Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Subway Challenge

Like other great ideas, this one was borne out of a hangover, exhaustion, and the excitement surrounding the opening of New York City’s newest subway stations.

My brother, my college buddies Dan and Deaux, Deaux’s cousin Ian, and I spent the first evening of 2017 hopping on and off the Q Train to explore the three new Second Avenue Subway stations. Lined with different art installations, each station merited a stop.

At one point, as the five of us waited for the train to leave the 96th Street Station, our conversation led to the creation of the Subway Challenge.

Most people interested in a subway challenge these days just rely on it on a daily basis. Or if they are looking to get in the record books, they attempt to ride the entire system in one go.

Our’s is a more leisurely, neighborhood-y idea. Live in the city long enough and you will end up on every subway line at one point or another. But most of us get off the train long before it reaches the end of the line. And for every terminal like Coney Island that draws massive crowds, there is a 207th Street. For every World Trade Center, there is New Lots Avenue.

With this in mind, we decided that once a month, we would tackle a subway line. Meeting for a drink at the beginning of the line, stopping for food somewhere on the way, and getting a closing round at a bar near the last stop.

One Sunday a month, Dan, Deaux, Ian, myself (my brother lives in Vermont) and sometimes a special guest ride the rails. This will be the place for the stories from that ride.

Rick Scott is the Mayor from Jaws

Florida Governor Rick Scott is a lot of things. Global warming denier because he is not a scientist. Supporter of private prisons that not only waste state money but treat inmates unconstitutionally and inhumanely. Skeletor’s less mirthful younger brother.

But this Friday, Scott added another ignominious distinction to his resume. He is now the owner of a spot-on impersonation of Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn from Jaws. Scott’s great white shark is the Zika-carrying mosquito.

In one of two front page New York Times articles about Zika in Florida yesterday, Scott’s message to residents and visitors to Florida’s Miami-Dade County was lacking in urgency when compared to the CDC. Let’s just kick it to the Times:

He [Scott] minimized the extent of the spread, saying in a news conference, “We have two small areas. One less than a mile, and we’ve already been able to reduce the footprint. We have another area now that’s 1.5 miles on Miami Beach. That’s out of state that takes 15 hours to drive from Key West to Pensacola, so let’s put things in perspective.”

His communications director, Jackie Schultz, said Friday that Mr. Scott “is encouraging  people to come to Miami, to come to South Beach. Just remove standing water and wear bug spray.”

The CDC and Florida are at odds over the state of a square mile in the Wynwood section of Miami. Scott calls the area clear while the CDC says it is still an active Zika zone.

It’s hard to read these statements by the Scott administration and not think of Mayor Vaughn from Jaws. Unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the situation, he kept the beaches open and made statements that could be delivered by Rick Scott and his team. Like this:

I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But as you see it is a beautiful day. The beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means friendship. 

And this one:

You yell, “Barracuda.” Everyone says, “Huh. What?” You yell shark and we’ve got a panic on our hands on the fourth of July. 

Or this whole scene between Vaughn, Roy Scheider’s police chief, and Richard Dreyfus’ expert scientist. 

Scott is willing to ignore the potential health risks associated with a spreading virus that we continue to learn more about. And with the lag time between between when someone comes into contact and when a diagnosis can be confirmed, Scott is playing fast and loose with public safety in the name of protecting tourism dollars.

But you don’t have to take my word for it on the threat to people’s health. Just check the other article about Zika in yesterday’s New York Times. It is all about women in South Florida struggling to avoid contracting Zika while pregnant.

 

 

How Does Red Star’s Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich Stack Up?

Red Star-DNA
Red Star Sandwich Shop – Via DNA Info

It’s been a day since this blog did…anything. But with “Best of” food lists becoming something of a cottage industry in New York City publications, I figured I could dust off this old boat and take it out for a spin every so often, and never run out of places to review.

Today’s location, Red Star, and its Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich, comes from Brooklyn Magazine‘s Reinventing Sliced Bread, or: The 50 Best Sandwiches in Brooklyn. Unlike the New York cheap eats list, this list typically hones in one sandwich.

The five boroughs are not lacking in fried chicken options. From the fried chicken plates at places like the Commodore to celebrity chef fast food options at Shake Shack and Fuku, it takes a lot to stand out. Which brings us to Cobble Hill’s Red Star.

Red Star’s fried chicken option gives the sandwich a Korean bent. And for what it’s worth, the trappings have the makings of a good sandwich. The bread roll is warm and soft. The lettuce and mayo are appropriately sparse. The pickled daikon and dill provide a nice balance to the gochujang sauce spread across the sandwich.

Let’s talk about that gochujang sauce. Derived from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybean, salt, Wikipedia tells me it is supposed to be savory, spicy, and pungent. Red Star’s pulls off the first two without too much pungency. The spiciness is combined with a nice tangy flavor. But, no one is turning out to a restaurant or sandwich shop for the toppings and condiments.

KFC_Yelp

Things go awry with the chicken. Double fried and battered with gossamer rice flour batter, the meat leaves the eater wanting. The sandwich is filling. So over the course of the meal, some of the chicken is tender white meat. But far too often it’s dry, or on my first bite, downright rubbery. This was the case on both of my visits.

I’m leery to write off Red Star based on the shortcoming of just one sandwich. Maybe their banh mi meatball or shrimp po’boy offering are top-notch. But on a stretch of Smith that has Fawkner offering up a (slightly more expensive) fried chicken sandwich and Abilene up and over on Smith serving a buffalo chicken sandwich, Red Star’s Korean Fried Chicken isn’t enough to get me to jump off the subway a few stops before home.

 

 

Postcards, Drinks & Good Southern Food: A Williamsburg Triumvirate

I’m a sucker for a good gimmick. And Williamsburg’s Commodore has one of the better ones around. Send a postcard from any state (or country for that matter) other than New Jersey and Connecticut to the bar. Claim it when you visit and the bar gives you a free beer.  A postcard will run you maybe $2 and a stamp is $0.34. That’s a pretty good deal for a beer.

If that were all the Commodore had to offer, I would make a point of visiting it after every out-of-state trip and that would be it. But that is far from the case. Inside its unassuming frontage – the first time I went a few years ago, I walked right by it – and the 70s Southern nautical decor beats the heart of a bar that turns out exceptional fried comfort foods.

commodoreGrilled cheese has had a renaissance in New York the past few years. Unlike the cupcake bubble or the bull market on macaroons, Melt Shop and Melt Kraft (along with Queens Kickshaw out in Astoria) have provided substance to this development. The unrelated Melt outlets dish out great sandwiches, but often they stretch, in particularly tasty ways, the definition of a grilled cheese. That’s why the menu item that first caught me and kept me coming back to Commodore was the Adult Grilled Cheese.

Appearances – like the front of the joint – can be deceiving. Coming out all by itself on a midsize plate, your first instinct is disappointment. Presentation aside, the unexpected combination of pimento and poblano changes everything. Eventually, I discovered the cheeseburger which became my second go-to.

That whole time though, I was making a circuitous route to the Commodore’s true calling card – the breast. Either mild or hot. A friend of mine is so enamored with the dish that when we talk about hanging out and grabbing dinner, she’ll e-mail me with a variation on “I’ve been craving a mild breast” as her way of suggesting we meet at Commodore.

Last month, my friends Maura and Quinn and I visited the Commodore on the first post-Labor Day Saturday of September. Managing to snag three seats at the bar made the “ordering from the bar” set-up that much easier to navigate during the busy evening.

With three of us there, we decided to order not two, not three, but four different dishes. Our first go to was the fried chicken plate. Maybe the more refined fried chicken consumers out there  will scoff at me for being a newcomer to an abiding appreciation for chicken off the bone, but I have to imagine this is what it is supposed to be – the sweet spot between the poles of dry and rubbery and something that should probably just be called boneless. What more could you ask for then the right mix of dipping sauce and biscuits with honey butter, paired with tender white meat that falls off the bone?

Order this plate, and it will get messy. The guys next to us tore through their plate to the point where there was a fallout zone of crumbs radiating a good six inches around their plate.

Quinn, who successfully came up with an Oscar Watching Party menu where the made from scratch dishes were themed to each Best Movie nominee – so he clearly knows his shit – said, “I’d come to Williamsburg just for this.”

Then it was on to our main dishes – the hot breast for Quinn, the hot fish for me, and the nachos for Maura, who was drawn to them by the presence of cilantro.

The fish and breast overwhelm the larger than normal hamburger bun they come in. The fish is literally the entire fish. With breadcrumbs and smoked mayo adding to the sandwiches’ force, even I, someone who finds it hard to eat fish could enjoy this sandwich on a regular basis. The hot breast, which comes with coleslaw and pickles found a fan in Quinn.

The nachos are not bad. In fact they are good. But in a place like the Commodore, ordering them seems like a disservice to one’s taste buds given the other options available.

It is great to see a place get the recognition it deserves and this summer, the Commodore started serving brunch. So there is another reason to get your hung over self on the G Train on a Saturday morning.

With that being said, this place gets packed. Like L train packed at night towards the end of the week and the weekend. So if you’re going just for the food, earlier in the evening might be your best bet. No matter the hour though, you don’t need a postcard to enjoy this place.

A Boy Makes a Mix CD; You’ll Never Imagine What Happens Next [Hint – It’s a CD Give Away]

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I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up, every day. That was four years ago. – Photo Via World and Film

Have you ever seen Blue Valentine?

You ever see Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day weekend with a significant other?

Well I have. Not my movie choice. It’s the type of experience that leaves you shaken. That movie is dark. And sad. And if you’re anything like me, you want to be left alone, standing in grassy valley with a light breeze and the sun shining on you – for a week after leaving the theater. Not the bitter cold icy-wind tunnels that northeastern US cities double as in February.

Valentine’s Day is the time of year when schlocky films like Serendipity, Notting Hill, and other rom-coms find their way onto cable channels in even greater frequency than normal. Blue Valentine is the pinnacle of counter programming to those lovely films. 

In a similar, though less “so this is what it’s like to be in a dead end relationship in a formerly industrial Pennsylvania small city” way, this year’s Composite Mix CD – Not Your Typical February Mix Tape – is counter programming to all the  love songs one would hear around this time of year. Or any day of the year. 

The inspiration came from a thought that popped into my head in the shower nearly two years.

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So that is what I bring you this year. A tale of falling out of love. The stories in the song aren’t as important as the sentiments they convey and how, when pieced together, it provides the arc of a sputtering relationship, the end, and the feelings afterward. Having listened to it incessantly the last few weeks it’s less sad than one would assume. It’s just honest.

Want a CD? E-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com by 11:59 pm on February 14 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.

A few things to keep in mind (like the last two years):

To my European friends who find this blog because they are still searching for photos of the Titanic, your request will be honored.

Limit first 100 requests. We came so close last year!

All you need to do to be part of this fledgling tradition is to e-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com.

Watergate: A Novel – I’m Not a Book…You Should Read

Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon - Via PoliticalNewsNow.com
Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon – Via PoliticalNewsNow.com

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always looked on the “historical fiction” genre with hesitant eyes. It seems to be the turf of guys like Newt Gingrich (and co-author) who take actual historical events and end up playing them out in an alternative universe. Not crazy stuff like aliens helping the Union Army at Gettysburg or a band of werewolves stopping the Great Chicago Fire. Instead, they play out the historical what ifs on par with the Confederacy winning the Civil War or a successful Axis ground invasion of Britain.

These books, to me at least, come off as the literary equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. History is too boring to be left to biographers and historians so we’re going to play make believe with real people, guessing how they would have handled situations they never found themselves in during their lives.

Thomas Mallon’s “Watergate: A Novel,” is a horse of a different color when it comes to historical fiction. Instead of giving us a history of the Nixon Administration where the Watergate burglars are never caught, the reader is treated to Mallon’s exploration of the time between the Watergate break-in and the last minutes of Nixon’s presidency. It seems like anyone was even tangentially related to the Watergate break-in and ensuing cover-up gets a spotlight shined on them in this scattered novel. From the wives of some of the burglars to Nixon himself, we are treated to their motivations for actions both important and irrelevant.

Oh no, I've given away the ending - Via WorldFamousPhotos.com
Oh no, I’ve given away the ending – Via WorldFamousPhotos.com

And there in lies one of (but not the biggest – we’ll get to that) problems with “Watergate.” Mallon spends so much time bouncing from one person’s perspective to another that we don’t get enough time with any one individual to find out what truly matters. By trying to combine history with a novel, we don’t get the character development one expects from fiction. Maybe it has something to do with an assumption by the author that the reader is already familiar with these historical figures, but no matter the underlying cause, it weakens “Watergate”

If the novel side of “Watergate” is hampered by too many characters, the non-fiction aspects are lost when Mallon overloads his book with secondary figures whose character arcs clutter the progress of the book and take away from the history at hand. We get a lot about journalist Joseph Alsop and Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt Lodge. Be it about Alsop’s sham of a marriage or Alice’s regrets over the loss of her daughter, these tangential explorations draw away from the titular subject: Watergate. The Saturday Night Massacre gets rushed through with nary a mention of Robert Bork yet we get page after page about Alsop and Alice.

All of these pale in comparison to what Mallon himself shares with the reader in the Acknowledgements section:

…I have operated along the always sliding scale of historical fiction. The text contains deviations from fact that some readers will regard as unpardonable, and other swill deem unworthy of notice. But this remains a work of fiction, not history.

Much as Mallon leaves the judgment up to the reader, I do the same with you. But I leave you with this. If Mallon wants us to look at Watergate from a new perspective and the key players in a different light by filling in what he believes were the conversations that happened in the Oval, on Air Force One, and in the Watergate, it is tough to get on board when the reader is unable to sort the fact from the fiction.

A Serious Case of Natitude

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The 2012 Nationals have a simple request.

As I write this on Monday night, the Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball with a 75 and 46 record. Want some metrics that are a little more sophisticated, they have the best run differential in the National League at the start of tonight’s game against the Braves.

Speaing of tonight’s game, if the Nationals win – they’re currently tied at 4 in the top of the 11th – they’ll be 30 games above .500. A DC major league baseball team hasn’t been this good since the Senators won 99 games in the first year of FDR’s first term. The last time the Nationals/Expos franchise finished with a better record was the 1979 Expos, though an argument could be made that ’94 Expos would have made all this moot since they were 34 games above .500 in early August when the players went on strike.

The funny thing about the Nationals is that this wasn’t supposed to happen – not this year at least. When pitchers and catchers reported to Florida and Arizona back in February, much of the talk in the NL East revolved around the flashy and pricey contracts laid out by the Miami Marlins, the garish ballpark they were opening in downtown and their outlandishly boisterous new manager. Or how the Phillies wouldn’t be as good as they were last year but they’d still manage to win the NL East. Even the Braves overshadowed the Nationals in some pre-season projections.

This was all in spite of trading for Oakland ace Gio Gonzalez, getting Stephen Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery and building off an 80-win season in 2011 where they finished the season strong after Davey Johnson took over as manager.

Washington’s success this season is all the more impressive when the injuries they’ve dealt with are taken into consideration. Outfielder (and my former boss and life-long Phillies fan’s favorite contract to make fun of) Jayson Werth went down with a broken wrist in May, closer Drew Storen was out until after the All-Star game, Ryan Zimmerman was not himself till he received a cortisone shot in July and catcher Wilson Ramos who survived a scary kidnapping in Venezuela this winter was lost for the season in May. This is a team whose starting nine was not at full-strength until very recently.

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Bryce Harper steals home while the Phillies consider the benefits of getting first dibs on tee times in October – Via Washington Post

What has been at full strength since April: pitching. From a starting five that is arguably the best rotation in the major leagues and a bullpen to match that has not missed a beat without Storen as set-up man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard assumed the closer’s role after Brad Lidge was released and Henry Rodriguez proved ineffective.

I remember going to a 2009 game in DC where the Nats took on the defending World Champion Phillies. It felt like we were in Citizens Bank Park as any Nats chant or cheer was shouted down by the Phillies fans in the stands. That wasn’t uncommon when the Phillies were in town.

Now things are different. The one moment in the season series that captures the changing of the guard in the NL East and the natitude of this Washington team came on May 6th when Cole Hamels drilled rookie phenom Bryce Harper in the back. Harper got to third and then stole home on Hamels.

After the game Hamels said, “I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it. That’s just – you know what, it’s something I grew up watching, that’s what happened, so I’m just trying to continue the old baseball…” Nats GM Mike Rizzo fired back, calling Hamels “gutless,” “classless,” and “fake tough.” Rizzo adding, “Cole Hamels says he’s old school? He’s the polar opposite of old school.” Maybe not the brainiest move on Rizzo’s part, but it showed fight for a team that was long pushed around by the Phillies while being the doormat of the NL East.

I remember opening day in 2008 when Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves. That Nationals team finished 59-102. Tonight marks the first game of a critical three-game series between the Nationals and the second-place Braves. A Nats sweep would put the Braves eight games back with 38 to play. A Braves sweep would cut the lead to two. This is a BIG series.

There is still time for this team to hit the wall and fade. Stranger things have happened. Or the Braves could rip off an insane winning streak in the waning days of the season. Even with these nightmare scenarios rattling around my mind, a 99.1 percent chance of making the playoffs playoff calms those concerns most days, the opportunity to enjoy meaningful baseball as a fan this late in the season for the first time is fun. And that’s what being a fan is all about. After years of hoping that draft picks would finally pan out, that guys like Lastings Milledge might turn it around (not so much), and that one of these seasons the team might crack .500, that time has come.

I haven’t been to the park since 2010 when I was trying to catch Strasburg’s first start and ended up with a prototypically underwhelming Livan Hernandez start against the Reds. But I’ve caught the Nats on TV throughout the year and as the season has progressed, there has been an energy at the park. And its an energy that is palpable. It’s Natitude through and through. And its a swagger that starts at the top with the players and is also in the stands. And its a message to any team that finds themselves playing the Nationals in October: we’re for real and we’re here to win!

And in the 13th inning last night, the Nationals won on an infield squibbler that Dan Uggla, the Braves’ second baseman mishandled. Thirty games above .500 and a six game lead in the NL East. We may have a generic aughts designed stadium, we may have a weird mascot and a lame team name, but we’re better than your team.