Erica and I had a great day yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot and no rain. Our first stop was to wander around the farmers’ market at Union Square for a short while. She’s been looking for an aloe plant to go along with the thyme, basil, and tarragon she’s growing. She’s a Game of Thrones fan, and she’s painted each of the pots with designs of the various family symbols or crests or whatever – forgive my ignorance; I’m not a GoT person, but her decorative artwork on the terracotta is really nice. We didn’t find her plant lady at the market, so that will be another day’s purchase. We walked a couple of blocks to the Sushi Samba, where we were planning to have lunch, but they didn’t open until noon and it was only about twenty till. Not wanting to stick around, we went over to Chelsea Market, wandered around the newer shops, and had some terrific gelati. We stopped in at Bowery Kitchen to look for her chef pants, but she was looking for pants that were specifically cut for women, and all they had were unisex ones that she has now and doesn’t like. After that, we went over to her old neighborhood in the West Village and had lunch at the Sushi Samba over there. The place is a blend of Asian, Peruvian, and Brazilian influences, which sounds kind of strange but actually works very well. After starting with some edamame, I had a Samba 7 and she had a Bobo Brazil. They were both very good. The atmosphere was nice and the staff was great. A very good start to our Restaurant Week ramblings.
After that, we walked around the corner and onto Christopher Street, going by her old apartment building and stopping right nextdoor at the Greenwich Letterpress, the cool little shop I mentioned earlier.
From there, we decided to go to the Guggenheim Museum. Probably not the best choice. I really wanted to give Erica the “real” Guggenheim experience: walk in, see the big skylight above with the main galleries spiraling down; take the odd little Frank Lloyd Wright elevator to the top and spiral your way down as you alternate looking at art and looking out into the open central space. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, the main galleries are all empty right now, due to an installation by James Turrell. If you are among the unenlightened (there’s a pun there, actually), as I was, Turrell is an artist who “explores the perception and materiality of light.” In this case, what that means is that the open spirals of entire central atrium of the main museum are all sealed shut with some sort of fabric, which is then illuminated with a pinkish light. Visitors are invited to lie on their backs on large cushions and gaze up into the ethereal pink spiral, which is interesting, but in a fifteen-seconds kind of way, before you shrug your shoulders like Chevy Chase in Vacation and want to move on. Even at that, it’s only interesting if you can get a spot on the cushions to lie back and really enter into the experience, and from what saw, it looked like many of the back-liers had signed a long-term lease for their spots. I suppose that if I were feeling particularly meditative and contemplative, I might have appreciated the installation more. But I don’t tend to feel that way when I’m in the midst of several hundred people crammed into a relatively small spot, yammering at each other, moving through the space, and having staff people calling out instructions to them, since they all get dumped into the space immediately upon entering the space beyond the ticket counter. Feh.
All the main galleries, on the spiral, were completely empty. It was actually very depressing. I suppose there are any number of artists, living and dead, who are smirking at the idea that, after years of the building itself competing with the art for attention, finally an artist has turned the tables on the architect and gotten some kind of redress, at least until September.
Turrell also has a gallery of his work in one of the ancillary galleries – mostly photographs of his manipulating light to achieve various appearances, as well as two examples of live-projection of light onto wall surfaces in order to show how the light and actual hard surfaces interact and give the light itself “surface” and materiality. As we wandered through that exhibit, the look on Erica’s face was priceless – a combination of wise-to-the-world incredulity and humor; a silent “Really? You have got to be shitting me” that almost made me burst into laughter. Honestly, the experiments, photos, and projections of light manipulation reminded me very much of exercises we’d done way back in the day, in some of our earliest Visual Communications classes in architecture school. I said that to Erica and she replied “Yes, and that’s exactly where they should have stayed.” Smart one, she is.
In fairness, there were other galleries open showcasing great art. I was also pleased to see that there was an exhibition dedicated to the 1953 exhibit, which was built on the current site of the museum itself, of Wright’s work. Inside a temporary pavilion, they staged a retrospective of his architecture and built an example of one of his Usonian houses. The 1953 exhibit sounds like it was very interesting. The 2013 exhibit, however, was far less impressive. A handful of photographs, enlargements of a few documents, and a couple of storyboards, tucked into an awkward little space in the basement of the annex building. Really, I’ve seen local small-town libraries do a better job of putting together an exhibition. It was an embarrassment; if that were all they were going to do to recognize the anniversary of the event, they shouldn’t have bothered even the small amount they did. The Guggenheim excursion was a major disappointment; a not-insignificant cost for two admissions essentially flushed down the toilet.
But every day has its clouds, I suppose, and thankfully that was a minor one. After walking out of the Guggenheim and while still ridiculing and laughing at Turrell, we stuck our heads very briefly into Central Park, and also stepped into an adjacent Episcopal Church to just sit for a minute and soak in the experience and appreciate the beautiful stained glass, before heading back home. There, we hung out a bit, took a short nap, got changed and headed back out for dinner.
Sfoglia has a quiet, unimposing presence on the street, and inside it’s a small, intimate setting. Our experience there was incredible, from start to finish. All of the staff were very friendly and helpful, and the food was excellent.
I remember back in my business days how nice it felt, and how genuinely appreciative I was, when the occasional perk came my way. I was always especially appreciative when these perks extended to my family or the people I worked with. I’ve told people before that now, I enjoy even more when I’m the beneficiary of some special pampering, recognition, and treatment, and it isn’t because it’s *me,* but rather, because I happen to be with *my daughter.* And while the restaurant industry doesn’t always pay tremendously, they definitely take care of their own “family” when dining, hosting the table with any number of complimentary, specially-prepared dishes not on the menu and just being treated unbelievably warmly. The general manager spoke with us several times during the evening, and made an excellent wine suggestion for dinner. The executive chef was off last night, but Roger, the sous chef stopped by the table several times to check up on things and to chitchat. He told us to order lightly; that they had us covered for the evening. I wish that I knew just how lightly he’d meant. Starting with some very tasty cocktails, our appetizers were clams and affettati, a plate of three different and delicious cured meats.
It must have been about this time that a trio were seated at the table next to us – a large, middle-aged man with either a bad hair dye or a bad toupe, very nicely dressed, and his plain, similarly middle-aged and nicely dressed wife, along with a third man sitting opposite them. I wasn’t really trying to eavesdrop, but they were seated very close to us. I couldn’t quite determine the relationship between the couple and the individual man, but he went on and on about his various travels with his family, extended vacations in France, throughout Italy, and elsewhere on the continent. Through most of the meal, the large man seemed to almost be grilling the other, engaged in a kind of travel-based penis measuring comparing their various trips and what the individual man had, or had not, done when he’d visited various places. In the back and forth between the two men, the wife was almost forgotten in the conversation. I felt sorry for her, both for having been married to this pretentious guy with the bad hair, as well as for having been mostly shut out of the conversation while the two men vied for position like gladiators of globetrotting.
In any case, just after our appetizers arrived, Roger the sous chef sent out our first special dish – deep-fried lobster tail served over a mango/corn/wild parsley mixture, served on a wood plank. Wow, this dish was awesome; absolute perfection. At some point, they really should put it on the menu. Actually, when it came out, the woman at the next table asked their server, “Ooh, what is that; can we have that?” and she was told no ma’am, that’s a special presentation from the chef; that guest is one of our employees, along with her father, who’s visiting from out of town. From that point on, I notice the large man with bad hair glowering at me from time to time. Sweet.
After that came a risotto dish for Erica, and an order of pappardelle for me. Both were absolutely wonderful, and the conversation was equally enjoyable. Along with a dessert, this could have been a great night just as it was. But there was more to come. In addition to this, the kitchen sent out a perfectly prepared flatiron steak with a sechuan-peppercorn sauce, served over a bed of some unidentified greens; along with a half-chicken with lemon. The two of us managed to force down the medallions of steak, but we couldn’t even begin the chicken – we bagged it and took it home. Of course, stuffed or not, no meal is complete without dessert, and along it came – a chocolate semifreddo with hazelnuts, easily large enough for two; plus a large plate of various cookies made on-site. It was all amazing. Way more than any two people should eat, of course, but everything about the experience – the friendliness, the atmosphere, and especially the food – was world class. All during the meal, I’d been keeping a rough running tab in my head of the meal’s cost, and at one point gave up thinking, “Oh what the heck, you only live once, and you’re having a great time in Manhattan with your daughter. So you don’t eat anything but oatmeal for the rest of the month; big deal.” After the employee discount, and the large amount of food and drink that was comped us, the check was, in relative terms, embarrassingly low. Thank you, Sfoglia, for your part in giving me the gift of a wonderful evening of dining with my beautiful daughter.
And now, it’s a new day. On to the next thing.