Sunday, May 31, 2009

Don't Want To Live On The Moon

Sang this song to Ava tonight at bedtime, by request, and it reminded me of the best version I've ever heard, performed by Ernie and Aaron Neville on Sesame Street, years ago. Enjoy.

An Afternoon On Arthur Avenue

A few months ago, I got a call from my Dad. He said a friend of his was headed into the Bronx, Arthur Avenue, to buy some kind of imported grating cheese he'd been eating since he was a kid. He asked if we wanted any, and even before I knew the details I was on board. I loved the idea - in a world of $5-foot-longs, Domino's Bread Bowl Pasta and Olive Garden marketer/chefs hard at work on the next ludicrous concoction able to be drizzled on a plate in slow motion, accompanied by breathless voiceover ("16-cheese frozen shrimp and truffle-dusted manicotti, with anchovy essence and imported Tuscan soil") - of an artisanal product retrieved from a childhood store, on a street that is more or less frozen in time.

The source was a little shop that has been in operation on the same corner since 1915, a packed-to-the-rafters deli-type place called Teitel Brothers, and the cheese was Fulvi Pecorino Romano, which they sell for $6.99 a pound. We got our allocation, and loved it. If the pasta-eating world is divided into Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano in its highest form, green shake can of Kraft pre-grated sand in its lowest) and Romano camps, we're Romano people. Before we tried the Fulvi, the high-water mark was without a doubt imported Locatelli. The Fulvi had that great sharp tang, but with a little fuller flavor, a little richer, buttery hints that took that distinctive and welcome bite on top of pasta and red sauce to a new and slightly more intoxicating place.

It was incredible, and we quickly ran out of our supply. We discovered that Teitel Brothers is more than happy to ship its wares, which include very good and very reasonably priced unfiltered and first cold pressed olive oils, and went in on a few mail order deliveries. Then my Dad suggested we all drive in one weekend and get the full Arthur Avenue experience, and the invitation turned into a great and memorable Saturday afternoon.

My first impression was that Arthur Avenue was what you hoped Little Italy in Manhattan would be, but isn't. Whatever the history, Little Italy - to me - has turned into a fairly limited string of tourist trap restaurants. Sure, there's an enduring presence or two thrown into the mix, but the place today is like a theme park version of an old working Italian enclave, like when they stopped letting visitors tour the actual Hershey factory in Pennsylvania and instead shifted the interest and the masses to a theme-park ride along the lines of "It's A Small World," with piped in cocoa aroma.

Arthur Avenue is real, a street buzzing with activity and, more importantly, authenticity. We started off with lunch at Mario's Restaurant, which has been cranking out memorable meals since 1919. Every old school Italian joint within 50 miles of Times Square has its own version of the "Sinatra used to eat here" story, but sitting in a place like this you can actually believe it. We had terrific house salads and the pizza, which doesn't even appear on the menu (legendary foodie Ed Levine has the backstory on that), was right up there with Pepe's and Totonno's on our short list of best pies ever. A crust that can only be described as perfect, nice chunks of crushed tomatoes in the sauce, high-quality cheese. It really doesn't get much better, and another Mario's pie is, in itself, worthy justification for a return trip.

But there is so much more to see, experience and eat on Arthur Avenue. We wandered into at least three busy and seemingly thriving bread bakeries located within about a block of each other. One of them had a sign in the window seeking a part-time baker, and the romantic notion of temporarily shelving the day job in favor of a couple of months getting up at the crack of dawn and driving to Arthur Avenue to make bread lived until roughly the moment when I mentioned it to Gwen. The girls had some homemade lemon ice that passed the sweet/tart balance test with flying colors. I grabbed a very respectable espresso at a one of the many pastry shops.

We went into Teitel Brothers and stocked up on Fulvi cheese and big tins of olive oil, the place was a swirl of crowds and activity and pleasant aromas that obviously didn't come through when placing mail orders over the phone. Unbelievable value, the price of every single item we'd seen elsewhere was significantly discounted within the walls of this special little vortex.

We were told in advance not to miss the chance to stop off at Borgatti's and pick up some of their fresh pastas, particularly the ravioli. We did, bought a box of small cheese ravioli and fired them up when we got home that night. And even though we were already stuffed they were without a doubt the best ravioli we had ever had, insane little pillows of semolina and cheese, ready for whatever kind of dressing you had in mind or even eaten right out of the colander.

I have no doubt that we merely scratched the surface on our little Saturday afternoon excursion, but I know for certain that we "got" the place, succeeded in hitting a number of its high points and - especially with the summer months ahead - will absolutely be back. Back for more pizza and salads at Mario's, more olive oil/cheese stock-ups at Teitel Brothers, more ravioli and fresh pasta from Borgatti's, more bread, light a candle or two at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, maybe even take in a Mass on a street that takes you back in time, and treats you very well when you're there.


[New visitors arriving by virtue of a very gracious link from the good people over at Serious Eats might enjoy a few previous posts, including our Sunday Sauce recipe and nod to Rao's, or tribute to the late California pizza pioneer Ed LaDou, or strategy for creating ridiculously good, ridiculously slow-roasted tomatoes. Feel free to wander around and make yourself at home. And thanks Ed.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Passing Through

Came downstairs and just a couple of minutes into the typical routine of making coffee, unstacking the dishwasher, getting Ava her milk, putting on Cyberchase and the dozen or so activities that make up every morning, Gwen looked out the window over the sink and immediately exclaimed, "DUCKS! We have ducks in our backyard!"

Grabbed the camera and went outside and there they were, two beautiful Mallards, strolling on the grass. We grabbed some bread and tried to feed them but they quickly wound their way around the house, across the front lawn and briefly ended up in the road, before disappearing.

I went back out a little while later with more bread to see if they were still around but they were gone, and as I trudged back up the front walk I felt a little like Tony Soprano in one of the early seasons, when the ducks that had made a temporary home in his pool flew off, never to be seen again. It was nice while it lasted and an interesting start to the day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Radio City/i Field

Rare and fortunate set of circumstances had me inside two New York City landmarks (one old, one new) over the last couple of days - Radio City Music Hall and Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets. Squeezed off a few iPhone photos along the way.

I've always loved Radio City, from the sign outside to the meticulously preserved retro interior, the history of the place really comes through, it's almost like walking back in time, to a night out in the city 60 or 70 years ago. Seems like from an aesthetic perspective what you're getting inside today is basically what you would have gotten back then, despite the changes (some good, some bad) that have taken place on the other side of the doors. I saw Radiohead there on the OK Computer tour - probably my favorite live show ever - and that band in that venue alone provided something of an anachronistic masterpiece.

I was excited to take in a game at the new Citi Field and the experience did not disappoint. Yes, as many before me have observed, they need to find a way to inject more "Mets" into the space, hopefully it's something they'll address over time. Not to take anything away from Jackie Robinson or his achievements, but as a lifelong Mets fan I'd gladly trade part of his historic pavilion for a little bit of Jesse Orosco's victory collapse of 1986, Mookie flying down the first base line in the direction of some guy with a "B" on his hat, something of Tom Terrific before he was banished... hell, I'd take a Bruce Boisclair bench stuck in a corner somewhere at this point.

But it's an amazing place to see a game, a huge upgrade over Shea, which we were happy to visit with the girls in its closing moments. Citi Field feels wider and more spread out, it's amazing how open the place is, you can leave your seat and wander up to the concession stand and not miss a thing, no more long concrete tunnels as barriers to the action and staring up at a bad video monitor to track the game while waiting for a hot dog or $7.50 beer. It's beautifully done and unbelievably fan friendly. Cool breezes flowing through the place, motion-activated water, soap and hand towels in the rest rooms, what more could you want?

My first game there was a 12-inning loss to the hated Atlanta Braves, after significant excitement along the way, a home-team grand slam and other incremental highlights that did not pan out in the end. Basically a microcosm of more than four decades following the team, and a perfect christening of the new address.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Figures this humble little "Daddy Blog" would turn three on Mother's Day, but the parenting moments documented here have always been very much a team effort, so I'm not complaining. In preparation for the anniversary, I went back and read some of the early posts, girls were 5 and 3 when this all started, and it's amazing to breathe in and appreciate the changes and growth we've seen over a relatively short period of time. At some point in this process Madison and Ava wandered over and we looked at the old pictures and read some of the text and much laughter ensued, which confirmed my long-held view that this is all worth it.

I've been focused on stages lately, which seems appropriate for a milestone post. This is #286 in the event anyone's counting. I certainly haven't been lately, although I'm not yet ready to free my limited audience with a Larry Sanders-esque "you may now flip" sign-off. We'll keep plugging away here, I think I have the domain registered through 2016 or something, so mothballs aren't anywhere in sight. Although we make no warranty, expressed or implied, regarding frequency.

When I started this blog we were just approaching the end of the baby stage, that brief period during which basically everyone we knew had kids, were having kids, thinking about having kids or found themselves somewhere in that unique and indescribable place. Strollers, bottles, diapers, "Music Together" classes "Hello... everybody, so nice to see you," the first few "artistic" dashes of paint on a large piece of a paper. Carrying everything you could possibly imagine with you at all times, in preparation for any possible contingency or development. The "process" of life at that point seems even more daunting looking back than it probably was at the time.

Now most of the people in our circle have moved into the "pets" stage, feels like every week or so there's a new dog or cat emerging somewhere, I get the highlights in mid-afternoon phone calls from Gwen that she and the girls went over to someone's house to meet some kind of furry arrival, of course now that we have two cats it's the dogs that really seem to captivate Madison and Ava. Sorry kids, we're not going there. Yet. Feel bad about saying no, because I remember growing up the idea of a dog of my own was like the one glaringly unattainable objective, I just couldn't get there, regardless of how or how often I asked. I was somehow able to convince my parents to pay for television, but a little puppy running around that was "mine" was a nonstarter.

I was on a business trip recently and went to dinner with a group of parents who were in the "teenage years" stage, on the early side. The conversation gravitated to the appropriate age for first cell phones (consensus at the table was 12 or 13), monitoring online behavior and interactions, social networking sites, dating, who's driving and what time will you be home and other fun issues. And after ordering eight more drinks I took comfort in the fact that we're not there yet, not close to there yet.

And then I came home from work one night last week and was greeted by Madison asking whether or not she had "an e-mail," because one of her friends in her Second Grade class had asked if she could send her a message. Years ago on that happy day when we first found Gmail, I set up accounts for everyone in the family, and told Gwen that by the time the girls were old enough to use theirs a Gmail address was going to be the modern-day equivalent of a Social Security number. I still hold this view, although Madison expressed interest in hers a little too early to really validate the prediction. All apologies to Larry and Sergey.

I told her she did, in fact, have "an e-mail" and then we went into the account and cleared out the hundreds of spam messages she'd received, all the notifications of upcoming Laurie Berkner Band appearances and she started fresh, picked her own "theme" (Summer Ocean) and everything. Has been kicking messages back and forth with a couple of friends for the last few days and it's all cute and innocent at this point, friendly phonetically spelled greetings and good wishes, but the signs are clear, we're headed into another stage. Nothing is ever really too far away, once you've entered the continuum. And, wherever you happen to be along the way, whatever link in the chain you are currently focused on, two words most definitely apply.

Buckle up.