Thursday, July 29, 2010

In Mood for Roasting Chestnuts/Hot Sequins

The rocking bling long tank, left, is the favorite of Yours Truly in The Limited 2010 Holiday collection. She also likes the kaleidoscope shawl placket sweater in Mill Multi, below. Photos courtesy of The Limited.

INSIDE cool, darkened space that has white, leather sofas sprinkled about. Immediately forget heat and humidity outside. Walking over to deejay stand to holler at dj kiss. Tell her once again how hard she rocked house a few weeks ago for Farragamo’s Attimo party on roof of Standard Hotel. Also impart choice words about how great she is and all that she deserves because of it. Kiss her goodbye.

Thirsty. To bar for water first, wine second. Oh, there’s buddy and WWD photog, Steve Eichner. Give hug and again apologize profusely for missing his July 4th party on beach. Promise to visit before summer is over ... About that drink – one for SE, too.

Why am I here? Oh, yes. The Limited Holiday 2010 Collection Preview. Lots of such views ongoing now – lots of Christmas in July. Esprit has one ce soir. Puts Yours Truly in mood for holiday music and carols. Thinking about "Crescent City Christmas Card" (Wynton Marsalis), "Home for Christmas" (Amy Grant) and my fav, “A Charlie Brown Christmas" (Vince Guaraldi).

Like The Limited party. The Limited, I grew up wearing, say I to marketing people. Declare love for brand and name all clothes still have that I bought as long ago as the early 90s. Swear that I am not just sucking up to them because I am drinking their Sauvignon Blanc and pocketing their spiced almonds.

Holiday collection is fetching. Bunch of pretty, little dresses. Some with sparkle, some without. A lovely peacoat in taupe – looks very expensive. But it’s The Limited, so everybody can afford it. Taupe pants, too, have swagger. That black-belted red shell is going to turn some heads. The green plaid skirt with that black (faux?) leather jacket is such a flirt – but it’s all in good fun.

See those jeans? Not my cup of drink. Too much wear and tear for my tastebuds. Yeah, I get it: they ain’t for everybody, and I am one of those bodies.

Keepin' it movin’ …

What I Love/LOve/LOVe/LOVE: That burgundy/brown-creme v-neck sweater with elbow-length sleeves ($59.90/in stores come October). Plaid scarf in like colors is icing on cake.

Pièce de ré·sis·tance is sequinned tank ($49.90). One I see is aqua; The Limited calls it teal (also comes in other colors, including black). But won’t quibble over semantics. On living model it is paired with cropped black jacket & cropped pants. Pops like a firecracker. Look at Me: Staring. Coveting. Salivating. Gorgeous – more gorgeous than beautiful Nigerian model/server.

In November, will own it. Will rock it with red. With pink. With burgundy. With silver, gold …

The Limited Holiday 2010 Collection will start arriving in stores and online in October.

A Throwdown (and Beatdown) Atop a Boss Roof
A view of a section of the Manhattan skyline from the Hugo Boss roof at 26th street. Below, Robin Thicke and Janelle Monae sang into the night at the Hugo Boss Beat the Heat rooftop party. Photos from wireimages.com.

IN deep winter when Yours Truly is shivering from cold and windchill, I will think of the days of summer. My most fond memory will be the night I spent on high at the Hugo Boss Beat the Heat rooftop party.

HB, y'all, gave the heat a beatdown ...

I stroll onto the patio around 7:30. The sun is red-orange and is staring right at me. Luis, the security guard, strongly recommends sunglasses. I comply; he approves and sends me on my way.

Behold, a sea of beautiful people (Miss America Rima Fakih, Tyson Beckford), beautiful-people-in-the-making and wanna-be-beautiful-people. In double-quick fashion, I meet DM, a smartly dressed HB intern. “You look like you’re by yourself,” I declare. He is and so am I. It’s ON! Throughout the evening we gather/scatter and share a taxi to our UES n’hood. I grab a drink and join DM who already has a beer in progress.

Meanwhile, DJ Cassidy. Boyfriend is so baaaddd that he’s spun records for the president. He is tearing up the turntable, producing dancing/swaying/weaving/bobbing. All night long he does this. The humidity is lower up here, around 11 stories. Do I even need utter anything about THE VIEW? A breeze is hovering and delivering its agreeable blow.

Once it’s dark the mic is taken over by Janelle Monae. Her high-energy set starts off mysteriously as if something is about to happen along the lines of a King of Pop performance. What follows is not all that but lil Miss has her moments. Love the get-up and the hair – definitely channeling James Brown.

His turn at the mic Robin Thicke is smooth like silk. His sweet lollibies harmonize with this increasingly breezy evening. I’m feelin’ it but he’s too laidback for JR, an NBC cameraman I’m jawing with. JM is JR’s speed. We decide it might be a Mars/Venus thing and call it a draw. And we’re dancing. No, we’re putting down some Chicago-style step once DJ Cassidy is back on his game. And that’s the way we take out the night.

Night ... It’s around 8:30, maybe. Day is going off duty, and dusk is en route: Breathtaking! The most beautiful thing here. Purple/forest green/indigo/orange-red/gray sky. An artistic masterpiece. A sight for sore eyes. Tears are understandable.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In this Heat, Some Really Cool Meals

Sara Moulton, left, is the proud mama of BLT and Egg pie. Below, Daisy Martinez warming up the crowd before she serves up a double-whammy. Photos courtesy of New York Botanical Garden.

EVERYTIME I open the vegetable bin in my refrigerator and clap my eyes on the red pepper, green pepper, carrots and celery, I immediately think roasted vegetables. Then I remember that it’s 90-something degrees outside and not the best day to turn on the oven.

Perhaps, I will have an opp next week when the temps drop to the mid-80s. For now, though, I will want to find something else to eat. One option is to root around the New York Botanical Garden’s, “The Edible Garden.” (http://vevlynspen.blogspot.com/2010/06/peesto.html).

Among the attractions of this four-month-long food exhibition is a variety of chefs with nutrition, delicious dishes – many of them designed to beat the heat. And many of them are online.

Last month, Michele DiPietro’s (Whole Foods) Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta dazzled the tastebuds of Yours Truly and those of other journalists who attended a press preview. (http://www.nybg.org/images/edible_garden/2010/recipes/di_pietro_zucchini.pdf)

During his turn in the kitchen Michael Anthony (Gramercy Tavern) did “surf and earth” with Calamari and Carrot Salad. (http://www.nybg.org/images/edible_garden/2010/recipes/michael_calamari.pdf)

Daisy Martinez (“Viva Daisy!”) has produced a duo of Barbecued Short Ribs of Beef and Sweet Corn, Fava Bean and Fennel Salad. (http://www.nybg.org/images/edible_garden/2010/recipes/daisy_fennel.pdf)

With brunch on the brain, Sara Moulton got down to business and came up with BLT and Egg Pie. (http://www.nybg.org/images/edible_garden/2010/recipes/sara_blt.pdf)

Today – as is the case each Wednesday during “The Edible Garden” – the Greenmarket is open for business. The market is not just the venue of fresh vegetables. Also on the day's menu is the 12:30 p.m. "Cooking for Your Health" demo. Jennifer Josef is making gazpacho and tomato bruschetta.

On Thursday, what's "Cooking for the Season" (2 p.m.) is apricot three ways from the recipe files of Kimberly Rubin. It’s summertime and the grillin' is easy on Whole Foods Market® Fridays (2 p.m.). On the grill is vegetable gazpacho and bread.

Over the weekend, Conservatory Kitchen will be redolent of onions and garlic. Derek Lee (Best Food Blog Ever) is preparing Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding and Roasted Garlic Soup on Saturday (1 p.m and 3 p.m). Spaghetti Carbonara by Casey Barber is Sunday's repast (1 p.m. and 3 p.m.).

Visit www.nybg.org for complete information about "The Edible Garden," including how to purchase tickets.

During Restaurant Week, What Will D. Do?
Darcel is an intrepid traveler and one-eye diner's guide during NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010.

“ON the 12th day of Restaurant Week my true love sent to me: 12 ex-tra pouuunds,” Darcel writes of his experience at 10 Downing Food & Wine. At Cipriani Wall Street, he has “two too many and the only one not in a suit and tie.”

“Uh-oh,” is all he writes at another joint. And he’s not embarrassed to confess “Food envy.”

Who is this character? As brand ambassador – a first – for NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010, Himself has the crumby job of dining at participating eateries and reporting his finding here & here (nycgo.com/restaurantweek & darceldisappoints.blogspot.com).

No doubt my newest BF, Paul Daniel Quatrochi, will find Darcel’s vetting utensils somewhat useful. (SEE: http://vevlynspen.blogspot.com/2010/07/dont-serve-him-banal-greens-and-pasta.html)

NYC & Company, the outfit behind restaurant week, is really pressing Darcel into service during this summer session, which like unemployment benefits, has been extended (but only through 6 September). The eye one adventurer will appear on media panels in bus shelters throughout the five boroughs; he stars in a 30-second video that will show on monitors in cabs; he’s posed for buttons and heat-waving paper fans to be disseminated to diners who make their way over to the official NYC Information Center in Midtown ... I smell a reality show.

Breslin Bar & Dining Room, db Bistro Moderne and Zengo are amongst the more than 170 restaurants who voted for the extension program, and we know the drill: $24.07 three-course prix-fixe lunches and $35 three-course prix-fixe dinners (excluding Saturdays, beverage, tax and gratuity).

Learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010, the extension, at http://www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek/.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

They Are Alive With the Sound of Music

The Roses n Guns clutch, above, from the Samantha Thavasa by Tinsley Mortimer fall 2010 collection. Also in the rock-inspired line are the Def Leopard and White Snake. Photos from Samantha Thavasa.

THE Roses n Guns is quite the little pistol. Its taupe color evokes gun metal and bullets – a stark contrast to its mostly lace body. Undo the clasp and behold the space. The roominess is reminiscent of those new Volkswagen bugs that look small on the outside but are surprisingly spacious on the inside.

On the bill with RnG is Def Leopard with a fair amount of trunk for the junk and three columns of corset-style laceups in front that tie in a bow, the strings of which fall like fringe.

This is not Lollapalooza, but it is an event. It’s July; it’s after Independence Day. And the calendar is turning at a massive pace toward August. In the fashion industry it is fall launch season. In progress on Madison avenue is the debut of the fall 2010 “Samantha Thavasa by Tinsley Mortimer” handbag collection. It is a five-style, multi-colored affair priced in the several-hundred-dollars range and inspired by five rock bands - guess which ones - that were huge in the 80s. The socialite, girl-about-town and businesswoman had rock ‘n’ roll on the brain for this latest.

“I grew up in the ‘8os listening to this music, and it really speaks to me,” TM explains to Yours Truly. For instance, the lace on the RnG clutch ($325) speaks of nightgowns and that Material Girl, who wore lots of lace in that decade. Alas, when the bags arrive at the store and online next month Madonna will not be among them.

Chains, a big part of the rocker uniform, drape the hobo Metalica ($415) – that is one thick chain rather than enough to outfit a gang. Flanking it are a wider version of the leather, corset-style laceups on Def Leopard ($385) and about the same width of the one on the front of White Snake ($350). It forms a curved pattern reminiscent of a serpent. Another point of interest is that it's tie-dyed, a feature that TM really likes. “We had no idea it was going to come out as nice as this,” she gushes. The purple tie-dye has my attention.

For the rocker chick cleaning up a bit is quilted Poison ($295) that does not exactly scream rock of any age, a fact that doesn’t escape TM.

“Anytime you have a quilted bag people are going to say you are influenced by Chanel but it has a square shape like a lot of '80s bags and it has the long handle,” she points out.

Talk dirty to me!

Learn more about Samantha Thavasa by Tinsley Mortimer collection at http://www.samanthathavasausa.com/.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Place Where Everybody Knows My Name

Pyramida Grill, left, is now doing business at East 73rd street and Second avenue. Below in descending order: Co-owner Roger Ramkissoon taking lunch orders; Roger Ramkissoon's The Broker’s off the Bone Barbecue Chicken is ready for consumption; Pyramida Grill has a new decor and a tropical plant that has been pruned into submission. Photos by Yours Truly.

REMEMBER on “Cheers” that whenever Norm entered the bar everybody said his name?

That’s the sort of reception Yours Truly enjoyed at Pyramida. “V!,” either owner Matthew Koven or manager Roger Ramkissoon would cry whenever I lightened the door at East 78th street and First avenue.

Note that I enjoyed this treatment – past tense. As of approximately a couple of weeks ago, Pyramida pulled up stakes to move farther south and farther west. The venue of New York’s best lemonade, according to “NewYork Magazine,” and first-rate falafel, according to “The New York Times,” is now ensconced in greener and larger pastures on the southeast corner of East 73rd street and Second avenue.

Woe is me because the new place is not set up for such intimate greetings. Gone forever are the days when Pyramida did mainly takeout and I and other regulars could just stop by and hangout regardless of whether we were shopping.

But it’s good for the continued success of Pyramida Grill, which has a strong allegiance to nutritious, delicious homemade food. Expectant father, MK, can put more lining in his pocket toward a dreamhouse on Long Island. And RR, father of four, gets something of his own as an equal partner where once he was just managing.

“He’s a great guy, and I wanted to do more business for myself,” RR gave me to know a few days back when I asked why he decided to throw in with the likes of MK. “I thought this was a nice area to get into – the food industry and I decided to invest.”

Old and new customers gain, too. Three, nondescript tables crowded in a cramped space have been replaced by aqua dinner chairs and tables with marble tops. Pyramida now seats 25. The décor tends toward orange/aqua, a homage to the Mediterranean. Naturally, MK and RR want customers to enjoy the food whether they are ordering takeout (including delivery) or sitting for a meal. The menu is much the same but does have a few additions such as the Appetizer Sampler ($11.95), a choice of any three salads or spreads i.e., Babaganoush, Pumpkin Gloria and White Bean Spread. Other newbies are a Tahini Crab Cake seafood plate ($19.95) and Beef Stew meat plate ($17.95). All plates are served with a choice of lentil rice/saffron rice/rice pilaf or fries; salad, and one side order.

The menu is not huge but it is not so small that one might not need guidance navigating it. MK recommends a starter along the lines of the Eggplant and Feta Cheese Salad ($5.95), followed by a Chicken Shwarma meat plate ($17.95) and Outrageous Warm Chocolate Truffles ($8.95) for dessert. To accompany the meal, a glass of the “Bravdo” Cabernet Sauvignon (2003/$12) from Israel’s Karmei Yosef Winery. By the way, the new winelist was put together by a sommelier and includes characteristics of each variety and pairing suggestions. Here, too, is beer. Alas, there is no more bootleg vodka.

The Chicken Swarma is also a new dish on the menu and one of MK’s favorites for the simple fact that, “it’s a good marinade. It’s a combo of white and dark meat chicken, roasted on a spit; it’s very flavorful and healthy” and he’s not revealing the ingredients in the marinade.

RR is also tight-lipped about the secret ingredients in his menu favorite – The Broker’s off the Bone Barbecue Chicken ($17.95). But he does reveal that “it has a special sauce.” And not just any sauce, “it’s a homemade sauce with lots of nice spices ...”

I, too, have my favorites. For lunch, I like either the falafel sandwich or lamb gyro (now $8.95). Both come in a pita with a drink and soup or fruit. For dinner, I usually go for the Ultimate Meat Combo, now $19.95 (Chicken, Lamb and Kofta ) meat plate. It’s all good …

Meanwhile, some people go postal. MK goes tropical. Exhibit A is the tropical plant that stands near the restaurant entrance like a poker-faced security guard. When I clapped eyes on the horror, I informed MK that it was unwieldy. His wife, too, attempted to communicate this bit of information. We both thought it would molest dinners, perhaps even maul them. Matthew would not be moved. “I like tropical plants,” he retorted defensively. When I was in Pyramida G. a few days later, however, the plant had been wisely downsized, “because the leaves were hitting people in the head,” MK explained.

This is the kind of sensible man suited to serving the Ultimate Vegetarian Combo, $18.95 (variety of vegetarian dishes served with lentil, rice pilaf w/carrots & almonds or saffron rice).

Learn more about Pyramida Grill at 212-472-5855/1402 2nd Ave.; www.pyramidagrillnyc.com will be live shortly.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Giving Mr. $mall a Little From the Kitty


TYPICALLY, I avoid going into the bank, especially in New York. Far too/too/too many of the tellers don't possess fully evolved good customer service skills. Are you listening Bank of America (East 79th street/Lexington avenue)?

Anywho, I was forced into the bank yesterday – Chase, not BoA, or as Bill Maher is derisively fond of saying, Skank of America. I received in the post at home instead of my post office box one of those letters that banks have been sending lately, warning customers that they will lose their overdraft protection unless they notify the bank otherwise.

Out of sheer necessity, with closed eyes/clinched teeth, I stopped by Chase. While the people at the Chase branch nearest me (79th street/York avenue) are evolved individuals, I still did not want to deal with them. Akeel W., my “regular” banker was off. Christina R., who I’d never clapped eyes on, was not. I was displeased, but there was no turning back.

My sense of self-preservation was stronger than my urge to retreat. I wanted to keep my overdraft protection, not that I really avail myself of it. It's like car insurance, you understand. It was also my intention to confirm that Chase did have my post office box address and would not be sending future mail to my physical address. And there was also that matter of a few inexplicable fees.

What a pleasant surprise!

My dealings with CR, who is from one of those Hudson River Valley towns, reminded me of the Chase personnel at a branch in my North Louisiana hometown. What wonderful Chase memories from early in the year when I was home to see to my ailing ma ma! The first time I entered the branch three people – count them – three had said “Hello, may I help you” before the door closed behind me. On several occasions I received excellent care, including the removal of an inadvertent $34 overdraft protection fee.

For more than two hours, CR practically held my hand and catered to my every need, calming my frayed nerves. I didn’t mind at all that I arrived home well after the lunch hour and far too late for my weekday guilty pleasure, “The Young and the Restless.” CR made eye contact. She spoke above a grunt. She was actually interested in my life or did a darn fine job of pretending to be. CR asked probing questions and listened with sincere interest as I told her about VEVLYN’S PEN and some of my work, including basic fact-checking, as well as meeting/chatting/rubbing shoulders with Oscar-nominated actresses, Oscar-winning actors and presidents of major luxury-brand conglomerates.

This eager young lady took care of each one of my little issues, including my fees, all the while plying me with helpful hints about how to best use my ATM card to avoid future unwanted fees. Encouraging me to see the branch’s business banker once I open my business account, she informed me that Chase is lending money to small businesses. This is news. Weekdays when I’m home, I toggle between Bloomberg and MSNBC. Most heads-talking squawk incessantly about how banks are sitting on a few trillion dollars, too greedy and too stingy to part with even a rusty nickel for businesses small – the so-called engine of the U.S. economy.

Indeed, near universal blame is being laid at the feet of U.S. banks for hampering the nation’s (and the world’s) desperately needed economic recovery. Some of these misers – once thought too big to fail – even benefited from the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). According to CR, Chase (not a TARPee) has set aside $10 billion for small business. It’s a pittance when one considers what’s needed. Yet, ‘tis a start ...

Through the pride of the Hudson River Valley, my faith in at least one bank is being slowly restored. Next time, I won’t visit my local branch with so much trepidation.

Learn more about what Chase offers small business and little people at https://www.chase.com/Chase.html or visit your local branch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Serve Him Banal Greens and Pasta, Please

A variety of hands, above, make the daily bread at Hot Bread Kitchen. Below, an image of the original Palm, and Hot Bread Kitchen's soup truck bread, lavash. Photos courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen and The Palm.

OVER beers Saturday at a charming dive bar near both of our respective apartments, a new acquaintance, Paul Daniel Quatrochi, asks how one can determine which top-shelf restaurants serve subpar fare during restaurant week. Today (through 25 July), NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010 is open for business.

In other words, PDQ wonders, how does a diner get approximaely the same meal during restaurant week that’s available when the $$$$$ prices are in effect. PDQ, an art dealer (mostly European classics with a smattering of the American variety) and retired man about town, has been a regular at some of these high-toned spots. He knows the score, and it leaves a bad taste in his mouth when his palate is being played for a fool. In his mind, Le Cirque is a prime offender. “Nobody’s interested in mesclun and farfalle … and paillard poulet,” he fairly spits as if he does have a bad taste in his mouth. “You can get that anywhere.”

I suggested allowing the restaurant week menu to be a guide. First, compare it to the regular menu. Second, if a Le Cirque or 21 Club were only serving up salad and pasta then there might be something fishy. Something exotic-sounding could imply an authentic dining experience.

As a test, PDQ and Yours Truly perused the restaurant week menus of 21 Club and Le Cirque. While Le Cirque’s menu is inaccessible online today, on Saturday we were able to look it over. PDQ is placated. I’ll share our findings when it becomes available again (I reported the malfunctioning link).

Among 21’s appetizers are Romaine and Radicchio Salad (cherry tomatoes, celery, shaved Parmesan, pomery mustard vinaigrette), Cured Mahi Mahi (watermelon, mizuna, radish and citrus dressing, and Grilled Calamari (olive purée, pickled cucumber salad). Unanimous agreement that the grilled calamari is nothing special and that the salad is passable. However, the Mahi Mahi is a keeper. For dinner, we like the Horseradish-Crusted Salmon (warm summer bean salad, smoked bacon, red spring onions, lemon emulsion, but not the pedestrian Grilled Organic Chicken Breast (hominy, sautéed spinach, lemon, natural jus). Dessert is Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée, (chewy chocolate brownie), Blueberry Upside-down Cake, (lemon cream sauce), Milk Chocolate Tart, (toasted raspberry meringue.) I like the cake, to which JDQ gives grudging acceptance. The rest … yawn.

Why not serve the good stuff “because you can make your money on the drinks,” PDQ asserts.

He’s very bullish on Palm One and swears by its business summer lunch menu. “You can eat well for cheap and by the time you buy a couple of drinks, you’ve spent $60 with tax and tip. It’s a good deal for you, and they make some money.”

At Palm One, start with a Mixed Green Salad, Soup du Jour or Caesar salad. An alternate start is a One Palm Signature Side. On the side now is Half & Half – that is cottage fries and fried onions. Proceed to the entrée round and Twin Tenderloined Filets, Blackened steak salad, Chicken Parmigiana or Chef’s fresh fish of the day. The closer is a choice of two destination sweets, New York cheesecake or Key lime pie. That’s three courses for $18.95 to $23.95, excluding, say, two martinis ...

Neither The Palm or any of the eateries participating in the week will be using focaccia, m’smen or multigrain loaves or any of the product from It nonprofit social enterprise, Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK). Yet diners can enjoy the Brooklyn bakery’s lavash and whole wheat bread sticks, both made from whole wheat flour ground and milled in the New York’s Finger Lakes region.

The two breads are served with the soups from the NYC Restaurant Week Truck. Yes, the truck is back for an encore after making its debut during winter’s restaurant week. It is open this week (12 July-16 July) from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Today through Wednesday, aka Bastille Day, the truck is parked in Midtown at Broadway and 50th street. The soups “on” today are A Voce’s chilled tomato soup with whipped ricotta and extra-virgin olive oil; chilled corn soup with fricassee of corn, chanterelle and a drizzle of oil brought to the street by db Bistro Moderne, and from Ze Café a spot of blistered Ze farm zucchini soup with chive flatbread. All served with HBK’s lavash cracker.

The rest of the week (Thursday and Friday), the truck will be standing at Fifth Avenue and 18th street in the Flatiron District. On those days soups will be paired with HBK's whole wheat bread stick. Visit the restaurant week truck page each morning to get a menu of the day’s soups. (http://www.nycgo.com/?event=view.article&id=217227&pid=srw_truck_right_rail)

Do note that $1 from every $6 spent at the truck will benefit HBK, a restaurant week newbie. Its mission is to use bread to empower low-income immigrant women; to help them rise far above largely low-wage, downwardly mobile child care work, for instance.

“We provide paid, professional training and business support,” Operations Manager Katrina Schultz Richter gives me to know. “We hope to successfully place them in career-track jobs in the food service industry.”

HBK will have more elbow room to do all it does, including bake daily bread –sometimes from the women’s birth countries – once it is installed in a larger space at city-owned La Marqueta in East Harlam. This move on up to the East Side is made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the New York City Council.

Meanwhile, more than 270 eateries are offering that old familiar restaurant week deal: $24.07 three-course prix-fixe lunches and $35 three-course prix-fixe dinners (excluding Saturdays, beverage, tax and gratuity).

Learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010, including menus and reservation policies, at http://www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek/. Learn more about Hot Bread Kitchen at http://hotbreadkitchen.org/.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Soul Food, Japanese-Style, Is What I Like

Osaka-style okonomiyaki, above, on the plate. Below, on the griddle and in the mix. Photos from http://www.okonomiyakiworld.com.

A few weeks ago I arrived at a street fair on the ravenous side and immediately had a falafel sandwich before I could hook up with a sausage on white bread. The sausage was whispering my name in a very seductive voice.

Yours Truly never met a falafel sandwich she didn’t like, and this one was no exception. It was lip-smacking good – and it lasted about 45 minutes. Maybe I needed two. My stomach was on near empty and I was beginning to hear the sausage again. Vying for attention, too, was corn-on-the-cob. Sliced watermelon was smiling warmly up at me. But I wanted something more substantial than watermelon wedges, but not as substantial as the grilled turkey leg, which looked like a weapon of mass destruction.

Just when I was on the point of chewing my leather purse strap, I saw a long line of people near a stand. They didn’t look as hungry as I, and they seemed content to wait their turn for what looked to my eyes like a potato pancake. Soon enough I was handed my very own okonomiyaki. Had a craving for it today when I returned from the gym. Alas, I settled on a Korean-style bowl salad of brown rice, red-leaf lettuce, spinach, red onions, tomatoes, carrots, chicken-apple sausage and a honey mustard dressing drizzled on top. It was delicious, but I still have okonomiyaki on the brain.

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish that looks like a pancake/omelete/frittata. Its most common ingredient is cabbage. My street fair version also included scallions, onions, carrots, etc., and was topped with okonomiyaki sauce, a sweet sauce with a similar look and consistency of Worcestershire sauce. Depending on the region of Japan, okonomiyakis may also contain fish, seafood, pork, cheese, noodles, mayonnaise, seaweed flakes, pickled ginger and so on. Much like the hot dog in the United States, it is common fare of Japanese street vendors. Some consider it soul food. In Japanese restaurants it is not unsual for diners to prepare okonomiyaki themselves! Of course, diners who don’t feel up to cooking while they are out for dinner have the option of watching the cook prepare it.

Okonomiyaki comes from the word okonomi, which roughly translates as you like and yaki, meaning grilled. There are two major styles of okonomiyaki, named for the cities where they originated. Mine was Osaka-style. In this version all of the ingredients are mixed together and cooked on both sides like a pancake. Ingredients in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki are layered, and the cherry on top of the cake is a fried egg a la the French hamburger.

Because okonomiyaki aka okonomi-Yaki and okonomiyake can have loads of ingredients it can be eaten as a one-dish meal – think stirfry. My nutritious, delicious street fare was served with only vegetables and would need a little something something extra to stick to the ribs. To this simple recipe (no “optionals” included), methinks I will have chicken/steak/salmon or catfish! (http://www.okonomiyakiworld.com/best-okonomiyaki-recipe.html).

Learn where in the world are restaurants that serve okonomiyaki outside of Japan at http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=okonomiyaki&find_loc=New+York%2C+NY; learn where in New York are restaurants that serve okonomiyaki at http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=okonomiyaki&find_loc=New+York%2C+NY; learn more about New York City street fairs at http://www.nycstreetfairs.com/sched.html.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bright, Beautiful and a Good Companion

The Vivienne Tam HP Mini 210, left, has three different butterfly wallpapers and a gold keyboard. Below, in descending order: Mini is small enough to fit comfortably in most handbags. It looks like the type of clutch that holds personal items instead of loads of features. A model and the digital clutch on the catwalk at the Vivienne Tam Spring 2010 show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last September. The Mini is ready to go inside the bag. Top photo from www.hp.com. Fashion show photo from www.viviennetam.com. Remaining photos by Yours Truly.

ONE of the many upsides of my work is that I can do it from just about anywhere there is an Internet connection – and sometimes when not. Nice not being chained to an office. In a cubicle.

The last few weeks tooling around New York have been especially nice without my reliable, affordable and frills-free Dell Inspiron 2200 notebook. Inspiron has served me well for five years. It has not given me a minute of trouble, except for the recent memory problem that I took care of with 1GB of extra ram.

Of late, I’ve been kicking it with the state-of-the art, latest-generation Vivienne Tam HP Mini 210 netbook. Inspiron weighs about six pounds, whereas Mini is a bit more than two pounds. Mini is less than half the size and less than 1-inch thick. My purse receives it comfortably, even with all of my other gear inside. Not so for Inspiron.

Mini’s size is its biggest selling point for Yours Truly. It does, however, possess other fine attributes – its beauty, for instance. The marriage between high fashion and high tech is still in the honeymoon period with this VT digital clutch inspired, along with her Spring 2010 Collection, by the love story “Butterfly Lovers.” It has a rich, gold keypad and fetching butterfly design on the cover, as well as a butterfly, “start” key, icons and three butterfly wallpapers. Here, too, is a coat of armor in the sleek form of a taupe sleeve in microfiber, as well as a nifty giftbox. It looks every inch the purse, rather than a netbook.

Virtually HP’s (Hewlett-Packard) entire Mini suite is a regular on lists of top netbooks. To that end, Mini also has brains.

For months my Inspiron was actually slower than molasses. Countless hours I’ve lost, giving me a new appreciation for the words fast/Internet/connection. Mini has 2G and a 320GB hard drive. In lay terms, that means it’s fast and has a goodly amount of storage space on the hard drive. Other smashing features are ports galore, integrated wireless, Microsoft suite and a keyboard that is 90-something percent the size of Inspiron et al. Hard to imagine of such a pretty little package, but true.

Also behind the pretty facade (rather, in front) is a Webcam. One night I was working on Mini when this figure appeared on a small screen. I was startled until I realized it was me. This was my personal introduction to the Webcam; a click of a button and Webcam morphs into a mirror. The cam is very handy for Web posting of video and for videotelephony (works with messenger programs i.e., Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! and Skype) for conference calls or a long-distance, face-to-face chat with a loved one.

As much as I love Inspiron, I do not like the way it collapses my windows/pages if I have too many open. They are stacked on top of each other. At the bottom of my computer screen only one window is showing. The page is identified by name of the application, and the number of pages open is listed next to it. For instance, if four pages of Internet Explorer are open, they appear as “4 Internet Explorer.” To the right is a tab on which I can click to access each page, which reveals the name of each open page. Not very helpful if three of them are Yahoo! pages. Mini does it better. The same four IE pages are collapsed, but only the IE icon is visible at the bottom of the page. Click on the icon and visible are condensed versions of each open page. The viewer can see exactly what is on each page!

Mini has more substance, including a touchpad that allows the user to zoom in and out on a page. Naturally, too, Mini has faults.

That very same touchpad that does that wonderful pinch/zoom thingy can sometimes be difficult to manipulate, slowing one’s progress. More than once I put Mini down and picked up Inspiron when I needed to do something quick, fast and in a hurry. Sticklers have the option of purchasing a more cooperative mouse or hoping that time and a defter touch will resolve the problem.

Quite over the moon when I read that Mini has up to 5.5 hours of battery life. Inspiron barely has two. On the first outing after Mini was fully charged, however, I learned that it has about half that amount. Technically, it is not untrue to advertise up to 5.5 hours, but it is an exaggeration. Up to three would be closer to the reality I have experienced on multiple attempts. Sticklers have the option of purchasing a black six-cell battery “for up to 11.1 hours on single charge.”

Meanwhile, it was at the Bergdorf Goodman “Sex and the City 2” party weeks ago that a very affable p.r. executive arranged my meeting with Mini. She was inspired by my openly coveting her Mini and subsequently threatening to pinch it from her purse. Clearly, I could be forgiven such a faux pas, given the circumstances: I was under the influence of two glasses of Moët et Chandon and 2 hours/27 minutes of “SATC 2” at a pre-party screening sponsored by HP. This incident occurred shortly after Inspiron was rammed-up with that 1GB and after my computer guy, Eugene at Axe Tech, Inc., suggested – before the operation – that I get a netbook. It would have everything I needed, he asserted.

“Does it have a CD drive,” I inquired.

“No,” he said. “Who listens to music on their computer?”

“I do” and so does one other person I know. While the Mini I received does not have a CD/DVD drive, it does have Beats by Dr. Dre audio software. And it can be custom-ordered with the drive. Did I miss listening to music and lectures? No. Mini has too much to recommend, including a pricetag as low as $600, for me to make a big deal out of a small drive.

Mini is skinny, beautiful and brainy in all the right places. What else could one want in a digital clutch?

Learn more about the Vivienne Tam HP Mini 210 at http://www.hp.com/ and http://www.viviennetam.com/; Axe Tech, Inc. at http://www.axetechpc.com/.
 
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