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04.06.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW


1. EVENT Warm weather comes to NYC…
There is nothing better than nice weather in Manhattan. Everyone takes to the streets, a large smile plastered across the face. The sidewalks become restaurant extensions, filled with tables that are filled from sunrise to sunset. No matter what the news may be telling us, warm spring weather brings out the best. And I especially love the hearty New Yorkers that instantly embrace the change, throwing on summer outfits, bearing skin, despite still chilly winds that come rushing up the streets. And if you can find a wonderful little spot, either on a roof deck, a bench along the river front or even that tar roof you can sneak up to via the fire escape, there’s nothing better than sun-baking for a good couple of hours accompanied by your favorite chilled alcoholic beverages, good friends and some light reading. There’s just something so wonderful about pretending it’s the middle of summer when it’s still early spring, the expanse of potential continuing warm weather spreading out in front of you, banishing all thoughts of winter.

2. COOKBOOK The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook
I know I get excited about a lot of things in life, but I’m not sure anything quite matches the joy of pulling out a perfect cake from the oven and serving it to your friends who match your excitement with their own delight at noshing on some of these delectable treats. With a focus on chocolate, you can’t really go wrong with these recipes that range from simple (classic cake with milk chocolate frosting) to some so overly complex that it comes out every time as crumbs, albeit delicious crumbs (the confounding flourless mocha torte). The true showstopper so far has been the chocolate decadence cake, on the more difficult side of things, especially when you’re stubborn like me and decide that the egg whites must be whisked by hand to achieve the proper soft peak texture. It comes out of the oven like a perfect thick soufflé and is made only more incredible by the dark chocolate drizzle poured and spread on top of the slowly falling cake. My only word of warning to people with this book is be ready to hit the gym as every recipe goes through incredible amounts of butter (I made three recipes this past weekend from the book and had to run out to the store twice for more butter… and I was buying the four packs).

3. BAR/EVENT Big Apple Ranch at Dance Manhattan Studios
Oddly tucked into the fifth floor of an office building on 19th street is a dance studio that on Saturday nights turns into a countrified two step club, but look closely, it’s not the classic Texas style, it’s man on man and woman on woman action. Yup, a gay two step club! The music swings between country classics and modern pop, and on special numbers you’ll see a stampede of men run to the center of the large wooden floor to line dance, clearly pre-choreographed and well remembered by all the regulars. It’s like stepping into another time and another place, with everyone dressed in plaid cowboy shirts and wearing leather boots. On first viewing it was all a little too much to take in (especially because you’re not allowed to refuse a dance if asked, and I don’t have any clue how to two step) but then you just sit back, watch and can’t help but feel like there’s something so very right in the world (and now in Iowa).

4. ALBUM Sea Sew Lisa Hannigan
This adorable Irish singer is likely known to most for her constant collaboration with Damien Rice, but her solo work is well worth a listen. The album opens strong with “Ocean and a Rock,” Hannigan’s voice moving between a low growl and that sweet spot in her upper register, hints of Irish ballads peaking out through well selected instruments. But true beauty comes in the middle of the album with the urgency of “Sea Song,” Hannigan whispering at first, then moaning over soft continuous drum beats and plucked strings that transform into repeated violin deconstructed chords and then into sublime double violins playing counterpoint. The album never swells or peaks, maybe a little with the heart pounding war cry of “Teeth,” but rather surrounds you, getting into your veins, each song it’s own fantastic little journey. While it’s not my favorite song from the album, a little too commercially pling plangy, I do love the video for “I Don’t Know” with it’s confusing slow reveal to a fantastic art project that reminded me of being young once (if I ever really was, jury is still out).

5. SONG “Charlie DarwinThe Low Anthem
The ethereal sounds of this trio are gorgeously reminiscent of the recent work of Bon Iver and Liam Finn. Utilizing a strong falsetto over richly layered vocals, the band has a bit more of a grounded sound thanks to their reliance on simple guitar chords and a whole host of interesting instruments, including a Tibetan singing bowl, clearly ringing out at the end of the track. Beyond musical bliss, the band also packs a punch with lyrics proclaiming the failed promise and failed trip across the ocean to a promised land of freedom. This darkness stands in such beautiful contrast to the nearly prayerful sounding music. And I’m happy to report that the band has been signed to the Nonesuch label where I expect they’ll have a wonderfully supportive home to keep churning out this striking music.

6. FOOD Vosges’ “Mo’s Bacon Bar”
Clearly I like chocolate after extolling the virtues of a cookbook devoted to it, and I imagine you like chocolate too. And of course you like bacon (at least if you’re a normal well adjusted human being). So the ultimate question is do you like them together, and the only answer after sampling this delectable treat of a chocolate bar is yes, yes you do like them together. It’s salty and sweet, a wonderful flavor combination that is truly how I like all of my desserts to be. Letting the deep milk chocolate melt on your tongue, you are left with the most delicious flakes of applewood smoked bacon and alderwood smoked salt. The whole combination is just too much to behold. Such sinfulness all in one chocolate bar, it practically should be illegal. And I’m almost okay with the cost restrictive $7.50 per bar because it stops me from making the fatal mistake of constantly picking one up as an after every meal snack. [A thank you to Von for leaving this delectable treat at my apartment and thereby exposing me to all it’s glories]

7. ALBUM Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall
As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of live albums, and was hugely skeptical that this more or less live recreation of the original BVSC album could add much to the experience. Those thoughts were quickly dashed with the opening thunderous applause and then repeated applause as the audience quickly recognized “Chan Chan” being played. More than an excited audience, you get an incredible sense of the true talents of these artists, as they riff, solo and tear their way through these beloved songs, especially audible on the piano-heavy “Siboney.” There is such a wonderful lively touch to the Spanish banter while singing the classic “Quizas Quizas,” almost making you forget the equally wonderful, for very different reasons, Doris Day version, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” “El Cuarto de Tula” is resplendent in warm tones, the song slowly rising in energy to the point where you can’t help but feel your hips start to sway in your chair and you begin to wish you were on a plane to Cuba to hear this music live and in the streets. This is a fine album and well produced by mastermind Ry Cooder.

8. SHOP Les Toiles du Soleil
I’m not sure how I feel adding a store to my top ten list devoted to culture, but this store makes me so happy that I think it deserves some space. It’s just a fabric store, unlike any other fabric store, and true to its name it is filled with the most gorgeously bright and colorful fabrics in combinations that you couldn’t even begin to dream about. These textiles cover everything from pillows to journals to shoes and can be custom-made into hand towels, napkins, tablecloths and just about anything you can dream covered in sturdy colorful cloth. While I can’t claim a personal style anywhere near French Country Chic, walking into this place makes me want to trash my mod furniture and swath my apartment in gorgeous new fabrics, replacing all my cookware with copper pots and pans because it would just be so darn stunning. Now if I only had a roof deck with which to use their lovely fabric deck chairs.

Black and white and unbelievably sexual, this is a beautifully photographed short film that is ridiculously visceral on all your senses (even the ones you wouldn’t normally use in viewing a video on YouTube). The composition of each shot is so measured that it is often impossible to tell exactly what part of the body is being depicted. The same holds true with the intense movements, edited with instinctive precision, and the overwhelming soundtrack that is at once arousing and disturbing. And the little reveal, which I wont comment on for anyone who actually decides to watch it, lends the piece quite a bit of depth and commentary. Overall, it reminds me a lot of the haunting opening title sequence of Hiroshima Mon Amour, but just a little less devastating.

10. TV Cupid
This reboot (yes, we’re rebooting shows only a couple years after the original thankfully died) is hardly wonderful, but I must admit to being pleasantly entertained for an hour. It’s a procedural, like everything else on TV. The pilot has a ridiculous number of musical numbers, filling that gaping hole left by Eli Stone. But these are all elements to success for anyone that enjoys watching a little pop confection about love in a world that doesn’t believe love exists. And I always welcome Bobby Cannavale back into my heart on the small screen. He’s endearing and relatable, even when playing a fallen god from Mt. Olympus. Similarly, stage veteran Sarah Paulson does an able job playing the brainiac that believes love is really just about what happens after passion dies. Unfortunately there isn’t exactly the spark and sizzle you’d like to see between the two leads who are destined to be a “will they/wont they” coupling throughout the show, however long it runs. But I’m hoping it’ll at least get a season, because it’s nice to believe that all you need is love.

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