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Novitá

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

This morning, I read Sam Sifton’s review in yesterday’s NYT of the Manhattan restaurant Novitá. Boy was I tempted to head to the airport, get on a plane, and dine there tonight. I’ll have to wait a little longer, but I’ll be thinking about it.

Sifton describes Novitá in the opening sentences as “a perfect neighborhood trattoria” with “excellent pasta.” That sounds good already, but only abstractly. Then come the details. For instance:

A plate of gramigna alla carbonara, for instance, thin strands of curled pasta with eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper, arrives on the table as a riot of simplicity, a four-member noise band. It is outstanding, firm and pliant, salty and sweet, slick and sticky and rich.

Or:

You might try a bright and floral pesto over the long cavatelli pasta known as strozzapreti, or priest chokers, studded with pine nuts and salted with Parmesan. Or a plain penne with roasted tomatoes, basil and mozzarella that tastes of triangular perfection, summer on a midwinter plate. Black spaghettini with mixed seafood and a spicy tomato sauce is worth a mini-fad in itself, with pasta that is toothsome and a sauce made rich with lobster.

Three more: little ears of orecchiette with spicy sausage and broccoli rabe in tomato sauce; papparadelle with lamb ragù and earthy porcini mushrooms; rigatoni with seared tuna, black olives, tomatoes and oregano. These are like postcards from an Italy of the mind, color swatches to recolor your world.

If there’s room after the pasta, I could move on to

a splendid veal Milanese with rucola and tomates, crisp and juicy, the sort of dish you could eat once a week, and a rolled chicken breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto that revives confidence in both chicken breasts and stuffing them.

Maybe I’ll take JetBlue’s redeye tonight.

Categories: Restaurants

DC Dining: Alsace x 2

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve already written a bit about our time in Washington, D.C., from which we returned last weekend. (See, for instance, here and here.) Let me bring this series to a close with a few comments on the restaurants where we ate on Thursday and Friday nights.
Read more…

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

From Duccio to Vermeer

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Duccio, The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, 1308/1311

On Wednesday last week, Gail and I took the train down to Washington from New York. I discussed our first DC evening in my last post, where I also explained that I was there on business Thursday and Friday at the National Science Foundation, so I wasn’t anticipating getting to do very much in DC. However, some good fortune came my way when we managed to make good progress on our work Thursday. We thought we might be done by mid morning Friday, or noon at the latest. As it turned out, we didn’t finish until 12:45 Friday afternoon, after which I had lunch with my old friend Zongzhu, who is on leave at NSF. I already knew the one place I planned to go if I had free time — the National Gallery of Art — and I knew they were open until 5:00, so I figured I could both see Zongzhu and get over there. Gail was spending the afternoon with her cousin’s daughter Liz (yes, I know, that makes Liz a cousin too), who is in law school at Georgetown. I could eat with Zongzhu, get on the Metro orange line at the Ballston stop in Arlington, get off at Metro Center, walk the two blocks back to the Willard, drop my briefcase, and then walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the gallery.

That was my plan anyway, and it’s pretty much what I did. I wanted to be at the hotel by 2:30 and the gallery by 3:00. The only thing that went wrong is that as I stood at the hotel elevators on the 9th floor, waiting to go down and walk to the gallery, I heard two women talking on a rising elevator, and when its doors opened, off walked Gail and Liz. I could have just passed them without a word and descended, but instead I headed back to the hotel room with them and we caught up on what we were doing. They had walked for hours, gone up and down the Washington Monument, and were taking a break prior to going back out for a late lunch and a visit to Liz’s apartment. I knew Gail would ordinarily have wished to go to the gallery too, especially considering that we hadn’t been there since 1988, but she was there to spend time with Liz, so we split up again and I headed out.

It was, by the way, pretty cold. Mid 20s or so. I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, passing assorted important buildings along the way, such as the Justice Department headquarters and the National Archives. If I had more time, I would have gone into the Archives to make sure the constitution was still there, but art beckoned. I knew exactly what I wanted to do — start with the oldest paintings of the permanent collection, Italian art of the 13th century, take my time, and get as far as I could. I arrived at the north entrance on the lower level around 3:15, checked my coat (despite the cold, I had bundled up too much, and was way too hot when I arrived), grabbed a map of the galleries, and headed up to the first floor.

I had just enough time, as it turned out, to start in room 1 and finish in rooms 50ABC. As you can see, this means I started with 13th century Italian art; went through later Italian, Spanish, and French art; then Netherlandish and German; and finally 17th century Dutch and Flemish. In other words, Duccio to Vermeer. I was disappointed not to get to the British or American, but I didn’t want to rush, and I saw so many treasures as it was. Plus, I wanted to continue our post-Italy theme of revisiting museums (The Louvre, The Met, now The National Gallery) with a focus on their Italian art, in order to complement and add to all that we saw and learned in Italy in November. I must say, it was a thrill to have so many rooms virtually to myself, with at most one or two others sharing some of the rooms at any given time. Often, I was by myself.

It all starts with a bang, in gallery 1, with two Duccios and a Giotto. I included a picture of the Giotto in an earlier post. The Duccio pictured at the top of this post, as described at the gallery website, “was one of the rear panels of Duccio’s magnificent Maestà in Siena cathedral. With more than fifty individual scenes, the altarpiece was about fourteen feet wide and towered to gabled pinnacles some seventeen feet over the main altar. It was installed in June 1311 after a triumphant procession through the streets of Siena. Priests, city officials, and citizens were followed by women and children ringing bells for joy. Shops were closed all day and alms were given to the poor. Completed in less than three years, the Maestà was a huge undertaking for which Duccio received 3,000 gold florins—more than any artist had ever commanded. Nevertheless, Duccio, like all artists of his time, was regarded as a craftsman and was often called on to paint ceiling coffers, parade shields, and the like. Not until the middle and later fourteenth century did the status of artists rise.”

My visit ended with a bang too, thanks to the three Vermeers in gallery 50A. Not surprisingly, given Vermeer’s immense popularity, this tiny gallery was the most crowded of the ones I visited. I had to wait for people to move on, but ultimately I had the room to myself.

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664

I never get to have enough time in the National Gallery. I suppose I need to spend a week in DC some time, so I can go to the gallery a little bit every morning and have the afternoons free to go to other museums. Some day. Or rather, some week.

Categories: Art, Travel

The View out our Window

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

[Photo from Washington Monument website

After our short visit to New York last week, parts of which I wrote about here and here, we took Amtrak’s Acela down to Washington on Wednesday afternoon (nine days ago), arriving around 5:00 PM. We haven’t been to Washington all that many times. Our last family visit was in August 1996, as part of our train trip across the country, when we made stops in Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, then flying home after a visit to my family. Our time in DC on that trip was limited, as we had to get up to Baltimore to see the Orioles at Camden Yards and the Cézanne exhibit at the Philadephia Museum of Art.

This time, I had business on Thursday and Friday at the National Science Foundation, so I wasn’t expecting to see much of anything. Gail, in contrast, would be free to see some sights. Thus, I had to enjoy what limited sense of place I could get. It was thus a piece of good fortune that when we checked into our hotel, we were brought up to a room facing directly out on the Washington Monument. That would give me plenty sense of place. The Willard is where we stay when we’re in DC. We stumbled on it in 1988, near the end of my sabbatical year in Princeton, when we were planning a three-day trip down to DC. Established in 1816, it has had a rich history, but it closed in 1968. As part of the re-development of Pennsylvania Avenue, it was renovated, with the addition of an office building, and re-opened in 1986. We happily stayed there two years later, and again in 1996. We didn’t have to think too hard to decide to stay there again.

The Willard sits right where Pennsylvania Avenue, as it runs northwest from the Capitol to the White House, converges with and switches places with E Street, at their intersection with 14th. Another block west, on the far side of 15th Street, is the Treasury Building, and just west of that is the White House. The front of the building faces south-southwest, looking right out at the Washington Monument, maybe a quarter mile away. Most of the building runs to the north, towards F Street, with just a narrow facade facing south, and that’s the facade that our room was on, nine floors up. As a result, we could look straight at the monument, and the Potomac and Arlington beyond. To the right was a good view of the Lincoln Memorial. We could catch the barest of glimpses of the Treasury Building way to the right, with the White House hidden beyond, and the view of the Capitol straight to the left hidden as well.

I had work to do the night we arrived, so I suggested we take a walk around the neighborhood first before settling in for room service dinner and my work. We headed out the back door onto F Street, west to the Treasury, north and west around the Treasury, and over to the north side of the White House, from which Gail took the photo below. (The time on the photo, of course, is PST, not EST.) I haven’t mentioned yet that this was the evening of the State of the Union Address, leading us to imagine President Obama inside making his final preparations.

Between our hotel on 14th and Treasury on the far side of 15th is the W Hotel between 14th and 15th. On our way back, we stopped in there, entering on the west side from 15th, so we could be sure we knew where J&G Steakhouse was, as we were to eat dinner there the next night with my old friend Sim and his wife Martha. (More on that in a separate post.) Then, back to our hotel room, where we ordered dinner, I got to work, and while eating, we enjoyed our wonderful view of the Washington Monument.

Around 8:24 PM, just after we finished eating, things got a bit wild out there. Sirens and sirens and more sirens. Gail looked out, called me over, and I saw motorcycles, police cars, vans, limos, vans, police cars, motorcycles, maybe 25 or 30 vehicles in all. It took just a moment to realize that this was the presidential motorcade, making its way from the White House to the Capitol for the State of the Union address. I realize residents get used to this sort of thing, but we couldn’t help being excited by the spectacle, and the realization that the address wasn’t just some distant event we would watch on TV. Rather, it was all but taking place in front of our eyes. Of course, it seems a little crazy that traffic has to stop every time the president wants to wander over to the Capitol to have a chat. One might wish for a simpler time, when the president could simply stroll over, ride a horse, take a bike, take the Metro. Still, it was fun to see. Shortly thereafter, Gail watched the SOTU address while I did my homework for NSF. And then we got to watch the motorcade return.

Now we’re spoiled. Next time we will need to insist on a room in the front.

Categories: Travel

Bronzino at the Met

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Agnolo Bronzino, Head of a Curly-Haired Child Looking Up to the Right, ca. 1527

Having written (here and here and here) about our trip to Dallas two weeks ago, I now turn to last week’s trip through Washington and Delaware to New York and back to Washington.

I’ve already written about our arrival by Amtrak in New York two Monday nights ago and our subsequent dinner at Paola’s Restaurant. Joel flew in from Seattle overnight that night, arriving in our hotel room around 6:30 Tuesday morning. In the late morning, we headed over to see my parents. A few hours later, we left them and wandered over to the Met. Our time there was limited, since we were going to meet up with my cousin John (and later Joan too) back at our hotel, so we headed right away to what struck us as the most interesting of the current exhibitions, The Drawings of Bronzino. As described at the website, the “exhibition is the first ever dedicated to Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572), and will present nearly all the known drawings by, or attributed to, this leading Italian Mannerist artist, who was active primarily in Florence. A painter, draftsman, academician, and enormously witty poet, Bronzino became famous as the court artist to the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and his beautiful wife, the Duchess Eleonora di Toledo. This monographic exhibition will contain approximately 60 drawings from European and North-American collections, many of which have never before been on public view.”

We had seen lots of Bronzino’s work during our trip to Italy in November. And since leaving Italy, we have continued to see lots of Italian art, if not Bronzino specifically. (There was the Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese show at the Louvre that I wrote about and that we saw immediately after our departure from Italy. We followed that with a walk through the Louvre’s permanent collection of Italian art. Three days later, in New York, as we worked our way back to Seattle, we kept the theme going by walking through the Met’s permanent collection of Italian art. Somehow, with all our travels last month, we managed to miss the temporary Michaelangelo here at the Seattle Art Museum. But, in New York again, there we were, stumbling on yet another show of Italian art.

I could say a few words about the exhibit, but it’s probably better for me simply to refer you to Peter Schjeldahl’s review in last week’s New Yorker. The exhibit is a small one, occupying three rooms, and many of the drawings are small too. Seeing it with a crowd in mid afternoon presents some difficulties. Schjeldahl surely has more useful observations than I do.

After Bronzino, we had time for one more small current exhibition before heading back to the hotel to meet John, Cinnabar: The Chinese Art of Carved Lacquer. It occupies a single room in the Chinese Decorative Art Galleries. Below is a typical piece, a dish with decoration of dragon and characters (to quote from the catalogue) dating from the Ming dynasty, 16th century. Worth a visit, if you’re in the neighborhood.

Categories: Art, Travel

Sixth Floor Museum

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

As I have discussed in other posts, Gail and I were in Dallas two weeks ago, and two weeks ago yesterday, my old friend Won picked us up at our hotel to drive us around for the day. I’ve written (here) about our visit to the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas Arts District. And I forgot to write about our walk around the arts district after the visit. But my highest priority for the day was to visit the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which we did on leaving the sculpture center. You may realize from the name that the museum must have something to do with John Kennedy’s assassination. Indeed, the museum occupies the sixth and seventh floors of the building in downtown Dallas that in 1963 was the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald worked that fall, and where on November 22, hidden behind boxes in the southeast corner of the sixth floor, he fired the shots that killed Kennedy. The sixth floor now has a permanent exhibit on the sixth floor devoted to telling the story of the Kennedy administration, the visit to Texas, the assassination, and its aftermath, through photos, text, and video. The seventh floor is the temporary exhibit space. Now showing is A Photographer’s Story: Bob Jackson* and the Kennedy Assassination, an excellent show in its own right.

* Jackson received the Pulitzer Prize for his extraordinary photo (below) of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, when the Dallas police were in the process of leaving police headquarters to transfer Oswald to the county jail. As an aside, my father, brother, and I had just left the house when the shooting took place. My uncle brought my cousin over to a convenient place between our houses so we could take him with us to Yankee Stadium, where we would watch the New York Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals in a football game. Whether the NFL should cancel or go ahead with their games that day was something of a minor controversy. They went ahead. Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, would later say it was the biggest mistake of his career. In any case, cousin Jimmy got in our car and breathlessly reported, still in shock, that Oswald had just been shot.

Before taking us to the museum, Won drove us around it to the front — Dealey Plaza — and westwards on Elm Street, under the three-part railway bridge. I didn’t understand at first the point of the detour, but once upstairs, on the sixth floor, as I read about and studied the map of the motorcade route, I appreciated how driving that stretch was an excellent prelude to the exhibit. The permanent exhibit is so well done. It is an intense, powerful, painful experience. First you read about the Kennedy’s early career, marriage to Jacqueline, run for the presidency in 1960, the early days of the administration, political troubles, the decision to travel to Texas to shore up support. And time begins to slow down as the Texas trip begins. San Antonio and Houston on the 21st, with the flight up to Fort Worth that night. Fort Worth on the morning of the 22nd, then the short (really short!) flight to Love Field in Dallas and the motorcade. Years, months, days, hours, minutes, and soon we are studying photos of the motorcade second by second as it heads west on Main, turns north on Houston at the eastern edge of Dealey Plaza, and then makes the left turn west on Elm, with the Texas School Book Depository building on the northwest corner of the intersection. As you work your way through the exhibit, you are also working your way to the southeast corner of the building. You can’t believe he’s going to be shot. But he is. You read. You tear up. And there you are, staring at a mock-up of the corner as it was when Oswald fired, with book boxes piled up to provide a blind from which he can shoot, and with the very window he fired through — the easternmost one on the south side — pushed up no more than a foot. The space is enclosed by glass, so you can’t actually walk into it, but you can view it from different angles, coming ultimately to the south side, at which point you look down on Elm yourself and see Oswald’s view. It’s shattering, 46 years later.

There’s much more to see in the permanent exhibit, and then there’s the temporary exhibit one floor up, and then of course, after exiting the building to the north, one has to circle back around to the south, onto Elm Street, to walk over to the grassy knoll, and then down to the street to look back up to the sixth floor window and see the angle of the shots. After that, for us, it was time to move on. Won wanted to head over to Eatzi’s Market and Bakery, and so we did. Pretty good food market — worth a visit. But next time you’re in Dallas, be sure to go to the Sixth Floor Museum.

On my bookcase just two and a half feet from my head as I write this is Don DeLillo’s Libra. I started it once, years ago, but got distracted by whatever else was occupying me at the time and never went back to it. Perhaps now’s the time to return to it.

Categories: History, Travel

Nasher Sculpture Center

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Jonathan Borofsky, Walking to the Sky, 2004

Last week, I promised a post on our visit to Dallas’s Nasher Sculpture Center two weeks ago. The center is named after Raymond Nasher, a Dallas developer responsible for the shopping mall NorthPark Center, which opened in 1964 on a former cotton field about eight miles north of downtown Dallas in the early 1960s. Along with his wife Patsy, Nasher acquired a major sculpture collection. In 1997, he announced his plan to establish a sculpture garden next to the Dallas Museum of Art. Later that year, he met with the architect Renzo Piano and expanded his vision to include a museum with an integrated garden. The center opened in October 2003, and Nasher died in March 2007. (You can read more about center’s history here.)

Two weeks ago yesterday, my old friend Won, who lives just outside Dallas in Irving and whom we hadn’t seen in over fifteen years, picked us up at our hotel and spent the day with us. He had suggested the day before that we might wish to have lunch at the center. I didn’t give it much thought. I had one priority only, to get to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (about which, more in the next post), and Won assured me that he would take us there. Around noontime, as we were already a bit north of downtown, we headed up to NorthPark Center. Won goes there often, and he assured us it isn’t like other malls. It is, after all, the mall founded by the owner of one of the country’s great sculpture collections. As a result, it is itself home to many great sculptures. I have to say, wandering around a mall and seeing art like the sculpture pictured below is pretty cool.

Corridor Pin, Blue, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

From the mall, we headed down to the Dallas Arts District, adjacent to downtown, and parked across the street from the Nasher Sculpture Center. On entering, we walked straight to the back of the building so we could take a walk in the garden. As we tried to walk through the doorway to the outdoors, we had to squeeze between some older guy leaning against a pillar on the right, just beyond the door, and a photographer on the left. Evidently we had stumbled into the middle of a photo shoot. I didn’t think much of it. I just kept walking. Won, just behind me, mumbled something about the shoot. Only after we took a few more steps did he repeat it, at which point I turned back and, sure enough, that old guy wasn’t just any old guy. It was Robert Duvall! Just another day at the Nasher I suppose. As we wandered around the garden, the photo shoot entourage did as well, adding a little unexpected excitement to our promenade. But let me be clear — the garden itself was excitement enough. Won knew what he was doing in steering us there. And lunch afterwards at the Nasher Cafe was excellent. We could happily have spent another hour or two there. But the Sixth Floor Museum beckoned, and off we went.

Categories: Art, Movies, Travel

Paola’s Restaurant

February 1, 2010 1 comment

Last Monday — a week ago — we took Amtrak from Wilmington, Delaware, to New York and a taxi to the Hotel Wales, which sits runs along the east side of Madison just north of 92nd Street. It had been a busy day and we hadn’t eaten well. A good dinner would be welcome. Two Octobers ago, the first time I stayed at the Wales, I had a great dinner at an Italian restaurant just around the corner on 92nd. (It actually sits below the hotel, but has a separate entrance.) I didn’t think we could do much better, so that’s where Gail and I headed. The name had changed, which confused me. It’s now Paola’s. But it proved to be as good as I remembered. Better even.

We walked in around 7:45. It was pretty crowded. But a two-top had just opened up by the window facing Madison and we were sat almost immediately. The menu looked similar to many we saw in Italy in November and I ordered what had become my standard meal when we were there. To start, the Amatriciana, described on the menu as Traditional Roman thick hollow Spaghetti with Plum Tomatoes, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, and Onions. Yes, bacon, not guanciale, but it was absolutely delicious. I didn’t miss the guanciale. For secondi — oh darn, it’s not on the on-line menu, so I can’t quote the description — but anyway, it was basically Chicken Milanese. The menu didn’t call it that, but from the description, one could see that that’s what it was, and when I ordered it, that’s what the waiter repeated back to me. Maybe not the fanciest dish in the world, but a favorite, and it was prepared perfectly, just a simple piece of breaded chicken with some greens on the side, much like what we had in Milan celebrating Gail’s birthday in November at Trattoria Milanese. For dessert, how could I resist the chocolate tartufo?

A perfect meal.

Let’s see. What did Gail have? For the life of me, I can’t remember. I was far too absorbed with my own meal. She had one of the pasta dishes as her main course, and maybe a beet salad for her appetizer. Yes, maybe the beet salad described in the menu as Slices of Roasted Fresh Beets with Montrachet Goat Cheese, toasted Hazelnuts, Orange segments, and Watercress. That’s it. Her pasta dish, whatever it was, looked fantastic. It had some kind of meat sauce.

Can’t wait to go back.

Categories: Restaurants

We’re Back

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Madonna and Child, Giotto (National Gallery of Art)

Three weeks of extensive travel came to an end on Saturday — two days ago. I have such a blog backlog that I hardly know where to begin. (Or should I use the phrase blog klog that I introduced last May as a parallel shortening of weblog backlog?) There are the two overdue Dallas posts that I described a few days ago from New York, where I also suggested that I should write about our landing at Washington National airport and a fabulous Italian dinner in Manhattan. I can now add more to the list, after another day in New York and two and a half days back in Washington. State of the Union address. J&G Steakhouse. National Gallery of Art.

I’ll get to all these items in the coming days. Please be patient.

Categories: Art, Restaurants, Travel