Apr 16th 2015

Art And Traif

by Glen Roven

Glen Roven, Emmy Award winner, is a composer, lyricist, conductor, pianist, translator and CD Producer.

Last December, on the coldest night of the year, I trekked to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and, literally shaking in my boots, searched for the Castor Gallery, a small, but important exhibition space. Wandering around Broome Street trying to find it took me an hour. Yesterday, as spring finally broke through, and, hoping to bring a closure to this brutal winter, I again went to Broome Street — this time I knew where it was — to the K. Gallery, formally the P. Gallery. (I suppose those names have something to do with the owner, Prem Krishnamurthy.)

To fit in with the hip Lower East Side crowd and because it was — wait for it — sunny, I wore my coolest new sunglasses. Here’s my shameful secret: I buy my shades based on whatever style Kyle Chandler, the actor, happens to be wearing on his current TV series. For years I wore the Oakley’s that Chandler’s character Coach Taylor wore on Friday Night Lights; now I sport his Fisherman Eyewear brand from Bloodlines. Wearing the same glasses as Kyle, I somehow feel… pathetic, I know.

Back to art: I discovered Brooklyn-based artist Aaron Gemmill at this year’s SPRING/BREAK Art Show and was transfixed by his print “To live where other pass (nest II),” with its bolts of white dancing across the luxurious background of undulating blue. For the show at K., Gemmill collaborated with Matthew Schrader, a fellow student of the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts at Bard College, and the two of them are exhibiting in this joint show, Tactile Pose.

The themes seem to be material structures of urban power and the symbols of state power taken apart and reassembled into different shapes and combinations.

Gemmill has a history of working with complex systems: manipulating them, redefining them, finding mistakes in them. For his prints at K. he took a road map of Staten Island and separated out all the individual line segments; using a computer program, he condensed them to the smallest possible area. (He made similar work for all the boroughs but this show only exhibits five Staten Island prints.) The works are all called Maximum circulation maximum control and are 72x50 inches (lithographic ink, Plexiglas, paper), my favorite was hung behind the business desk of the gallery, the white “roads” raining down from a sky of dark blue onto a complex surface design of mountains (?) fields (?) despair(?).

Schrader’s intense sculptures reference the 83rd Police Precinct in Bushwick (he lives and work in Brooklyn), where a giant frieze adorns the entrance. Working with CNC plasma-cut steel, different printer inks and even lemon juice, he copied the sculpture, deconstructed all the elements of the frieze, aged them, and finally reassembled them at the gallery using magnets to hold the newly created images together. These works also titled Maximum circulation maximum control, 2015 are brutal but strangely moving, almost as if the structural elements themselves are saying, “See, we’re just shapes. Assembly us anyway you like and see how lovely we become.”

After the art and continuing my celebration of Persephone’s arrival, I took the train to downtown Williamsburg (of course wearing my sunglasses at night, thank you Cory Hart), repeating a journey I had made recently when I ate at the Michelin-starred Meadowsweet. This time I had a different restaurant in mind. Being a good Jewish boy and preparing emotionally for the Seder at my sister’s, I knew where I was going to eat: the restaurant called Traif. As every New Yorker knows (because every New Yorker’s second language is Yiddish) traif means non-kosher food. It can also be used as an adjective, just like “non-kosher” can, to modify anything from a person to a theatrical event with definite pejorative overtones.

Continuing the all-things-ironic motif of Williamsburg, the owners of Traif opened their restaurant right next to the Hassidic neighborhood in Brooklyn. Oy!

The unassuming entrance is in direct contrast to the come-hither twinkling lights of Meadowsweet. Maybe the owners wanted to keep a low profile in the land of the black hats: the only signage was a small logo on the temporary wind-blocking structure, a cute little piggy with an “I luv you” heart on drawn on its cute little piggy tummy.

What are Traif’s signature dishes? Shellfish and pork, of course, the perfect pre-Seder meal. (Actually, I was looking forward to this Seder because I had somehow persuaded my 93-year-old mother to dress up like Pharaoh and scream during the meal, “Hey Jews, Go back to building my Pyramids.” Fun for all!)

Traif is similar to many Clubs where the front door offers no indication of the excitement that lurks within. I was a bit overwhelmed by the joie de vie of the patrons and the lively atmosphere. This was clearly a local hang-out with the clientele eager to drink, mingle and to sample owner and chef Jason Marcus’s latest creations.

I gingerly asked our server. “Er…do the Hassidim every come in here?” “Oh, sure,” she happily answered. “All the time, but they usually hide in the back.”

The ultimate question answered, our server explained that this is a family-style restaurant where each party is encouraged to share dishes. The menu was a bit overwhelming so I asked her to suggest some favorites. Julie enthusiastically helped us navigate; she said six dishes seemed to be the magic number for a perfect two-person meal and recommended some signatures dishes as well as new ones the chef is experimenting with. (For the full experience, there is also a Chef’s Sampler available for $50 per person.)

The dishes arrived two at a time, each one beautifully presented in different geometrically shaped dishes, each form highlighting the presentation.

For an amuse bouche we were served a rich, creamy pea soup in a ceramic shot glass which we both downed it in one fell swoop. That’s how we roll in Brooklyn. My guest said he didn’t really like pea-soup, but loved this.

The first two dishes to arrive were bay scallops on snap and English pea risotto, with caper-tomato brown butter, and the Salt and Pepper Shrimp, with chunks of pineapple, bits of sweet potato, tiny snow peas and sweet-spicy Thai vin. The food tasted as delicious as it sounded with all the different flavors bouncing off my pallet in a gastronomic counterpoint. The scallops were meaty and succulent and, though the shrimp was a bit spicy for my companion, I loved the kick, especially in tandem with the savory scallops.

Waiting for our next dishes, we continued to bask in the friendly environment, quite enjoying the bartender’s “maracas dance” as he mixed cocktails. When the drink was mixed, we marveled at the Kadinsky-esque mural that spanned the length of the restaurant. Next out came my two favorites: spicy big-eye tuna tartar with tempura Japanese eggplant and kecap manis (a slightly thicker soy sauce), and a slowly roasted rack of lamb, English peas, mint green garlic, and pistachio. The eggplant was turned into a cracker, fried into a crunchy delight on which the tuna lay impressively presented, but this was not just your ordinary cracker. The flavor of the eggplant burst out in an exuberant union with the freshness and slight salt of the tuna. The lamb, one of my favorite foods, was pink perfection and I loved the finger bowls (shaped like a threedimensional ellipse, of course) one of our attentive servers put on the table.

By this time we were actually quite full but had two more dishes to come: the traif. Worth waiting for? Is Porky a Pig? (I’m assuming my naughty, guilty pleasure added to the taste.) At this point the strawberry-cinnamon glazed Berkshire baby back ribs sounded like it was possibly a huge mistake. We never kept Kosher at home, (although my mom drew the line with pig) but the cinnamonstrawberry gave a truly unusual kick to the succulent and tender ribs and I was thrilled the dish was recommended. I can understand why the Hassids sneak into this restaurant having tasted the BBQ, braised short rib sliders!

Throughout the meal, the locals kept the restaurant humming while the patrons at the bar watched the chef cook at the kitchen that was visible from the back of the bar. The kitchen was so small, it was hard to believe such delicacies and in such quantity could be produced in such an assuming place. I guess size doesn’t matter. At least in a kitchen.

We didn’t order dessert but out came another signature dish — the bacon-flecked donuts with dulce de leche and coffee ice cream. I admit I was terrified. But when you’re in Rome (or Traif)… All reservations disappeared when I popped one in my mouth. Chef Jason explained in a recent interview that bacon and doughnuts are both acceptable at breakfast, so this crossover made perfect sense to him. Tying it all together with the dulce de leche was pure brilliance. We were also served hot apple pie, freshly backed by the chef’s mom, keeping it all in the family.

After the meal, I discovered there’s a sister restaurant next-door, Xixa, with the same owners, same chef. How is Xixa even pronounced? Shicksa of course. I can’t wait to go. With my Jewish friend Jacob and his girlfriend, LaTanya!



For the restaurant Traif, please click here.

For the restaurant Xixa, please click here.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts, please click here.

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jan 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "In 2018, former US president Bill Clinton coauthored a novel with James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author. The President is Missing is a typical “Patterson”: a page-turner of a thriller, easy to read, with short chapters and large font. Patterson is accustomed to collaborative writing ..... He is as much a producer as he is a writer, using a string of junior collaborators to run his factory of novels. Patterson outlines the plot, the coauthors write the story, Patterson offers feedback. While he doesn’t seem to do much writing himself, it is a system that has made Patterson a rich man."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "With hindsight, 2022 will be seen as the year when artificial intelligence gained street credibility. The release of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI garnered great attention and raised even greater questions.  In just its first week, ChatGPT attracted more than a million users and was used to write computer programs, compose music, play games, and take the bar exam. Students discovered that it could write serviceable essays worthy of a B grade – as did teachers, albeit more slowly and to their considerable dismay."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "The thought of her, as always, gave me a jolt of hope, and a burst of energy. And a stab of sorrow."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: ".....if academic discourse and campus debate are shut down every time a person feels offended, how can universities possibly examine controversial topics? Without intellectual freedom – one of the great achievements of American civilization – they can’t."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "London's Tate Britain and Paris' Petit Palais have collaborated to produce a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the art of Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  The show is both beautiful and fascinating. ----- Virginia Woolf loved Sickert's art, and it is not difficult to see why, because his painting, like her writing, was always about intimate views of incidents, or casual portraits in which individual sitters momentarily revealed their personalities.  ------ Sickert's art never gained the status of that of Whistler or Degas, perhaps because it was too derivative of those masters.  But he was an important link between those great experimental painters and the art of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, ...."
Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Many veterans, refugees and other people who have experienced trauma and have mental health issues spend little time thinking about the future. Instead, they are narrowly focused on the negative past. However, people who have experienced trauma and developed a healthy future perspective report being better at coping with life, having fewer negative thoughts about the past, and getting better sleep compared with those who have a negative future perspective. So, instead of dwelling on the past, people who have suffered trauma should be encouraged to think about the future and set goals that help them develop hope for a good life."