Monthly Archives: March 2005

did the peter luger thing. next?

i am no expert when it comes to steak, but i should at least boast about my steakhouse experience in new york city, especially for all the money that’s been shelled out to get medium rare chunks of flesh, all having tasted not too different from each other, but being expensive enough to make me believe that each one is phenomenal in its own way.

on saturday (3/26), i took my buddy nigi, who turned 22 last week, to peter luger’s steakhouse in brooklyn. the train ride was a long one from school – (1)/(2) to 14th st., (F) to Delancey, (J) to Marcy. i met nigi at penn station along the way and we were too late for our reserved time of 2:45pm. we waited at the bar and had a brooklyn lager. finally, we were taken upstairs where our waiter quickly took our order and served us immediately. we had a waterstone napa merlot (1999), jumbo shrimp cocktail, cream spinach, golden baked potatoes, and a porterhouse steak for two. the steak was done medium rare, and it was a most wonderful taste. i remembered reading about the barnard alum woman going to the meat market every morning to pick out the right meats for the steakhouse, and also heard how the aged quality of the meat made it superior. the meat cut very tenderly and went well with the peter luger steaksauce. nigi and i capped the meal off with a huge fudge sundae, which must have been 50% thick whip cream. a most decadent meal that immediately made us yearn for sleep. it was a good time.

so, having done peter luger, i feel obliged to list my top 5 nyc steakhouse experiences. i know i haven’t done smith&wollensky yet, but that’s a chain. so here goes (i’d put peter luger at #2):

1) Strip House (13 E 12th st.) – felt like a bordello with its red leather seats and very 1930s style b&w photos. i loved their black truffled creamed spinach and their goose fat fried potato. i had the filet mignon although i heard their new york strip is excellent. their cheesecake for two is ridiculously big, and good.

3) Dylan Prime (62 laight st.) – this high class spot in tribeca has a really cool looking bar and a very romantic decor. it’s a place you can have steak and fondue on the same night. i had their “carpetbagger” which is a filet mignon stuffed with oysters and wrapped in bacon.

4) Sparks Steakhouse (210 E. 46th st.) – this place is really big and you wonder how many rooms it has. i thought their sides were a bit weak, but their steak had a nice salty flavor and their creamed spinach was a good complement.

5) Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (148 W 51 st.) – i made the mistake of ordering a rare and it was really, really rare. but i tasted a friend’s new york strip, and it was pretty good. they put lots of butter on your steak. they have oversized wine glasses and big portions for sides.

i am never too impressed by a steak meal because steak can only surprise you so much in terms of flavor. it’s a good way to satisfy a carnivorous appetite, but sometimes you wish it was just a bite and nothing more. it might also be the korean in me – i ultimately prefer my meats well marinated and sizzled on the grill in front of me for immediate consumption in a fresh green lettuce leaf with a dab of bean paste. i ought to make some trips to flushing and make kalbi houses the next top five list.

when the mood sinks in

i finally finished watching wong kar wai’s in the mood for love (fa yeung nin wa, 2000) this morning. i had always fallen asleep in the middle of the film the past three times i had tried watching it, but this time, i was intent on finishing it. and boy, was it worth it.

the last time a film left such a strong impression on me was probably jim jarmusch’s stranger than paradise (1983), which had that magical feeling of neorealism and low-budget wizardry. in the mood for love, however, appealed to me in very different ways.

i’ve always appreciated good romantic films, even the sad ones. but it’s tough to find a good romantic film that doesn’t include the usual hollywood cheesiness or, if it’s an indie flick, that ambiguous ending that makes a novelty of the dissatisfaction it causes in the viewer. two of my favorite films, brett ratner’s the family man (2000) representing hollywood, and alex payne’s sideways (2004) for the indie flick, are two examples of such conventions. two of the more satisfactory indie flicks, if that’s even a factor for the viewer, would be before sunset (2004) and eternal sunshine of a splotless mind (2004). these were solid films that made me think about romance in a different light, and i think that’s what every good romantic film should strive for. and that’s what wong kar wai does with his film.

i love the premises of in the mood for love (taken from
A man and a woman move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments and form a bond when they both suspect their spouses of extra-marital activities.

there is limited dialogue, but lots of movement – not necessarily with the characters, but with the slow-motion capture of the floating camera and a musical score that just seems to carry the film like a puffy cloud. the vivid colors really gave me a strong sense of hong kong in the 1960s (when the story takes place), and i couldn’t help but to be drawn to maggie cheung’s colorful dresses in each scene. there was a certain poetic feel to the film, but it wasn’t from any excess of imagery or visual trickery. instead, it was the economy of shots, the subtlety of tone, and the restrained melodrama that kept me on the edge. each shot seemed like a painting, and i couldn’t help feeling the awe of watching each shot as it became its own tableau. one shot that still sticks in my mind is of smoke rising up from tony leung’s cigarette. it is just smoke against a red background, but combined with the moody lighting, one can’t help but to feel the loneliness and alienation that pervades the air. and yet, wong does all this with the softest touch – no feeling of heavy-handedness.

i was most intrigued (as mentioned before) by the circumstances of the relationship that develops between mr. chow (tony leung) and mrs. chan (maggie cheung). they are brought together by the extra-marital affair of their spouses, and their bond is strengthened not only by their shared grief but by their physical proximity: they live next door to each other. one of the most memorable scenes was when mrs. chan is together with mr. chow at his place. the family that mrs. chan lives among comes home unexpectedly early. mrs. chan, fearing gossip, is afraid to emerge out of mr. chow’s place and go back; so she decides to remain at mr. chow’s. they eat noodles and while mr. chow writes his martial arts novel, mrs. chan lays silently on his bed, watching him. the neighbors play an all-night game of mahjong, so mrs. chan has to stay for many more hours. by the end of the night, mr. chow’s place is filled with dishes of leftovers from their noodle meal and subsequent snacks. for some odd reason, i found the overhead pan of mr. chow’s room for that shot breathtaking. it was as if the camera was transforming the tight physical space into a vast terrority of romance – complete with its uncertainties, comfortable silences, and brewing love.

we’ve seen many times in all kinds of films – action/adventure, comedy, romance, even horror – how characters often “fall in love” because of their extenuating circumstances. e.g. two characters do battle against terror and the intensity of their situation causes them to fall in love; two people meet each other in some foreign place and their shared sense in a lost world forms the bond; two people from very different backgrounds are somehow stuck together in the same place and eventually love each other, etc. what i appreciated in in the mood for love was that love was borne almost out of spite, but in a very subtle and delicate manner; there is no overly melodramatic cry of anger or sadness – just a few soft sobs and some blank stares into space. the sight of mr. chow and mrs. chan “rehearsing” their reactions in the event that they have to confront their spouses about the affair is both painful and hopeful at the same time: painful in that they have become marginalized in their own marriages, but hopeful because they have found each other. it sounds hokey trying to spell everything about the film out in text; i guess this sense of a connection or even love between the two characters is best expressed through its visual richness.

my “review” of the film doesn’t do it justice because i’m not really being critical or analytical at all, but this is just my way of encouraging people to watch it. if anything, the film really made me think hard about filmmaking and how artistic it can be if approached a certain way. oftentimes, i find myself falling for the trap of “how would the audience respond?” if i want to find a large audience or sell tickets, perhaps having the audience in mind would be a good idea, but it is an added pressure that has often taken the fun out of filmmaking for me. from my personal experience, i have found that creating something for the sake of my own personal expression has had the greatest merit. sometimes, an artist (if i may even consider myself that) needs to put his work out there and let people take away whatever it is they want from it. wong kar wai’s works reflect this artistic freedom, and i hope one day, i’ll have the guts and instinct to take on such an endeavor. next up: 2046.

and back in america…

paris ended all too quickly. wook and i left our etap hotel room around 8:30am (paris time) and headed for de gaulle airport. we bought our last pain du chocolat and washed it down with a bottle of orangina as we rode the RER. as with any memorable trip that has to end, leaving paris had a tinge of sadness. it not only signaled the end of our stay in europe, but for myself, it marked the end of my last spring break trip to anywhere. daytona (FL), washington dc, boston, and paris. not a bad collection of cities during a four-year span.

back in america, at JFK, the first thing i noticed on television was a commercial for the NFL. “awesome. american!” i noted, not only happy to see the familiar NFL logo on the screen, but also a bit proud that i actually work for them. taking the cab back to columbia, we honed in on the radio news – child molester this, kidnapper that, manhunt, rape, killer – good old sensational american journalism; no more of that educational BBC World (the version of BBC shown in France) crap with their sophisticated accents and enlightening news. who wants that?

for the last time, we also did our best japanese tourist impressions, a string of familiar japanese words and companies said in fob accent: “oneska kawasaki fujiyama yamaha nintendo” and so on. we realized, as proudly american as we were in paris, most people in france would probably have grouped us with the numerous japanese tourists that swarmed the area.

a lasting impression i had from paris was from our meeting with elsa, a french girl we met up with on our last full day there. elsa had been in australia two years ago with tammy, a friend of ours from back home. tammy had contacted elsa and told her to meet up with us. wook and i got to the montparnesse tower, where elsa worked as an intern, just in time to meet elsa. we decided to drink at The Financier pub, a dingy Irish spot near the tower, and tried our best to communicate with each other. elsa was pretty good at english, although she struggled a few times for some words. wook and i tried some french with her, but our pronunciation butchered most attempts. elsa did note, however, that our grammar – mainly our verb conjugations – was solid.

what i gathered from talking to elsa, and later her friend jean who joined us, was that the french outlook on life, at least from their own perspective, was a bit skeptical and sometimes bitter (but not so much in an american whiny way). from an american standpoint, i couldn’t disagree – they seemed to be limited in social mobility with their crazy taxes and strict educational system, and their choices in jobs seemed narrower as well. but there were admirable things about the french mindset, at least from what elsa and jean told us – their independence from religion, their worldliness, and their awareness of politics. i liked how elsa, in criticizing bush, was also critical of the french response, noting that it was as much a “pride” issue on the part of france as it was a moral or strategic one. jean was a very upbeat fellow who proudly told us that he never went to college but was a “self-made man” as an IT guy for a french company. he was also an avid traveler and seemed less embittered than elsa. they both dressed in all black, which i thought was a very gothic look, but elsa laughed when i mentioned this (probably a bit offended at the remark, too) and said it was just professional attire. sensible and cool – those two words came to my mind after our meeting with our french friends.

our last full meal was at cafe moderne, which served as the backup after our failed attempt at alain ducasse’s aux lyonnais without a reservation (duh!). we were not late for finkel and big lou this time, so everything was in good spirits. cafe moderne was very new york in that the decor was sleek and “modern” and the menu offered that same fusion type deal we see in trendy new york restaurants. in one respect, it was probably not the place to go in a city like paris, with its deep restaurant culture and all, but on the other hand, it was comforting and relaxing to be in such a familiar environment. plus, the waiter spoke english pretty well. our meal included foie gras (again), crayfish tempura, pumpkin soup, sea bass, roasted beef, lamb, and some thai-curry flavored pork. we also had two bottles of wine, one of which was an excellent 1998 red wine that was mistakenly given to us by the waiter; we had ordered a 20 euro bottle of red wine, but were given a 43 euro bottle, so the waiter just charged us 20 euros when we pointed out the error on the check (l’addition).

hopefully big lou and finkel are having a good time in barcelona, which was their next destination.

back in new york, life resumes. i have this general feeling of dread as i attempt to piece together some sort of history thesis draft, but i know it must be done. last night, hours after arriving in america, i took a stroll out to kim’s after a long overdue workout at the gym and rented Before Sunset. i had watched the movie in the summer, but fell asleep for a part of it. i thought, having visited paris (i even went to the shakespeare & co. bookstore), i would find the film more interesting. i had to admit that paris looked better on screen, with the bright sunlight and lush greenery of its parks, but it was heartwarming to be reminded that just a day before, we had walked the same streets and breathed the same air. perhaps we should have taken a boat ride on the seine.

i wake up early and make it to 280 park ave. by 9am. it’s nice to breathe in new york again and to be in the middle of the bustle as everyone spearheads to office cubicles. i receive a warm greeting at the office and give a brief summary of my vacation. my boss surprises me with a letter; i open it up; it’s from the commissioner. we refer to him around the office jokingly as “PT,” as if he’s the friendly boss looking over us, but it’s actually an honor of sorts to receive a personal letter from him. it’s a thank you note regarding the playbook intranet site, and he commends me for having juggled my school work with contributions at the NFL. he also wishes me luck on the rest of my studies and my start at Lehman Brothers. i take a moment to think about how this letter was crafted – did someone write up a draft for him to skim and then sign, or does he know me by now? i remember during the summer he met with all the interns and i shook his hand and made him laugh by referring to my individual role as “my boss’s shadow.” i heard PT has a photographic memory. anyway, it was nice to get a note of gratitude and encouragement from high above – i think it’s good business practice, to keep employees motivated by positive enforcements.

well, it’s almost lunchtime – there’s a mountain of work to do, both here at the NFL and for school. in some ways, i find this environment more relaxing and comfortable, whereas travelling and the mission to have fun was a bit stressful and tiring. but then again, a mix of both always helps to make each side enjoyable. i am such a fortune cookie.

happy st. patrick’s day. if you know me, you probably know which song is being played in my mind right now.