Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Ides of March”: Marisa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, Cincinnati, etc.

Marisa Tomei
as the news reporter
      Marisa Tomei is America’s best film character actress right now and that opinion is backed up by the range she’s demonstrated in The Wrestler as a conflicted, but compassionate, 40-something stripper, in Crazy, Stupid Love as a wild, intelligent 30-something middle school teacher, and now in Ides of March as a 50-something whip smart, New York Jewish newspaper reporter covering a Democratic presidential primary in Ohio.  Without much make up, she transforms her body, accent, manner, and social class.  She’s the type of performer that I long to see once I know she’s in something – it’s akin to Eve Arden in her film roles, though she didn’t have a range, but rather had a bottomless comic attitude, or

Friday, October 28, 2011

CIty Barbeque...Smoked, Pulled, and Plated

The Order Line and Pick Up Counter

      City Barbeque delivers all the quality and side dishes that one would expect from a barbeque joint.  The meats are smoked on the premises with the wood piled outside and the smokers protruding from the restaurant.  Most of the inspiration for the menu is Southern...corn pudding, sweet vinegar slaw, hush puppies, and more.  It's a very good value too.

Pulled Pork, Corn Pudding, and Sweet Potato Casserole

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John Logan’s "Red": The Agon of Western Civilization in 95 minutes

      Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of John Logan’s Red compels in every detail.  The set-up is simple.  Mark Rothko, the most famous Abstract-Expressionist, won the commission to provide the murals for The Four Seasons restaurant located in the Seagram Building.  He hired an assistant so that he could properly complete what became a monumental task.  The play is in five scenes, or confrontations, between Rothko and his assistant Ken as they come to grips with one another as intellectuals, artistic creators, mentor and protégé, romantic idealists and pragmatic successes, and most profoundly as relevant human beings.  

      It’s a shrewdly naturalistic work in that it refers to Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the binary relationship between the forces of Apollo (intellectualism and form) versus Dionysus (passion and madness) while presenting the form of a Greek tragedy (an odd number of scenes without intermission, one specific conflict or agon, and hubris, or pride).  Rothko is the epitome of the classical tragic hero in that he displays

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is It Really The Original Pancake House?

Walking Up to the Original Pancake House

      Our visits to The Original Pancake House were at a high when we were doing brunch every week with Kris, Karn, and Helen before they moved to Michigan.  We never had a bad experience except that Helen used to dislike the long lines that could be outside the entrance door.  The four adults looked at it as a time to visit.

It's Always A Nice Day Inside
      Flash forward a few years and Carole, Karen, and I were there for a lunch visit.  Everything looked familiar (I noted the faux painted tray ceiling) right down to some of the crew.  We looked over the menu and I remembered the fabulous Chocolate Chip Pancakes topped with

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Will FX Make Our Halloween? Please run American Horror Story as a Marathon

      Yes, there will probably be a torture porn movie or two released for what’s unfortunately turning into America’s new top holiday.  Skip the latest Saw knockoff – the original was execrable anyway – and instead watch American Horror Story on FX (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. – yes, it’s up against Revenge so it’s time to learn to set the DVR), the scariest work on television and probably at the movies as well.  So far, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and their daughter, Taissa Farmiga, have unwittingly moved into “The Murder House” in L.A.

Alexandra Breckenridge
and Frances Conroy as the maid
They’ve employed a maid that males see as hot Alexandra Breckenridge and females see as

Friday, October 21, 2011

Is Chi-nnati's Pizza Worth The Wait?

Chi-nnati's Entrance

      I'm always fascinated when new restaurants transform existing spaces, especially when they do a great job worthy of appearing on HGTV.  Such was the case with Chi-nnati's—Jalapeños Mexican in a previous life and a Ground Round before that.  Neither of those was successful which leads one to believe that some spaces just seem to carry bad karma with them.  Hopefully all of that has been extruded in the process. Chi-nnati's deserves to be around for a long time.

      I visited with my work buddies a few weeks ago so Eric and I decided to pay a visit on a Sunday night.  Their specialty is Chicago deep-dish pizza that takes time to prepare.  Chi-nnati's offers the option of calling ahead so your order is well on its way to being ready by the time you arrive.  That added service

Will TV’s Sexiest Woman Get Her Way This Season?

Nina Garcia Judging on Project Runway

      Nina Garcia, Fashion Editor for Marie Claire, and Project Runway judge since episode one, is intelligent, trilingual, perfectly dressed, and gorgeous.  Her taste is impeccable and she has always pushed for the best designer each season.  Her contretemps with Santino over lingerie on the second season was his

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pho Lang Thang – A Very Pleasant Surprise in Findlay Market

      The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky region has an abundance of Indian and Thai restaurants, many of which are good values.  However, Vietnamese cuisine is beginning to surge.  Song Long in Roselawn is an iconic, moderately priced family owned independent restaurant while Cilantro in Clifton is almost what I’d imagine a noodle shop would be like in Saigon.  Last year, Pho Lang Thang opened on Elder Street beside Findlay Market and it shares traits of the other two, but with some twists.  

Pho Lang Thankg in the Middle of Findlay Market
      The over-riding metaphor is that Pho Lang Thang is both clean and playful.  It’s an open space, glass-fronted, and very contemporary, but smack in the middle of

Monday, October 17, 2011

El Jinete Rides High

Wasn't el jinete
the original cowboy?

      Since Chi-Chi's flew into a cloud of food poisoning in 2004, there have been a number of local Mexican restaurants and chains pop up on the scene.  One of the latest in our area is El Jinete, now with 3 locations including the latest in Montgomery.  Four of us visited for lunch shortly after their grand opening.  It was my first visit to El Jinete so I wasn't

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Everything New is Old Again Part 2: From Angelina Jolie to Kim Kardashian

      There’s a certain kind of actress – beautiful, brilliant, and polarizing either because of attitude, beliefs, or politics – that emerges every thirty years or so.  In the 1930s, it was Katharine Hepburn, while in the 1970s, it was both Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, and now it’s Angelina Jolie as my Mom pointed out.  Her talent cannot be disputed.  The first major role she had was in Gia and she blew that whole movie and the rest of the cast (Mercedes Ruehl and Faye Dunaway among them) out of the water.  Her whole life is bigger than what our prosaic media can handle.  The whole weird extremely close sibling bond seemed like something out of a Greek myth whereas the marriage with Billy Ray Thornton smacked of Tobacco Road Dracula and the Brad Pitt relationship gets into Elizabeth Taylor – Richard Burton territory.  The initiation of that relationship has led to such a denunciation of Jolie.  It’s usually women who seem to have a problem with her, but she was the forthright one.  Brad Pitt wanted a family and Jennifer Aniston did not, which is a gender reversal of the traditional conflict, but ‘the girl next door – America’s Sweetheart’ Jen wouldn’t admit it.

Angelina Jolie boarding her plane
Along comes Jolie with an instant family, able to fly a plane (anyone who can fly a plane, including John Travolta among others, gets my free pass), UNICEF goodwill ambassador, tireless supporter of the poor in Africa and the U.S., and Pitt leaves.  Jolie isn’t the homewrecker because there wasn’t

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Everything New is Old Again Part 1: From Matt Damon to Leonardo DiCaprio

      A couple of weeks ago I posted that Brad Pitt is the new Paul Newman because of his talent and image (I’ll get into the whole Brad/Jennifer/Angelina contretemps in Part 2, no fear).  However, the most versatile movie star right now is Matt Damon.  He is capable of playing almost anything onscreen and pulling it off in an American vernacular.  His two missteps (The Brothers Grimm and Invictus) happened because although he’s a diligent actor, he is not comfortable in a role where he has to champion his technique (the polar opposite for his generation is Kate Winslet, more about her later) and his foreign accent work is not entirely accurate.  He disappears effortlessly into his roles and the world of the movies in which he appears.  I remember seeing him in School Ties as one of the anti-Semitic WASPs and he didn’t really stand out, but I was pretty astonished by what he did in Courage Under Fire (one of those mid-90s movies where Meg Ryan strenuously tried to prove she could act even though she was wonderful on TV and in Top Gun – she and Anthony Edwards were the only convincing actors in that film as a young, married military officer couple – but it was all about the hardware and the rah-rah Reagan era ‘take out the Russkies’ conflict) because he practically evaporated before my eyes and, although he was playing a heroin addict, the weight loss did not seem an attention getting Method exercise.  

The Dexter Equation being worked out
by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting
      He became a star (and Oscar winner for his writing) because of Good Will Hunting, where he again was completely convincing as a townie custodian who’s a genius.  The bromance with Ben Affleck was more compelling than his romance with

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Day at the Casinos, A Night at Ron's Roost

Dexter Climbss the Mileage Marker in Lawrenceburg, IN
      Eric's Mom was visiting, and a trip to the Indiana casinos is always on her list for entertainment.  We decided to make it a day trip by starting out on Route 50 West.  I like taking that highway from Cincinnati as it is more scenic and really just as fast as the interstate.  If you have time, stop off at Fern Bank Park...a lovely city gem stretched out along the banks of the Ohio River.  The tree-lined promenade is a great place to take temporary residence on one of the many benches along the walkway.  

Whiskey's Interior
      We usually make the buffet at Hollywood Casino our first destination, but they were in the middle of a remodel (they're still open though) so we decided to have lunch at Whiskey's nearby in the Newtown district of Lawrenceburg, IN.  I had been there before so the challenge was to please Carol and Eric. Whiskey's is two connected older buildings one of which was a button factory.  The look was turn-of-the-last-century, dimly lit, and inviting.  Be sure and check out

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Big Gay Chicago Wedding

A View of Trump Tower on the Way to the Ceremony

      We received a save-the-date postcard for Rich & Tom's wedding in early January.  We cleared our calendars and waited for the details to come forth.  We could have asked them what the plans were going to be, but instead we allowed ourselves to conjure up several outrageous scenarios in anticipation.  What would their interpretation be for a civil ceremony between two men?  Like all weddings, the possibilities for creativity are boundless.  Our hopes were that they would preserve some of the traditions of a straight wedding but without all the hokey customs (i.e. some translation of throwing the bouquet and garter belt), while adding their own twists to the celebration.  As it turned out, it was exactly that!  

The Invitation and Save-the-Date Postcard
The Announcement
at the Allerton Hotel
      The invitations set the stage...beautifully scripted and printed in rich brown tones on a pistachio green.  Included were two surprises. To exhibit their generosity, and to keep guests entertained for the weekend, Rich and Tom hosted an architectural boat tour on the afternoon before their 5:30 pm wedding and

Saturday, October 8, 2011

When You Go To Chicago, Visit a Classic— Frontera Grill

Dexter's Head Mask
Above the Bar at Frontera Grill

Master Chef Rick Bayless
      We’ve been to Frontera Grill a number of times over the past fifteen years and to its upscale sister, Topolobampo.  Rick Bayless was the first Top Chef Masters winner and he has always been in the restaurant whenever we’ve visited.  We’ve trumpeted that fact to all our friends and then, wouldn’t you know, he wasn’t there this time.  He and his wife Deanna are listed as the proprietors and there’s a chef so I guess he’s going for the Alice Waters model, which is fine, but does give me pause.  (I don’t want him to end up a media celebrity, rather than a gourmet master, as has happened with other chefs whose personalities preceded their palates).  Everyone who’s accompanied us, with one exception (more on that later), has really enjoyed the ambience and the food.  Frontera seats about sixty-five and has limited reservations.  They have always based their clientele on walk-ins and I’ve known people to wait

Friday, October 7, 2011

Grand Lux Café Chicago—the Rich Relative

Dining Room as Seen from the Bar

      We've dined at the Grand Lux Cafés in both Las Vegas and Chicago for the past decade and have always found them to be memorable and a great value.  When we met our friend Monica in Chicago for dinner on a recent Friday night, we hadn't made reservations so decided to stop in the Grand Lux on Ontario Street to inquire about the wait. It was only 20 minutes (incredible for a Friday night).  Waiting at the bar we introduced ourselves to Ola, a retired Chicago school teacher, and regretted that our conversation ended so soon when our table became ready.  (Chicago is a friendly city, you know.)

Slow Roasted Pork Sandwich

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Know You’re in Trouble with “Dreamhouse”

      You know you’re in trouble when every fifteen minutes or so in a movie such as Dreamhouse, you’re thinking ‘oh, this is going to be a retread of The Amityville Horror’ or ‘this is that whole protagonist self-referential thing like Shutter Island or Secret Window or Oedipus Rex’ or it’s that ‘who’s the ghost? ghost story thing like Carnival of Souls or The Sixth Sense or The Others’ but then it finally doesn’t commit to any of those types of subgenres and, instead, glops it all together and turns sort of sappy.

      Daniel Craig doesn’t bother with an American accent and there’s no explanation for why he’s vaguely English so it seems like he’s James Bond in the suburbia of Westchester County or Connecticut.  Actually, James Bond stuck in this film would probably display the same identity problems.  Rachel Weisz pretty much plays a sweet wife and Naomi Watts has about twenty lines as a somewhat conflicted neighbor.  What’s happening with female roles when Naomi Watts, frightening and brilliant in Mulholland Drive, luminous in King Kong, and the star of real horror movies like The Ring, chooses something like this?  Did she need to make her rent?  There is nothing she could have played instead?  There’s no possible multi-week guest shot on The Good Wife, which has some of the best contemporary work by female actors?  Can’t HBO or Showtime give her a chance at a series?

      Afterwards, my Mother, who rarely badmouths a movie, said “well it was an okay semi-entertaining choice,” and then we calculated how long Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz will stay married to each other.  We wish them the best and though they have great chemistry in real life, it’s not up there on the screen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Two Supreme Works at The Art Institute of Chicago

      We wanted to visit The Art Institute of Chicago, a favorite museum of ours, because we hadn’t seen the new contemporary wing.  Karn had visited earlier this year and wasn’t overly enthusiastic, but we wanted to confirm that opinion or not.  If you have a hankering for contemporary art, go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, adjacent to Water Tower Place.  Its content is similar to the Whitney in New York.  

The Modern Wing Designed by Architect Renzo Plano 
Griffin Court in the Modern Wing

Pritzker Garden Bridging the Modern Wing
with the Original Building

The Art Institute is reminiscent of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which is the museum Americans really want to see because of the Impressionist collection.  The Art Institute has the best Impressionist collection outside of the Musée d’Orsay and because of the new wing, it’s able to be displayed practically by individual artist in each of the galleries.  

The Original Building of the Art Institute of Chicago
Sunday Afternoon on the
Island of La Grande Jatte
by Seurat

That element is welcome, but the architectural style is not very congruent with the original building.  It looks like too much of an update of the International style instead of an update of the Classical Revival.  Regardless of whether new or old, I haven't been to a museum that has been able to solve the issue of how sore and worn out most viewers feet are by the end of their visit.

One of the Monet Galleries

Matisse's Bathers by a River
      I think the greatest painting of the 20th century resides in the Art Institute and, though I love Picasso, it’s not Guernica, but Matisse’s Bathers by a River.  Although it shows five or, possibly, four female figures where one might be metamorphosing into a different version of herself, I think it’s all about the phases of Eve from before she meets the serpent until she has been transformed by knowledge.  

The final figure on the right of the painting faces the viewer, and her future, full on and her face is brightly lit, although she is featureless.  It’s technically astonishing because it’s only in black, white, green, and a little pink.  The bather becomes more vital even as she steps away from Eden.  Yes, it most likely refers to the conflagration and new order that resulted from World War I.  As The Wedding At Cana by Veronese is outshone by the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, so too is Bathers by a River outdone in familiarity to viewers by Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, probably the most well-known work of his Blue Period.   There is a ton of other wonderful works there so it’s more than worth the $18 entrance fee.

      The other supreme work viewable in the contemporary wing is the spectacular view of the Chicago skyline.  Sure, there may be more great buildings in New York, but they’re harder to see because of the overabundance of real estate in a tighter space.  From Daniel Burnham on, Chicago has wonderful examples of every major movement in western architecture of the past one hundred and twenty years.  It’s an ever evolving art work because there’s always another building going up along Lake Michigan or the Chicago River.

Bluhm Family Terrace

Gerhard Richter's Woman Descending the Staircase

This is my portrait by Gerhard Richter but it's part of a private collection.  Who knows, maybe someday it will be seen at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Cat Reclining on Driveway

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lemon Grass: It Feels Like The Original & It’s Our Favorite

     We’ve been going to Lemon Grass regularly since 1996, whether to dine in or take out.  It may not be as chic as Teak Thai or Green Papaya, or have the take out trade of Ruthai’s, or be as busy as Wild Ginger, but its service is second to none of any restaurant, ethnic or otherwise, high-end or pedestrian, anywhere in the region.  This is because it’s owned and run by a group of friends (some related), who give it their all day in day out at lunch and dinner.  Their kindness and quiet friendliness has earned them a well deserved devoted following.  I also don’t think they’ve raised their prices in over ten years.  Patrons might consider reservations if they’re going to be part of a group of six or more, though this might seem pretentious.  On the other hand, I’ve waited forty-five minutes for a table when I decided against reserving.  

The Comfortable Dining Room at Lemon Grass
      Our family and friends always ask about going there so when my Mom and Auntie Barbara visited, it was ours (and theirs) first choice.  Lemon Grass is situated in a stand alone building on Madison Road a block from Rookwood (i.e. the epicenter of the Hyde Park-Oakley-Norwood shopping district).  It’s a spare dining room, though elegant in its use of a large mirror and arrangement of bowls of spices.

Chicken Coconut Soup
      We considered appetizers (it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, though the corn cakes, the spring rolls, and the crab crispies are all delicious), but chose soup instead.  This group of dishes is one of their best.  The Lemon Grass Soup is a winner with a complex flavoring of sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy elements and adding cilantro, scallions, and mushrooms.  In Emeril’s parlance, they “kick it up a notch” by adding chicken and coconut milk to create a classic dish (Chicken Coconut Soup) that a patron might want over and over.  The dumplings in the Wun Tun soup are plump, firm, and almost like pot stickers.

Spicy Shrimps and Scallops
Panang Curry
Mango Yellow Curry
Spicy Eggplant with Tofu
      Mom chose the Spicy Shrimps and Scallops that are tempura batter fried and served on skewers with steamed vegetables.  (This is one of the selections from the insert menu).  It was a big portion that we shared.  Auntie Barbara had the Panang Curry, which she thought was very authentic in taste, but specifically in smell, to when she lived in Thailand with a host family and taught there a couple of years ago.  She also had a chance to practice her Thai vocabulary.  Neil ordered the Mango Yellow Curry, in which the fruit is randomly sliced and the curry sauce is creamy with a subtle bite.  Most of the heat level for us is pretty relaxed since we usually don’t go above a 2 on a 10 level of spice, although Auntie Barbara had a 5 and liked it.  I’ve had the Spicy Eggplant with Tofu and always liked it, but the eggplant was a little mushy this time.  After going there probably hundreds of times over the past fifteen years, there have only been two occasions where we didn’t think the food was really good.

Garlic Chicken Lunch

Paht Thai Lunch
      A few other notes about Lemon Grass are that they serve an unbeatable lunch weekdays for the current price of $5.50 consisting of many favorites from the evening menu with white or fried rice.  They also serve a number of desserts, which we’ve liked but don’t always order, and Thai Iced Tea and Thai Iced Coffee, which we do.  Mom thinks that the Iced Tea is the best mix of coconut milk and juice that she’s had at over a half dozen restaurants.  

Thai Iced Tea and Coffee
One other cool touch is that they have their own dinnerware in white porcelain, highlighted with cobalt blue.  Unfortunately they do not have a website, which one will either find charming or shocking.  I think it adds to their appeal.

Lemon Grass is located at 2666 Madison Road.
Lemon Grass on Urbanspoon

I was quite comfortable staying at home and watching the house.  They all needed some time to catch up on family stories.