Art and Bugs in Montreal

June 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

A very rainy last full day in Montreal. La Famille split up. SJ, EM, and the grandchildren Haru and Teru braved the downpour and were off to Montreal’s Botanical Gardens where they braved the moisture and explored some of the beautiful Asian gardens. Dried off at the Insectarium which has a very diverse collection of creepy-crawlies. Culture Vultures HG/BSK went to the Musee de Beaux Arts. On last visit, HG/BSK immersed themselves in the museum’s collection of The Group of Seven, Canadian painters (of the 1920’s-30’s) who explored modernism while retaining a passionate engagement with the Canadian landscape. Today, HG/BSK started with religious art of the the 14th and 15th centuries. Gems by Veronese, Tintoretto and Mantegna. Then off to a room of contemporaries. Stella, Olitski, Hoffman, Bacon, Soulages, Beuys, Richter,. etc. A very witty Tansey. First interesting Jim Dine HG ever saw. Rested eyes over a ham-cheese-baguette in the cafeteria. With sharpened vision, HG/BSK explored an intelligently curated display of modern design. Yes, all of the masters were on display but there were plenty of the more eccentric innovators like Bonetti, Sottsass, Arad and Starck. HG/BSK reflected: Everything at the museum is beautifully lit and displayed. The attendants are courteous and helpful. Lots of clean restrooms. Two words describe it: Museum Heaven.

Tonight is HG’s last meal in Montreal. Going to L’Express. A true French bistro, Features all the golden oldies: Bone marrow, kidneys in mustard sause, beef tartare, steak frites, pot a feau, grilled calf’s liver, etc. A report will follow.

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Schwartz’s VS Katz’s And The Verdict Is…

June 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Schwartz’s is better. Yes, HG loves New York and loves all the old time treats…but. For dinner HG slathered rye bread with yellow mustard and piled on lots of Schwartz’s smoked meat from Montreal’s famed “Delicatessen Hebraique.” Heartburn heaven. Yes, better than Katz’s pastrami. Tough to describe. Schwartz’s smoked meat is a brined, smoked and cured brisket seemingly existing at the cross roads between pastrami and corned beef while retaining the virtues of both. SJ ordered it “fatty” and “medium fatty” and brought it back to the rented Montreal apartment to dine at home. Once again Schwartz’s meat proves that the flavor is in the fat. The Schwartz’s meat slicers, seasoned carnivore surgeons, hand carve slices that are much thicker than Katz’s pastrami so no juice and smokey flavor is lost. The Schwartz’s rye bread, however, lacks the slightly sour grandeur of traditional New York Jewish rye. Also, the texture is a tad soft. Didn’t try Schwartz’s pickles. Discerning SJ, a pickle maven, looked at the Schwartz’s product and said they looked tired. So, in terms of New York’s Jewish deli mystique, all is not lost.

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Can’t Eat The Scenery

June 17th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Went to Le Cristal, much touted restaurant in Montreal’s Chinatown, for a dim sum brunch. Beautiful, contemporary decor. Crisp white table cloths and white slipcovered seating. The food did not live up to the decor. Once again the famous adage, in regards to Chinese restaurants, proves true: the worst the decor the better the food. Le Cristal’s food was just so-so. Reasonable Hakka noodles, sticky rice and scallops with transparent noodles. Everything else was sub-par and perhaps below even that: over-steamed shrimp dumplings with gummy wrappers, greasy scallion pancakes, tasteless pork spare ribs in black bean sauce.HG vows that HG will never again subject BSK to dim sum (except at New York’s Dim Sum a Go Go, which has a large variety of vegetarian dim sum.) BSK is allergic to shrimp and most good dim sum contains shrimp in one form or another. No matter how hard HG tries to source shrimpless dumplings, BSK always winds up staring (with disdain) at a trio of big, beef meatballs.

Sunny day and perfect for a visit to the waterfront. HG took in the delicious sun while SJ took the grandkids to the Montreal science museum. Surrounding the museum was a city-sponsored and quite lively science fair. As well, Chinese stilt walkers paraded down the esplanade swaying in the wind with their colorful costumes while drummers banged away on drums fashioned from recycled trash containers. Kids loved it. On the way home, HG had a joyous time watching and listening to a rockabilly duo outside the Mont Royal metro station. Thirsty HG drank a very large, very good sangria on the terrace of a nearby cafe. SJ is off to Schwartz’s to get some super famous smoked meat for dinner. Canadians, rarely boastful, say it tops Katz’s New York product. Hmmm…..We will see.

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Portuguese Exuberance

June 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Lunch at a pleasant pizzeria, Tomato, that served some crisp pizzas adorned with quality mozzarella and anchovies. While La Famille went walking and shopping, HG settled snugly into a terrace chair at La Folies cafe. Attractive young people. Pleasant music. HG read the Gazette, Montreal’s English-language newspaper, and sipped a Cafe Moka. Much of the news concerned corrupt city officials who accepted bribes to ease the way for real estate developers and contractors. So, what else is new?

In the eve, went to St. Laurent Boulevard. Boiling with people. Appetizing smells of grilling sausages, street-side paella and much else. All part of a Greek festival but the cuisine seemed multi- national — reflecting the melting pot of the neighborhood. The HG/BSK family dined at Restaurant Jano, a Portuguese restaurant specializing in wood-grilled delicacies. Sure enough, ensconced in the front window of the restaurant, a prematurely grizzled chef expertly manned a flaming grill laden with meat and fish. This master delivered up spectacular whole sardines and charred, tender calamari to start before progressing to a Frango spicy grilled chicken with crackly skin and moist meat, fragrant chorizo and perfectly pink lamb chops criss-crossed with grill marks. Vinegar peppers, greasy fried potatoes and a piquant hot sauce accompanied the meal. Pitcher of not too sweet sangria and a beer for SJ. An exuberant meal.

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Rue Mont-Royal

June 15th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Rue Mont-Royal is the lively shopping and dining street around the corner from HG and BSK’s Montreal rental apartment. As evening approaches it draws hundreds of young Montrealers to its outdoor cafes. Very reminiscent of the scene along Rue des Abbesses in Paris’s Montmartre. HG has been exploring the food scene (of course) on Rue Mont Royal. Two stars are Boulangerie Kouign-Amann and Trip de Bouffe. The bakery seems straight out of Brittany and features sensational croissants, quiches and the flaky, buttery Breton pastry which has given the boulangerie its name. Trip de Bouffe is Lebanese. Scores of tasty Lebanese salads to take out (or eat at a few tables) plus sandwiches of pita liberally coated with zaatar, the wonderful middle eastern spice mixture. Dinner was at Tazah, a new Syrian restaurant on Mont-Royal. Sensational mezze — grilled Syrian cheese, stuffed vine leaves sprinkled with pomengranate seeds, labenah (a creamy, condensed yogurt infused with garlic). HG/BSK shared a main of grilled Syrian kefte (ground lamb mixed with pistachios and a medley of spices). SJ, EM and their children arrive today so much fun feasting ahead!

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Cathedral Glories in Montreal

June 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Though a confirmed disbeliever in organized religion (of all kinds, varieties, etc.), HG loves churches, chapels and cathedrals. Not so knocked out by synagogues. Hasn’t seen enough mosques to make judgments. So, after a modest (Greek salad for BSK and a Greek omelette/fritatta for HG at Ouzeri on Rue St.Denis), HG/BSK were off to Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal off Place des Armes. Built between 1824-1829, the cathedral has a dazzling interior with plentiful and rather naive stained glass windows, a soaring altar, woodwork full of color (much created by New Yorker Angelo Pienovi). Indifferent paintings. It is a happy, majesric interior full of color and light. Somehow, it reflects New World optimism. A jewel is the cathedral’s chapel, Chapelle Notre-Dame du Sacre Coeur. Destroyed by fire, the Chapelle was rebuilt and reopened in 1982. The altar is a striking work of modernism (seemingly influenced by the best bas-reliefs of the 20’s and 30’s) by sculptor Charles Daudelin. It is much in demand for weddings (about 150 a year). If HG could renew his vows with BSK (in a secular manner, of course), the Chapelle would be HG’s choice venue.

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Magical Montreal Day

June 14th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

This is HG/BSK’s second visit to Montreal. Last one was more than 40 years ago in the midst of an April blizzard. Spent much of that time eating oysters and sole at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Not a shabby way to sit through a blizzard. Yesterday was a sunny contrast and Montrealers filled the streets, shops and cafes in all their astonishing diversity. The young sported multiple tattoos and costumes varying between grunge, hipster and post-flower child. Shopped on Rue St. Denis. BSK scored great Camper sandals (on sale, natch, the well groomed lady is constitutionally opposed to paying full price). Then off to Musee des Beaux Arts on stately, classy Rue Sherbrooke. A revelation. This is truly one of the great museums. Incomparable collection of Canadian painters and sculptors, great artists totally unknown in the United States. BSK introduced HG to The Group of Seven, Canadian landscape painters of the 20’s and 30’s. HG was overpowered by the paintings of Lawren Harris. Dramatic evocations of Canadian natural beauty. Much better than the American regionalists of that era. Once more, HG was struck by how provincial the American art world is and how that causes unjust ignorance in regards to Canada’s cultural treasures. (Though the emphasis is Canadian, the Musee has some rooms of important French impressionists plus a great later period Picasso and superb sculpture by Arp and Lipschitz). Since HG/BSK cannot live by aesthetics alone, the duo took a long early evening stroll through the low rise, tree lined streets of the Plateau District (urban living at its best) and wound up at Philinos, a Greek restaurant on Rue du Parc. Very pleasant service and a perfect warm weather meal. Superior feta cheese crumbled onto cucumbers, tomatoes and Kalamata olives. A refreshingly subtle version of Skordalia which avoided the typical garlic overdose. Warm, cheese filled phyllo pies. Room temperature grilled octopus in a lemon and oil sauce with thin slices of red onion and a shower of herbs. The tender octopus had a distinct charcoal tang which melded beautifully with the lemon’s acidic punch. Home made baklava for dessert. Drank a very good, inexpensive house Italian wine. Much better than the retsina one usually gets in modest Greek restaurants. Walking back to his rented apartment in the fading July light with a full, but not stuffed belly, HG mused how suitable Greek cuisine is for summer days.

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Great Montreal Cuisine at 3 Petits Bouchons

June 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG and BSK are in Montreal for a brief stay before heading to their Prince Edward Island sea paradise. Big change from hot, arid and forest fire-plagued New Mexico. Rain and cool breezes. Felt good. HG/BSK are staying in the Plateau neighborhood, Very reminiscent of Greenwich Village of yesteryear. Lots of bars, cafes and ethnic restaurants. Young people. Funky low rise buildings. Hungry HG/BSK head to 3 Petits Bouchons. A bistro and cave a vins, this is a warm toned, stone walled, intimate place. Superb wines. Great cuisine. Some of the highlights were grilled octopus served with a unique sauce and grilled potatoes; cod with fiddlehead ferns and asparagus (sauce grenobloise), Duck confit (served on an imaginative Waldorf salad). Cheese plate with crisp nut breads and jams. Drank a Regnie from the Beaujolais region and a Sylvaner from the Loire. Both wonderful. Deft service. A warning: Not cheap. Canadian import taxes make the wines, while delicious, boost the bill into the stratosphere.

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University Place Free Association Part III: Bradley Cunningham

June 10th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Bradley’s, the intimate bar, restaurant and music venue on University Place, encouraged many HG and BSK smiles. It was small — 15 tables and 20 bar stools. The food — steaks and hamburgers — was honest and good; the music, however, was great. On a platform was a baby grand piano (contributed to Bradley Cunningham, the proprietor, by the great saxaphonist, Paul Desmond). The world’s greatest jazz pianists (sometimes accompanied by a bass) played there. Tommy Flanagan, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rowles and Kenny Barron were among them. Bradley made sure it was an orderly room where artistry could be appreciated and heard. (There was also some nice visual art in the room — three BSK acrylics were among the paintings over the bar). Bradley was a big, craggy- faced, ruggedly handsome guy (died of lung cancer in 1988). He was interesting. A fine amateur pianist and an appreciator of good writing and a true lover of New York. Served as a Marine in World War Two, learned Japanese and used that skill to talk Japanese soldiers out of indefensible bunkers and later interrogate them. He had witnessed much horror. He was in Nagasaki soon after its atomic bombing. Bradley and his friends, the great vocal and piano duo of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral (Jackie still performs occasionally. Roy died a few years ago) rented a Fire Island house near HG/BSK’s dune house and became dear friends of HG and BSK. HG encouraged Jackie and Roy to buy a house in Montclair, N.J., where HG lived. They did and HG and BSK would often drive into New York for an evening at Bradley’s or meet there late at night after theater or movies. Bradley married Wendy, the beautiful, long time waitress. HG and BSK joined Jackie and Roy at the wedding at a West Village church and had a celebratory meal at Leon Lianides’s Coach House House Restaurant on Waverley Place. Much joy. After Bradley’s death, Wendy kept his place alive until the final closing in 1996. Stanley Crouch wrote a lovely piece about Bradley’s in the New Yorker (Aug. 26, 1996). When Bradley was still alive, the jazz writer and critic, Whitney Baillet, did a full length profile of him in the New Yorker. You can access both pieces from the New Yorker archives. Do so.

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University Place Free Association Part II: Ivan Black and Barry Gray VS. Walter Winchell and the Stork Club

June 9th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

In 1951 Ivan Black, the press agent for the Cafe Society clubs, became involved in a bitter battle with Walter Winchell, the all-powerful columnist and radio personality. Josephine Baker, the New York raised, African American dancer who had become one of the most famous entertainers in France, went to the Stork Club — at the time, one of New York’s top clubs and celebrity hangouts. Ms. Baker felt she received rude service because of her race and she made her displeasure known. A radio talk show guy, Barry Gray, took up Baker’s cause and criticized Sherman Billingsley, the Stork Club proprietor. Billingsley was a Winchell pal (WW had a nightly table in the Club’s super-exclusive Cub Room). The battle was on: Barry Gray and Ivan Black VS the Stork Club and Walter Winchell. WW accused Baker of fascist sympathies and communist ties. (Baker sued WW for defamation — but the timid State Department refused her a visa for some years so she was unable to take the suit to court). WW characterized Barry Gray and Ivan Black (who was also the press agent for the restaurant where Gray broadcast) as “commie sympathizers.” In WW’s columns, Gray was ” Borey Pink” and Black was “Ivan Pink.” Such was Winchell’s power that Gray was hounded out of New York. He relocated to Miami where he was very successful and later returned to New York as a popular (and politically conservative) radio gabber. Today, he is acknowledged as the “Father of Talk Radio.” Ivan, a gentle and scholarly Harvard graduate, had some business reverses but survived. The Ivan Black papers at the New York Public Library (some 55 boxes of press releases, clippings, photos and musical scores) are an invaluable historical source for the night club and jazz scene in New York (1937-1978).

Winchell? Television destroyed him. His TV show was a flop. Soon his radio broadcast and column disappeared. With chagrin, he watched his old rival, Ed Sullivan, become a TV icon. (Yes, WW did voice overs on “The Untouchables” TV show but that was just nostalgia shtick). WW died, quite forgotten, age 74. HG is ambivalent about WW. Winchell liked the prose HG contributed to his column and gave HG clients favorable mention. HG’s career as a press agent got a jump start when Winchell printed, in bold face, a prose poem HG authored. WW sent HG a note: “Keep it comin’, keed–WW.” And that’s what HG has done for many a year.

As for Abel “Strange Fruit” Meeropol who was mentioned in Part I of the University Place posts: He and his wife adopted the two orphaned young sons of atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Both boys grew up to be college professors. Their childhood with the Meeropols was a happy one. Abel, they recall, was a master of comic improvisations and impersonations. He kept them laughing. After the torment that those boys went through, HG is certainly thankful for that.

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