feel like sushi is overpriced. Unless it’s some super-fresh, high-caliber stuff pulled from the ocean this morning, it seems silly to pay as much as we usually do for some standard maki. The local sushi joint should not be charging $6 for California rolls.

Maybe I’m just cheap.

Given that, the best place for me to get sushi is Sushi Lounge (map!) in the East Village, where you can get all this for just about $30:

On this occasion, we were a party of three and stuffed our faces to great satisfaction. I personally do not eat raw sushi about 98% of the time, but this place has tons of cooked/veggie options to make anyone happy. We got the Futomaki, eel roll, white yam roll, California roll, oshinko roll, shrimp and avocado roll, kanpyo gourd roll, and omelete. Yum!

Here’s the gimmick: everything is 50% off the sushi menu, all the time. I don’t know why they don’t just lower the prices altogether, but I’m not complaining. You need to order at least $16 worth of sushi per person before the discount, but that just means that there’s an $8 minimum per person. And $16 worth of sushi from an already inexpensive menu covers a lot of sushi. It’s a cheap person’s dream, really, and the food is very tasty!

I haven’t tried their hot dishes (ramen, udon, soba, curry rice, katsu don, etc.), which aren’t discounted but still very reasonably priced. One day I will. Meanwhile, if I want sushi, this is my place to go.


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Feel no pain at Painkiller

Ok, NYC totally has tiki fever. Tiki bars, falling under the cheesy category of “themed” establishments, have never been something I thought much about. Strange wooden masks? Drinks in coconuts? And some odd random memory from the movie House Arrest….

(At 6:05. You go, Jamie Lee Curtis!)

But anyway, in the past few months, a number of bars based on tiki culture and its various related drinks have opened up in the city, so I figured it would be good to give one of them a try. Those little cocktail umbrellas are always fun.

We decided on Painkiller (map!). Near the corner of Essex and Grand, it’s in the Lower East Side area juuuuust where the neighborhood starts getting a little quiet and sketchy (at least it seemed that way late at night). There, right in the middle of many unremarkable storefronts, is where you will find this bright welcoming beacon of what awaits:

A polite gentleman with a Louis-Armstrong-like voice will card you outside and then send you through the door. The first step in, it was pitch black, and for a second I felt like I was in a cone of silence with zero bearings. Then I parted some curtains and got a momentary sensory overload of black and neon colors and happy chatter. Hello, Painkiller.

This Gothamist article has some pretty good photos of the decor. It’s a very creative combination of tiki accents and urban style. The hostess was super-nice and was very patient in explaining all of the drinks to us.

One round in and we were sold. Everything tasted fresh, smooth, and unique. Their signature drink, the Painkiller, was pretty much genius (there’s nutmeg in it!).

*Trumpet fanfare*

We also tried the Zombie (rum rum rum…only one served per customer per night) and a minty Swizzle.

I'll forgive the ridiculous zombie cup because the drink inside was so good.

Next up was a pina colada (served in a frozen pineapple!) and throwbacks to the year 1942 with the Suffering Bastard and Dying Bastard.

Where do they keep all the frozen pineapples? Is there some gigantic frozen pineapple chamber in the bar somewhere?

So maybe we had another round after, and maybe we didn’t, but suffice to say that we got a good sampling of what this place could dish out, and it did not disappoint. I like the great variety of drinks that are available, and at different levels of alcohol strength. Potions such as the Zombie will give you a bit of a kick in the head, but frozen drinks like the pina colada are easy sips, so there is something for everyone and their varying tolerance levels. Thumbs up for small groups! (And dates. There are a number of 2-seaters perfect for a cozy evening.)

We will be returning. And now that I’m all a tizzy about tiki-style drinks, I would like to give Lani Kai and The Hurricane Club a try some day.


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6 Hungry People at The Modern

And to think, I almost missed the opportunity to eat here because I pulled an all-nighter the previous evening. I am so glad I chose the additional sleep deprivation! Staying up a few more hours was totally worth it when the time was spent chowing on some of the most delicious and decadent dishes ever at The Modern (map!).

I’m already a huge fan of Shake Shack and Maialino, other Danny Meyer establishments, so I knew I was in for something good. Our party of 6 sat in the Bar Room of The Modern, a more casual, loungey section of the restaurant (the other section is a formal dining room):

We then proceeded to eat our way through most of the menu. It was great to have a group, as everyone ordered something different so we were able to sample lots of dishes. The menu is separated into lists of dishes categorized as “One”, “Two”, and “Three”. One and Two are appetizer-sized portions while Three is half-entree portions. Everyone ordered either two or three selections, each from a separate list.

There ended up being a sinfully large number of dishes (not to mention that we totally had the hook-up, so a few extras were steered to our table as well, yay!), all of which were devoured wholeheartedly. Here are some of my favorites:

My order: Grilled Diver Scallops with roasted beets, Swiss chard and hazelnuts

Scallop carpaccio with sea urchin; Tarte Flambée with crème fraîche, onion and applewood smoked bacon; and the best liverwurst in the universe

My order: omg pork belly!

Grilled Monkfish Medallions with shaved pumpkin salad and pistachio pistou

Aaaaand there was dessert:

Clockwise from left: Modern Cheesecake with almond crumble and mango passion sorbet, Citrus Carpacio with lemongrass gelée and green apple basil sorbet, Dark Chocolate Tart with chocolate ice cream, and Hazelnut Dacquoise with milk chocolate Chantilly (which tasted like the god of Ferrero Rocher, seriously).

Cocktails were mixed somewhere in there too. So yeah, we all pretty much rolled out of that restaurant feelin’ fat and sassy.

The Modern’s Bar Room is great for a special occasion, such as when friends come from all the way across the country to visit (as was the case here). If you go, definitely go with a group. There are so many amazing dishes that it would be a shame not to try more through sharing. The service is excellent and the noise level is low enough for good, non-screamy conversation. What more can I say? Looks like Danny Meyer has scored another win in my book.


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一, 二, 三, band review! (#1)

Three bands on my playlist now (links lead to music!):

(1) Cults

There’s just 5 songs available by this band at the moment that I could find (“Go Outside”, “The Curse”, “Most Wanted”, “Oh My God”, and an untitled new song from just a couple of months ago – video here). Google reveals that they are a brother-sister band based in New York. I’m really looking forward to their debut album.

Fav song is “Oh My God”. Have a listen and enjoy.

(live version here)

(2) The Drums

This is totally a band for nostalgic moments. They remind me a lot of Polaris (remember Pete & Pete?) and it doesn’t hurt that they have the mid-century teen dream look totally down. Their music videos are so artfully retro too, love it!

Favs: “Forever and Ever Amen” and “Down By The Water”

How is this not awesome?

(3) Dum Dum Girls

I’m kind of on a lo-fi girl band kick at the moment, and Dum Dum Girls is at the top of my list. When winter is cold and things look dreary, listening to “Jail La La” totally makes me feel like I’m riding a Dutch bicycle in summer. Give it a try.

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And I know I’m breaking my 3-band structure on the first post, but are you listening to La Roux yet? I first learned of their song “In For the Kill” from an episode of BBC Two’s NMtB months ago, but I think the duo is finally blowing up airwaves in the U.S. (now Kanye’s all over the remix, ehhh). If by some chance you haven’t heard any La Roux tunes, it’s time to get introduced.


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Williamsburg fancypants

It’s a good time to visit Williamsburg. The neighborhood is a grand amalgamation of old and new, filled with trendy young adults doing creative new things amongst the grittiness. It’s a fun mix.

As for eating and drinking options, it’s not just about the veggies and PBR (although those can be awesome too). Oh no, Williamsburg is a place where you can get some high-caliber charred meats and top-notch cocktails. It’s not cheap, but it’s definitely cheaper than Manhattan.

Fatty ‘Cue (map!). This restaurant is great. It’s a little bit of a walk from the Bedford Avenue stop (closer if you take the J/M/Z Marcy Ave stop, in the alternative) along some run-down buildings and an overpass, but the only people we ever encountered were well-dressed and riding bicycles. You definitely can’t miss this place.

A Brooklyn spin-off of the restaurant Fatty Crab, Fatty ‘Cue is dimly-lit (with a red tint from a vintage red “exit” sign), cozy (the space is not very big), and a great place for a date. Meanwhile, there’s a good selection of Johnny Cash and Elvis tunes piped in to accompany your meal.

The menu consists of a series of small dish "snacks" and some larger "specialties". We tried the pork loin (kind of like thin sliced meat, great flavor), pork rib (omg giant rib, eat it with your hands), red curry duck (who doesn't love a good duck dish? the amount of spiciness was just right, tempered by slices of daikon with rice), and crab laksa (daily special, noodles in savory broth with crab, shittake mushrooms, ginger, and probably magic).

To finish it off, we got the "Fatty Bar" (dark chocolate with almonds, chili, and sea salt). I love a dessert that has no pretense about what it is or will do to you.

This label needs to get framed.

To be clear, Fatty ‘Cue has excellent barbecue, but this is barbecue with sophistication. It’s not the state fair, but you can still expect to get some sauce on your face if you order right.

As a second stop after rolling out, belly full of pork and chocolate, I suggest checking out Dram (map!), just a few blocks away. Located in an unassuming brick building with a warm glow coming out of casement windows, it’s the perfect place to escape the cold in this season and feel fancy (but not too fancy, we are in Brooklyn, of course).

Come on in, delicious alcohol inside...

The menu has a nice selection of beers and wines (oh boy, how did I miss this…the online menu says they have Porterhouse Oyster Stout? I envision a repeat visit in the very near future…), but the main attraction is of course their cocktails, mixed by gentlemen who take their craft very seriously. I saw one of them practically sculpting the top foam on one of his creations, it was like surface tension art. And they are all, be still my heart, $9. What a nice change of pace from the $14 prices across the bridge, and at no less quality in my opinion.

We tried the Behind God’s Back (Chairman’s Reserve Rum, Fresh Pineapple, Lime, Orgeat, Cane Syrup, Bitters Float):

I enjoyed the color gradation.

And the Kilted Bastard (Jamaican Rum, Famous Grouse Scotch, Grapefruit, Lemon, Absinthe, Housemade Orgeat, Frank’s Mix):

The patrons were a cheerful crowd and everyone looked quite relaxed, happy to meet up with their friends. Our waitress was very polite and attentive as well. And I must mention that you bolt the restroom door with a wooden spoon. Really. The entire bar has a very natural wood decor, so this little detail was the perfect touch. Good job, Dram.

Williamsburg: when you want a nice little not-Manhattan evening.