Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Year Begins Again, now and January, 2009

Being that this is the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish New Year, it's been a bit of a stunted, difficult week thus far, but today and tomorrow are days of celebration, so this week is one marked with contradiction. A day of full-on work coupled with an early exit, two days (today and tomorrow) of celebration, then two more days (Thursday and Friday) of full-on work.

For any and all of you that celebrate Rosh Hashanah this week (and Yom Kippur next week), hope you and your families all have a happy, healthy and wonderful new year.

For those of you who only celebrate the new year in December (and, in part, in January), I'll be checking back in soon.

One point of non-sectarian interest for the consideration of any and all interested parties: Kaia advised me that Aaron "Coke The Van" McCargo Jr. is, for the time being, off the Food Network schedule. However, this -- we agreed -- was simply to make room for the other crap the Network seems content to peddle, including another craptastic show from Guy Fieri (I think it's called "Off The Hook," although I think they should have probably called it "Off My TV Now").

However, fans of Mr. McCargo Jr. -- all three of you -- need not fret. Apparently they're filming more episodes or, at the very least, will be broadcasting a new season of Coke The Van (aka Big Daddy's House) sometime in January, 2009. So even many of us who remember Aaron's Greatest Hits ("Au poivre isn't French...it just means pepper, baby!") will likely forget his ineptitude come January, 2009.

Let's hope that Mr. McCargo, Jr. returns so we can focus on his abilities -- or lack thereof -- and don't merely focus on the balance of the schedule (Bobby Flay, the Neelys and Sunny Anderson, as well as the aforementioned Guy Fieri) and lament the dramatic fall of the Food Network's standards.

I 'spose the only real question left is when will Alton Brown realize that it's a sinking ship and get out before it's too late? At once, my answer is both "Sooner rather than later, I hope" and "Never, I hope." See the contradictions?

A Happy, Safe and Healthy New Year to all...


Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Paul Newman, 1925 - 2008

There are have been many celebrity losses over the tenure of the HoB, many of which implore me to commit to this medium my thoughts and feelings and a desire to make official my remembrance of him or her.

In this case, with a man like Paul Newman, I'm not sure where to begin. As an actor, he was not only excellent but manifested his roles and made them, and himself in the process, icons of Americana and of Hollywood. His roles in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Slap Shot and The Sting are among the best Hollywood -- or the world of movies -- has and will ever see. But those are just five examples of who he was as an actor.

To demonstrate the type of man he was, all one would need to examine was his behavior off the screen. Whereas today's celebrities crave the spotlight and PR, Paul Newman avoided it. He was so meticulous in guarding his private life that he rarely appeared in anything outside his own films. Moreover, when he was finally awarded an academy award -- for his eighth nomination, as Best Actor as Eddie Felson in The Color of Money -- he wasn't even in attendance.

Beyond modesty, he took his celebrity and lived his life. His love of racing -- which he acquired after doing a film entitled "Winning" -- led him to get involved in racing. Rolex's Daytona chronograph was christened as the Paul Newman model.

But his real passion was helping people. When his son died of an accidental drug overdose in 1978, he created the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention. Ten years later, he established the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, which allowed children with cancer and blood-related illnesses to enjoy a typical camp experience, without cost to their families.

All of these were charitable contributions; but thereafter, he established Newman's Own, a food corporation that was completely non-profit. To date, the company has donated over $200 million to various charities and entities in need of financial assistance.

And to think, all he ever wanted to do was help people without having to endure the spotlight. If he is somewhere seeing all this in his honor, I'm sure he'd be a bit uncomfortable, as he was as modest a person as any of us will ever know. I never met him, but he was one of the few celebrities with whom I wish I could have sat with for an hour or two just to get a better perspective on the world through his eyes.

As for his modesty, because he was a great actor and a better man, he -- wherever he is -- will have to accept the fact that his actions and the way he conducted himself touched so many lives and -- without exaggerating and without question -- made the world a better place.

RIP, Fast Eddie. We'll Miss You.

Monday, September 22, 2008

85 Years: Death, Taxes and Memories of My Father

In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened with a Yankee victory; of the many nicknames Yankee Stadium has been unofficially given, the reason why many regard it as "The House That Ruth Built" in part is a result of the fact that Babe Ruth hit a home run in the first game played at the Stadium.

Tonight, the Stadium hosted its final game, a 7-3 Yankee victory over the Baltimore Orioles. It had been announced prior to the commencement of this season that this would be the old ballpark's 85th and final year, and the construction of its replacement, right across the street, was well underway. By the time September 1st arrived, the last of four All-Star games were well in the past, as was a good chunk of the season and the likelihood that the Yankees would reach the postseason for a 15th straight season.

Tonight, the final game was a bittersweet experience for anyone present or watching the ESPN broadcast thereof. I opted not to go, not because I'd failed to understand the significance of this night or the prohibitive price of tickets, but because I wanted a chance to see all the anticipated vignettes, interviews, photographs and sounds that permeated the broadcast. I loved every game I saw at the Stadium, but not simply because of the fact that this team -- the Yankees -- were my team unlike any other team on the planet. It was because, for the most part, I saw those games with my father and we spent more time there than any other setting outside the house(s) in which I grew up.

Some people might remember 1996 as the year they met someone special or did something noteworthy; my memory of 1996 was going to see my first Yankee playoff game, the game 1 between the Yankees and the aforementioned Baltimore Orioles. That game was special because a young fan sitting in the first row of the right field bleachers reached over the fence to grab a deep fly ball and it turned out that the hit was called a home run, even though it technically would have been a relatively easy fly ball out if not for the young fan's interference. That "Jeffrey Mayer" game was an incredible game and I remember my father and I being streamed down the stairwell as the throngs of fans celebrated their sheer joy over the victory.

Another memory I'll always cherish is watching the Yankees taking the field prior to the game's start and seeing my father's eyes well up and him bawling as the Star Spangled Banner blared from the Stadium's sound system.

I remember the occasional game with other people -- clients, friends, my mom and sister, and other family members, etc. -- but to me, the memories of the Stadium are as much about the time I've spent there with my father as I have spent watching the Yankees.

Our tickets, in section 252, were incredible -- we had a perfect view of about 85% of the field (the left outfield foul line was obscured over a few feet nearest to the fence) so the game was easily visible. Inasmuch as I love watching Yankee games in their crystal HD broadcasted brilliance, seeing the green grass as we came through the tunnel by home plate was an experience that never failed to give me a jolt. Just being at the Stadium -- or seeing it while driving to and from the City on the FDR -- was always something special.

I also have memories of spending time with friends in and outside the Stadium. The giant bat was a typical meeting place for my friends and I, and that was and will always be a part of my lexiconic memory of the "Cathedral of Baseball," but the truth is, despite the expense and the hassle of getting to and leaving the games, and the overpriced drinks, food and miscelleanous chazerai sold in and around the Stadium wasn't a deterrent. It was just that, for pure baseball joy, watching on TV made the experience a completely enjoyable experience. But going to the games -- especially at the Stadium -- was always something more than just about a baseball game.

About five years ago my father had a severe heart attack and was, frankly, near death. We've been back to the Stadium since, but not as frequently. One day he'll no longer be here, just like the Stadium will soon be gone, but like my memories of the Stadium, he'll always live on in my heart. I suppose that one day I'll take my son -- and/or my daughter, if/when applicable -- to the new Yankee Stadium and I'll try to impart my love of the Yankees and, perhaps, the new Yankee Stadium, to them. And if nothing else, I'll make sure they have as much fun watching games with me as I did as a boy and a man. And even if they don't and instead opt to root for the (feh) Mets, I hope they'll appreciate how things that seem to last forever aren't always around forever. The only way they live on eternally is if we don't allow them to ever die. And if I've learned anything from my dad, it will be to be sure and pass on my love for this game, for this team, for this place, and for the memories we'll share as a result.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Long(view) and Short

It's been almost a week since I've swung by these pages in an attempt to chronicle the last few days' activity, and having put this update off for this long has muddied some of my memories of the last week, unfortunately.

I can confirm that Kaia and I had a lot of fun running around and chilling out; seeing friends for drinks at the Hudson the other night (Tuesday, maybe); watching the Yankees season -- and the life of Yankee Stadium -- slowly, painfully, trickle away; keep up with the shitloads of work approaching my desk; and dealing with all sorts of miscellaneous happenings between.

Also, we ended up hanging out Friday night, just the two of us at home, rather than go out and blast off the night before Kaia headed back to San Fran. It felt a bit off not going to Balthazar or Mercer or York for Kaia's last night as a non NYC resident, because we've been doing this for so long, and this was the last "non-resident" visit she'll be making here. In the past, we've always done up the last night as it means a 45- or 60-day break, but this time neither of us really had much interest in doing anything but hanging out and spending time together. The fact that we got into bed early -- 11ish, for us, is early -- was great as we were able to hang out and just relax rather than schedule out every minute and cram as much activity into our days and nights as possible.

Of course, the biggest aspect of that is that yesterday evening she headed to JFK to catch a flight to San Fran. We have a pretty good idea as to which apartment she'll be taking, and the only issues are the date and the technicalities (ie the application process). Since the lease will be provided by a company with whom I have a business association (I'm in NYC real estate -- duh), we're not concerned by anything except whether she's thrilled with the apartment and whether she can afford the rent. And even those two items are relatively non-issues; just tying up loose ends before she starts disassembling her place and getting it ready to be relocated is, for both of us, both unusual and exciting, and while it's an end to her residency in the only city in which she's ever lived, it's a new beginning, both for her in NYC and for us for the rest of our lives. So even though it's just a lease and a move, we both know it's far more than that, as we knew our first time meeting in person could be just another swing and a miss or could be it.

In any event, as she was completing her packing once we got back to my place, it was, as per usual, bittersweet for us both for her to get back to San Fran. For her, when she heads back to San Fran after almost a month in NYC, it's like she's leaving home rather than returning to it. And for me, it's a sad, empty apartment without her nearby. When she heads out on her miscellanous excursions during her stays, me having an hour or two isn't a problem; it's not a co-dependency issue I'm addressing here. But when I know she won't be somewhere inside my place when I get up or come in from doing errands is as shitty a feeling as knowing she is there is a good feeling.

Either way, I think this visit -- and her return to San Fran -- is as momentous as was her first trip to New York. We both know this is it before we, essentially, pull the trigger on an apartment. I say we, although we won't be living together per se, because this is our first real step forward together. And the signficance thereof isn't lost on either of us; actually, I think we're both anxiously excited about the coming months.

Speaking of which, it was kind of strange that, as she was packing Friday night and Saturday afternoon to leave, the weather suddenly got much colder. It went from being in the mid/high 70's to the low 60's, and I suppose on some level it's very appropriate. I'm wondering how long it will be after she moves in before we'll have our first snow, and thinking about the fact that we'll have to go out and frolic like little kids again.

I think that's what this past week, and the past month, have reminded me about her: she reminds me, and makes me feel like, the kid I used to be, and the smiles we share are almost omnipresent. That's probably why we're as sad when she leaves to hit San Fran as we are. And then we're back together -- here or there -- and all is right again.

That's it, in a nutshell -- in both long- and short-term guise. I've had an increasingly difficult time segregating those two things, so if I'm mixing tenses, pardon me now or critique me later.

Onward and upward.

Monday, September 15, 2008

By Omission or Commission

Whether or not it was by virtue of the fact that we've been mongo-busy or simply due to a weird hiccup in this blog's server, it was a bitch getting back here over the last few days to keep this space updated.

It's not for want of activity on which to report, of course; we've been doing a lot of running around and, despite the opportunity, very little shopping. So, in essence, we've been seeing apartments, museums, neighborhoods and friends, and, overall, just spending time together and trying to avoid any major humidity. Of course, on that last one, being out and about over the past few days meant ultra-humidity so we didn't quite accomplish that last goal.

But beyond that, we had a blast over the weekend -- we spent time with friends and then hit the San Genarro festival in Little Italy on Saturday, at which time we ate surprisingly little (we tried funnel cake as Kaia's never had it before), but I wound up not getting sausage and peppers on a roll. It's not for lack of desire -- getting a sausage and peppers roll in Little Italy during San Genarro is one of those things that everyone (aside from vegetarians) have to do at least once in their lifetimes. Short version: they take huge coils of sausage -- typically "sweet" -- and grill them to get a good amount of fat out of the sausage. Simultaneously, they sweat green peppers and yellow onions until they're fully tender, then slather a few hunks of the sausage and the onions and peppers on a large hot dog bun and serve it up with some napkins. I'm sure salt and olive oil are added into the mix, but overall, that's the gist. It's not fancy, it's not high-brow, and it sure isn't healthy, but these festivals are rarely about healthy eats.

What we ended up doing was walking through about twenty blocks of sweaty people of all nationalities, not just Italian (duh). As far as food is concerned, I got a roasted corn on the cobb and Kaia got a kebab (really just small pieces of chicken fire-roasted). We later got Italian ice, popcorn and the aforementioned funnel cake (which, after one-third had been tasted by the four of us, found a garbage can) and we kept going through the throngs. I snapped a photo of a client's building on which I've been working and then we hopped a cab to Whitehall Street, the subway station which also concurrently links to the entrance to the Staten Island Ferry. We took a 5:00PM ferry across to (drumroll please) Staten Island and took a bunch of photos of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island and a variety of stuff both land- and sea-based, then spent about 20 minutes hanging around Staten Island just to kick back and relax and then we headed back to downtown. Since we were still local to Little Italy I suggested a place to eat in Chinatown, so we walked (about ten or so blocks) and arrived, waited for five or so minutes up front and -- finally -- sat down. We had a nice variety of stuff -- spring rolls and vegetable dumplings, sweet and sour pan-roasted sea bass, shrimp with broccoli, roast duck buddha-style, and kung pao chicken. By the time we left the restauarant for a nearby bar -- Madame X in Soho -- we were just falling-down tired, so after a few drinks and an hour or so, we said our goodbyes to friends and headed home and landed in bed.

Yesterday: football.

By the time we landed in bed last night -- later than we'd planned -- we had fit an entire week's worth of activity into our weekend, so despite the fact it flew by, we both agreed that we'd had a lot of fun and that it went way too quickly. Alas, there's another one coming up in about five or so days, so I'll be sure and keep you posted when/if appropriate.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Patriot's Day

Typically, this date in American history -- especially during election years -- reminds us what transpired on this day in 2001. However, inasmuch as I acknowledge this day is a sad, somber one, I'm no more inclined to don an American flag on a cap, jacket, shirt or lapel than I would on July 4th or any other day.

It's true that many innocent people died on this day in 2001, and that same day we witnessed a despicable act against America. But I, at least today, believe the true measure of patriotism is what we do and say and how we carry ourselves on the days not specifically demarcated as measures of our independence, our freedom or our way of life.

I think this day should be an annual reminder of people we lost and things we witnessed in 2001, but it should not be an outpouring of patriotic love for America or what it means to be American. Those expressions, I believe, should be expressed each day, not simply two or three days highlighted on our calendars.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Rise and Shine

The events of the past few days are, at once, both mundane and exciting, much as should the minutiae of my life prove.

It all started with a foray into the weekend; first, because my office had to power off all our equipment for the coming building electrical shutdown scheduled for this past Saturday, despite coming in early Friday, I was able to stay until about 7PM Friday night and get it all down and done. Nothing very exciting about powering down a half-dozen PC's, including our server, or our voicemail or any of the litany of miscellaneous equipment we have floating around our workspace.

Friday night we wound up hanging out and relaxing. Because we didn't have much in the way to do out of the house, and wanted some private/alone time, we wound up watching movies and going to bed relatively early (about 1AM) and woke up around 10AM Saturday. It was a nice, sunny morning without much in the way of heat or humidity, so we were eager to get out and downtown. We had tentative plans with friends for Saturday night, but because they were coming from Connecticut and a potential storm was heading in our direction (to the entire Northeast, actually) we weren't assuming plans were on. Meanwhile, we tooled around Soho and did some meandering, but nothing major; just being out and about and together was the main purpose of our sauntering around. We did, however, happen back to Spring Street Cafe yet again, and while we enjoyed our food -- we both had the same brunch item, a shitake/broccoli/jack omelette -- we weren't quite as impressed as our first trip to the restaurant. However, we were pleased and so we made our way into Soho proper.

We had intended to stop at a restaurant supply store to pick up a wok and/or a new stockpot with a pasta insert -- I know, this is the stuff of legend and pure excitement -- but we never quite made our way to either of the two stores I'd intended we visit. A word, incidentally, on "restaurant supply stores" versus, say, Sur La Table, Bed/Bath/Beyond and/or Crate and Barrel; if you do any serious cooking, you can't go wrong by hitting a restaurant supply store as they have stuff that's not designed for frills or cosmetic inclusion in a kitchen. Their stuff is the real deal and is meant -- duh -- for restaurants. In the past, I've gotten pots and other acoutrement from BBBeyond, and it's not bad, but it's not designed to be used on a real, regular basis (unless it's All-Clad, Calphalon or Le Crueset -- or Lodge). The problem with this particular caveat is that all of those aforementioned brands -- except for Calphalon -- is pricey (note the term "expensive" was not used). Calphalon, additionally, can be pricey as well.

The difference in those two terms -- pricey vs. expensive -- is a matter of getting value for what you're spending. If you're spending $250 for a great pot that will last ten years, the appropos term is pricey; if that pot won't last three years, it's expensive. Le Crueset is the best shit in the world. Lodge (cast iron pots, pans and accessories) are also great, but they need to be "cured," they weigh a ton, and they're only good for certain purposes, like pan-frying and stove-top to oven applications. Le Crueset, on the other hand, is great for everything under the sun (and above, or below, the stove top) but their stuff is priced on par with Bentleys and Rolls Royce -- although it performs far better than those marques. So as for your remaining options...you can do All-Clad, which is a copper-steel mesh, or Calphalon, which is slightly better (in its more basic form) than the stuff you find hanging in most high-end grocery stores.

In essence, if you're interested in getting something really great and don't want to spend $200 for a 12" non-stick pan that can be slid into a oven or a broiler at 450, restaurant supply stores are generally the best option -- that is, unless you're more interested in using the item(s) than telling people who make same.

Alas, after all this discussion, we never even made it to either store. Both are a bit removed from Soho proper, and we were beat by the time the late afternoon was upon us, so we nixed the trip to yet another store and headed home, leaving us wok-less and to survive the night -- and, perhaps, the entire week -- without a new stock pot/pasta insert combo.

Since it's neither soup weather nor do we spend any significant time eating pasta -- not for awhile now -- we aren't exactly losing sleep over our cookware status. But prior to Kaia heading home to get herself packed up and ready for the big move Eastward, we'll make it our business to have a kickin' mongo stir-fry (I'm thinking sesame oil, soy, some fish sauce, a few thin-sliced chicken breasts, some asparagus, some baby bok choy, perhaps some spinach, some pine nuts (or pistachios, which are both an excellent sub for pine nuts and have both better flavor and color) and some other veggies -- broccoli, sugar snap pea-pods, scallion and even some shallot and garlic.

Once we got home, it began to darken and by 4:30 we assumed our friends would -- and should -- not make the trip down from Connecticut. 30-mph winds and heavy rain began pounding the entire Northeast and we figured on settling in and enjoying a bunch of films, which we did: "What Happens in Vegas" started out hilarious and softened to a formulaic love story and was, overall, a worthwhile viewing if not something to wait for HBO/Showtime/Max/Starz. We also watched Jason Statham, a favorite of ours, in "The Bank Job," which was a bit restrained for our boy but was a lot of fun nonetheless. We also procured another film that we'd watched earlier called "The Promotion" which has a great cast including John C. Reilly and Sean William Scott, both of whom we enjoy in everything they've done. Among all of these films, this was the keeper of the bunch, especially because neither of us had ever heard about it and neither of us had high expectations for it. We agreed that this was a combination of "Rushmore" and "Office Space" -- it wasn't the most incredible film we'd ever seen but it was definitely worth watching.

Incidentally, since we'd been preoccupied watching films and staying dry (well, staying indoors, anyway) we didn't get our friends' message that they weren't going to make it to NYC. So we picked up the landline and rang them up and advised them that we had just made it back from the store with the lobster, the gnocchi and the fresh tortellini and we would need at least a half-hour to prep the lobster and get the drawn garlic butter ready, so we asked them to call us about thirty minutes before they expected to reach my place. Of course they both fell for it and nervously called us back to let us know that, regrettably, they weren't coming. After a few minutes of them both awkwardly squirming on the line guiltily as we sadly recounted all our preparations, we let them know that we were just goofing around and would have felt awful if they even had considered coming to our place in the now-storming rain. With a laugh we adjourned until this coming weekend so, unless we wind up getting snow, we expect to see 'em, lobster or not ;-)

In the meantime...before I opt out of this soul-baring and hit the shower, we spent yesterday with family visiting my grandmother for Grandparents Day. Granted, Grandparents Day is more Hallmark than anything else, but we enjoyed having the opportunity for all of us to assemble, and since the facility in which my grandmother resides always has a big barbecue festival, we spent the day with a few thousand people, just enjoying the company, the food, the rides, the games and -- of course -- an odd performance from Mickey Dolenz. Since Kaia had a quasi-crush on Mr. Dolenz when she (and he, too) were younger, I really wanted to get a picture of her with him, but she refused. Alas, the reason why the performance was odd was in between Mickey's hits, he sandwiched some 60's classic rock favorites: Purple Haze and a variety of other stuff that people in their 30's and 40's would enjoy. Somehow, however, although my grandmother's a lot of fun, I can't -- and never would -- expect her to air-guitar-jam to anything by Jimi, Jimmy, Eric or Eddie. I guess Mickey didn't opt to say "Fugue it" and do classical, and he was playing a bitchin' Takamine (and his main guy was using a tobacco sun-burst Telecaster) so I 'spose I can't, and shouldn't, complain. They could have gotten Bea Arthur to do beat or def-jam poetry, so all in all, it was a fun -- nee, a wonderful, afternoon. The weather, the food and -- most especially -- the company -- was great. Also, since my aunt and uncle had never met Kaia, it was a good opportunity to meet the woman about whom I've been talking about so happily for such a long time. As we laughed about the past, among all her other great qualities, the one we started and ended with was that she was/is sane.

After, we headed back to return the rentals and dropped off a few of our bounty and picked through the cheap used DVD bin and came away with "Amy's O" and "The Salton Sea," both of which I'd seen before but Kaia had not. I would say the former is so-so and the latter is excellent. The one thing they both have in common -- the former being a somewhat light-hearted but offbeat comedy and the latter being a depressing character study -- is that they are both genuine, from-the-heart films. If you have the opportunity, don't knock yourselves out finding either but definitely grab either/both if you ever the get the chance.

More about the apartment hunt and our exciting, dull lives soon.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Variety of Miscellany

Wellums, now that we're smack-dab back in the thick of things, and like everyone else, we're still recovering from the holiday weekend -- especially given that we've had four or five days completely, for the most part, to ourselves -- a recap is, perchaps, in order.

If you didn't manage to follow our status updates on Facebook, we pretty much ran around the entire holiday weekend, doing the following: seeing possible apartments for Kaia; cruising around Soho; some minor shopping; the rental and viewing of a foursome of movies; some lunching and dinnering at places -- in the case of the former -- downtown and some great take-out/delivery in the case of the latter; and we managed to get our clocks synchronized to one another's and to New York's.

To start, we went all over the place seeing apartments: some downtown, some uptown by me, and some scattered between the two. For the most part, we're trying to find a large studio or a one bedroom that is in a clean, safe, well-maintained building without eclipsing the $3,000 rent barrier. It's doable but difficult and, at times, frustrating: it's a bit like trying to run up a down escalator while wearing a large knapsack filled with bricks.

Meanwhile, as far as our regular haunts, we found a few new restaurants -- more specifically, cafes, actually -- floating around downtown that merit attention and mention herein. One of those is the Spring Street Cafe at Lafayette, which is a "natural" restaurant. Typically, when someone advises me I have to try a "natural" restaurant or store, I think hemp, hippies and burlap. In this case, I would have been way, way off. It's a bit laid-back a la hippie, but the truth is the place is chic, comfortable and much too polished to be relegated as simply a "natural" restaurant. Plus, the menu was awesome, the food was great, and we really enjoyed our stopover. Also, they brought us something our waitress called "Sunshine Tomato" bread. It was like poundcake but it had great citrus flavor, and we couldn't determine whether it was sweet or savory, sort of like a combination of lemon, orange and ginger flavors with a hint of either strawberry or sun-dried tomato.

In either case, Kaia had something called "Mayan Eggs" and I went with a chicken burger, both of which were anything but "natural." Really good food and we will definitely be back, and so should you next time you're in the neighborhood.

As far as our movie-viewing, we went through Be Kind, Rewind (Jack Black, Mos Def); We Own The Night (Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall); Juno (Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman); and What Happens in Vegas (Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz). For the first time in our four-year (!) history, we actually a) rented a load of movies; b) liked all of them; and c) can actually recommend everything we rented.

Well, that's not entirely true. We still haven't watched 'What Happens in Vegas.' But we can't recommend not watching it, either, so pfffft.

Onto the details...

We grabbed What Happens in Vegas first because we both figured it would be funny, but it turns out we ended up watching Be Kind, Rewind first; we both really like Jack Black and we knew, while kitschy, it would end up being funny. It was. But neither of us anticipated the fact that this film had a big heart and went out of its way to be sweet -- almost like Doc Hollywood or something similar. So if you're in an angry, unhappy mood, rent a snuff film; this is strictly for laughs and to make sure you feel good.

As for Juno, it's a bit quirky and off-beat but overall very entertaining. Ellen Page is really solid, Michael Cera (Superbad) is equally solid, and the remainder of the cast was great -- especially JK Simmons, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. But along with all the Oscar-related hype, we were both curious to see if the writing (Diablo Cody) merited all that attention; in a word, absolutely. Really solid and a definite worth-seeing.

Finally, the last movie in our trio was "We Own The Night." I won't give away too much except to say not only were we both completely surprised by how solid this film was, but I will pay writer-director James Gray the ultimate compliment: this film looks, feels and smells like a Scorcese movie.

If you saw The Departed and liked it, you should get a copy of We Own The Night ASAFP. It was not a twisted, convoluted cops n' robbers story, but rather a moral and ethical study in a variety of characters. We both agreed that Joaquin Phoenix, yet again, demonstrates how solid he is -- every movie in which he acts he impresses us -- but this movie was especially harrowing and his performance really makes the movie. It's not a worth-see, it's a must-see.

As an aside, an observation: in these pages, I've decried -- on many an occasion -- the fact that "they" seem to be remaking movies that are far too young to be re-made, suggesting that Hollywood has simply run out of ideas. However, sometimes they should absolutely re-do an old film if they can't find anything better to make: eg "Lakeview Terrace," a remake -- if at all -- of a 1992 film entitled "Unlawful Entry." I don't know how many of you reading this saw Unlawful Entry, but like many of Ray Liotta's films (Turbulence comes to mind), there have been some shitty ones. Unlawful Entry is high indeed on that list. So why would Samuel Jackson do a crappy remake thereof?

I'll put it another way: I don't need to take a bite of something that smells shitty even before it's come out of the oven.

Like they advise people to be their own advocates when it comes to modern medicine and doctors, don't go see movies -- or rent them, etc. -- if they look like they're going to be awful. That is, unless you like bad remakes, crappy performances and awful writing (considering you're here, you're obviously one-third of the way there ;-)

Enjoy what's left of the week...