first.
– as this is a summation of an entire decade, i opted for twenty-five films as opposed to ten.
– one film per director.
– this list was made as intuitively and quickly as possible.  i’m not going to bother listing possibly egregious/potentially regrettable omissions.  feel free to point them out and i’ll respond accordingly.
– the order of 11 – 23 is pretty arbitrary, though there is some semblance of a progression that’s sort of indicative of my taste.

the list.


25. judd apatow’s the 40-year-old virgin, adam mckay’s anchorman: the legend of ron burgundy, larry charles’s borat: cultural learnings of america for make benefit glorious nation of kazakhstan,  jeff tremaine’s jackass 1 & 2, robert ben garant’s reno 911!: miami, jay chandrasekhar’s super troopers, trey parker’s team america: world police
, and ben stiller’s zoolander
is this cheating?  a.o. scott suggested that the pervading subject of american comedy this past decade was male immaturity.  in order as listed: the best movie judd apatow will ever make; juvenile humor at its most nonsensical; the most ingenious subtitle in cinema history; glorious exhibition of willful retardation; achieves sublimity by way of the moronic (the motel panorama scene); the underestimated, under-appreciated masterpiece of the highway patrol movie; shameless schoolyard vitriol posing as political satire; because it’s one of terrence malick’s favorite movies, and it’s crazy funny.

i love dumb comedies.


24. peter jackson’s lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring
the best and only great film of the trilogy.  (the two towers is bad and return of the king relies too heavily on the catharsis of closure)  the closest movies have come to matching the grandeur and mesmerizing artifice of classic hollywood epics.


23. pedro almodovar’s talk to her

indulgence becomes almodovar.  his most sumptuous and felt melodrama, as emotionally engrossing as preposterous as its story is.


22. terry zwigoff’s ghost world

“dear josh, we came by to fuck you, but you were not home. therefore, you are gay.”  the best comic book movie of the decade, or ever for that matter.  understated, hilarious and deeply melancholic.


21. pete docter & bob peterson’s up

pixar’s finest hour.


20. jonathan demme’s rachel getting married

“i prayed for you!”  demme’s humanist cup overfloweth.


19.
todd haynes’s far from heaven
haynes responds to two of his major influences–douglas sirk and r.w. fassbinder–with a masterful third iteration of all that heaven allows.


18.
bela tarr’s werckmeister harmonies
an elegiac and bizarre cosmogony, and somewhat of a microcosm of tarr’s magnum opus satantango.


17. joel coen’s a serious man

bleak and hilarious, steeped in the coens’ strange and oft misunderstood brand of humanism.  “just look at that parking lot.”  


16. david gordon green’s george washington

absolutely exquisite film about childhood.  green does malick better than anyone who’s grasped at the hem of the master’s garment.  does cinema get more lyrical?  (yes, but the bar is pretty damn high at this one.)


15.
apichatpong weerasethakul’s tropical malady
one of the most singular films from one of the decade’s most singular film artists, joe (the director’s alternative, easier-to-pronounce-for-white-folk name).  unorthodox, unprecedented, unforgettable.


14. guy maddin’s brand upon the brain!

same as 15, but for guy maddin.



13. 
robert altman’s the company
the pinnacle of his late career, altman’s true final masterpiece–a prairie home companion is more of an encore–takes the form of this formidably fluid and uncanny paean to human physicality and inseparability of life and art.  malcolm mcdowell is incredible.


12. lee chang-dong’s oasis
at once a challenging, novelistic heart-wrenching love story and scathing social commentary, oasis is korean cinema’s greatest contribution to the form.   one of the most compassionate films i’ve ever seen.  the two central performances are of must-see caliber, as is the movie.


11. emir kusturica’s life is a miracle
the day robert altman died, this is the film i chose to console me without having seen it.  the assumption was that, like his other films, emir kusturica’s at-that-time latest would do nothing short of elate, about which i was more than correct.  life is a miracle is as joyous and cathartic as anything kusturica has created, and earns its title not by way of saccharine sentiment but an intense joie de vie. unfortunately the film was never distributed in the u.s.


10. lars von trier’s dogville
self-proclaimed god’s gift to film lars von trier continues his quest for cinematic immortality with this decidedly eloquent, brechtian damnation of not just small town america but humanity at large.  this may be the last time the quality of the film matches the reach of his egomaniacal ambition, but dogville is von trier’s most confrontational masterpiece.



9.
claire denis’s 35 shots of rum
for my money, claire denis is the filmmaker of the decade.  i’m rarely as excited about a filmmaker’s new work as i am about hers.  with 35 shots of rum, denis achieves a lucidity that, even for her, is superlative.  intimate, sublime, profoundly simple, denis’s most pleasurable film.


8. wong kar-wai’s in the mood for love
wong kar-wai’s most elegant and mature work.  at the end of his review of the film, ed gonzalez concedes that, “in the mood for love is ravishing beyond mortal words” and indeed, words are failing me here.  at the moment i can do little more than claim my love for this film.


7. paul thomas anderson’s punch-drunk love
superficially, there will be blood may be the more impressive feat but it’s this, the strangest and flightiest of romantic comedies that represents fanboy favorite paul thomas anderson’s greatest achievement to date, trading in his penchant for multi-charactered tapestries and virtuoso showmanship for a more acute, concentrated offering, so endearingly off-kilter, pathos-ridden as it is full of bizarre laughs.  barry egan is one of my all-time favorite characters.


6. terence davies’s the house of mirth

a masterful, visually arresting adaptation of an edith wharton novel, a classic tale of feminine struggle, disillusionment, and suffering within patriarchal victorian society and culture.  its formal prowess, precise execution, and overall excellence (especially in the performances) announces the house of mirth as a truly great and major work by film’s heartbreaking end.


5. michael haneke’s code unknown
incendiary, dauntingly ambitious, audacious both in its narrative experimentation and choice of subject matter, michael haneke’s code unknown is etched in my mind as one of the boldest films of the last ten years, one that polarized viewers but for me is entirely successful.  the film is comprised of sustained takes capturing incredibly tense and uncomfortable scenes that all cut just before what seems would be a pivotal moment.  this mounting of tension without any resolve makes for a truly riveting experience, paying off in a revelatory and powerful end sequence.  this film left me speechless.


4. edward yang’s yi yi
generous and sprawling, in the grand tradition of eastern family dramas.  given his untimely death, this turned out to be yang’s last film, and it’s a more-than-ample swan song to his legacy, as it is yet another indispensable taiwanese fiction with substantive universal pertinence.  try not to cry at the end of this film.



3. richard linklater’s before sunset

i left this film glowing, assured that i’d just seen one of the most beautifully nuanced, near-perfect romances of all time.  if this and its predecessor before sunrise are bottles of wine of the same vintage, before sunset is aged to perfection (whereas before sunrise is nice but uncorked too early).  the prolific texan’s best film, no small claim for the man behind waking life and slacker.


2. terrence malick’s the new world

history as mythic poetry brimming with malick’s characteristically ravishing imagery.  each viewing of this visionary film is unique but always breathtaking and moving.  i met this film with two-and-a-half years of anticipation and impossibly high expectations and the new world still blew me away, and continues to do so every time i revisit it.  malick’s is a film for the senses, an embarrassment of riches in the way of intellectual, emotional, and even physical stimulus.  an ineffable, dream-like movie.


1. david lynch’s mulholland drive

THE apotheosis of the decade and the film that started my addiction to cinema.  after seeing it for the first time, i obsessed about it for weeks, resorting to watching the trailer repeatedly to see the film’s images and hear its sounds in an attempt to relive the experience.  mulholland drive requires submission but not passivity, and those up for engaging with it are infinitely rewarded with no less than a glimpse at the expansion of the medium’s potential.  an utterly captivating surrealist masterwork.

i’ll get right to it.

10. cloudy with a chance of meatballs (phil lord & chris miller)

the ultimate expression of this generation’s sense of humor–relentlessly ironic, a penchant for randomness, unreasonably silly–is balanced by a very clever spoof of the disaster movie and satirical yet “touching” take on the family movie.  pitch-perfect music cues courtesy of mark mothersbaugh, a “who’s who in comedy today” cast of voices (andy samberg! bill hader! neil patrick harris! bruce campbell…?) plus mr. t and james caan, and well-executed animation make for the year’s most uninhibited joy ride.  juvenile, abrasive and obnoxious, yes, but i love this movie.  maybe the year’s best title card.

9. the bad lieutenant: port of calls – new orleans (werner herzog)

werner herzog’s defiant fuck you to everything that sucks about hollywood movies is appropriately derived from a script that’s as banal and inept as they get, one that the german maestro might have condemned in his earlier years–he’s since developed quite the sense of humor.    facetiously at odds with the aforementioned screenplay, herzog either indulges in insane improvisation and bizarre, poetic flourishes–singing iguanas, dancing souls, vengeful alligators, verse about dreaming fish, brad dourif–or seemingly plays scenes out as written in order to highlight the stupidity of supposedly greenlight-worthy material (ie the first shakedown outside of the club in which the bad lieutenant ends up getting a handjob in a parking lot), culminating in an amazing, hilarious faux-happy ending.  all of it is riotously hysterical, spurred on by nicolas cage’s otherworldly performance.  comparison to abel ferrara’s similarly-titled film is pointless.


8. bright star (jane campion)

a sensitive, sensuous, and intimate rumination on first love by jane campion, who seems to use john keats and fanny brawne’s romance as an act of remembrance of her own experiences with love during youth–bright star has the indelible sense of being taken from the pages of a young-woman-in-love’s diary.  a dubious statement to be sure, but when coming from such a perceptive mind, it becomes a generous allowance.  campion’s sumptuous aesthetic provides enough to marvel at to sustain a viewing unto itself; the exquisiteness of the soundtrack that the images are paired with is a testament to campion’s brilliance.  ben whishaw continues to be one of my favorite actors with his nuanced performance as keats.  a thing of beauty, bright star isn’t simply about romance and romanticism, but rather in its simultaneous exultation of nature and love’s beauty and acknowledgment of time and nature’s indifference achieves the elegance and breadth  of a romantic poem.


7. tulpan (sergei dvortsevoy)

the most astute blurb written about this kazakh wonder describes the film as a “collaboration with god.”  to say more than enthusiastically recommending this film seems a disservice, as tulpan is simply a miracle that needs to be experienced.  i will say that it’s one of the most joyous and elating movies i’ve ever seen.  it almost makes up for the lack of american distribution for emir kusturica’s recent output.  also, no one uses third rate american pop in their movies as a short cut to jubilation quite like third world countries.


6. tony manero (pablo larrain)

pablo larrain’s twisted and incendiary evocation of pinochet’s chile is mesmerizing in its unflinching yet compassionate gaze at man’s capacity for inhumanity.  sex, politics, humor, and murder haven’t been this effortlessly woven together in a film since shohei imamura.  a story of a man who stops at nothing to achieve a pipe dream during a time of desperation, tony manero uncannily captures a palpable atmosphere not unlike what one imagines chile must have actually felt like at that time.


5. treeless mountain (so yong kim)

the most telling moment in so yong kim’s treeless mountain is the only scene in which jin cries on screen.  where most filmmakers would milk this moment with a close up of the child’s tear-strewn, sniveling face, kim elects to shoot it through a pane of glass that jin leans against, her back towards the camera.  crying isn’t a virtue of childhood in treeless mountain, it’s an expression of grief, one that kim imbues with its due respect before compassion and sympathy.  it’s this recognition of children as human beings and not sentimentality personified that makes this film so worthy.  children endure and abide in cinema but rarely with this kind of nobility and admirable perseverance.  treeless mountain is a tough film about childhood disillusionment and is all the more rewarding for its refusal of easy sentiment and shameless tugging at heart strings.


4. the sun (alexander sokurov) and still walking (hirokazu kore-eda)

two essential japanese films.  one, a curious art film probing a pivotal moment in japanese history from a russian filmmaker, the second a contemporary take on a classic japanese narrative influenced by two japanese masters.

alexander sokurov’s the sun contemplates the day of emperor hirohito’s surrender to allie forces at the end of world war II.  a mysterious, staggering work of brilliance, sokurov combines his usual rigorous art-house aesthetic/mode of expression with a strange but very successful touch of humanist warmth.  the film’s impressionist demystification of a historical giant examines a very traumatic but necessary moment in japanese history, one concerning cultural identity and its re-evaluation.  issey ogata’s turn as emperor hirohito is one of the greatest performances i’ve ever seen.

sublimely incorporating touches of ozu and mizoguchi–train imagery, immaculate composition, hints of the supernatural, and a final boom-up of the camera to usher transcendence–hirokazu kore-eda’s most accomplished film to date (by my count, anyway) still walking is an incisive meditation on japanese family matters.  resentment, things left unspoken, and the necessity of family in enduring life’s merciless forward motion are at the heart of kore-eda’s film, which suffice it to say is incredibly beautiful, patient, confident.

3. up (pete docter & bob peterson)

pixar’s rebuttal to the adage “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to,” up is a classic action-adventure “picture” with a heart of gold.  this is the near-perfect studio at top form.  the cheeky yet earnest interpretation of the disney talking animal–no longer animal characters taking on human speech but rather the articulation of animal thought and behavior into spoken words–is indicative of the ingenuity and heart fueling the movie, at once wildly entertaining and deeply resonant, perhaps the most thematically complete and substantial offering from pixar to date.  with  up, pixar transcends their tendency to be content with visual showmanship and candy-covered cuteness, providing a life affirming movie-going experience full of pathos and joy.


2. a serious man (joel coen)

continuing their doomsday prescience from no country for old men and nihilist comedic riffing that burn after reading hinted they were capable of, the coens once again consider what’s ahead by looking to the past–the sixties, this time–resulting in yet another american classic.  on paper, a serious man is as perfect a film as the coens have ever made.  the craftsmanship alone makes this beyond worthy: perfectly paced rhythmic editing, roger deakin’s career-best cinematography, period details immaculately executed, excellent performances from a cast of virtual unknowns, and an enviably well-conceived piece of writing.  its uniqueness, even among their other work, is achieved in its deft combination of tragedy and comedy as a reverie of the jewish-american experience and life as an act of perseverance.  i’ve never been of the opinion that the coens are damning of their characters or misanthropic in the least (save for burn after reading), and a serious man is an exceptional exhibition of their unorthodox, absurdist humanism and their skill as filmmakers.


1. 35 shots of rum (claire denis)

there’s a scene at the heart of 35 shots of rum involving an after hours gathering in a bar and “nightshift” by the commodores that, in and of itself, is a greater achievement in movies than most of the films released this year.  claire denis’s latest masterpiece is also her best, an exquisite and lyrical variation of ozu’s late spring.  there are no words.  see it.

—–

honorable mention: two lovers, in the loop, tokyo sonata, summer hours, the box, julia, public enemies, moon, la danse, antichrist, extract

haven’t seen: a prophet, the beaches of agnes, the white ribbon, revanche, you, the living, the window, araya, the informant!, the house of the devil, bronson, sherlock holmes, invictus, broken embraces, lorna’s silence, police, adjective, gomorrah, district 9, liverpool, up in the air, nine, afterschool

worst: watchmen, 9, thirst, paranormal activity, coco before chanel, adam, the fantastic mr. fox

academy of the overrated:
(please note that “overrated” and “bad” are not synonymous)

a section in which i pick fights.   i’ll start with the most beloved.

(500) days of summer (marc webb) – THE hipster paean of the decade (“this is not a love story, it’s a story about LOVE” or however the fuck this movie starts), oh so very clever and ironic.  this movie continues the trend of awkward, sensitive guys making movies for awkward, sensitive guys to take girls to in hopes of getting laid.  it connects at times but only when spewing rather obvious truisms.  the ending is so bad it should’ve incited genocide.  i’m officially over zooey deschanel, though that has more to do with her marrying ben gibbard and being a vegan than her participation in this movie.

the hurt locker (kathryn bigelow) – a visceral action movie with a message that’s dubious at best.  while it has the makings of a hawksian ode to men at work, its leanings towards war porn and easy, all too familiar sentiments  about war make it a contradictory mess.  a good adrenaline rush, though.  the hurt locker is a better film of iron man than jon favreau’s.  jeremy renner does give an excellent performance.  does anyone who hasn’t heard or read the director give an explanation know what the title means?

inglourious basterds (quentin tarantino) – i find the kicks tarantino’s films have to offer to be entirely ephemeral.  inglourious basterds (i abhor the intentionally misspelled title) contains tarantino’s best scene ever and some of his starkest imagery but it is, as one can expect by now of tarantino, overindulgent to the point of being masturbatory.  christoph waltz and melanie laurent are great; brad pitt and eli roth are not.  the self-referential last line turns out to be a rather accurate proclamation: relatively speaking, this is, indeed, his “masterpiece.”

where the wild things are (spike jonze) – maurice sendak’s elegantly brief prose poem of a children’s book is overblown, overstuffed, and overworked into a messy film that isn’t so much an evocation of childhood but an act of childishness.  eggers and jonze manage to capture the feeling of being a kid at times but don’t really go anywhere with it except angsty navelgazing.  this movie peaks during the logos before the title sequence.

avatar (james cameron) – south park put it best: dances with smurfs.  amazingly mediocre in all aspects outside of the visual/technological pageantry.

tetro (francis ford coppola) – supposedly a return to form.  long winded, uninspired, boring.  a failed attempt at high drama, tetro certainly won’t be spearheading the return of personal filmmaking in american cinema a la late 60’s/early 70’s

the fantastic mr. fox (wes anderson) – the word “quirky” has and always will be a red herring to me, and wes anderson’s latest is most definitely quirky and completely given over to whimsical, idiosyncratic preciousness.  it’s all so cute, and i fucking hate it all.  this is one occasion in which a film i consider to be grossly overrated is also one i consider to be among the year’s worst.  unfunny, poorly animated, too caught up in its immaculately designed-by-wes-anderson look.  the subdued voice acting is a misstep, though meryl streep’s voice is magnetic, soothing.

ponyo (hayao miyazaki) – even as eye candy, ponyo fails to be anywhere near as fulfilling as miyazaki’s other films.  the plot of this one is just flat-out stupid.  an undercooked effort.

the headless woman (lucrecia martel) – this is the one i’m most troubled by and most interested in reconsidering, eagerly at that.  lauded as one of the year’s great art house works, my defense for including it on this list is that i simply didn’t get it.  i wanted to and still want to see it for the great film it supposedly is.  but for the time being its formal rigor and enigmatic nature eluded me to the point of my having completely missed the boat.

new york.

11.17.09

“skyscraper national park.”
– kurt vonnegut

disclaimer: i tend not to proofread, especially with these novel-esque posts.  excuse the grammatical errors.  notifying me as to what/where they are is encouraged.

courtesy of jetblue’s so-good-it’s-stupid halloween promotion–city to city within the continental u.s. for $30.  having found a cheap return flight, my round-trip flight cost was the equivalent of a good one-way flight coast to coast.  impossible to pass on.  booked the flight without the slightest clue as to what i’d be doing with my time.  having newly acquired expendable income helped.

my trip in list form, categories arranged by priority.

food friends and family, and activities enjoyed with them.

– stayed with my cousin, cherie.  while one of my favorite people, she’s excessively tardy and unreliable in all matters concerning punctuality.  i arrived with the understanding that she’d leave a set of keys for me at the bakery (my family owns a bakery in spanish harlem called la tropezienne) if she wasn’t home at the apartment.  called her upon landing–unsurprisingly she didn’t pick up–and took a cab straight the bakery, where i’m met by an employee who has no idea about a spare key.  the only way to get a hold of cherie when she’s unresponsive is to call her mother, who manages to contact her without fail regardless of the circumstances.
– quickly changed into my russell costume before hoping into a cab (half an hour, $25.  FUCK.) to katie’s annual halloween/birthday re-enactment of sodom and gomorrah.  saw many familiar faces and was warmly received by most, if not all.  felt great being back.  made many what would turn out to be empty gestures about hanging out while i was in town (madeline, if you ever read this, i’m really, really sorry.) and “raw dogged” lots of vodka.  i was hoping my costume would garner at least three propositions for sex.  no such luck, which is not to say i got less than three–i got none.
– lunch at momofuku ko with my jewish namesake foodie companion sam.  so full.
– hung out with rob the next day.  met at washington square park where i’d been sitting, taking in the east-coast-autumn sunlight and various goings-on throughout the park.  saw a serious man for the second time, rob’s first.
– scores with sara.  had our titty-bar cherry popped that night.  was about as seedy but fun (who you’re with is imperative in this department) as i thought it would be.  got a lapdance by one very sexy black girl.  i don’t remember her name.
– made plans with cherie to go upstate the next day.  her grandparents, my grand uncle and aunt split their time between an 80-acre property in upstate new york and what i’ve been told is a very large house in west palm beach.  they were leaving for florida in a couple days and i wanted to see them before they left.  needless to say, we left later than schedule.  by about five hours.  the drive allowed for the only time cherie and i would have to catch up.  that was nice.  had breakfast with my grandparents the next morning, featuring unsparing helpings of grandma’s strawberry jam.
– met with annie for macarons from bouchon bakery.  had a good talk in the columbus circle mall on the level just above the teeny-bopper debacle of glee fans waiting for a signing.  gay.
– saw hamlet starring jude law with sara.  ’twas a very competent production with some excellent performances save for the women.  (what’s new?)  the play’s greatness was confirmed.  saw rachel ray there.  thought about killing her at the end of the climax.
– made the pilgrimage to grimaldi’s with rob and blake.  fun(ny).  music at the restaurant was particularly great.
– dinner at l’atelier de joel robuchon with david.  saw the duchess of york checking into the four seasons as i waited for him to get there.
– went to the met (excellent robert frank exhibit), then coffee afterward at cafe sabarsky with katie.  katie is the friend equivalent of one’s favorite blanket.
– late-night dinner at balthazar with sara.
– lunch at gramercy tavern with sara that left us both elated.
– lunch with annie at salumeria rosi followed by cookies from levain bakery.  a walk in central park to aid digestion/ward off diabetes.
– visited the last pictures guys (bobby, bryan, and chadd) at their office.  further cemented the pathetic state my life by comparison, and has instilled in me a drive to try harder to ride their coattails.
– dinner at marea with sara after a failed attempt at catching the matinee of our town.  saw william friedkin at the restaurant.  followed dinner up with dessert at per se.  truly an embarrassment of riches.
– karaoke at… some bar with rob and chadd.  zach and jesse came later.  though not entirely certain, i have my suspicions about the bartender turning the mic off whenever it was my turn to sing.  if true, it would be reason enough to never karaoke again.  fortunately, i will never know.  perhaps one too many happy hour gin and tonics were had.
– dinner at corton with cherie, then sara, then cherie AND sara.  aforementioned alcoholic beverages delivered my comeuppance.  a shit show.

film.

only two.  i tend to avoid movies while on vacation.

a serious man
the coens continue their doomsday prescience from no country for old men in this bleak-as-it-is-hilarious (their funniest since the big lebowski) ode to jewishness.  it’s a strange, strange film which for the coens should be taken as a sign of quality; others include excellent performances from a cast of relative unknowns, career-best cinematography from roger deakins, and a mastery of tone and pacing.  burn after reading was thankfully a fluke.  this and up are the best american films released this year thus far.

the box
having not seen donnie darko and hating southland tales, i have no idea what compelled me to see the box. this movie is richard kelly tearing his heart out of his chest and putting it on screen, bearing all of his shortcomings as well as talents in full force.   there isn’t much to be said for his frankly silly worldview and naive sense of morality, but he expresses them with conviction and the kind of self-conscious bravura that only hollywood can breed.  this film grandstands to the point where one gets the sense that kelly is attempting to induct his film among the greatest science fiction movies ever made.  what it is instead is a thoroughly entertaining and indicative work.

food.

momofuku ko
wouldn’t mind going here once every season.  not as varied in its offerings from the other three times as i would’ve liked but i suppose the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies.  highlights include the amuses (taro wrapped shrimp, spicy sausage), diver scallops, and an octopus dish.   i thought dessert was pretty off the mark this time around.

bouchon bakery
my favorite place for macarons.  perfectly sized, approximately that of a silver dollar pancake (i for one am not a fan of the itty-bitty macaron) and absolute perfection in flavor and texture.  i always get pistachio.  also tried their seasonal macarons as well: fig balsamic(!) and pumpkin.  both were delectable.

grimaldi’s and shake shack
go there.

l’atelier de joel robuchon
there’s something inherently lacking about a restaurant tucked in a hotel that i can’t quite put my finger on.  “cheap” may seem an erroneous choice of word given that l’atelier is at the four seasons, but it’s how it felt.  we were seated at the counter surrounding the kitchen area, where i saw one of the most beautiful food items in the world: a whole leg of jamon iberico, aged 3 years and, according to our waiter, cost $1800.  at one point i tried very subtly to ask my waiter if he could cut me off a slice and failed miserably.

we ordered the tasting menu, and in typical fashion i ordered an extra course (la lagoustine) and made a dessert substitution (a yuzu souffle.  more on that later.)  the amuse was a foie gras mousse with parmesan foam and port reduction, each element distinct and pure in flavor, marrying together in a pretty euphoric bite, a worthy opener for a meal at the restaurant of the chef of the century.  that being the case, expectations were appropriately high which i felt should have been met without exception.  the caviar course that came next was a pretty abrupt fall from grace.  reputation and anticipation tricked me into believing it was a good dish until i found myself eating only to finish it off and get my money’s worth.  from there, dishes ranged from very good to great: seared foie gras with quince and yuzu compote, scallop with spicy chives, a mushroom custard with jamon iberico, kobe beef with shisito peppers and oyster mushroom, served with pomme puree, a robuchon signature.  i would’ve gladly eaten a basket of the langoustine papillote.

pre-dessert consisted of a gourmand orange creamsicle shot with the questionable presence of hazelnut.  next was a passion fruit custard with a potent rum granita, all topped by a coconut foam with lime zest nestled on top.  refreshing and very tasty.  so, this yuzu souffle.  as it came out, it occurred to me that maybe it shouldn’t be eaten, as it was the most picturesque, perfect souffle i’d ever seen.  coming up off the ramekin about an inch and a half, it was a uniform column of airy sweetness, a perfect yellow circle when seen from above with its edges so as to suggest the warmth that awaited underneath.  upon its presentation, another waiter came with a large spoon with a hefty quenelle of okinawa black sugar ice cream.  before i got a chance to say anything, he jammed the spoon into the souffle, wherein i came to appreciate this touch as a play on the traditional method of digging a small hole in the middle of the souffle from the top and pouring creme anglaise.  this was the only way i could cope with seeing that beautiful football of ice cream disappear so quickly.  this dessert was one of the great treats of my life–i love yuzu, i love souffles, i love ice cream, and i guess i love black sugar.  fucking incredible.

the bill arrived and i have to say, it hurt.  i’ve definitely spent more but when i have, i felt it was warranted.  while l’atelier is certainly a good restaurant, it wasn’t worth the money they asked of me.  ordering a la carte may have been a better way to experience this place.

balthazar
a solid bistro with overpriced entrees and seemingly endless vivaciousness.  even at 11:30 it was packed and bustling.  fuck you bobby flay, these were not the best fries i’ve ever had, and though i wasn’t holding out much hope, your failed recommendation only confirms your worthlessness.  had a delicious beet salad here, the bread is crusty and chewy (both good things), my steak frites: okay, leaning towards good if only because of the bernaise.  the strawberry rhubarb tart was fine.  the pavlova, however, is worth the price (in time, patience, and tolerance for loud noise) of admission.  a lovely meringue filled with warm mascarpone cream and macerated berries along with their thickened, sweetened juices.  heavenly.

gramercy tavern
perhaps THE new york institution when it comes to fine dining, and for good reason–whimsical and tasteful in its decor with perfect ambiance and exceptional, exceptional food.  at $55 for a five-course lunch, this is my new favorite value fine dining experience, formerly the $28 for two courses at jean-georges, which was more about price than the value-to-dollar ratio.

if there was an amuse, i don’t really remember it.  the breads offered were french baguette, sourdough, and an amazing olive foccacia.

i substituted my first course for pickled scallops with grapes and apple, perhaps the single most beautiful plate of scallops i’ve ever had.  generously portioned–one can never have too many scallops… sort of–and perfectly balanced in flavor.  if ever i had a plate of food that truly tasted like the season it was meant to represent, the second course of shrimp and carrot salad was that dish. achieving refreshment while maintaining a robust earthiness, you can’t help but feel like you’re tasting the image of orange and yellow leaves and golden sunlight.  how that happened with shrimp in the dish is beyond me.  next came a pan-seared spanish mackerel with mussels, sunchoke, and cabbage.  the sauce on this dish was proportionally delicious to the perfection with which the seafood on this plate was cooked.  bacon-wrapped rabbit with brussel sprouts, pears, and radish was sigh-inducing, the kind of plate of food you never want to end.  however, if it must end, it should be as follows.

my sweet tooth is voracious, my appetite for gourmet desserts knows no boundaries.  and so when dessert came, and we each took one of the two tasting desserts offered with the five-course lunch, i asked for the a la carte dessert menu and ordered two more.  the tasting desserts were a chocolate mousse with salted caramel, and a fig crostada, both fantastic.  the additional desserts were a pecan tart with pumpkin spice ice cream and mulled cranberries and chocolate bread pudding with cocoa nib ice cream.  the desserts at gramercy tavern need no explanation or further exultation than as what’s described on the menu.  one only needs to imagine each component as listed, how good it would taste, and that is exactly what’s delivered.

this is perhaps the best lunch of my life, though i suspect it may have had as much to do with who i had it with as the quality of the restaurant itself.  an instant favorite for me and an absolute must for anyone who hasn’t.

salumeria rosi
a modern upper west side haven of cured meats that serves tapas style italian dishes, all of which are abundant in flavor from the risotto-style farro with butternut squash and pumpkin to the pork belly.  also had a plate of an assortment of their cured meats, among which were some of the best pieces of prosciutto i’ve had.  the panchetta here is killer.

levain bakery
supposedly the best chocolate chip (walnut) cookie in new york.  the first one i had was revelatory, the second one i had a few days later wasn’t nearly as inspired.  inconsistency aside, for $3 you can buy a behemoth of a cookie, perfectly crisped on the outside and gooey on the inside, as though it were medium rare.

marea
a chic italian restaurant in midtown west specializing in frutti di mare.   exceptional crudo: bruschetta with sea urchin, lardo and sea salt, an appetizer aptly named “ricci”, is eyes-rolled-into-back-of-skull good; cuttlefish tagliatelle, and razor clams with fennel showcase fresh ingredients in simple presentations; geoduck with chilies and lemon may be the best preparation of one of my favorite food items i’ve ever had, and that’s including the geoduck ceviche i had at le bernardin.  (i hope one day to disprove that notion by trying it again)  an antipasti of novia scotia lobster, burrata (the best cheese ever?  maybe.), eggplant al fughetto, and basil is among the most amazing dishes i had all week and rightfully known to be the restaurant’s signature dish.  a plate of seafood risotto suffered from the law of diminishing returns, unreasonably large, but it didn’t stop me from eating the whole thing, if dutifully.  there might’ve been a lot of it but it was tasty.  paled in comparison to the pleasurably intense-in-flavor lobster ravioli, their richness cut with the sweet salinity of salmon roe, a genius touch.  having dessert here was a formality–no meal is complete without it–more than a desire to try something that genuinely sounded interesting, but what we ordered based on the waiter’s recommendation turned out to be a high brow black forest cake by way of the ice cream sandwich and italy: torrone gelato sandwiched between two black cocoa cakes with sour cherry compote.  a nice dessert/end to a lovely meal at a lovely restaurant.

dessert at per se
i intentionally didn’t bring a suit with me to new york so that i wouldn’t be able to go to any of the michelin 3-star restaurants as a means of curbing my budget.  as expected, the allure of per se was too seductive to resist.  after having a full-on dinner at marea with sara, we found ourselves at the salon in per se–i can happily report that the salon is NOT jacket required–for dessert.  four desserts, brought out as two courses.  an experience at per se isn’t complete without having coffee and doughnuts.  along with that came a superlative vanilla ice cream with huckleberry compote and golden syrup, proof that some of life’s greatest pleasures are found in the simple things.  (i’m actually pretty embarrassed by how hackneyed that sentiment is, and i’m going to leave it there for everyone to see to punish myself)  the second wave of desserts: a chocolate-pumpkin marquise with a hazelnut marshmallow and spice ice cream; a peanut butter mousse, concord grape jam, concord grape sorbet, and a peanut genoise with a dried milk tuile.  the chocolate pumpkin dessert was excellent, the hazelnut marshmallow being the best single component.  it had an element with unsweetened pumpkin puree, which i found to be a questionable, overpowering touch of bitterness.  the “pb&j” dessert was a-ma-zing.  dessert isn’t per se’s strong suit but having four of them, one of which was comped, with sara along with the best cappucino in new york made my fifth per se experience as memorable as the others.  consistently beyond excellent.

corton
i’d rather not relive this night.  all i’ll say is that the food was delicious and i absolutely loved the decor.  a revisit is in order.

take 2.

11.14.09

mutteringretreats.wordpress.com is no longer.  this is my suspiciously similar, identically titled blog, freed from the burden and pretentiousness of having words pulled from t.s. eliot in the url.  yes, that’s the only reason for creating an entirely new blog instead of giving the previous incarnation a tweak and posting yet another promissory note that i won’t make good on.

heaves a heavy sigh.

the only claim i’ll make is that this time, “mm.” will get regular updates, the nature and quality of which i cannot speak for.

well…

now, usually, I don’t do this but uh
go ‘head on and break ’em off wit a lil previews of the remix

intended topics include:

– my new york vacation
– an annotated list of some sort summating the last decade in movies
– the potentially soul-reviving concert i missed on account of a friend’s birthday
– a plea for an intervention regarding my addiction to buying criterion collection dvds
– pictures and videos that will amuse and/or enlighten
– the emotional tumult of the post-thanksgiving family poker game (provided it takes place)

et cetera.

subjects such as unemployment and what it’s like being a college graduate living at home will be avoided at all costs.