Dumbo

Took a class last Sunday to learn how to actually use my camera.

I’m not one to read manuals unless it’s something like a piece of furniture or a barbecue (something I frequently put together in my younger days working in the grandparents family business). I guess I’ve always preferred hands-on learning in a classroom setting with someone more knowledgeable.

I wanted to get the basics of a digital SLR, so I requested as one of my holiday gifts a camera course. I did a bit of research and found one that sounded solid which ended up being from a place called Brooklyn Central in Dumbo. The course was Field Guide I: The Camera–and it was well worth the $120. DSC_1524

It was a 6-hour crash course with plenty of hands-on time and personal attention from the instructor who was excellent, patient and answered questions nicely. She is a practicing photographer and filmmaker–and she knew how to structure a class (it was much like a college class).

I re-learned ISO, aperture, shutter speed and how one affects the other–as well as how to adjust between indoor, outdoor, movement and blurring. Most importantly, I learned where to adjust these things on the camera itself. The instructor essentially knew where you could find these things on a range of camera makes and styles (some people had mirrorless DSLRs). When I say ‘re-learned’, I mean I had taken photography for three years in high school, but that was on a old-school, manual SLR camera where we shot and developed in black and white. I knew some of the principles, but had forgotten the interplay, and how and when to apply them.

The good thing is that these principles have not changed all that much, but that digital SLRs give you a lot of options and conveniences–and so much room to practice and experiment without costly development. I am sure it would be cool to shoot on film again at some point, but practicing on digital in manual is the way I see things being for me for the near future.

All the images on this post are from this class–the one above here is the Manhattan Bridge. Not a great image color wise, but this was one of the first ones. I think I had my ISO set high here. We had been shooting inside and I forgot to readjust for the outdoors. I could have used a few more shots of this one at different settings.  At least the brick color was popping here a tiny bit, but the sky was grey, so no blue sky background contrast.

If there is one thing I took away from this course is that by learning how to shoot manually, you can adjust to the lighting that is available. The camera is pretty smart, but it’s not as smart as you knowing how to better wield control over the situation.

It was pretty damn cold this day and shooting outside was a rough on the fingers, but it was worth applying what we were learning in class. I took a few shots on our lunch break, and some after the class. I learned one of things I had been doing had a name: Bracketing. By taking multiple shots of the same thing at different shutter speeds and aperture settings, you capture a range of light effects. By bracketing,  you also get to know your sensor better.

I am considering taking the Field Guide II class when it’s warmer outside. Below are a few more images from after the class near sundown (when it was still cloudy). I ended up liking the images that tipped a bit toward the darker side on the light meter.

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Early December, 2013

The past few months have been absorbed in abstractions.

In an effort to move away from pernicious patterns, the camera has been finding other, newer patterns. After spending mucho tiempo with words and tech jargon, the camera is a calming outlet.

Late afternoons, early evenings is when the bursts seem to hit. I have occasionally found some time to wander my neighborhood and find the remaining dusk light to exploit. When that light is all used up, I often look to artificial sources and play around.

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This is the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street. This is a Bank of America sign.

There is a super bright ATM kiosk room here–right across from the always-crowd laden Trader Joes–a former bank itself. Such a beautiful building actually, but you’d never really notice much of that anymore with the throngs of granny carts, plastic baskets and strollers used as grocery carts. I often shop here mid day when I can–but even then is becoming almost unbearable with people. It’s not a complaint–just a fact.

The same evening of playing around with this sign, I also had some fun with the HR Block sign a little further East on Atlantic. It had this glowing green thing happening–and a closed for business, pull down gate in front of it. I suppose I’m drawn to light sources–and color. Who isn’t?

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Then I moved and started shooting from the other side looking to include more color and light from other sources to see what would happen.

Started experimenting with the focus again, to see what colors and lights would show up. It’s often when you start doing this that you begin to see the colors condense and synthesize in circular patterns. Below are a few more.

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61Local: Big Space, Good Beer & Charcuterie

Local 61 barMet with a friend for beers and some snacks the other night at a newish place on Bergen Street between Smith and Court known as 61 Local.

The joint specializes in doing the local thing–independent beer and wine operations from NY, upstate, Long Island, and nearby Pennsylvania, etc. All the meats, cheeses, breads, honey are localized products–and they were well chosen well. Beers included drafts from Captain Lawrence, Barrier Brewing Co. (of Oceanside), Ommegang, Sixpoint, Kelso, Ithaca, South Hampton, Ramstein, and the Red Hook Winery.

While I certainly believe there is overkill on having to have things that are local,  you still have to judge a place on the quality of what it’s serving and vibe. 61 Local scored on all counts. Side note: On the local thing becoming absurd, make sure to watch the hilarious satire of a couple asking where their chicken came from from the show Portlandia. Well done, Armisen & Brownstein.

61 Local dubs itself a “public house” and it had the feel of something between a beer hall and a gallery space. The night we were there,  an engagement party was still going on from earlier in the afternoon, so there were plenty of people in the large space.

Given that there are a number of galleries on the same block, 61 Local fits in well with its Bergen Street location–not to mention its half-block proximity to the F & G trains at the Bergen Street stop.

I tried a Captain Lawrence Freschester Pale Ale I had never had before and it was tasty. I also had a dry cider from somewhere in New Hampshire which was quite dry and cut through the excellent meats and cheeses we sampled.

My favorite meat was the sopressata with porcini mushrooms cut super thin from Manhattan’s Salumeria Biellese. Had a little spice with a comforting earthiness from the mushrooms. Also yummy was Dickson’s farmstand coppa–a straight ahead pork-fat explosion that was nice. A few of the other meats we had were spicy, as were one type of pickles and one of the mustards.

There was no shortage of flavor or textures.

The chicken liver toast was creamy and savory, and the ricotta toast with honey and pistachio was almost like a dessert in its sweetness (though the bread was slightly stale in that one dish–the toasted bread overall was solid).

61 Local serves two types of cheese plates: hard and soft, and we had both. They were all enjoyable, as was the walnut bread and fig jam. I don’t recall a single name of any of them, but you can tell someone knows what they are doing and has made some nice combinations.

The space itself has very high ceilings and is decorated tastefully with wall-box sconces, exposed bricks and very nice veneer benches promoting communal imbibing and socializing. There is a cool, very large wire map showing the region with brewers names on it behind the bar. There is also a tree-shaped piece of art on one of the side walls toward the back made from big planks of wood which was nice to look at.

Bottom line: It was an enjoyable beer hall atmosphere with an appealing environment that should do well in this neighborhood given our passionate preferences for craft beer and bartenders with hats and facial hair.

Advice: Add more wine to the menu as the neighborhood is dying for more places that serve good wine.

See what 61 Local is pouring today on their beer menu.

[Image by Downtown Traveler via Flickr CC]

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Scattered Light in Madison Square Park Renews

Jim Campbell's 'Scattered Light' in Madison Sq. Park

Finally caught Jim Campbell’s amazing light sculpture in Madison Square Park entitled Scattered Light last night and it was something to relish and appreciate.

Look closely and you will see shadowy human figures walk through a rectangle of hanging light bulbs and reveal movement. I spent about 45 minutes walking in the park, on Madison Avenue and Broadway trying to see it from every angle and take adequate pictures. Not sure that happened.

Here is a short video of Campbell’s piece captured by This Week In New York which will give you an idea, but it’s best experienced in person.

I love that it’s only really alive in the dark, as the sun has set, as the bus-revving bustle of city day transfers from working to walking, from the go-go-go of the day to going elsewhere as day has subsided.

Having walked through this park a billion times with its proximity to my former job, I know this feeling well, and was caught up in how well it reflected these moments of time visually. A walk through a small park with a touch of nature while the controlled chaos of confluence flows near the Flatiron and downtown.

I found the best viewing angle to be on Broadway on the East side right outside of the dog walk where the fullness of the figures were revealed and the hustle in front, behind and within the park mimicked the action within the open rectangle. It’s really only viewable on the sides, so if you’re sitting and enjoying a Shake Shack burger outside, you can see one end of it, but not actually get the experience.

If you want more on how this piece was conceived, researched and constructed, read the NY Mag interview with Campbell. Here’s a bit from that interview on the technology behind Scattered Light:

Campbell, trained at M.I.T. as an electrical engineer, pared down the video file into a set of very high-contrast images, and downloaded that information to custom-built circuitry (feeding five miles of wire) that switches lights on and off. The programming had to be “very precisely” tuned to the distance between lightbulbs, to give the movements realistic shape and speed.

If you are over in that area, stroll over to Broadway and pause a few minutes to watch. Well worth the renewal.

Then, go blow your paycheck at Eataly. Talk about a confluence of chaos. Still good though Not in the mood for crowds and tourists? There’s also yummy fried chicken at Hill Country Chicken close by.

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From Street-Food Kitsch to High-Brow Bravado

 

Tacombi Fonda Nolita Tacos

Tacos from Tacombi @ Fonda Nolita

 

Yesterday was a really good food day in Manhattan: Late lunch for tacos at Tacombi Fonda Nolita; Late dinner at Marea. Solid Mexican street food to fancy, Michelin-star rated Italian seafood with a couple NY celebrity sightings thrown in like a bag of muffins.

Bag of muffins? We’ll get to that.

It was a milestone day for me, being my 40th official birthday on Planet Earth, so there was bound to be some good eats, a couple two-tree pops, and excellent company.

TACOMBI @ FONDA NOLITA

The street-food kitsch is high, and the tacos are tasty. I spent $11 and had two meat-jammed tacos and an agua fresca.

In LA, this would be an obscene price for tacos, but in Manhattan this is acceptable. In its defense, the quality of the ingredients is high here. If I want the real stuff and want to spend $5, I head to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, namely Tacos Matamores on 5th. If I want fish tacos or al pastor in Manhattan, I eat at Pinche Taqueria on Mott Street.

From what I’ve read, Tacombi’s chef Dario Wolos who hails from Monterey, Mexico opened a tasty taco stand in Mexico out of VW van and people loved them. Well, the version on Elizabeth Street in Nolita is still taco stand and VW van, but inside is what had to have been an old garage. It’s a large, spacious area–enough to fit a Volkswagon van and a bunch of tables and bar-height standing areas–and the vibe is bright, casual and friendly.

You order at a counter on the number of tacos you want, choose from an assortment of agua frescas or Mexican sodas, then head over to the van where a taquerista (is that a word?) takes your tickets and you choose your tacos. I had the short rib (what they were calling ‘barbacoa’ which is traditionally goat, but not here) and the roast pork tacos which was essentially carnitas. There was grouper, chicken and a veggie one on the menu too, but I will have try those another time.

The short rib taco was topped with chopped up nopales (cactus), cilantro, and hot sauce. I thought the pepper-looking topping was poblanos at first, but after asking I was told it was nopales (cactus), which were cooked slowly so they were mellowed, but still had a little crunch. They were a nice topping, but the star was the moist meat wrapped up in two tortillas.

The roast pork was topped with pickled cabbage and were juicy in places, a little dry in others, but that is bound to happen when carnitas-style pork sits around. It was still quite tasty and I would eat there again without question. Tacos washed down with a sweet hibiscus-flower aqua fresca cut nicely through the wonderfully melty fat of the taco meat. There was no salsa bar or anything like that, but there was hot sauce on the table where you could see seeds in the glass, so be warned, that stuff is quite spicy if you’re adverse to heat.

The people working amid the white-tiled walls, white-metal tables, skylight and indoor palm tree were very nice, in fact, one of the managers asked me if I enjoyed it and told me about the hours. Right now the hours are 8 am to midnight, but they are trying to expand until 2 am. I told him it would be an excellent place to be open late night in that neighborhood which they intend to capitalize on. The 8 am thing is because they are doing breakfast tacos, so given the quality of the food, that would be something to try. No cerveza to speak of yet, but that is coming as well as ceviches, cooking classes, backgammon tournaments and sporting events on the screen, according to NY Magazine.

According to Tacombi’s website, the breakfast tacos are:

  • Egg, Poblano Pepper, Green Tomato, Nopal Cactus, Chayote
  • Egg Chorizo, Onion, Potato, Radish and Onion Garnish

After lunch, grabbed a beer at my favorite casual German spot in that area, Loreley on Rivington Street. Awesome selection of German drafts, indoor and outdoor spots and tasty schnitzel sandwiches and fresh-made breitzels. You can get fancier food there too, but I’ve always stuck to the bar food and been quite pleased. Because of the time of year, they had four Oktoberfests on tap, so I tried the Erdinger version which was excellent. It was a wheat Oktoberfest, but not overly sweet and very balanced.

Then it was off for some social time.

Pre-dinner happy hour at WXOU Radio Bar in the West Village with friends is always a good time, especially when it’s not too crowded and you can score one of the big window bench areas facing Hudson. They have one of the best happy hours around that runs to 8 pm Monday to Friday, and is free of pretension. ‘XOU, as it’s kindly referred to, retains a 1940s/1950s look with the wood bar and mirror panels, wood benched seating areas and a fairly solid jukebox though it’s changed over the years. But there is no Red Bull or Cosmopolitan crap here. This is a beer and drinks bar.

They have a decent beer selection that runs the gamut between Sly Fox, Guinness, a few Kelsos and a couple other rotating taps. Mixed drinks are served in what look like juice glasses, but for $4.50 for well during happy hour, who could possibly complain? Hendricks and tonic, please.

Click here for a take on Marea and the Martha sighting. Yeah, that Martha.

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Why Marea Gets Star Ratings: The Food

 

Marea Restaurant NYC matchbook

Marea Restaurant

 

Honestly, I don’t have much insight in to why a restaurant receives Michelin stars or not, or has them taken away or any of that nonsense. I know they are good thing for the restaurant business and they are the standard bearers for fine dining in France and across the world. Marea evidently has a couple of them.

We’ll leave the ratings to the official critics, but I’ll be glad to share what it was like to eat there from the guy who wanted langoustines. Luckily, NYC has a few Michelin-rated restaurants, and a 40th birthday was an excellent reason to get gussied up and gander at the Goldman Sachs’ crowd on Central Park South and eat Micheal White’s food.

Let’s be clear: All of the food at Marea was excellent. The service was very good. The wine was fantastic. The menu was extensive, if not overwhelming, and the outcome was a definitive nod of the head and two hitchhiker thumbs up.

There were four of us, and we all opted for the 4 course prix-fixe where you get to choose either a crudo (raw prepared fish) or appetizer, a pasta or risotto, an entree and a dessert. Going with four people was a great idea as we were able to taste everything and try the full spectrum of flavors. I opted for a grilled octopus app, the seafood risotti, and langoustines for the entree.

I was incredibly happy with my choices, though next time (when I’m 80) I am absolutely getting a pasta because what I tasted from my other three dining companions was so freaking good. In fact, if I could go and sit at the bar and eat only a pasta and a glass of wine it would be a nice little meal. But beware of the crowds. It was jammed on a Wednesday night and it’s the kind of place that a Martha Stewart and a Fran Lebowitz dines in.

We saw Martha last night after we were seated and she was up at the host area. Two tables over from us was Fran Leibovitz who bumped in to my chair on her way to a smoke outside and said “Sorry.” I didn’t see her behind me, but I thought it was the voice of a man until she passed by. It was so husky it reminded us of one of Marge’s sister’s on The Simpsons.

The amuse bouche was a clear butternut squash shot with a touch of chili and a piece of yellow squash in it. It was savory liquid with a little sweetness and spice, but not amazing in the least.

We started with a little crostini of sea urchin with a thin slice of lardo and sea salt on top. It was warm, orange soft serve sea cream with a touch of pork fat. This was a sweet precursor of things to come. Nice start.

The octopus was smoky, meaty and cooked to perfection at slightly underdone so there was firmness at the edges, but soft in the middle. It was served with purple and white fingerling potatoes, some pickled red onions, radish, and a little bit of crisp frisee lettuce underneath with a touch of aged balsamic that was either grilled for a second or warmed by the octopus, but it had a nice char flavor with a tiny acid zip. This app was perfection.

Everyone else had crudos which were nice and clean tasting. I tried the razorclams with chilies and a touch of fennel. It was good, but everyone seemed to think the grilled octopus was the winner. Everyone got multiple tastes of fine since it was a bit more substantial than the crudos. It was a standout.

The risotto had tiny bits of lobster, scallops, rouget, shrimp and was buttery and creamy; it leaned to the heavy side of the meal, but it was nowhere near as good as the pastas that everyone else ordered. There was octopus and bone marrow in a tomato base over fusilli which was rich and delicious. There were clams, calamari and chilies over ferratini–a long pasta, which was clean and lovely ocean tasting with a touch of spice. My favorite of the pastas was the orecchiete with prawns, chilies and rosemary in a light, but flavorful tomato sauce. The quality of the pasta was incredible. We were all very impressed by the full taste of the noodle and the freshness.

The langoustines were seared with the shells on and had that sweet sea meat flavor similar to lobster or a really good prawn.

“Oh, man, that is good. It’s like lobster dipped in sugar,” said the man who ordered a steak at an Italian seafood restaurant.

We spied a steak at the bar while we were waiting for our table and it did look amazing. So one of us ordered it, and, as Kerry said, that might have been the best meat she’s ever tasted. I agree with that sentiment. It was 50-day dry aged sirloin with cubes of toasts soaked in bone marrow. It was tremendous. The ladies had the halibut which was good, but a tad dry for me, but that happens so often with white fish after its plated that it’s difficult to fault anyone.

The restaurant decor was rather Velveeta and not my thing with big ocean shells on small mounts by the windows and a brightly-lit biggish room for NYC. I did, however, like the earth toned marble-back lit bar area. The chairs at the dining table were a combination of mismatched leather zipper lounge chairs on two ends and freestanding upholstered metal end chairs that had a little bounce. The plates on the table when we sat down were cheesy, shelllike silver and white jumbo sized things with the scripted name of the restaurant. Ugly and overdone like most of the room, but writing about this I feel a little guilty I really only care about the food, and there was no disputing its dominance.

The first white we drank was a Moscato which was crisp, with peach notes on the nose, but not overly fruity at all. We forgot the name of the second white, as we were fairly lit up at this point, but it was drier and smooth. Basically, if you go here, talk the sommelier. He did not disappoint.

Desserts were chocolate cakes, chocolate mousse with flor di latte gelalti and a trio of sorbets and gelati. The concord grape and carmelized pineapple sorbet were smooth and fruity and refreshing.

Oh, and when we walked out, they handed the ladies little bags of muffins.

“From the pastry chef,” said the smiling host as she thanked us for coming.

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Where You Are

A few years ago I was having dinner with my family at our favorite Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant in Southern California, Sam Woo, and while slurping up the complimentary, post-meal orange wedges and unwrapping the fortune cookies from their bubble-boy existence, I thought it wise to have a little fun with the fortunes.

“Ok, everyone read their fortunes out loud and say ‘in bed’ at the end; It’ll be fun,” I said, knowing half the time it’s like a forced Mad Libs script that rarely works for the requisite poop and fart references. But sexual jokes with your cousins, grandparents, aunt and uncle? Who could resist?

Everyone went around reading their fortune, and there were some minor giggles and chuckles. Then it came my turn.

I had been struggling to open the damn plastic, but inside was the best–if not most ludicrous–fortune someone could add the words “in bed” to. With beet-embarrassed cheeks, I recited the following under a worried lilt in my voice and eyes locked on to the leftover rice bowl on the lazy Susan.

“Bend the rod while it is still hot… in bed.”

Well, you can imagine the laughter and noise that emanated from our round table in the middle of the restaurant. It was a fun moment, and it’s message had a carpe-diem vibe going. Seize the day. Get on with it. Get it on. Go with the ‘opportunities’ in your presence.

The joke works not only because of the words “rod,” “bend,” and “hot,” but also because of the obvious innuendo disassociated from the original message. A harmless coincidence at my expense that induced laughter-tears.

Despite the joke, the message from the fortune hasn’t totally been lost on me. I’ve been in thinking-about-it mode for way too long. So, I’m launching this thing from where things are right now. Will it be like an intense bright orange glow of metal being shaped? I doubt it, but try I must. Will there will be things worth noticing? Probably.

What’s that picture?

The image in this post is from our deck in Brooklyn. It’s a very nice accident that happened; It’s something we didn’t plant. It just showed up, blown in the wind and the seeds landed in this empty pot. It’s grown like a weed, but it’s leaves and flowers are a very pleasant thing to look at right now.

In the background you see a shed of our neighbor’s backyard. Open the door to that shed and there is a ladder that goes down some 25 feet in to a little bit of history of Brooklyn. It goes in to dug out ground.

Jack is a retired NYC fireman who used to be stationed near this neighborhood when it was a dangerous and poor area. He and another fireman were really interested in the history of these buildings, so they started digging in yards and found glass bottles (the only waste that remained from back in the day–the late 1800s). Lots of bottles. The NY Times did a great interactive piece about Jack (images/audio) last year. If you want to hear a true NY accent, Jack is as authentic as they come. I admire his tenacity with his hobby, and hope this site can have the same kind of vigor.

One last thing about Jack: He raised his kids in Long Island and when he retired from the fire department he moved to Boreum Hill in Brooklyn. Instead of going to Florida or somewhere else warm, Jack’s dream was to be able to dig for his treasure in an old brownstone. Smart man, too, because these buildings are worth a lot more than when he was a fireman in the 70s.

I dedicate this to Kerry and her constant, unflinching love and support.

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