Sunday, April 30, 2006

 

Our School Is Red Hot

I know that a number of my readers are also high school chums, so I'll pass along that Talented & Gifted Magnet High School in Dallas will be named the "nation's top high school" in Monday's issue of Newsweek.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

Scott Tycer Is a Puppy Dog

All this talk about Tycer and his bad habits got me thinking about a chef in Dallas that makes Scott look like Santa Clause.

Imagine the hottest and most acclaimed restaurant in the city at its height. It's getting natoinal acclaim and the dining room is full every night. Now imagine the restaurant closes for business in its prime, because the chef owner is such a prick that he can't get anybody to supply him produce and the banks are threatening to sue him over his business practice. Avner Samuel's done this...a few times.

I first learned about Avner from Franki, who worked with him at the Fairmount and later sat across from him in some litigation over a lease gone bad. Lots of places have trouble with the TABC, and I can name a few chefs who have had some run-ins with the Narcotics squad, but Avner's the only local chef I can think of that's been investigated by the US Department of Labor.

Avner's temper got him a major feature in the Dallas Observer a few years ago. Have a look when you have some time.

And then go give Scott Tycer a hug, the loveable guy that he is.

[Basshole: you've never cried at work? I'll get to work on that immediately.]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

Rumors

Here's Scott Tycer, chef-owner of Aries and Gravitas, being interviewd for a Houston Press piece about chefs and the pressures of working in a kitchen: "Sometimes throwing a sauté pan makes an effective point," Scott Tycer tells me as he holds court at a corner table ("my office," he calls it) in his highly lauded restaurant, Aries."Sometimes slamming an oven door makes an effective point," he says with a chuckle.

I rarely hear anyone mention either of Tycer's restaurants without commenting on what an asshole he can be. To be fair, Tycer doesn't stand alone. Most great chefs can be assholes, and many practice the skill regularly. Monica Pope is mentioned in the same article for throwing a jar of truffles at a cook. I once heard her tell a cooking class--a group of people who paid to see her kitchen--that they needed to remember what they say about people who can't take the heat. And though I wouldn't really call Monica a friend, we're on a first-name basis and say hi when we see each other outside of her restaruant. And I know at least one person who prefers Tycer to Marco Wiles of Da Marco and Dolce Vita.

I bring this up becuase a friend of mine--the same friend who doesn't like Marco and who is also a former general manager at Aries--tells me that Aries is closing and that the GM at Gravitas no-showed and no-called recently. No matter what other qualifications a manager may or may not have, one of the qualities that gets him (or her, occasionally) to the GM level is simply being trusted not to no-show. Bussers, waiters, cooks, and customers no-show all the time. GMs don't; that's why they're GMs. So if the person in charge of the restaurant just stops coming to work one day, a move that will not be taken lightly by potential future employers, things are pretty bad. This doesn't mean that Gravitas will close and Tycer will walk into the sunset and out of Houston, but it can't be good for a highly anticipated restaurant that got so-so initial reviews and is still mostly referred to as "the new restaurant from the Aries guy."

I'll keep my ears to the ground and my eyes on the papers to see if these rumors turn out to be true.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

 

Follow-up

It's been almost a week since I ended my fast, and several people have asked me about it. So let me tell you a few things:

1. I lost about four pounds. I didn't undertake the fast as a weight-loss program, but I'm still surprised I didn't lose more. A bunch of folks predicted that the reduction in calories would contribute to some thinning. We were all wrong.

2. The fast is only a symbolic gesture, not the end in itself. I knew this in my head from reading, but didn't really understand until doing it. The fast is a small sacrifice that keeps you mindful of larger sacrifices. But really, I think sacrifice is too strong a word, at least for me. I still took in more calories and got more enjoyment from my food than most people, so it was not a serious "giving up" of anything. The fast did, however, keep me thinknig daily about living a more modest life. And maybe because there was no sacrifice, it made a more modest life all the more appealing. What else can I give up and still find my days at least as fulfilling, if not more, than they were before I gave it up? That question came to mind a lot over the past five weeks. I haven't made a complete list, but there are a few frontrunners: television, crude jokes, magazines, underwear. Okay, not underwear.

3. Fasting wasn't difficult. I know, I did plenty of cheating. When it came to fasting or being in a weird social situation, I ate. I ate lunch when we visited friends and family in Dallas. I ate when I went to New York with James. I ate dinner early almost every night after the "spring forward" time change to acommodate Amanda (who was willing to accomodate me if I asked her to). But I stuck to it when there was no reason not to. I didn't give in and eat just because I was hungry or wanted to eat. And the days--probably 31 or 32 of the 40--I stuck to the plan, it was no problem. I didn't really miss lunch. I was amazed at my self-discipline and ability to not act on impulse. If there's one thing I learned from fasting, it's that I have much more control over impulse and habit than I thought I did.

4. It's easier to go all-or-nothing than to compromise. Here's something where food is different than other things. I've cut my booze intake by about 90% over the past 5 years, but I seriously doubt I could give it up completely without third-party therapy or an accompanying major lifestyle change (like moving into a monastary or becoming an elite athlete). I quit smoking, but I often give in when I have to fly, because it helps calm me down. But when it comes to food, I was better off on the days when I just followed my self-imposed rules than on the days when I broke them. Skipping lunch and not eating until dinner after sundown was pretty easy. Eating lunch at noon to be social and then passing on gelato at four was infinitely more difficult.

5. The fast was not overtly religious or spiritual. I didn't have any spiritual epiphany or come closer to understanding God. But if attaining a desire to live more modestly, understanding the simplicity and joy of self-discipline, and learning that total committment is easier and more satisfying than compromise and half-hearted attempts aren't spiritual endeavors, then what is?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

 

Saturday in New York

Saturday’s weather was not cooperative. We planned to go on a walking tour of the East Village that I got from a travel guide, walking over to SoHo for lunch, and then going down to Little China and Tribeca. However, it was in the low 40s and raining, which isn’t very conducive to walking outdoors for hours. We did it anyway. There’s an ACE subway station right across from the hotel, so we took the train to 14th Street and walked over to The Strand book store.

James found The Strand a little overwhelming. While I looked for a paperback over in fiction, he went upstairs to check out photography books. He said there were so many of them that he didn’t know where to start. [Strand’s slogan used to be “8 Miles of Books.” Now it’s “18 Miles of Books.” Anybody know where the extra 10 miles came from? Did they add shelves, or was the previous 8-mile claim a really low estimate?] Luckily, James found the souvenir section less troublesome. He got a Strand bookbag, and I got him to carry my shit all day. Sucker.

A tiny resale boutique called Tokyo Joe confirmed that I am too fat to live in New York. They had a Paul Smith pistriped suit for $200, but it was too small. So was the Armani shirt ($18) and the brown herringbone Ralph Lauren suit trousers ($22). I came pretty close to buying a coat I liked a lot, but it would have been useless in Houston, so I passed. Mostly on the tour we stopped in the thrift shops. I also got Amanda a box of cookies at a bakery I think she’d like called Black Hound. We also stopped for cokes, which were refreshing to drink, but not to carry in the sleet. We agreed that getting cold drinks was “not the smartest thing we’ve done” and tossed them within a block.

Up to this point I had done a good job at knowing where I was and what I was doing (don’t say anything about getting a cab on Friday night, James). At one point James even asked “how do you know what all these streets and buildings are?” But I blew it after the walking directions ended. I knew that Bowery is on the northern corner of SoHo, but I thought it was the Northwestern corner. I got us a good six or seven blocks (remember, there’s freezing rain falling on us, so seven blocks is a lot) into the Lower East side before I checked the map and saw that Bowery is, in fact, on the Northeastern corner. I’ve mentioned before how much I like Fanelli, but I have never been so happy to see it as I was when James and I finally made it there around three.

We took our time with lunch. James had fish and chips, I think because the weather and the scenery reminded him of his trip to London, and Diet Coke. I had the chicken club sandwich and a couple of Pilsner Urquells. We ordered coffee for the warmth and the extra time it would give us indoors.

And then two very cool things happened. First, I mentioned to James that we could easily make it back to the subway and dry hotel. He said that he didn’t come all this way to sit in a hotel room, and that he wanted to keep going, rain be damned. I was very pleased he said that. Second, the damned rain finally stopped. So we cut through SoHo, stopping at a few shops with clothes we couldn’t afford, and hit Canal Street and Chinatown to act like the tasteless tourists we were.

James’s girlfriend specifically asked for a knockoff Louis Vuittone from Canal, and we saw no reason not to oblige. We checked out all the stalls selling fake designer purses and watches. I bought a “Montblanc” watch for the hell of it, and he got Mandy a little purse. We also went into a ginseng shop, because I didn’t know what raw ginseng looks like. Turns out it looks like little tiny ginger roots. On the way back to the subway station, beyond all the Chinese stalls, a woman had an open suitcase on the street with fake designer purses that looked a lot more real than any others we’d seen, so James got another. Luckily it came in its own little sack, because it wouldn’t fit into his knapsack, even if I had offered to take my stuff out of it.

All we did at the hotel was put our stuff down and wash our faces before we headed down to the Knitting Factory to see Arab Strap. I’ve never been a big fan of Arab Strap, and I suspect James hasn’t either, but he wanted so bad to go to a concert in New York that we got tickets just for the experience. Both of us liked the opening act, Whisper in the Noise, better. But both of us left with a better appreciation of Arab Strap. It’s a lot easier to get past the breathy, sleazy voice and the single-minded lyrics (I’ve never heard any other singer use fuck, as a verb, so often) when you can see them coming from a pudgy 40-ish guy who keeps turning his back to the audience and hitching up his jeans to fight back plumber butt.

We were both pretty hungry, so we decided to get off the subway a stop early and walk up, hoping to find cheap food on the way. We ended up getting a few slices of pizza. James wanted to go back to Times Square for a few more photos, but we went to bed fairly early. It was an exhausting day. Sunday my feet and legs were sore.

Friday, April 14, 2006

 

Friday in New York

I spent last weekend in New York with my brother James. We’ve been talking for years about going there together, and his early high school graduation seemed like a good excuse. We both flew into Laguardia late Thursday night, but all we did was get a can to the hotel and get some burgers near Times Square.

Friday was Midtown Tourist Day. We stopped at Starbucks for coffee and pastries (there’s a Starbucks within two blocks from wherever you are in that neighborhood) on the way to the MoMA. I’ve been to MoMA twice before, and seen a chunk of its collection on tour here in Houston, but I really wanted to see the refurbished building. If the walls were bare, you’d still want to walk in this building. It keeps well within the High Modernism tradition: all smooth right angles; lots of concrete, steel, and glass; everything is sleek, nothing is adorned. And like any good piece of modernism, it shows off its structure. There are a number of open spaces, vistas, and windows that allow you to look across other parts of the museum. You start out by looking up at a helicopter suspended over the main lobby. A few hours later you’re on the fifth floor looking down at it. On one floor you’re walking across an open walkway looking down on the lobby. A few floors up, you’re looking out a window, peeking down at the people on the walkway looking at the lobby. What’s that game where you stack little wood blocks up and then take them out, one by one, trying not to make the structure topple over? It’s like that, only with cool paintings, sculptures, and “designs” inside.

I feel obligated to mention that we ate in the second-floor café at the museum, and it’s as tasty as people say. James and I each had pasta with Meyer lemon, asparagus, and butter. I ate every bite, he left most of the asparagus.

After five hours or so at the museum, we went on a little walking tour. We went to Rockefeller Center, and I showed him the mural on the ceiling. You know, the mural with the guy standing directly over you, so that you look right up into his crotch? That mural.

We also took a quick stroll through St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I later felt strangely guilty for not stopping to pray while in the cathedral. I wouldn’t go in a restaurant just to admire the windows and move on. I’m not much for window shopping. But I walk into a church and don’t bother to pray, light a candle, make an offering, acknowledge God’s bounty, anything? How silly. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t the only one.

Part of being in New York as a tourist is visiting a famous department store. Saks, Barney’s, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, there are plenty to choose from. But walk on by those and go into Takashimaya instead. It’s small, eccentric, and downright charming. The front of the first floor, where most department stores have a thousand cosmetics counters, has a florist and gardening store. The men’s department has fewer shirts than my own closet, but it has, among other oddities, dozens of vintage cufflinks, a leather passport case that costs more than all the shirts in my closet together, and an old-fashioned composition notebook that says “decomposition notebook.” It only took us half an hour to walk the entire store—well, we skipped the ladies dresses floor—and get out, including the time it took me to buy a very cute stuffed dog for my yet-to-be-born daughter. No crowds, no perfume samples sprayed in our faces, no time wasted.

James bought us hot dogs from a cart at Central Park. Cart hot dogs are disgusting to think about: leftover meat products, ground up and squeezed into a case made from other leftover meat products, left to simmer in tepid water all day, and finally put into a bun of white bread. But like a lot of things that are disgusting to think about, they are tempting and pleasing nonetheless.

We covered a pretty small portion of the park. We went in at fifth avenue and 67th, and we went out on the west side at 77th. We then walked back down to the hotel at 45th street and 8th avenue.

After resting our feet and washing our faces, it was time to get back out there. We went to Les Halles for dinner as a treat. We split the foie gras appetizer, probably my favorite foie gras ever. James had steak au poivre and I had steak frittes. Coffee and apple tart for dessert. Full stomachs for the rest of the night. I was surprised that the restaurant wasn’t too busy. Amanda and I went there last year and had to wait almost two hours for a table. James and I walked into a half-empty dining room. Sure, it was a little before seven, but at eight thirty they still had no wait. Maybe it’s time the executive chef got his ass of the television and back into the kitchen?

Our hotel was in the center of the theater district. Next door to the hotel is the theater showing Avenue Q, and next door to that is the theater showing Three Days of Rain, which stars Julia Roberts. I took a short evening walk to help digest the steak, and on the way back got caught up in a crowd. A few dozen people had gathered around the stage entrance of Three Days, hoping to see Julia Roberts walk the ten feet from the door to the black Yukon waiting to pick her up. Screw it, I thought. In all my trips to New York, I’ve only had one quasi-celebrity spotting, and I can wait a few minutes to see what Julia Roberts looks like close up. I decided I’d hang around a few minutes and take in the excitement. It wasn’t long before a few dozen turned into a few hundred. Barricades were put up. Two cops and three security guards kept the crowd away from the Yukon. One cop worked the crowd. “My block was so quiet until Julia showed up,” he complained. “Ladies and gentlemen, I need you to work with me here. If I have to arrest any of you, I’ll get home late, and my wife already has suspicions, what with me working with Julia and all….If you go into the street, you’ll be pushed back to the sidewalk. If you rush the truck, unfortunately you’ll be arrested. We don’t know if any of you are crazy, like this guy here.” He then pointed at some random guy standing in the crowd. I was stuck. Half an hour later, with no Julia and no path to my hotel, I backed out of the crowd—now at around a thousand people—and walked back around the block to get to the hotel entrance from the other side.

I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly.

You can see some of James's photos from the trip here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

 

Missing

Anybody know what happened to my most recent post? Is there a rule against posting about beer? About quoting Tom T. Hall?

Monday, April 03, 2006

 

Welcome back baseball

Ah, spring. Tonight I had two Bud Lights, a chicken finger basket, and Cracker Jacks in the seventh. The Astros won their home opener with a sellout crowd.

Thursday night I go back to New York, this time with James. What a great week.

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