Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘nyc’ Category

Peking Duck Nachos

In chinese, dinner, fusion food, lunch, nyc, om nom nom on May 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Midtown Manhattan is not the first place I’d go for adventurous cuisine, unless the adventure is titled Things I Could Eat Back Home For Half The Price. Similarly, a Chinese restaurant is not my go-to for nachos. (If I had a go-to for nachos. Which I don’t.) Ruby Foo’s in Times Square, that palatial fortress of vermillion drapes and betassled chandeliers, has set out to disprove both preconceptions heartily.

Introducing Peking Duck nachos. Four oversized wonton wrappers are fried to a bubble-pocked golden crisp and piled high with pico de gallo, pulled duck breast and zigzags of wasabi creme fraiche. At first bite, the delicate, flaky wonton shatters in your mouth, causing a mini-avalanche of toppings everywhere. An impressive array of textures, from the impossibly brittle wrapper to the firm crunch of cubed tomato and the oily mouthfeel of the duck sauce, keep your palate guessing. The taste is intriguing yet inoffensive: the fatty, savory sweet duck meat is more mild than the spicy beef of traditional nachos, and jalapenos and wasabi add a subtle zing without burning your mouth.

You’ll want several napkins and several good friends to attack this ungainly appetizer. Forgo your dignity and dig in.

Ruby Foo’s is located at 1626 Broadway at 49th Street, just north of Times Square.


The Box

In nightlife, nyc, performance, soho, theater, treasure trove on February 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

The Box, a post-Cabaret Moulin Rouge in the eastern fringes of lower Manhattan, draws on NYC performance art of the 1970s and 80s, circus performances, Victorian chic and classic burlesque. Rocky Horror wishes it was this cool.

Originally a sign factory and then a speakeasy, the club retains its dark, turn-of-the-century glamor, with carefully restored vintage wallpaper and wood paneling everywhere in its tiny, packed interior. The bouncers wear tuxedos beneath their overcoats. Inside, all the artwork on the walls is either original or borrowed from Europe at great expense. The bar sports dual jeweled chandeliers, a disco ball and a Swarovskied young woman swinging above the bartenders’ heads in a hoop.

Regular audience members lurk in front of the stage every Friday night. Dolled up in black lipstick, feather fanned headpieces and hourglass corsets, the boys and girls crowd around their low table, mixing vodka cranberries from iced decanters and swilling champagne. Fat businessmen in suits lounge at flanking tables, flirting with the skeletal go-go dancers in nipple clips and lacy garters who sit in their laps. Upstairs, VIP guests slosh themselves into oblivion in velvet balcony booths, overlooking the main floor and the stage. Bottle service for a table is $1,000 and up. Sparklers are set off whenever a big liquor purchase is made.

The show starts at 1:30 am. Where to begin? Naked ballerinas. Naked aerialists. A shirtless young man balances on wooden chairs stacked to the stage lights. Another man, dripping with jewels, does splits while balancing lit candles on a sword, balanced point to point on another knife in his teeth. A big-breasted, tattooed woman cuts her forearms and masturbates with a chef’s knife. A transvestite bleeds from the mouth and then pees on the audience. Later, she sodomizes herself with several dildos strapped to a man’s skull. The audience goes wild.

After hours, the audience dances on stage with the coked-out go-go dancers. Champagne flows a little more slowly than before, as coats are gathered and end-of-evening plans are made. Management shepherds everyone out by 4:30 or 5 am, into the frigid streets of SoHo.

Thanks to Ryan Shinji Murray, a great friend and a gifted performer, for making this review possible.

La Roux

In album, british, concert, music, nyc, performance on November 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

La Roux, the British electro-pop group, performed its last concert of a two-year tour this week at New York City’s Terminal 5. The young band, while not without its minor flaws, revealed lots of potential for albums and tours to come.

Francis and the Lights, a duo with self-important hairdos, jump-started the show with no fanfare or introduction. Two young men, clad in black suits, drew on Ziggy Marley and Sting for their bass-heavy tunes. The lead singer was chronically ironic, cutting off his Kings-of-Leon-inspired vocals to perform a spastic dance break, a three-second drum solo, or shake a tambourine with dour hipsterness.

The second opening act, Far East Movement, is famous for their electro-hip hop single, Like A G6. The inexplicable yet catchy tune drew the likes of Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore, in the city to celebrate her birthday. The three rappers took the stage in skinny ties, skinny jeans and astronaut helmets lined with blue and red LED lights. The group’s explosive set and high-energy antics roiled the crowd into a slamming, jumping frenzy. Even Snooki waved along.

La Roux took the stage after a break that let the audience’s endorphins dip a bit too low. Two keyboard players and a drummer were snazzy in angular black and white suits. Elly Jackson, the lead singer and face of the group, swept onto the stage in a floor-length gold jacquard cloak and lots of silver jewelry, silhouetting her improbable hair against a flashing image of her golden disembodied head. Leaning close to the crowd, she rocked her way through the group’s eponymous album. Highlights included I’m Not Your Toy, Colorless Color, In For The Kill, Bulletproof, and a very good cover of the Rolling Stones’s Under My Thumb.

Elly’s strength is the audience’s adoration. Her fans were more excited to see her than to see her perform; at the end of each number, she stood stock still and the crowd went wild. Her somewhat flagging energy and awkwardly pained facial expressions betray her reported reluctance toward fame, which is a pity. When she really cuts loose, her tight, controlled movements, menacing grimaces and 80s-inspired footwork command tremendous power, amping up the show’s energy a hundred-fold. The sooner Elly realizes how fierce she is, the better.

New Amsterdam Market

In event, festival, financial district, food, healthy, nyc, treasure trove on September 23, 2010 at 7:57 am

The New Amsterdam Market is lower Manhattan’s answer to the Union Square Greenmarket. With more space, fewer vendors and lower prices, the Market is a great spot to mill about, sample some rich foods, and pick up absurdly cheap groceries.

Trains and traffic rattle above the old Fulton Fish Market, now replete with rows of stalls, each backed by a chalkboard advertising its wares. A few fresh produce stands, manned by gentlemen with lined faces and cracked hands, stand at the edges of the market. Local restaurants, including Jimmy’s 43 and Porchetta, have also set up shop, offering $5 sandwiches and sliders. Make your way inward, though, and there are much richer treasures to uncover. You may find yourself tearing indelicately at pizza Bianca, an oily foccaccia caked with goat cheese, or indulging in the thick, smoky and intensely flavorful bacon from Brooklyn Cured. A few tables down, you might lick prize-winning ricotta or a fun, grainy duck confit from wooden ice cream spoons. (The duck is prepared three other ways: smoked breast meat, prosciutto, and a strong salami). You can cleanse your palate with delicious agua fresca, squeezed from fresh cantaloupe and watermelon and sprinkled with chopped mint, or a surprisingly hoppy probiotic tea called Kombucha.

The more obscure foods are worth a taste test as well. Nettle butter, a pea green paste, is lemony and fresh. A flat, doughnut-shaped Ruis bread, crumbly and nutty, pairs beautifully with thinly-sliced Cheddar and cucumbers at the Nordic Breads stand. Sweet hot mustards from School House Kitchen are zestfully kicky (and they’re launching in Whole Foods this week!) Last weekend, the Anthony Road Wine Company held a grape-stomping demonstration in wooden vats, and invited patrons to get their feet dirty. (This writer’s opinion? Feels like stepping in a lot of seaweed.)

The best part of the New Amsterdam Market (after the food, of course) is the people. Since the Market is a bit of a hike from the nearest subway, the crowds are enthusiastic but not oppressive. The merchants are eager to engage, unlike the Union Square Greenmarket, where cramped space and forced expediency can press you to pay for your nasturtiums and get the hell out. Through pick-up conversations with New Amsterdam vendors, I learned how to process and harvest cocoa beans, where to take classes on killing pigs, and a few neat descriptors for cheese (Cabo is sweet and nutty, Landaff is sour and rustic). I’ll be back for the conversations, and to try a bit more of that bacon.

Jak & Jil Blog

In art, blog, fashion, nyc, website, website wednesday on July 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

The Jak & Jil Blog, a standout in the blogosphere of couture photography, showcases bright, crisp, behind-the-scenes photos of the fashion world. Pretty young things dominate the shots, their skin clear and their eyes shaded. The best shots highlight oft-overlooked details: the buckle of a shoulder bag, the fall of a hemline, the arch of a foot. Ignore the all-uppercase paragraphs and lose yourself in this world of impossible beauty.

Bannerman Castle

In historical, nyc, photography, tour on July 23, 2010 at 10:01 am

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When you step off the MTA train in Beacon, NY, an hour north of Manhattan, you enter another world. A small brick path with well-labeled signs leads you from the train station to the edge of a lake of molten glass, lapping a green-tinted wooden dock peacefully and bordered by an immense sky. After a short wait on the dock with your fellow out-of-town travelers, mostly middle-aged and sweating in their T-shirts, a low, flat-topped boat arrives and everyone piles in. The vessel glids you through the waves, with the sun glinting off the dingy aquamarine depths.

Bannerman’s Island divides the waters of the Hudson River, with sloping, viridian mountains on the surrounding shores. Bannerman Castle , built in the late nineteenth century, is tucked away on the northern shore of the island, mixing darkly with the distant foliage. The castle is all rust-colored brick and greige cement, topped with tall turrets and the phrase BANNERMAN ISLAND ARSENAL embossed on the northern side of the structure. Originally seven stories high, it is now an empty shell and a safety hazard; visitors must keep their distance, and if the wind picks up, must back away even further.

Upon docking, our merry band was met by volunteers dispensing cheery-colored hard hats. Our mud-splattered tour guide was a fast-talking font of information, and jumped into his rambling, repetitive spiel with little preface on the castle’s history or purpose. The hour-long tour was an explosive mashup of US  and world history (some of which was factually questionable), Mr. Bannerman’s life, and fun snippets of information. Our guide randomly displayed period photographs taped to Styrofoam boards. Once, we were treated to a basic zoological history of the cormorant.

I’ll spare you the details of the castle’s past (military surplus warehouse, trading point) and its creator (jack-of-all-trades businessman, novelty purveyor). The castle is in severe disrepair, thanks to explosions and fires over the past century, and, most recently, two bouts of nasty winter weather that took down two thirds of the castle walls. When you become lost in your guide’s exposition of the island (and you will), focus instead on the natural beauty surrounding you. The space is remarkably quiet, but for the tromping of feet on dirt paths and the occasional speedboat. Subsidiary buildings, built in the same style as the castle, dot the rest of the island, along with small gardens and a covered flowering grotto. Try to stay out of the sun; the heat can be oppressive if the tour is in the middle of the day.

The Bannerman Castle Trust hopes one day to restore the island’s structures to their original grandeur. After the poorly planned tour, I was left unconvinced that such a restoration would be worth it without several big changes. The Trust needs a clear mission statement, a lot of organization and a few wealthy backers to supply the millions needed to stabilize the castle. The Trust is planning several innovative events for later this summer, including a Victorian tea party in August, and a dinner for forty guests in September, prepared by the former chef at the Governor’s Mansion. I wish them well; they have much work to do before Bannerman Castle can really shine.

Bacon Peanut Brittle

In american, east village, nyc, om nom nom, recommended, Southern on June 24, 2010 at 7:00 am

What it’s good for: To kick off your meal of shrimp and spicy Andouille sausage piled high over creamy grits; seared brussel sprouts; complementary warm oatmeal cookies; and some of the best fried chicken in town.

Where to get it: The Redhead, 349 East 13th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

In this bastion of Southern comfort food, you’ll want to start out your meal with only one dish. The bacon peanut brittle isn’t brittle per se, but individual nuts lacquered in bacon fat and dark, delicious snips of bacon. Keep your eyes peeled for the few nuts that clump in twos and threes in their sugary coating; they’re the mouth equivalent of the toy in the Cracker Jack box. Savory and sweet with a satisfying lip-smacking crunch, the small dish is large enough to bring the extras home. Believe me, you’re going to want those leftovers in the morning.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

In american, event, nyc, smile-inducing, street food on June 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

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In the sweltering New York summer, there is one place on everybody’s mind: the beach. Just a hop, skip and an N-train ride away, one beach above all features the craziest cast of characters: tattooed and dread-locked vegans, Latina mamis and the boys who want them, babies screaming in the heat, all muddled in the sandy, boozy cocktail that is Coney Island.

Last weekend, the usual suspects were there. Bare torsoed men showed off beer guts and whittled waists, skin either bronzed or a pimply alabaster. Septuagenarians with rumpled faces and crooked smiles sported sun hats and looked dazed. Ladies drew stares with creatively exposed breasts and stomachs and rolls of fat. The plasticky smell of sunscreen permeated the air, wafting over bespectacled faces and questionable yet enthusiastic dye jobs.

On Saturday, though, the high-wire crackle of amusement park energy was cranked up a few notches. A new cast of characters appeared: a pink haired pirate, a glut of Viking hats with horns, the occasional kilt. A crush of humanity stood six deep all along Stillwell Avenue, from the subway to the Cyclone, holding their cameras aloft. Little girls perched on Daddy’s shoulders and strained their necks. Grown men clamored up lamp posts and fire hydrants. What were they climbing to see?

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, of course.

From what this blogger could glimpse, the parade was a mish-mash of flatbed pickups and pedestrians- a low-budget, sticky-sweaty Greenwich Village Halloween parade, if you will. Both on and off the parade route, the outfits were fantastical: pinup girl hairdos and 50s rockabilly fashion, goth girls with paper Japanese parasols, Day-Glo wigs and neon sequin stretch bikinis, fishing nets, feathers, leather, cleavage and torsos smeared in glitz and grease paint. Everything was homemade, without the glossy finish of so many NYC parades. As more and more bystanders poured out of the subway station, the throng started scaling chain link fences to bypass the impossible-to-navigate parade route.

The parade, still cocooned in the impassable crowd, looped up onto the boardwalk that overlooks the coastline. Sensory overload set in: sweat, wood, water, sunsparks off the ocean dazzled. Hawkers hawked mango flowers on sticks and dried snacks in plastic bags. The beach was hopping too, with sunbathers packed to the shore, trying to sip summer in through their pores. Obese little boys, tummies protruding from oversized swim trunks, hopped about the sand, past stoic little girls dressed as Ariel in ratty red wigs, clutching Mom’s hand. All shades and shapes of people, all showing too much skin, welcomed in the first official day of summer with salt and sun and the oom-pa-pa of the Hungry Marching Band winding into the distance.

This article was picked up (in a very small way) by the NY Daily News. Thanks, guys!

Coconut Tapioca Pearls, Coconut Jelly with Passion Fruit Sorbet

In dessert, nyc, om nom nom, soho, thai on June 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

What’s It Good For: When you still crave dessert after a filling repast, but can’t handle the chocolate cake.

Where To Get It: Kittichai, 60 Thompson Street, between Spring and Broome Streets.

This light, refreshing treat arrives in a deep, slope-sided bowl, full of tiny, translucent bubbles. These chilled globules of coconut-infused tapioca range in size from peppercorns to jumbo jelly beans, with a firm texture and a light, milky sweetness. A goldenrod scoop of tangy sorbet is dolloped in the center and embossed with delicately tart seeds. The sorbet’s edges crack and spread as it melts into the tapioca soup, like the yolk of a perfectly poached egg. Scoop up one component, then the other, and finally the two together. Slurp them in and let them melt and meld in your mouth. Repeat with gusto.

Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival

In chinatown, chinese, event, festival, food, jewish, lower east side, nyc, religion on June 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

This is Eldridge Street, a tiny block tucked away in the nebulous intersection of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Two very different neighborhoods, housing two very different populations, came together to celebrate this shared space at the 10th Annual Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival, hosted by the Museum at Eldridge Street.

Certain parts of the festival were dedicated to either Chinese or Jewish cultural heritage. Music demonstrations, like this Chinese group and a Klezmer ensemble, played throughout the afternoon.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue (built in 1887 and recently restored) was open to the public, with cooking demonstrations in the basement and  tours given regularly.

But of course, everyone came for the food! (What better to bring people together?)

Egg creams, made while you waited, were  popular.

The best parts of the festival, though, were those in which the Chinese and Jewish worlds blended, making it difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. Children could decorate their own yarmulkes, and kids of all origins got in on the fun.

Chinese grandparents and great-grandparents tossed and stacked and rearranged clicking tiles in mah jongg with impressive dexterity…

…but still made time to show newcomers how it’s done.

This fair was tiny, only a block long, but the air was joyous, the turnout impressive and the day beautiful. Tiny celebrations like this give me hope for cultural relations the world over, and make me proud to call myself a New Yorker.