Tagged: Travel

Sandy.

All around the web, people are reminiscing about Hurricane Sandy a year after it devastated Lower Manhattan. A decade and a bit after the same neighborhood took another critical blow from 9/11,  it was just as hard for a lot of businesses to cope. The South Street Seaport, particularly the Fulton Street strip and Pier 17, were  still ghost towns when we visited this past March

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Fulton Street, still boarded up.

One of our favorite downtown pubs, the Heartland Brewery, was a cosy unpretentious destination for excellent craft beers and high-class finger foods, tucked underneath the overpasses of downtown. A flight of beers and some luridly multicolored nachos were an excellent way to pass a rainy afternoon.

Your hostess outside the Heartland on a rainy day in 2010.

Heartland beer flight.

Garish nachos, plus Heartland’s famous and addictive Buffalo chicken spring rolls.

Post-Sandy, the wreckage was extreme.

The unrecognizable restaurant area.

 

The hopeless chaos of the main bar.

There are other Heartland locations throughout Manhattan, with similar menus and the same first-rate beers (try the Red Rooster Ale or the Not Tonight, Honey Porter) but they all fee more corporate and touristy, and none have the intimate neighborhood gathering-place feel of the Fulton Street one.

Thankfully, development has begun on resuscitating the Seaport, so perhaps some day it will be back its old glory.

You know what my favorite thing to do at the Seaport was? Sit and mellow out. On the upper deck was a row of lounge chairs, and you could veg there all day if you were so inclined. Reading, listening to music, or just watching the boats, the birds, and the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a small outpost of peace amid the commerce and touristing.

Brooklyn Bridge with seagull.

Brooklyn Bridge with seagull.

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South Pacific.

Lisa McCune and a bunch of horny sailors in OA’s South Pacific. Krulac, is that you? 

I had watched Bartlett Sher’s famous Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific on YouTube. When I found out it was coming to the Sydney Opera House I immediately saved up for tickets. The performance I attended was the first preview of the revival season.

Romance, intrigue, prejudice, colonialism, war, comedy, tragedy. Those are some of the themes of this 1949 evergreen musical, which has only infrequently been revived. The 2008 production broke ticket records and was one of the most sought-after Broadway tickets for a long time.

Opera Australia imported Sher to direct the revival, and his care shows in the meticulous direction. Catherine Zuber’s period costumes looked splendid, and Michael Yeargan’s bamboo-blind sets ensured quick and noiseless scene changes.

The first comment I have to make is negative. I’ll be generous and say that the numerous failures in the amplification system were due to opening-day glitches. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’ve heard better sound in the talking dolls of my girlhood.

Unfortunately, the rotten microphony seriously undermined the performance of Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile de Becque. Saddled with a wretchedly mousy wig (not his fault) and a Pepe LePew French accent (definitely his fault), Rhodes sang well but was mostly incomprensible, both in song and dialogue. (Perhaps this was an ironic homage to the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s namesake, also famous for bad diction.) He did belt out a gorgeous “Some Enchanted Evening” with a legit full-voice concluding high note, but “This Nearly Was Mine”, although delivered with the requisite frustrated regret, was clear as mud. A shame.

Logie-winning Lisa McCune as Ensign Nellie Forbush could not have been any better if she’d held a séance and channeled the spirit of Mary Martin. A delightful actress with just enough spunk to be charming without verging into annoyingness, her Nellie was a model of sunny determination. Her act 1 mood swing from the go-girl-feminism of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” to the dreamy head-over-heels romance of “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy” was communicated with perfect naturalness and a sweet singing voice. I must also commend her FLAWLESS American accent. As someone who criticizes pronunciation regularly and is well-used to spotting bad dialects, I had not a single complaint. Brava.

Christine Anu, normally a sexy corkscrew-curled chanteuse, was nearly unrecognizable as Bloody Mary: stooped, with betel-nut stained teeth and stringy hair. A few crooned phrases couldn’t ruin her haunting “Bali H’ai”, and the way she relished the phrase “STINGY BASTARD!” elicited loud laughs.

(Related question: Is Bloody Mary a pimp? She pushes Lt. Cable and her daughter Liat into a sexual relationship, hoping he’ll marry her and stay on the island. She asks for no money though, and in fact offers Cable the $600 she has saved selling grass skirts and human heads, as an endowment to start their  island life together. Does Western morality make us uncomfortable with this? Ponder.)

Gyton Grantley, familiar to TV viewers from Underbelly,  hits precisely the right balance of comic ingenuity and aw-shucks sweetness as Luther Billis, the laundry-running entrepreneur of the base. His drag routine with Nellie in Act 2, which can veer perilously close to ridiculousness, was genuinely funny. Grantley is obviously not a born singer, but he led his  Seabees competently in “There is Nothing Like A Dame” (staged here, correctly, not for laughs but as an almost menacing lament of sexual frustration). He too had a perfect American accent: props.

Blake Bowden was adequate if somewhat colorless as Lieutenant Cable. “Younger Than Springtime”, which I’ve always considered to be a bit superfluous, was well sung, and he had a lovely chemistry with the pretty Celina Yuen as Liat. Bartholomew John gave his best George C. Scott impression as Captain Brackett. The ensemble was well-drilled and was obviously enjoying themselves.

Let’s hope they work out the audio issues for the rest of the run, because this is a revival  of a historic musical worth watching. Only the most curmudgeonly  will be unmoved by its charms.

Chef’s Gallery.

Din Tai Fung is customarily the first stop for us when arriving in Sydney, conveniently located a few short blocks from Central Station where the cattle car bus leaves us. However, I’d been told of another central city Chinese yum cha joint, located in the Regent Place arcade next to Town Hall. We came across it quite by accident after leaving Kinokuniya and decided to fortify ourselves for the trip home.

It was quite busy, so we were given seats at the counter. Fortunately, this gave us primo views of the kitchen, where the noodle-makers, wonton-makers, and wok cooks were industriously practicing their crafts. In particular, the noodle maker’s graceful tossing, spinning, twisting and rolling made him look weirdly balletic, a Nureyev of flour and water.

First up were some charsiu buns: those steamed breads filled with a mouthful of sweet-sauced barbecued pork. We ate these so quickly that I honestly forgot to photograph them. Oops.

The rest of our dishes arrived in quick succession.

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Dan Dan noodles, seductively fragrant of sesame and floating in a luridly orange broth, declared by the Mr. to be even better than Din Tai Fung’s version. High praise indeed. The noodles were just, just right. I tipped my chopsticks to Nureyev, but I’m not certain if he saw me.

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Oblong potstickers were crunchy once from the crust, and crunchy again from the miraculously not-gloopy cabbage filling. Dipped in a little soy/vinegar and slurped down with alacrity.

 

The odd-looking thing above is a pork floss roti. It’s a roti (of the Southeast Asian flaky/crunchy variety, rather than Indian), topped with a heap of…well, pork floss. What the heck is that, you ask? Imagine cotton candy or candyfloss. Now imagine it made of meat instead of sugar. Seriously. Same dissolving-fibrous texture and everything. If I sound incredulous, well I am. I have seen this in Asian supermarkets but I never tasted it before, and now I wonder why I waited.

It’s like cotton candy! But it’s PORK!

Will wonders never cease?

Anyway, it’s extra-tasty when piled into a freshly cooked roti.

Finally, the fried bread. Because the words “fried” and “bread” exert numinous powers over me. I can’t say no.

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Four golf-ball-sized fritters of deeply crunchy and barely sweetened dough. The green stuff in the dish turned out to be sweetened condensed milk for dipping. I don’t know why it was green.

Unfortunately we were too full and too pressed for time to try their famous “piggy” dessert buns. But that’s okay, because sure as sugar this won’t be our last visit to Chef’s Gallery. I look forward to many more of their delights.

 

Chefs Gallery on Urbanspoon

Essen.

We’re big fans of the heartiness of German, Austrian and Eastern European food. It’s not a big thing in Canberra: the Austrian Club is rather inscrutable about membership, while the Harmonie German Club has an unfortunate tendency to poison its diners. We can often be found at the touristy but pretty good Löwenbraukeller at the Rocks, but it wasn’t in the cards this trip.

We’d planned to hit Na Zdrowie, the Polish joint on Glebe Point Road. Unfortunately they didn’t have room for us. So we walked around for a while and came back to Essen in Ultimo, where we’d eaten previously.

Essen has the Urban Bierhall vibe down pat. Stone walls, wood-paneled ceilings, long communal tables, and chairs with cute folk-art designs painted on them. The waitresses are friendly and mostly German.

The muggy humidity of this particular Sydney day lent itself well to wheat beer’s refreshing qualities. So we ordered a litre of it.

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On the left, a Fransiskaner cut with mango juice, which is not nearly as weird as you’d think, and twice as delicious. On the right, a Schöfferhofer Kristall, tangy and banana-reminiscent with superior humidity-killing properties.

After an entrée of  rosy, paprika-flecked garlic bread, it was time for SCHNITZEL.

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One chicken, one pork, liberally doused in green peppercorn sauce. The schnitzels themselves were exemplary: perfectly greaseless and crunchy and tender. The peppercorn sauce was tasty but a little too peppery: in the future I’d order it on the side, because eventually the piquancy overwhelmed my taste buds. The rösti were crispy on the outside and soft, juicy and oniony on the inside. Delightful if perhaps a squish underdone.

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Dessert was a tasty apfelstrudel, garnished with ice cream and a drizzle of custard. I’m not certain if it was made in-house but it did the trick.

Essen is worthy of your attention for excellent beer and food in Ultimo. It is firmly established as one of our favorite Sydney German haunts without the theme-park feel of Löwenbraukeller .
Essen Restaurant & Beer Cafe on Urbanspoon

Din Tai Fung.

This is it, the alpha and omega, the ne plus ultra, the most talked about dumpling house in Sydney (with branches worldwide). And as I mentioned in an earlier post, it has become a bit of an obsession.

Located on the upper level of World Square, DTF is enormous and crowded, yet maintains an almost startling efficiency. It is possible to order and consume your entire meal without once speaking to the (young, uniformed, attractive, Chinese) wait staff.  When you are  led to your Formica table–sometimes individual, and sometimes part of a communal table–your are given a menu with pictures, and also a checklist with all the menu items on it. You tick off the items and quantity, and hand the checklist to your server.  Shortly thereafter, fragrant plates of bliss are brought to your table.

Xiaolongbao in steamer. With one removed for, um, aesthetic purposes.

The justly celebrated xiaolongbao are the real deal: scientifically and precisely assembled and cooked and arriving in their own bamboo steamer. Thin skins, a perfectly savory thin broth that hardly needs soy or vinegar for seasoning, and a juicy meatball in the centre. They are truly one of the most darling foods ever created.

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Our other customary orders are the Dan Dan noodles and the pork chop noodle soup, but this time the Mr decided to try a different noodle dish. The fiery bowl pictured above is “wontons with noodles in a tangy broth”. Tangy does not justify the spice level of this dish, liberally soaked in hot chili. The Mr, normally posessed of an iron constitution and a high spice tolerance, was wiping tears from his eyes as he finished. I dared not even try it.

I went for the wussy option:

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Described as noodles in a shallot sauce, this was indeed just that. Perfectly chewy noodles lightly dressed with a mild and pleasingly salty brown sauce, scattered with chopped green onions. Simple and tremendously satisfying.

It’s the dumplings that make the meal though. That’s why we go, and DTF never disappoints.

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Back.

What a lovely long weekend in Sydney. Shopping, theatre and food. Lots and lots of food.  Reviews of the theatre and food will be forthcoming, but let me tell you briefly about the shopping.

At the suggestion of Tarnished Sophia, I headed to Kinokuniya to shop for graphic novels. She recommended Sandman by Neil Gaiman, so I got the first volume of that : Preludes and Nocturnes. Also picked up the extremely cool-looking Kill Shakespeare, which is a battle between Will’s heroes and villains to complete the titular mission.

And because I am a total hopeless square, I couldn’t resist Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel. (It was a toss-up between that, or graphic/manga versions of Austen, Shakespeare, and Homer.)

Other loot included two nail polishes, a face mask, a canister of white tea, and a heap of Japanese snacks to munch on, And a cigar to extract: a Macanudo this time.

Back soon with lots ‘o’ verbiage.