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06/22/11 4:00am

There’s no food that better represents Brooklyn—or gets people ridiculously riled up—as pizza. It seems as if everyone in this city has a favorite, and will fight you about it. At the risk of getting in a fight with you, 
here are ours.


Pies (Old School)


DiFara
1424 Ave. J, Midwood

At $5 a slice and over $30 a pie, octogenarian Dom DeMarco’s offerings aren’t cheap—but they’re worth it. DeMarco uses the best ingredients money can buy, imported directly from Italy, and gives his attention to each order, taking the pizza in and out of the oven with his bare hands. His slices, doused in not one but two separate coatings of olive oil over fresh basil, are some of the most flavorful around. Pro Tip: Avoid the long waits by ordering in advance on Facebook.


Totonno’s
1524 Neptune Ave, Coney Island

Don’t skimp out and go to the vaguely affiliated Manhattan locations for this one—the Neptune Avenue original blows the others completely out of the water. While you might be tempted to order toppings for your pie ($16.50), it’s best to go plain (when it opened, this location only served plain pies) to let the basic ingredients shine through. The homemade sauce could be a little more potent, but it has tough competition with the fresh mozzarella and house-made dough, the latter of which makes a crust so perfectly smoky it could arguably eaten alone. Believe the hype, this is one old-school 
stalwart worth the train ride.


Toby’s Public House
686 Sixth Ave, South Slope


From the outside, it looks like an unassuming neighborhood bar, but when you walk into this South Slope spot, it’s hard not to notice the giant wood-burning pizza oven lurking in the back. The pies, which can be described as a fusion of Neapolitan and New York-style pizza, come out quickly and piping hot, and go well with the small (but well curated) beer list. The Smoked Pancetta ($16) would be our favorite…


Grimaldi’s
19 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn Heights


The pizza at Grimaldi’s is definitely not worth the seemingly endless wait behind the red velvet rope with everyone and their brother from the Midwest trying to jockey for a table. If you can hit it on an off-hour, however, you’ll be able to easily get your hands on a quintessential brick oven pie. Is it bad, tourist trap-y pizza? By no means. Is it the best of the best pizza around, then? Definitely not, but it’s one of those “New York experiences” that you should probably do at least once. Pro Tip: Avoid the lines by ordering to pick up—15 minutes later, you’re eating pizza by the river.


Sam’s Restaurant
238 Court St, Cobble Hill


The storefront of this classic Italian restaurant sticks out like a sore thumb on the mostly gentrified Court Street shopping strip; inside, the décor is straight out of the early 60’s. Much of the menu is unremarkable (if satisfying) red sauce Italian, but the pizza ($18.50) is delicious. A classic New York-style pie, the tomato sauce is enjoyably sweet, and the crust is a perfect medium between crunchy/chewy and crisp. This restaurant is an underrated gem.


Pies (New School)


Motorino
319 Graham Ave, Williamsburg

Nestled on a sleepy corner of Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, this immensely popular spot serves up Neapolitan-style pies so face-meltingly good that even Mr. Sifton himself of the Times proclaimed it the “city’s best pizza.” While that might be a bit of a stretch, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better individual pie than the Brussels sprouts ($14): topped with a generous amount of smoky pancetta, a delicious fior di latte and pecorino mix, and the veggie itself grilled perfectly, it almost makes you forget everything bad anyone has ever said about the abhorred wild cabbage.

06/22/11 4:00am


Kara Zuaro



Cocktail


Breakfast martini, Fort Defiance, Red Hook


Fort Defiance’s delicately tart little breakfast martini, made with gin, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice and a touch of orange marmalade, makes a bright aperitif.


First Course

Rosemary-white truffle-parmesan popcorn, Crave Wine Bar, Carroll Gardens


Each kernel of Crave Wine Bar’s rosemary-white truffle-parmesan popcorn is like a bite of truffle-flavored air, with a breeze of herbs and cheese.


Second Course

Market Caesar salad, Brucie, Cobble Hill

The generously portioned and artfully arranged market Caesar salad at Brucie is different every day, and it’s always a knock-out. Think impeccably fresh greens with pickled peppers and walnut brittle, or rhubarb and frizzled ramps.


Third Course

BaconMarmalade Picante Pizza, Paulie Gee’s, Greenpoint

Salty, sweet, smoky BaconMarmalade—made by a Greenpoint chef—stars in my favorite Paulie Gee’s pizza, with a supporting cast of red onion and creamy fior di latte mozzerella.


Fourth Course

Lamb fetti, Tanoreen, Bay Ridge

In Tanoreen’s beguiling lamb fetti, shredded lamb, Egyptian-spiced rice, a rich yogurt-tahini sauce, crunchy toasted pita chips and fragrant toasted almonds come together for an entrée that is even greater than the sum of its parts.


Fifth Course

Key lime sundae, Culture, Park Slope

There’s always room for dessert with Culture’s tangy-creamy house-made frozen yogurt, topped with sweet-tart key lime custard and a dusting of graham cracker crumbs.

05/13/11 4:00am

L’Amour Fou
Directed by Pierre Thoretton

Like many a runway show, L’Amour Fou is largely surface glitz. Director Pierre Thoretton attempts to paint a revealing portrait of couture legend Yves Saint-Laurent—an apparently peculiar and chronically depressed fellow—via his (and his partner Pierre Berge’s) elaborate antique collection, which is about to be auctioned off. This isn’t the first film to use the lives of objects d’art to evoke a sense of nostalgia and recollection—Assayas’s Summer Hours comes to mind, and its unprecedented emotional effectiveness looms over the proceedings here.

That’s not to say that Saint-Laurent’s story is particularly dull. The film’s narration—90% of which is done by Berge—outlines his humble beginnings at the House of Dior, which he took over at the age of 21 before branching out on his own to curate the current YSL image. He’s a surprisingly singular, lanky character; one which Berge paints as being frustratingly doleful and fixated on surrounding himself with beautiful things, an almost perfect subject for a documentary. Thoretton gives the viewer opportunities to connect with Saint-Laurent on a more personal level via archival footage, but none is particularly informative. One particular interview consists of the man rattling off adjectives that describe himself; and we also get to revel in his interest in body hair. Informative indeed. We seem to almost always be one step behind figuring out Saint-Laurent, but sadly Thoretton never lets us catch up or speed ahead.

Where L’Amour Fou fumbles is in its presentation. For a filmmaker who relies so much using flashbacks and stories to outline Saint-Laurent’s tumultuous life, Thoretton seems to be fixated on the present. Coupled with Berge’s narration, we’re subjected to repeated slow pans and tracks through the admittedly sumptuous, antique-laden rooms of Saint-Laurent’s house. The camera almost forces us to revel in the fancy lifestyle the man leads, when one more often than not wishes for some more exposition or perhaps footage of Saint-Laurent himself (or even his clothes). The film’s final scenes—which outline the auctioning off of all of the art—seem like an appropriate finale to what the film has been building up to, but the build-up itself is largely frustrating. L’Amour Fou blurs the lines between touching retrospect and Sotheby’s auction showcase with, as expected, little success.

05/05/11 3:43pm

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While it’s debatable if everyone is in fact Mexican on Cinco de Mayo (hint: it’s not true), you’re most certainly going to be in the minority if you’re not celebrating this minor Mexican commemorative holiday with the rest of the rowdy drunk people in your ‘hood. Below, you’ll find the best places to score free (or discounted) booze, chips and dip, and utterly baffling appearances by mid-90’s rock groups that no one really cares about.

Papacito’s, 999 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint
Free tequila shots throughout the day (“if you’re in the right place”), and $1 Tecates until 7pm. Be sure to stick around later into the evening for a performance by Wheatus (of “Teenage Dirtbag” fame) at 10pm. Don’t worry, we don’t really get it either.

Public Assembly, 70 N 6th St., Williamsburg
A mere $10 gets you an open margarita bar (with free food!) from 8-9 followed by Rosa Borracha, a crazy theme-party featuring everything from live music to promises of wild and crazy debauchery.

Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan St, East Williamsburg
The $15 vegan prix-fixe menu offered all night long is a great deal. Pick two appetizers, one entrée, and one dessert from selections such as Veggie Chili, Mushroom Ceviche, and Avocado Cupcakes. Four shot tequila flights for $18 sweeten the deal.

People’s Republic of Brooklyn, 247 Smith St., Carroll Gardens
For revelers on a budget, the free pulled pork and BBQ chicken tacos as well as 2-for-1 Coronas offered here all night long certainly get you a hefty amount of bang for your buck.

Nuevo Mexico, 491 5th Ave., Park Slope
Happy hour runs till midnight here, with $10 margarita pictures, $4.50 tequila shots with the promise of a little “somethin’ extra,” as well as free Jell-o shots.

Pequena, 601 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights
The free pico de gallo and chips offered during lunch are a perfect segue into happy hour, which features $5 sangria, lime margaritas, and cerveza. Freeloaders engage!

Palo Santo, 652 Union St., Park Slope
$25 gets you a “really big” beer and a “heaping” helping of chicken mole all night long. All vagueness aside, this sounds pretty epic.

The Habitat, 988 Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint
The food and drink deals last “todo el dia,” with $4 Dos Equis and Modelo drafts, $1 off tequila, and dirt cheap $1 empanadas.

04/27/11 4:00am


That’s What I Am

Directed by Michael Pavone


With That’s What I Am, WWE Studios shifts away from the big, dumb actioners that they’ve been cranking out at an alarming rate since 2002 in favor of a similarly moronic period-piece tolerance tale, which ends up resembling an indie flick chewed up and spit out by the Hallmark Channel.


Andy (Chase Ellison), our absurdly white-bread hero, is a typical 12-year-old; reasonably polite, fairly studious, and not particularly adept to resisting peer pressure. When his English teacher Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) pairs him with the giant-like (by elementary school standards) “Big G”—G for “ginger”—Andy is apprehensive but soon realizes that, , believe it or not, Big G’s actually not a horrible person. Bigger problems arise later in the form of the school’s bullies and their parents, who accuse Mr. Simon of being a “homo” (their word).


The wrestler-as-actor gimmick is fortunately minimal here, with Randy Orton appearing about halfway into the film as one of Andy’s classmate’s homophobic fathers, keeping the expected grunting and groaning to a minimum. Unfortunately, with this comes a scourge of inexperienced child actors who, like their more successful Disney Channel counterparts, wildly gesticulate and overact their way through each exchange, giving the most mundane dialogue an oddly angry and frantic tone.


That’s What I Am is at its most perplexing, however, when slapping its audience over the head with its “why can’t we all just get along” message, which is fairly often. For a movie set in the 1960s, its perceptions of what constitutes prejudice and intolerance are oddly skewed. Director Michael Pavone depicts no shortage of schoolyard scuffles; kids get picked on for everything from being tall to eating lunch in the wrong corner of the playground, and homophobia is rampant. The Civil Rights Movement, however, is completely ignored, and the white and black students interact seamlessly, with no visible conflict. However, given that Pavone’s vision of the 60s is slapping a few vintage cars and some decade-appropriate outfits on the students and faculty of an otherwise modern-looking public school, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.


Opens April 29

04/19/11 2:00pm

The First Beautiful Thing
Directed by Paolo Virzi

For a movie that takes place in the breathtaking Tuscan countryside and focuses on heartwarming family relations, The First Beautiful Thing certainly lacks in “beautiful moments,” though it largely makes up for this with cheese. Lots of it.

The film opens in 1971 at a local beauty pageant during which Bruno (later played by Valerio Mastandrea) is horrified as his mother appears on stage to be wooed by a bunch of lecherous middle-aged men. His father apparently shares his sentiment, as a domestic dispute later sends Anna (Micaela Ramazzotti and, in the present-day, Stefania Sandrelli), the young mother in question, fleeing into the night with her children.

Flash forward several years, skipping past Bruno’s melancholy though by no means traumatic childhood, and Anna is dying of cancer. As the family gathers around her bedside, all sorts of emotions are projectile-vomited out into the open. Bruno, who is apparently estranged from his mother and now a drug-addled professor, attempts to reconcile their apparent differences before she kicks the bucket. Hugging, sobbing, and emoting are the three primary verbs for the duration of the two-hour runtime.

La Prima Cosa Bella is clearly fixated on the Italian obsession with the ethereal “mother” figure, but never provides any particularly good reason for Bruno’s animosity. Anna, in most of the plentiful flashbacks the movie slings at the viewer, is admittedly slightly neglectful—frequently leaving her children alone while she goes to pursue a career as a movie star and being slightly aloof in general—but otherwise seems like a caring, compassionate parent. For every questionable decision, there is a scene of Anna consoling and caring for her children. Her condemnation by adult Bruno thus lacks realistic context, even as the too-frequently skipping chronology blunts the film’s focus—the meaty present-day drama is lost in the sauce of flashbacks.

04/07/11 4:00am

Trust
Directed by David Schwimmer

Trust, an after-school special with name actors and something of a budget, is a movie about online predators, directed by Ross “I honestly don’t know if I’m hungry or horny!” Geller from Friends.

14-year-old high-school volleyball player Annie (Liana Liberato) meets 16-year-old “Charlie” on a volleyball-themed Internet chat room, after which they become friends and then progress into something a bit more serious. After Charlie’s age changes to 20, then 25, Annie becomes suspicious, but agrees to meet him anyway, at the local shopping mall. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

The aftershocks that follow are of the most banal sort, with most interactions between the Annie’s parents (poorly paired Catherine Keener and Clive Owen) devolving into overwrought scream-fests. But much more troubling are the directorial choices Schwimmer makes regarding their daughter. The needlessly repeated depiction of Annie’s sexual assault skirts exploitation. After the third time seeing a 35-year-old man kiss and lick her neck while she’s crying hysterically, it seemed time to go home and take a shower. There are tactful ways to depict traumatic experiences such as these —even when the actress is the same age as her character, as Liberato is —but it seems that Schwimmer isn’t savvy enough to know when to pull in the reins.

The best thing about the film is Liberato, who while by no means an accomplished actress, doesn’t as descend into maddeningly over-the-top hysterics as frequently as Owen and Keener do. Her initial repression of her rape —though occupying far too much of the film’s running time —is largely realistic and down-to-earth, bringing a sense of reasonably believable emotion into her often absurdly histrionic family life, She also provides the only truly resonant moment in the film when she finally acknowledges the rape, modulating her eventual, cathartic breakdown in the arms of her grief counselor. The moment, though, comes too late to make the rest of the film’s faults fairly forgivable.

03/29/11 11:37am

Yummy-looking something from Choice Eats 2010.

  • Yummy-looking something from Choice Eats 2010.

T-minus a bit less than 7 hours until Choice Eats 2011, where the Village Voice challenges me to sample food from several dozen different restaurants hand picked by Voice food critic Robert Sietsema, and I take it on, with varying results. Perhaps I’ll have to be rolled out, or I’ll walk out unscathed, but regardless the event—which is being held yet again tonight at the 69th Armory on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street from 6:30-9:30pm—will prove to be either incredible, heart attack-inducing, or a little bit of both.

For those who haven’t gotten tickets yet, unfortunately you’re SOL—the event sells out quickly each year. Below are some of the dishes I’m most excited to try.

Whatever form of pork the folks from Porchetta have to offer: I know, I know, it’s probably really as over-hyped as they say it is, but given that I haven’t tried Sarah Jenkins’ famous Italian pork roast before, now seems like the appropriate time to do so. Pork, get in my mouth!

Buns from Baohaus: The Four Loko-soaked Eddie Huang empire is not somewhere I’ve ventured to before, but the “reach for that bun and you’ll pull back a bloody stump” mentality of the ticketholders in line at this stand last year means that these shouldn’t be missed.

Desserts from Del Posto: Arguably my favorite restaurant in the city, this Batali-owned Meatpacking District staple whips up a mean just about anything, especially the olive oil-filed chocolate lollipops that are a staple of the restaurant’s delicious post-desert box of petite fours.

Patacones from Patacon Pisao: Like a sandwich—okay, it is a sandwich—but with giant fried plantains instead of bread, these meat-filled, banana-encased concoctions appeal to my inner (or outer) fatty like you wouldn’t believe. A staple for drunken club goers way up on 202nd St, I’m glad I won’t have to travel that far to try one… or two… or maybe three.

Choice Eats happens tonight at the 69th Armory; tickets ($80) are sold out, but maybe you can find some reheated on Craigslist?
(Photo: Daniel Krieger)

03/23/11 2:32pm

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Times fashion photographer cum cultural anthropologist Bill Cunningham, a sprite-like octogenarian, is arguably one of the most fascinating documentary subjects in recent years. And his New York, one of beautiful creatures and equally beautiful clothing, comes alive in Bill Cunningham New York, an appropriately intimate film about the elusive man himself. (It’s currently held over on two screens at Film Forum.)

It’s impossible not to notice the film’s gaping lack of tension and conflict, largely consisting as it does of surveillance-esque footage of Cunningham doing his thing: shooting photos of Manhattan’s finest sidewalk fashionistas like a bubbly papparazo. But the spectacle of Cunningham doing everything from run into traffic to hiding behind flowerpots to get that perfect shot is sufficiently fascinating to behold.

The film awkwardly juxtaposes images of the upper-crust society that Cunningham still circles—Brooke Astor’s 100th birthday party being a major highlight—with director Richard Press grilling Cunningham about his personal life, creating an uncomfortable shroud of mystery. It’s clear from the get-go that Cunningham feels uncomfortable talking about anything but his work, and while Press’s attempts to get the audience more acquainted with the man behind the camera are admirable, watching Cunningham mumble awkwardly about his lack of romantic relationships and rumors of homosexuality are more squirm-inducing than anything else.

Bill Cunningham New York amounts to the antithesis of last year’s Anna Wintour-fueled (and oddly enjoyable) bitchfest The September Issue. Gone is the self-importance of the high and mighty print fashion publication and obsession with waifish models. Cunningham himself wears a cheap blue poncho as his uniform of choice, and at one point rails against fashion that isn’t accessible for everyone. “It’s all about the clothes,” he emphasizes, not the way the person who wears them looks without them. He certainly couldn’t be more right, and it’s this lack of pretension on the part of both subject and director that makes this slightly fluffy if nevertheless fascinating documentary mesh together just so, somehow glamorous and humble at the same time.

03/09/11 4:00am

Monogamy
Directed by Dana Adam Shapiro

Monogamy, from the get-go, has a few strikes against it. An American indie film promising to tackle the tried and true subject of relationships and everything that’s relatively shitty and complex about them, it doesn’t at first glance seem to have much unique or compelling going on in its favor. And, seen from up close, it really doesn’t.

Coming across as a hipster-y erotic drama that mooches perhaps a bit too much from Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Monogamy aligns its gaze with Theo’s (Chris Messina) camera to detail his obsession with “Subgirl,” an anonymous woman whom he happens to snap while on assignment.Theo’s a self-described “gumshoot”—he shoots candid photos of people at a certain location, per their request. “Subgirl” proves to not be a typical subject—she apparently has a thing for fingerg herself on park benches in broad daylight—and as Theo begins ogling the final product a bit too much for his own good, his newfound obsession fucks things up with Nat (Rashida Jones), his fiancée. But is it all beyond repair?

While director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball) aspires to comment about commitment and masculinity through the film’s general focus on Theo’s apparent insecurities—and almost complete abandonment of Nat by the narrative in the final act—the final product doesn’t amount to much. Monogamy evokes more of a “d’oh!” than a gasp of realization, as it flounders on the surface of its subject matter. One can’t help but wonder if this is the culmination of previous desires or relationship drama, but Shapiro apparently sees no reason to give any of the ogling and stalking we’re repeatedly subjected to any sort of deeper meaning. It all feels somewhat lecherous—which it is—and not much else. Always observed from a distance, and never in the context of anything but a sexual act, “Subgirl” resembles a kind-of-sort-of slutty mythical creature, her blonde good looks the epitome of stereotypical heterosexual male desire. She’s a sexual object, nothing more.

The flood of indie movie clichés does nothing to help the story along, either. There should be a cap on the amount of scenes involving an acoustic guitar allowed in an American indie flick. This one has three, which is at least three too many. The handheld camerawork gives off the vibe of every other low-budget Brooklyn-based indie flick you’ve seen this century, Williamsburg Bridge biking sequence and all. Shapiro’s depiction of the hipster playground brings to mind a mumblecore production more than anything else; the tired low-budget look is the perfect complement to a soporific narrative.

Opens March 11