Monday, February 28, 2011

And, the Oscar Went to...

To the Academy...sorry, but I was bored.  I thought James Franco and Anne Hathaway did an admirable job as co-hosts even though they lacked some much needed spontaneity.  They do have a good chemistry and should probably be cast in a movie together.  (I can't wait to see her as Catwoman in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.)  The highlight last evening was the opening number with them appearing in segments from several of the nominated pictures.  

I did like the faster pace of the show.  I usually sleep through the "In Memoriam" segment but Celine Dion's rendition of "Smile" held my interest.  And, it was nice that they gave the lifetime achievement awards at an earlier banquet.  That's always nap time too.  But for pure entertainment, I liked the Red Carpet interviews on ABC before the show started.  I was hoping to see more furs since they said it was cold in Hollywood, but maybe next year.  Neil woke me up for the last three awards.  I was really confused at the end when a school chorus from Staten Island appeared onstage to sing "Over the Rainbow".  Did I miss something?  They were cute though, so I won't take away their 15 minutes of fame.  

We did so-so with our predictions which is how I'm feeling after all of the big Oscar parties.  I may have overdone it!  My apologies. 

      Dexter fared best with predicting 8 out of 13.  Neil agreed with 6 of the Academy's picks, and Eric with 5.  But this isn't about who wins or looses, especially in our household.  It's about celebrating some of the best achievements by actually viewing as many movies as we can throughout the year.  If you didn't get a chance to see all of the nominees in the theater, then consider viewing them on DVD.

In case you missed the show, 
here's a list of some of the winners:
Best Picture: The King's Speech
Actor: Colin Firth
Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Director: Tom Hooper
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Film Editing: The Social Network
Cinematography: Inception
Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland
Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seasonal Style at Skirtz & Johnston

It's getting warmer outside and I'm wanting to be there. I went out early today thanks to Eric responding to my subtle cues.  
I know he likes to sleep in on weekends. I really don't understand why that's such a big deal when you can sleep 
all day.  Oh, the things I could teach them!

      Skirtz & Johnston (just outside Findlay Market) is a purveyor of exquisite baked goods, and embodies the perfect melding of the senses.  The stars are their confections, placed in the window and beckoning one inward.  Once inside, there's more delicacies, chocolates, breads, breakfast and lunch selections, and a friendly and competent staff. Pastry chefs Stefan Skirtz and Andrew Johnston began their journey together back in 2006 at the Midwest Culinary Institute.  When not doing what they do best in the background, they're at the front of the store helping out. 

The Pulled Pork Sandwich and Cannoli
      Eric and I stopped by for lunch on Saturday.  We've been there before, so we already have our favorites.  Both of us ordered 
the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a hint of cherry and a Makers Mark BBQ sauce, served with chips and cole slaw.  It always hits the spot.  For dessert, we went with the Traditional Cannoli.  After ordering at the counter and dispensing our coffees, we went to the dining room where our cannolis were presented.  Eric couldn't wait!  The delicate pastry with vanilla creme filling and chocolate sprinkles has been a preference since our first visit.  We've also tried 
the Raspberry Cannoli which is a tad sweeter. I'd also recommend the Goetta Danish (when they have it). Not to 
my taste was the Apricot Scone,—much too dry!  I love 
scones though, so I'll probably give them another chance at some point. 

      A missed opportunity with many food establishments, 
in my opinion, is not visually portraying the current season.  Many change their menus seasonally and leave it at that, but few give us any images of where we are on the calendar.  Seasonal decorations are a throw back to our childhood and are a welcoming factor, whether in a restaurant or in our homes.  After all, didn't Martha Stewart build an empire based on that premise?

Mardi Gras Centerpiece
      Skirtz and Johnston embrace the seasons with decorations on their tables and counters.  Tables and chairs for 2-4 people surround the dining room.  The focal point 
is the oversized communal bar height wooden table with a properly proportioned floral centerpiece.  
The feature for now is Mardi Gras but they're changed, or tweaked, every Thursday.  The designs are installed and maintained by 
Mary Ellen Pesek of 
Big Bone Gardens in Union, KY.  From the installations that I've seen, she always hits the mark.  Big Bone Gardens are open from mid-April to mid-July, and I know a visit there will be in my future. 

      As we were leaving, we stopped by the pastry case.  I was intrigued by the three different mini cakes.  I went with the mint and Eric chose the banana.  Both had just a hint of the flavors with a chocolate fondant covering.  They made a nice ending to our dinner that night, but the cannoli still wins out.  Another patron was perusing the premises.  She said she had been to a party the night before which Skirtz & Johnston had catered.  She was so impressed, she had to see what else they had to offer.  What a great compliment!

Skirtz & Johnston is located at 113 West Elder Street 
on the East side of Findlay Market.

Big Bone Gardens is on KY 338 in Union, KY.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Our Votes for the 2011 Academy Awards

I feel like I've seen all the nominated movies as I've heard so much about them!    I think The King's Speech will be the big winner of the night.  Why?  Well, for me, the furry costumes sounded like things I like to hunt.  Like King George VI, it took me a while to find my voice with Eric and Neil.  It also seems the most like Masterpiece Theatre which I sometimes get stuck having to watch at home with the guys.

Best Picture: The King's Speech
Actor: Colin Firth
Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Director: David Fincher
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Film Editing: The King's Speech
Cinematography: The King's Speech
Art Direction: The King's Speech
Costume Design: The King's Speech

I found 127 Hours to be my favorite of the nominees.  It was a devastating story told with imagination and energy.  Inception was my favorite visually.  Some undisputed standout performances for me were Natalie Portman, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale.  The King's Speech was a beautifully done period piece and a story that needed to be told.  I just didn't find it to be the most original movie of the year.  I found that to be Please Give which unfortunately was not nominated.

Best Picture: 127 Hours
Actor: James Franco
Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Director: David Fincher
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Original Screenplay: The Kids Are All Right
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Film Editing: 127 Hours
Cinematography: Inception
Art Direction: Inception
Costume Design: I Am Love

The Social Network was the best movie of the year and most reflective of the zeitgeist.  Toy Story 3 is a lovely nominee for Best Movie, but like Avatar last year, actors will not vote for animated movies as the best of the year (no matter how much money they make) because they don't want to eventually be out of jobs.  I love Colin Firth in anything, but James Franco was the whole movie and was riveting.  Two that need the attention:  Another Year is Mike Leigh's best since Secrets and Lies; it's the British lower middle - middle class Uncle Vanya of this decade.  Milan in 1990 looked bleak, awe-inspiring, and on the verge of an epiphany in I Am Love and the image of Tilda Swinton in that scarlet cocktail dress and Marisa Berenson in that black pantsuit is indelible.  

Best Picture: The Social Network
Actor: James Franco
Actress: Michelle Williams
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Director: David Fincher
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Original Screenplay: Another Year
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Film Editing: 127 Hours
Cinematography: Inception
Art Direction: Inception
Costume Design: I Am Love

Possible Upsets:
Best Actress: Annette Bening 
      (the Academy loves her)
Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld 
      (she actually was the star of True Grit)
Director: Tom Hooper 
      (if The King's Speech gets on a roll of winning everything)

CHECK BACK ON MONDAY for Dexter's After Oscar Recap of how we all fared, but don't be surprised when Dexter wins this race.  Don't forget the Independent Spirit Awards show on IFC. It premieres Saturday night at 10 p.m. (and then repeats ad infinitum) because there are some really dynamic choices.  The Academy Awards can be seen on ABC starting at 8 p.m. on Sunday night.

Please leave us a comment with your favorite Oscar pics!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Three For The Road Visit Two Gems

Neil and Eric have gotten together with Lisa a couple of times in the last two months and I was a little antsy.  The first time I didn’t return home because I was still patrolling.  Alexa let me in for dinner.  The second time I decided I needed to check around for the squawky, flapping things that need to be taken down from time to time.  I ran out, came back later, and Neil and Eric weren’t too happy with me.  Lisa had, however, brought me a treat, which I saved until the next morning.  It was very nice, though I haven’t had a chance to thank her.

Orchids at Palm Court

The Bar area of the Palm Court
The Dining Room of Orchids at Palm Court
      Orchids at Palm Court (35 West Fifth Street) across from
the lobby of the Hilton Netherland Hotel is 
the top restaurant in
the region and Lisa generously took us
there for our birthdays.  Orchids’ location is prime downtown real estate as it’s on the second floor
of Carew Tower, the historic early 1930s landmark and a contemporary of the Empire State Building.  The setting, simultaneously grandiose yet elegant, reflects sleek Art Deco architectural lines combined with large mural-type paintings around the second storey of the space that conjure up French pastoral scenes of the 18th century.  This masculine-feminine dichotomy is evident in the huge mahogany columns and the spectacular bar area set against the furnishings and carpets that are in a palette of rose, pink, and lilac.

The Mâche Salad

      The à la carte menu features up to four courses and there are two five course tasting menus.  We shared an order of the Blue Cheese Beignets, which are savory, feathery donut holes.  Neil and Lisa ordered the Mâche Salad and I had the Crispy Pork Belly.  There were smoky notes on the seared piece of pork that played off well against the sweet fat.
Red Snapper En Papillote
The entrées we ordered were Red Snapper “En Papillote”, the ‘paper’ a light crêpe-type crust; Loup de Mer (a heavier fish akin to bass) with scallops and caramelized broccoli; and the New York Strip Loin with Périgourdine and Chive Gnocchi.  They were excellent, though the Snapper was outstanding.  The service is both formal and understated so there isn’t the sense that if a waiter inadvertently drops a fork, he’ll be fired on the spot.  The dessert 
cart is pretty much
Caramel Frozen Soufflé
with Cranberries
a triumph and we were fortunate to limit ourselves to the Mille Feuille with fried banana slices, pralines, and gelato, and the Caramel Frozen Soufflé with cranberries.  Although both dishes were studied, they weren’t fussy.  

      This is a special occasion restaurant, though a diner can get out at about $60 with three courses, tax and tip, and no wine.  For a place of this magnitude, it’s actually a good deal.

Orchids at Palm Court on Urbanspoon

Gordos Pub & Grill

      Everyone has a burger joint that he’s discovered and it’s absolutely the best!  Ours is Gordo’s (4328 Montgomery Road) in Norwood, owned by Chef Raymond Gordo, which has been open a couple of years.  It’s a warm, wood paneled sports bar and restaurant that has a sizable regular crowd and a number of Xavier students.

The Jean-Robert and Pub Burgers
The menu includes a range of sandwiches and entrées.  However, the two items to order are whatever daily soup is offered and one of the ½ 1b burgers with the cottage cut fries.  The burgers are cooked to order and they’re idiosyncratic in their toppings.  Chopped onions, bacon, and compote are cooked into each burger, mainly as a way to moisten the meat and add both a smoky and sweet undertone.  There are nine topping choices ranging from sea food,  grape compote with blue and goat cheeses, roasted poblanos, bananas with PB&J, and a chocolate stout mushroom sauce.  They serve lunch and dinner (10 p.m. on weekdays, 11 p.m. on weekends).

Gordo's Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Dreary Mid-Winter Sunday

I heard ice hitting the windows this morning.  Eric and Neil know I don’t like wet weather so we all slept in for a while.  Neil rubbed my neck and I gave him love bites as a thank you.  The guys got ready to go out while I checked around downstairs.  The noise had stopped when they were ready to leave so I decided to go out too.  I stayed perched mostly on the screened in porch.  Eric and Neil were away longer than I expected. They probably went to a movie after having brunch. It’s Oscar week so they’re trying to see more nominees.  They seemed a little down when they returned.

      Some people choose restaurants based on the food alone.  Or, maybe it’s the clientele, service, or décor.  We decided on one of our mainstays this morning for breakfast—The Bluebird in Norwood.  The food is traditional American fare.  Comfort food and a friendly and efficient staff make for a cordial welcome.  But today, our favorite waitress wasn’t around.  Something was missing.  Gina had died suddenly this week, and The Bluebird had lost some of its energy for the time being.  Her patrons will surely miss her round smiling face and royal treatment.  You touched us, and many others, Gina.  We’ll think of you each time we visit The Bluebird.

      As if we weren’t depressed enough, we continued on to the Esquire to view Biutiful completing our list of seeing the Oscar nominees for Best Actor.  Dexter knows us all too well.

Look for a more complete story on The Bluebird at a more appropriate time.

Friday, February 18, 2011

DAM Organixx featured in a Hot Spot

I had a little vacation while Neil and Eric were visiting family and friends in the west.  Alexa would come down the street to let me out and then feed me later on in the afternoon.  It was a ton of fun, though they’d covered the furniture with sheets and that made it difficult for me to stretch and claw.  Of course, they couldn’t shout at me either.  After I’d guarded the family home, they talked about what they had done when they returned.

      Denver is the cool hot city of the now.  It’s what Seattle was like before the traffic got completely out of hand or Las Vegas back when people could easily waste money.  Denver’s fine as long as the water holds out. 

 We had wanted to see the new contemporary addition to the Denver Art Museum (DAM) for the past couple of years and the wait was more than worth it.  The original building looks like a fortress in Seville, whereas the new addition looks like the pyramids, but somehow inverted.

      The contemporary has a very idiosyncratic sculpture collection that is simultaneously both up-to-the-minute while invoking the Western classical tradition.

One sculpture called into question the inherent imperialism (maybe fascism) of that hegemony.  On the other hand, Sandy Skoglund’s Fox Games (1989) was a permanent installation that moved over a story and a half and around an L-shaped space.  It looked like an empty red bistro overrun by more than two dozen gray foxes, each one unique in its placement and bearing.  Significantly, there was one red fox and perhaps that was the actual one and the others were either its shadows or earlier manifestations as it tore apart the space.  One of Skoglund’s photographs, in shades of red and in a staged setting, was included in the tremendous History of the Wedding Dress exhibition from this past fall at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

      The original DAM building is home to works from the Ancient world to the present.  There’s an excellent representation of Native American art.  The most intriguing aspect of the original museum is that there are a number of paintings where a viewer thinks “I didn’t know that was here.  Did the Louvre or the National Gallery sell it?”

The Decorative Arts Gallery at DAM

Organixx — Naturally Good Eats

      We didn’t have plans to eat, but we thought that LoDo would be fun.  We parked blocks away from where we ended up and we only found a place because we first walked into a cooking school that wasn’t serving a menu and the woman behind the counter recommended Organixx (1520 Blake).  It was a helluva walk and placed us closer to downtown than LoDo, but it was worth it.  It’s a large, simple room in medium shades of wood.  The setup is what I think of as cafeteria style – order at the cash register, pick up your drink, and the cashier will bring over the order once it’s up and she’s not overwhelmed by a line of customers.  

The Grilled Salmon Burger at Organixx

     Neil had the Organixx Turkey with a side of potato salad.
It was turkey that covered cranberry-apple chutney on sourdough bread and topped by brie and sprouts.  It was
a generous portion as was the Grilled Salmon Burger that I had.  It was a patty that was home made, rather than out of a commercial supply box.  It was served with caramelized onion, roasted peppers, and spinach with a remoulade spread on focaccia.  Both dishes were delicious with a complex array of flavors.  They’re also known for their BBQ Chipotle Pulled Pork sandwich and their salads.  Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner  are served and it’s worth a visit even if you park six blocks away.

Organixx on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Westminster Dog Show

I'm usually not interested in the silly things that Eric and Neil sit around watching on that flat box in the family room.  But last night was different.  They were watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from New York City.  All those purr-fect specimens of canine!  Me-e-e-e-ow!  To me, it was like when the guys get all excited about watching the Oscars or Tonys.  I was spellbound.  There were hairdos like I had never seen before.  One looked like a wet mop.  I think others were just dusting the floor.  Some looked as though they needed to chew on a few more bones, while most were almost flawless in every way.

Hickory appears on The Martha Stewart Show
As I suspected from the time I first saw her posing, Hickory, a 
5-year old Scottish deerhound was named the top dog.  
A jolIy good show!  I hear she'll be going back to her home in Virginia where she has 50 acres to run and explore.  Now that's what I call one lucky dog.  I wish I could tease her just as I like to do with our dog neighbor Toby!

View a slideshow of the show

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Dinner Party with a Recipe to Share

Finally…a warmer day!  I was outside playing most of the afternoon while Eric and Neil were preparing for our dinner guests.  Eric made chicken curry with the aroma filling the whole house.  Neil baked a pretty plum cake (he’ll share the recipe below).  Karen and Tom brought a turnip green salad.  The music included selections from Monsoon Wedding and The Secret Garden to complete the mood (the guys are really into that). 

I had not previously met our guests.  I was napping when they arrived and decided to wait until after dinner to make my entrance.  I did my usual rub of the legs to attract their comments.  They seemed pleased to meet me and it was immediately mutual.  The dining table had a mixture of scents that was attracting me.  Eric and Neil were mortified by my next move, and Karen and Tom appeared amused.  Really!  I just wanted to be a part of the conversation.  I took my place on the pillow.  After all, this is my home too. 


I received this recipe from a coworker years ago.  It’s like the fruity, citrus version of a red devil’s food cake.  It makes a smashing presentation and a light, moist ending to any meal.

Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Sift together and set aside:
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon

Beat together:
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 lg. jar (6 oz.) plum baby food
    (you can substitute prune baby food 
    which is more widely available)
4 tsp. red food coloring

Add the dry ingredients and beat until fluffy. 
This is really red!  Pour the mixture into a bundt pan.  
Bake 50-55 minutes.

Glaze while still hot with:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
2½ Tbsp. lemon juice (I’ve also used orange juice)
Heat the glaze over a low heat until smooth.  Add 1 tsp. red food coloring.  This time around I added more powdered sugar by mistake.  Eric thought the effect was better and the taste was very similar.  Glazing just soaks inside the cake better.  You can also add 1 cup of nuts.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

David Mack’s Brilliance Displayed at the PAC Gallery

It was a wet and cold day yesterday so I went out about three times.  I could tell that Neil and Eric were annoyed because after letting me out they’d stand by the door just in case I’d had enough.  Twice I did and the third time they kind of left me on the table on the porch for about half an hour.  I shook extra hard when I got in so they’d know just how cold I was.  They were writing a lot of stuff on the computer and kept saying they had to go to something and they finally did.  I welcomed the break and took a long nap in the guest bedroom.  

      We visited David Mack’s Alchemy, the sixth installment of his Kabuki series, which graces the walls of the funky chic PAC Gallery in Walnut Hills.  Kudos to Annie Bolling for turning over the entire space to a local artist, who has a national art cult following and is a superstar in the graphic novel world.  Not only does he write Daredevil and design the online cartoon promos for the TV series Dexter, but he has also created an ongoing cultural landmark in Kabuki.  He referred to his upbringing (a great portion of which was in northern Kentucky), academic scholarships, and work at NKU while answering questions about the exhibition on February 5.

      Kabuki is not exactly a superhero or a crime fighter saga.  It focuses on a Japanese female in her twenties coming to terms with her identity, which is continually questioned and developed in each of the books.  She has been involved in a group that may fight crime, may be government sponsored, and may be the key to her background.  Alchemy deals with that, but the middle of the story, follows her first meeting and possible future involvement with a young American male that strongly resembles David Mack.

      We have to deal with Asia.  We don’t want to as a country or a culture.  We keep looking back at Europe, but it’s Asia (whether the Pacific Rim or the Middle East) that is our nemesis and our secret sharer.  This is the overpowering subtext of this series.  Besides all of this, David Mack’s intelligence, wit, and sheer charisma were also on full display.  After seeing Blue Valentine earlier this week, it seems to me that David Mack is to graphic novels as Ryan Gosling is to independent film.

PAC Gallery is located at 2540 Woodburn Avenue at the corner of Locust in East Walnut Hills.

Off To Lemon Grass – Our Favorite 
for The Best Sit Down Fast Food on the East Side

      After David Mack’s Q & A, we ran through a list of nearby moderately priced stand alone restaurants and then said, “What the hell, let’s go to our favorite.”  Lemon Grass (2666 Madison) has been our neighborhood fave for about fifteen years and it’s still warm, friendly, and comforting as a sweater that never goes out of style and always feels just right.  The cuisine is Thai, the décor is simple and relaxing in a storefront beside one of the busiest shopping centers – Rookwood – in the region.  Parking is on the street and it’s busy on Madison Road so we generally end up on one of the Hyde Park cross streets with the Victorian and Prairie style homes that practically every yuppie in the city covets (and more can afford them in this downturn than in about twenty-five years).

      There are many dishes listed and they can be prepared with a variety of proteins (meat, fish, tofu).  The portions are large and the takeout business is extensive.  People need to have a place where they can feel that they discovered and that it will never let them down – Lemon Grass is ours.

A menu for Lemon Grass can be found at:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lisa's evening at Daveed's at 934

Our dear friend, Lisa, came over tonight...mostly to see me, I think.  I love it when she stops by.  She always talks "baby talk" to me, which I find charming.  We were all in the family room and she was telling us about a friend's recent visit from New York.  They went to Daveed's at 934 in Mount Adams.  She stopped with the "baby talk" long enough to describe their selections.

      They both had the cauliflower soup with crème fraîche and orange curry, which basically was puréed vegetables in a cream base with a hint of curry and orange pieces.  Eric and Neil have always known that if you’re unsure about what to order at Daveed’s, rely on duck.  They say that they might not call it their specialty since they’ve taken extreme care with every dish, but it is always spot-on.  In fact, Lisa’s friend Joy doesn’t even like duck, but Lisa talked her into it.  I'm not sure I do either, but she told me that since I like chicken I probably would like it too.  (She regressed back to the "baby talk" for just a moment.)  On that evening, it was pan seared Maple Leaf Farm duck breast with truffle, wild mushrooms, garganelli, and Vermont cheddar.  It is a complete breast that is sliced so it not only looks large as it is fanned across the platter, but it is large.  It made a believer of Joy.  Lisa had the duet of pork with potato, compote fondue, sauerkraut, and romesco.  The red cabbage sauerkraut was the off-beat detail that took the dish over the top.  Joy chose the hot fudge sundae (I'm watching my winter weight these days), in actuality a flourless chocolate cake with peanut pâté and salted caramel gelato for dessert.  The dichotomy of the salty and the sweet was a memorable detail.  Lisa had the apple dumpling, which is a whole wine sap apple in a pastry crust topped by bourbon caramel, and vanilla bean ice cream.  Eric and Neil were hungry just listening to her talk.  Yes, as in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, food can be porn for some of us.  I'm so embarrassed!

Daveed's is at 934 Hatch Street

Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Evening with ZZ's Pizza, Ensemble Theatre, and Friends

Neil and Eric were off again for a long afternoon and evening spill around northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, but I decided to stay home for a nap after it took Eric two days to find the starling I’d nabbed.  I scratched, I knocked over those character candles, and I ran back and forth by the French doors to the front porch to get their attention.  Ugh  - sometimes!!!!  Anyway, this is what they talked about when they finally arrived home.  I heard the car (yes, I figured that’s what it was called after Neil and Eric complained about the snow and dirt on them) and tore out to the back door to welcome them home.

      We were out for the night with Carole and Tom, and Marty and Michael, and it was a lively evening.  ZZ’s Pizza (2401 Gilbert) is back in business (well, it has been for over a year now) after Tom’s death and Bill’s retirement.  It’s still the home of the original gourmet flat crust pizza in Cincinnati.  Yes, the Walnut Hills neighborhood seems a little bleak, though it bustles, and yes the space is eccentric since it resembles the shape of a pie piece – though it’s symbolically appropriate for a pizza restaurant – and yes, its ambience is relaxed, a mix of sports bar lite and kooky neighborhood spot, and the staff make their customers feel that they’re auld acquaintances.  The prices are very reasonable – all three couples got out for about $35 including tax and tip and each had had a medium sized pizza, drinks, and desserts or salads.
 And, a more recent visit on April 17, 2011

ZZ's pie shaped location
     ZZ's is a very convenient stop before or after visiting a production at Playhouse in the Park, so we decided to pay them another visit a few weeks ago.  It was the same friendly neighborhood atmosphere and service that we've become accustomed to experiencing.  This time we shared the 12" gourmet pizza of the day which was a prosciutto and basil with sundried tomatoes on a sourdough crust.  We were seated next to the kitchen so we watched as our selection was prepared.  The size was perfect for the two of us and we both found it to be a nice combination of sweet and salty.  The ingredients are so fresh it would be hard not to like any of their offerings.  We then shared a slice of the piled high bananas that is a toast to the previous owner's mother that created their desserts.  It's a rich meld of banana filling and whipped cream on a buttery crust coated with a thin layer of chocolate.  If you are a fan of bananas, this is one dessert you will not soon forget!

Gourmet Pizza of the Day
Piled High Bananas

ZZ's Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

      Ensemble Theatre 
(1127 Vine) in Over-the-Rhine demonstrated its strengths in Next Fall.  The cast was a tight ensemble in a recent (last year) Pulitzer nominee.  The script deals with prejudice by both the right (Christian, somewhat homophobic, somewhat racist, fundamentalists) and the left (bohemian New Yorkers whose religious and political views are au courant with whatever the major newsweeklies or The New York Times espouse) in a life or death hospital waiting room crisis situation that depends upon a gay May-September five year relationship that hasn’t been revealed to the rightwing homophobic parents.  It’s a coming out suspense play merged with a hospital tearjerker:  
a dynamic combo.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Celebrating the Chinese New Year Vietnamese Style at Song Long

I heard that it's the Chinese New Year and the year of my friend, the rabbit.  That doesn't mean too much to me, but Eric and Neil went out to celebrate on Thursday night (it runs through the new moon on Feb. 18).  I tend to stay away from Chinese restaurants. Just a personal thing.  It sounds as though they had a great meal.  Maybe I should reconsider.

      Eric and I have visited Song Long in Roselawn from time to time over the years.  Although it's primarily Vietnamese (the family settled in Cincinnati after the war), there is a large portion of the menu devoted to Chinese features.  Going to Song Long is like visiting a close friend. We were immediately greeted, seated, and offered hot tea.  The dining room has soft pink appliqued tablecloths under glass on the tables. We were seated in a booth with the wall of awards (most of them recent) to our side. I wanted to try Chinese, in honor of the day, but Eric stayed with the traditional Vietnamese fare.  

We started by sharing six Crab Rangoon.  It had a light batter, almost tempura-like, that was delicate and crispy. The red pepper sauce was a nice accompaniment.  They were definitely among the best we've ever had and maybe THE best!  

Eric had the Mi Xao Don Do Bien (N5) which was egg noodles topped with scallops, shrimp, crab delights®, and calamari. It was a beautiful dish with the seafood, vegetables, and the flavorful sauce presented in a nest of dried noodles. I went with the Moo Shu with Pork that came already made up in four light pancakes.  I truly appreciated not having to do this myself.  We continued to share and the combination did not disappoint.

      At one point a version of "Silent Night" came through the speakers. I couldn't have told you what was playing before, or after, but everyone in the restaurant took note. It was a little out of season, but the silence it brought was touching.  The restaurant started to fill, and the solitary waiter did not miss a beat with caring for everyone.   More hot tea, and the check presented with almond and fortune cookies, completed our New Year experience.

Song Long is family-owned and operated at 1737 Section Road (near Reading Road).

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A Devastating "Blue Valentine" and Other Oscar Contenders

Neil worked on the computer today and checked to see if anyone besides Eric and him are reading this.  Eric came home early and they put me to stalk.  I didn’t find much, but I could tell that they were going out.  Eric was opening the back door and I jumped up the stairs to back in the kitchen.  I found one of my plastic crystal balls next to my secret place and chased it around until they returned home.  

We’re trying to finish off seeing the major Oscar contenders.  For most Americans (under 18) movies are about the summer.  For us, the movies are about November through February.  The Best Picture contenders pretty much make sense this year (they did last year as well) so even though it was controversial at the time, the 10 nominees are a better representation of what happened during the calendar year, but not necessarily the most interesting or the most important movies of the year.  
It looks like The King’s Speech may win because it has done so at other ceremonies and it has the most nominations.  It’s a good, clear-cut, charming movie with a sense of gravity that is neither pretentious nor tendentious.  In other words, it’s middlebrow and that isn’t a bad thing.  The other leader is The Social Network, which may be the most au courant fictional movie of the year, but hasn’t taken off commercially in the way mainstream Hollywood likes and it’s not an independent movie the way The Hurt Locker was, which meant that it didn’t have to make money and could still win awards.  It is the best script of the year, however.
The only movie we have a problem with is Winter’s Bone; it’s overrated by middle class critics who know little about the Ozarks, the poor, and methamphetamines.  Because of this, many of them have gone nuts about it.  Coincidentally or not, Breaking Bad has been a critical and awards sensation on TV, though an average episode of Criminal Minds has about ten times the audience.  One caveat:  I cannot stand movies about drugs unless it’s cop film like The French Connection.  (I really hate (and will turn off or leave) movies where characters shoot up.  I only sat through Lady Sings the Blues because I loved Diana Ross and the music).  We would have liked to see Please Give up for something (it is, thankfully, winning the Robert Altman Best Ensemble Independent Spirit Award) because it is a deep comedy, precisely structured, and wonderfully acted.  Catherine Keener is ignored this year, why?  What about Ann Guilbert who’s had a genuinely important character actor’s career?  What about Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet who are top actresses regularly overlooked in favor of peers like Scarlett Johansson and Chloe Sevigny.  Why?  

Blue Valentine is exactly what I thought it would be like and that’s pretty tremendous.  The narrative moves back and forth between 2009 and 2001 as a couple come together and then have to face whether they can stay together.  It’s very simple, but it’s deceptive because, although it’s a love story, it doesn’t quite turn into a break up story.  It has the raw power of ambivalent couples movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Two for the Road, Loving, and Shoot the Moon (a work that is very special to me because I saw it with my sister a year after our parents’ divorce).  Like those other movies, Blue Valentine doesn’t dot all those I’s or cross those Ts.  We don’t know how long that their marriage hasn’t been working for the wife, but we come to know that this is all that has worked for the husband and therein the domestic tragedy for the couple.  
Ryan Gosling is electrifying and that may be a common place for him.  He’s so good that he might be taken for granted by awards committees.  There is something almost painfully sensitive about him because of his decency.  He’s wonderful as a romantic lead because he makes you believe he would do anything for the object of his love – it’s why The Notebook worked so well even with the gloppy bookend structure (thank goodness that Gena Rowlands and James Garner, both brilliant and underappreciated over the years were able to slice through the senility goo with conviction and the embers of their star charisma).  Gosling has become the idealist who is undercut by the pragmatic forces of society and his characters’ incapability of overcoming either his own demons or bourgeois niceties (the teacher in Half-Nelson, the painfully shy office worker in Lars and the Real Girl – yes, it was lovely that the whole community supported the blow up doll, but he ends up smoothed out as a possible date by the end of the movie).
Why wasn’t he nominated for the Oscar (he has been for a number of other awards though, for 90% of the population that cares about these things, those mean nothing compared to the Academy Awards) instead of Jeff Bridges?  Don’t get me wrong; I love Jeff Bridges and he’s been taken for granted for so long, but he just won last year and I don’t think his version of Rooster Cogburn has the iconic force of John Wayne’s.  It was vexing to watch him on a recent American Masters episode because he seems to be the compleat Method actor (who knew?) and hadn’t quite shaken off the vocal mannerisms of his Rooster Cogburn when he was being interviewed.  Gosling deserves to be nominated because this is a two-hander movie; it’s like Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas or Burton and Taylor or Sarandon and Penn in Dead Man Walking – each of the couples gave definitive performances and each should be recognized.  On the other hand, neither Finney and Hepburn nor Finney and Keaton nor Segal and Marie Saint were nominated and that somehow makes sense unfairly.  If you won’t recognize both, then ignore them instead.
Michelle Williams was recognized and deservedly so.  She feels like this generation’s Gena Rowlands because she is simultaneously vulnerable and as tough as nails.  Gosling’s character saves her at a difficult time in her life, but she pays for his adoration by giving up on her intellectual ambitions.  She hasn’t yet played a part where she might go off the deep end (a specialty of Rowlands’ in the middle of her career) and that may be what will go against her in the Oscar Derby.  Natalie Portman pretty much has it sewn up in a technically challenging – actually overwhelming—role where she’s beautiful and crazy, but the difference between the two actresses is that Portman radiates charm with a certain touch of class (it’s what reminds audiences of Audrey Hepburn) that defines a star whereas Williams has a quality of watchfulness and intense listening that never makes her seem like she’s acting, though they are the absolute essence of a great actor. 
I knew when she ran into a significant person from her past in a liquor store that he was not only an old flame, but also the father of her child.  It was something in the way in which he leaned into her and she seemed to match his interest before pausing when he asked her a gauche question that was a come-on.  She takes in all the details of a cut-rate romantic theme hotel room and how she measures it up is a metaphor for her character’s existence:  she goes along with it, but she wants it over and, symbolically, she then takes a shower.
There’s an extraordinary group of female actors of in generation since Anne Hathaway, Carey Mulligan, and Sally Hawkins are radiating in different contexts.  None of the other three, however, have been fortunate enough to display their ranges in the past six years to the degree that Portman and Williams have been able.  It’s tough for actresses, though, because they get into their thirties and forties and are doing great work, but the parts aren’t there.  It’s why Holly Hunter, Kyra Sedgwick, and Julianna Marguiles headed for television where they all have done amazing weekly work.  Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless, and then Laurie Metcalf made the same move ten to twenty years earlier.  Sometimes the roles don’t show up or the range can’t be shown.  Think back about ten years ago and we see that Catherine Zeta-Jones has to practice her chops on Broadway, Renee Zellweger has not had many roles of note, and Nicole Kidman (though beloved by many critics) is still beautiful, remote, and not exactly intriguing.  She was great when she got dirty with Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, but she hasn’t done much that I’ve liked since (sorry).  Actor/stars have about 7 – 11 years to display what they’re about before they sell out, repeat themselves ad infinitum, flame out, or fade away.  There are only a few that go beyond that by challenging themselves and getting the breaks that have resulted in the careers of Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and, earlier, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, and Jane Fonda.  It’s why Hailee Steinfeld – proud, determined, vengeful – should have been nominated for Best Actress (the BAFTAs got it right) for True Grit:  it could be her one chance and she is both the best thing and maybe the only thing about that film.  She could follow Jodie Foster, but she could follow Tatum O’Neal or Quinn Cummings or Kim Darby.