Sunday, April 20, 2008

7A (East Village/Alphabet City)

"This used to be the grandest part of town.
Now it's all scuffed up, subsiding into the ground"

Faded Glamour by Animals that swim is as close to the perfect pop song as anything I've ever heard. Its description of a place once buzzing with life is quintessentially English so it's strange that it rings through my head as I step onto the boardwalk at Coney Island.

I love this place. Nothing about it appears organised or uniform. There seems to be nothing plane or plumb. But you can feel the romance in every loose board of wood and the charm in every rusted rail. The smells are almost tangible. The sea air, the fried food and the grease from the fairground combine to summon up memories of youth. I feel very alive here with a heightened sense of past and future.

Coney Island has slipped from being the place to be to being an antiquated curiosity. One frequently threatened by the destructive impulses of progress and homogenisation.
Alphabet City in Manhattan has gone the other way. Once spoken of as a no-go area for tourists, gentrification has been good to this place and, sitting on the terrace outside 7A, it feels like it's populated by a microcosm of all the different strains of cool the world has to offer.

When the sun shines, 7A (on the corner of... Oh, I don't need to tell you) is a beautiful spot to sit and engage in some people watching. It's Friday night and we're getting some sustenance for the night ahead. My burger fulfills this roll amply. There's a great "meaty" patty that comes with awesome sauteed mushrooms and lettuce and tomato. I choose to add monterey jack cheese and ask them to hold the cress (I've nothing against the flavour but I can't abide the texture). It really is stunning. There's a lot going on in there but it's all good and results in a heck of a satisfying burger. Across from me Bobs, looking stunning in her new wayfarers, has cheese and spinach ravioli and gives it a huge thumbs-up. We have a couple of beers and some red wine and it all comes to around 50 bucks with tip. Good times!

Oh, I'm still exclusively listening to music released by Matador records in the mid to late nineties. I'm currently becoming dangerously obsessed with the mighty Chavez.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shake Shack (Madison Square Park)

There are certain days where New York seems like a truly magical place. 

It's the hottest day of the year, my two day hangover has gone, Bobs is back in town after a brief spell in Ireland and we have nothing to do but walk around, sit about and soak it all up.

Madison Square Park rests in the shadows of the Flatiron building and despite the proximity to really busy parts of the city, this little Square is a casual, relaxed space. In one corner of the Square, partially obscured by the branches of enclosing trees, sits The Shake Shack. You just know it's gonna be good as the line is at least 50 people long and it does take us a good half hour from deciding to queue to taking our first bite. Wow! That first bite is something else. Unlike any other veggie burger I've had before, this is a deep fried treasure of portobello mushroom and melted muenster and cheddar cheese. The flavours are not subtle and the pleasure is far from guilt free but these are the thoughts furthest from my mind as I consider another 30 minute wait for another one.

But I'm convinced that one is enough and we continue our day filled with lots of little, unplanned adventures.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop (Lower East Side)

As a rule I tend not to enjoy cultural products that win awards. The records I listen to don't win Grammys, the books I read don't pick up Booker awards and the movies I enjoy certainly don't win Oscars (I make an exception for No Country for Old Men but I maintain that that's because it was so faithful to the novel rather than as a result of anything The Coens added to it).

The Big Mack Daddy burger at Tiny's, on the corner of Norfolk and Rivington is frequently referred to as one of the best in the city and has been voted the very best on at least one occasion.
It's literally round the corner from us so we call in the order and dander round to collect it a little later. The sandwich is really nicely packaged and is such a good size that it makes sense that it's cut in to two halves. But there's something not quite right about it. On paper it should be great. A soft brioche bun, a generous patty and all the good stuff like lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. Then it hits me. It's the special sauce. Heavy on the mustard, it's overpowering on the bites overflowing with it and somehow bland on the bites where it's absent.

You know, it's not bad. It just needs a little balance. And I'm a fair guy. I should tell you their grilled cheese sandwich is amazing and Bobs is a huge fan of the crab cake sandwich.

Later that night I head down to The Bowery Ballroom for Nina Nastasia and Jim White. I love Nina's song writing. It's a bleak, desolate sound and her voice, Southern and affecting, has the ability to drag long hidden emotions out of the listener. Combine this with Jim's drumming (if you haven't seen him play live do it the first chance you get) and the show becomes a low key spectacular.

I should also mention that I recently picked up a second hand copy of the soundtrack to the movie Half-Cocked. Featuring Rodan, Unwound, Versus, Slant 6 and Helium among others, I'm reminded that music has never been better that it was in 1995.