Bread is the new Black

Bien Cuit! Well done! The hungry audience of NYC that pursues each crumb of the culinary spectrum from inspirational to imitation, has a new palette to experience with the opening of Bien Cuit. This most recent arrival boasts slow fermented crusty bread, made in small batches so as to be ever fresh with that warm straight-out-of-the-oven feel. Anticipating the smells and sensations of comfort and joy, I swung by the market at Grand Central only to find that the new bakery on the block was not well done, but well done! Pastries and loaves were richly browned with the assurance that the darker bake is a special technique that enhances the flavour. I am curious but I may never know…!

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Sailing the silk routes

There is nothing like an old wreck to make you feel young again. Especially when the secrets of that wreck take you back to the fairy stories of your childhood. This story begins, as told by the docents at the Asia Society, during the golden age of Chinese civilization over a thousand years ago. That was when emperors and caliphs ruled the world, and when ships, stitched together with meticulous perfection, sailed back and forth between their kingdoms, exchanging ceramics, spices, mirrors and gold. It was a time when sailors lived on deck buffeted by the waves and the weather, when Buddhists and Muslims shared a love of  blue and white ceramics, and when the skill of packing these delicate crocks was so magical that not even sitting on the ocean floor for hundreds of years could break them.

The fiction that world trade in the first millennium was exclusively by land, was blown out of the water when fishermen diving in shallow Indonesian waters recently found the remains of a ship from the ninth century. It was not so much a wreck as a treasure trove. Much of the cargo was intact, including an impossibly fragile long necked ewer, fish bowls that looked strangely familiar, and an urn packed with once fragrant star anise. All that was missing was the crew. But hey, this was a tropical island with waving palm trees and soft white sand. Much softer than a wooden deck. So for whatever reason the cargo went down with the ship many centuries ago, the crew probably swam ashore, invented nasi goreng, and lived happily ever after…




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Puparazzi

Art has gone to the dogs in NYC courtesy of an Australian couple who believe hybrid art brings together the best of all worlds. Gillie and Marc’s canine cameraman have taken up residence in Greenwich Village after a stint over the river in Dumbo, so looks like this pack of bronzed Australians wants to stay in NYC. Let’s hope their visas are in order…!

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Saucy spot

Pomme Frites rule in NYC. When the original spot in the East Village blew up a couple of years ago – along with the whole block – loyal customers not only followed the owners to MacDougal Street and reassembled in line, they also chipped in for the move. The secret it seems is not just in the cone wrapped twice-cooked chunky fries, but in the reverence given to the sauce and to the saucing. The line moves slowly, with chattering anticipation, and there is no complaint. Because as soon as you hit the front of the line, there are 30 odd sauces for the tasting. There are mustards and mayo, cheddar and chili, vinegar and Tabasco – all of which can be dolloped on top, layered or tubbed on the side. A red wine, fig and sage mayo sounded as promising as Vietnamese pineapple sounded strange, but hey, when it comes to chips, I’m a tomato sauce girl myself…

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Melting moments

Just in case there were no Australian models on hand this week to save skaters falling through the ice, Bryant Park’s safety crew spent hours in brilliant sunshine skimming melting water from the rink. At 18*C it was a challenge. Maybe they could just have called in a lifeguard and swopped their skates for speedos….

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Pink Lady

Authenticity dictates a certain kind of behaviour. If one is cosying into a leather stool in the finest remaining vestige of New York’s Golden Era, then it is almost mandatory to sip on a cocktail from the late nineteenth century – especially when not just protocol is involved, but history as well. In the newly opened Beekman Hotel in downtown Manhattan the ghost of Hamlet joins the romance of Edgar Allen Poe to offer credentials to a place where the play and the poet both performed an early role. But in 1881 it was an Irishman who gifted the city with both Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and a gem for the future. When he replaced the bard’s boards with a soaring atrium-peaked tower, he created the first multi-business establishment in the city, and unbeknownst to him, an extraordinary luxury hotel.

The Kelly building has survived 136 years in a tough competitive landscape, where it was shuttered and even abandoned for a time. But that’s the joy of it. The pressed tin ceilings, the dragon structural brackets, cast iron windows, and the staircase – the staircase! – are all completely original. This Queen Anne treasure is heritage on the outside, and may soon be listed on the inside as well. Such is the care of the craftspeople who are still working to complete the upper floors. When they finish, the suites will sell at $7,500 a night, and the likes of Hugh Jackman and Adam Sandler may be seen more often, chipping in for the $600m renovation.

In the meanwhile, the restaurants and bars downstairs are open for business. The leather couches, chessboard tables and bookshelves create an atmosphere of educated style most of us would like to see survive modern America. But for a moment the past surrounds us, the flush of the antique lamps compliments a similar glow lingering from my libation – a Pink Lady no less….

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The father of Emoji

Apparently it all started with the heart. About a generation ago Shigetaka Kurita designed a collection of 176 emojis when he worked for a telephone company in Japan. Shigetaka was a regular employee – there was no special commission or copyright, but this man started a revolution in communication. Those 176 black emojis have since inspired hundreds of new characters as symbols like ‘fax’ becomes redundant and others begin to dance. MOMA recently acquired the collection, and the exhibition is digitally displayed at the entrance. With some irony, crowds wander through the space, looking for a place to sit and send a message. They may be too young to realize the significance of their surrounds, or maybe they just can’t wait to ‘heart’ someone…

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Daily Provisions

The words ‘Daily Provisions’ conjure up images of simple sustenance, fresh flavours and rustic aromas. But don’t be fooled. The place, Daily Provisions takes simplicity to a whole new level – gourmet minimalism. This is a place where less and more, and everything is premium. There are only two breakfast sandwiches on offer, but they are gougeres – choux pastry cheese puffs filled with scrambled egg or green eggs and ham. The bread in the sandwiches on the lunch menu are made from heritage grains milled in Maine. And the rotisserie chicken baked fresh in the mid-afternoon is Amish.

Swinging by last Monday, the place had only been open for a week, but was abuzz. The idea is that people will swing by for a coffee on the way to work, come back for a lunchtime bite, and then call in on the way home for a glass of wine ( there is one red and one white by the glass ) or to pick up a loaf of bread and a growler of cider. What an excellent idea! Danny Meyer, the host of my ever-favorite Gramercy Tavern, is behind this new cashless café. But if you happen to get caught without a card – or Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Google Wallet, the manager says they will shout you a coffee – especially if you are Australian. It seems having Australians as regulars proves above all else that the coffee is good…

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School’s out!

Ten inches of snow can be a nightmare for commuters. But for children with the day off from school, it is a dream!

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Art & Travel

Usually I avoid the subway like the plague. Because there’s always the chance I’ll catch that instead of the 6 train. But this past week when a massive storm whipped and watered a path up the east coast, there was no way of avoiding the petri dish of passage between home and The Frick. Except that on Q – as luck would have it – there was a sparkling new $4.5 billion carriageway that not only offered immaculate physical transportation, but a little artistry as well.

The second avenue subway is part of New York folk law – that’s how long this new track work has been in the making. Since 1919 there have been plans, politics, delays, and controversies. Most recently, or least in the past 10 years, underground blasting ahead of giant machinery boring 50 feet a day through solid rock has caused chaos for residents and shops along the construction corridor, with many leaving or going out of business. There have been lawsuits and laments, and enough dust to create a medical condition known as the ‘second avenue cough’. But now that all that is settled, the bitter sweet transformation is history, and three new subway stations have become a destination not only for commuters, but also for art lovers.

Cavernous galleries in the NYC subway have been inspiring and distracting strap hangers for years. Now there is something new with the mosaics of artists permanently exhibiting at 72nd, 86th and 96th streets. Characters typical of the 1.6 million daily commuters in NYC are ingrained in the long walkways above the tracks, where they are as entertaining in situ as they are in real life. I managed to see two out of three galleries but swinging by the 96th street terminal would have meant waiting for another train, and the last one took almost a century to arrive…

 

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