Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recipe: Mama Wolf's Latkes

Happy Chanukah! A few months ago, one of my friends was generous to provide me with the perfect latke recipe (which I used for a German potluck), and so I will pass on the deliciousness as my Chanukah present to you all.

MAMA WOLF'S LATKES [slightly adapted by Sarah] (c) Architectural Appetite 2008
3 cups grated baking potatoes, peeled (about 3 medium-small potatoes)
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
1 small onion
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Grate potatoes and onions together. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Heat up the oil, and make sure it's hot but not so hot that it flies around all over the place. Spoon some latke batter into the oil and then wait until the center is stiff before flipping. Fry until brown and then drain on a paper towel.

These are delicious. Serve with apple sauce or sour cream or whatever weird condiment you were brought up with.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Recipe: Gingerbread Cakelettes

OK, so going through with this recipe may require you to go out to Williams Sonoma and buy a $20 cakelette pan, but hey! Maybe you can adapt this one to a cupcake recipe or something and then find your own way of making adorable treats.

1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4th stick of butta
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten (I may have not actually bothered to beat the egg before putting it in)
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the cakelette pan (but don't OVERflour - I learned this the hard way [first batch went to the trash - that almost rhymed]).

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and salt. If you are feeling too lazy to sift (this may have happened to me - I may be confessing too much as I explain this recipe), just put them together and stir a little. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the brown sugar and continue mixing until it becomes something like light brown butter, as opposed to butter with sugar on top of it. Add the egg, mix it in, add the molasses, mix it in.

Reduce the speed to medium-low and then add the flour in 3 parts, alternating with the milk (i.e., flour --> milk --> flour --> milk --> flour). Continue beating until it's all combined.

Spoon the batter into each cakelette pan, spreading it into the arms and legs. Make sure it's about half full (if it's more than that, they will have deformed backs and become the hunchbacks of Notre Gingerbread - I am so clever). Bake until baked - about 12-15 minutes.

When they're done/pass the toothpick test, take them out and let the pan cool for five minutes. After the five minutes is up, turn the pan upside down and let the little guys fall out (preferably on the counter and not on the floor). Wait for them to cool completely before personalizing them with your choice of icing (I used cream cheese frosting). The batter will make about twenty-one cakes, so make sure to rinse and repeat after the first batch is done.

Sarah's creations:

So maybe I am not an artist. Or a baker.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Astroland is Being DISMANTLED!

photo from Curbed

So I guess this part of Coney Island isn't being saved? Curbed reports that the rides are being packed into shipping containers, and there are rumors that the rides are going to some amusement park in Australia. It's a sad day for Coney Island.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Photo Post: Grant's Mosaic Benches Restored

I have always loved these mosaic benches that sit around Grant's Tomb at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive. Now they're even prettier (and safer!) thanks to a restoration done by CITYarts, a public art-loving non-profit organization based in New York City. I stopped by there today to take some pictures to encourage you all to take a stroll over and have a cup of hot cocoa on these beautiful and surprisingly comfortable benches. Plus, Grant's Tomb is delightfully neo-Classical, so you should check that out, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pretty Building Appreciation Photo

Corner of Grant Street & Elizabeth Street
photo taken on November 16, 2008

"Restaurant" Review: The Brooklyn "Diner"

During my Architectural Appetite hiatus, I went to the Brooklyn Diner for the first time. It's been a few weeks, but it seems the resentment I hold towards this establishment has not waned.

The Brooklyn Diner, as my father once described it, is the "Disney World" of diners. It has two locations in Manhattan, one being situated right near Carnegie Hall and then other in Times Square (relatively new). So yes, the locations suggest that this place really is for tourists -- specifically out-of-towners who have never been to a diner before and are intrigued by that nostalgia connected to 1950's diners that were popular in Brooklyn. Thus, the Brooklyn Diner.

From the exterior, it genuinely looks like a diner. But don't be fooled! The first thing that was an immediate warning sign when I walked in was the tablecloths. White tablecloths. No diner in their right mind would put white tablecloths under their greasy food and overflowing beverages. Then when I got the menu, there were no breakfast items listed. What? Really? Is there any point to me being here? And to top it off, pretty much everything on the menu is over $15 and most of the items are even over $20. And is it worth it? NO! They don't even have those little white after-dinner mints at the door when you're done with your meal.

In conclusion, I revoke this restaurant's right to call itself a diner. I also revoke its right to associate itself with the borough of Brooklyn. So for now, they will have to change their signage to "Untitled" until someone comes up with a better name to describe this deceitful, overpriced eatery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I.M. Pei's Silver Towers Complex Landmarked

The first post-war urban renewal superblock development in New York City to be landmarked! OK, so personally I find this complex to be a bit of an eyesore, even though it looks very angelic and glow-y with the light shining on it the way it does in the above picture (taken from www.nyc-architecture.com). However! Landmarking is not only about aesthetics, and this group of buildings represents a historic time in New York City and the US's history. Plus, the architect (I.M. Pei) is superfamous and a "master" of high modernist architecture. Perhaps his most familiar work is the Louvre Pyramid.

Part of designating the complex also included landmarking this enormous Picasso sculpture (picture also taken from www.nyc-architecture.com):

NYU, who owns the area, had been hoping to build a 40-story tower in the open space of the complex. Hopefully the language used in the landmark designation report (which will talk about the importance of open space) will make this construction very unlikely (haha, NYU!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Coney Island Stuff (Am I Obsessed? Maybe.)

The Municipal Art Society put together a group of professionals/visionaries to brainstorm ideas for the future of Coney Island. They met last week and presented its ideas to the public last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. One of the images released from their plans is this:

Apparently robots are going to take over Coney Island. Robots and scary things that kind of look like half-aliens/half-elephant/half-what-is-that-thing-coming-out-of-its-side-and-is-that-a-yellow-eyeball?

The tall, twisty rides on the left side of the image look horrifying. Anyone who is afraid of clowns isn't going to come within two miles of Coney and anyone who isn't afraid of clowns will become so after visiting this place.

I did like this image of a new N train:

I am most excited about the idea for an EXPRESS train to Coney Island (perhaps from Times Square?). With this being the closest beach for New Yorkers by way of public transportation, there needs to be a faster and less patience-trying way of getting there. More Coney updates to come soon, I'm sure. Oh, and I'll try to pick other topics to talk about, as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Coney Island Visions

Center for an Urban Future came out with this 22-page document that interviews all types of creative New Yorkers about the future of Coney Island. Almost every interviewee offers innovative ideas on how to improve the area. It's a lot of fun to read and will certainly spark your imagination for everything that Coney could be. Hopefully some ideas will actually take shape in the future.

I realize I've been on a bit of an Architectural Appetite hiatus, but hopefully things will calm down soon and I'll get back to complaining, swooning, eating, and drinking copious amounts of coffee soon.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Good Hole-In-The-Wall Sushi

Small storefront, unappealing signage, only four two-person tables - Kyoto Sushi fits the ticket for a hole in the wall. But that's no reason to overlook this small establishment on Lexington Avenue, between 83rd and 84th Streets. The sushi here is quite good. And while good sushi isn't so hard to come by in New York City, other things at sushi restaurants are:

Cheap prices. It is easy to get a very affordable meal here, which I'm sure is music to everybody's ears during these tough financial times. They even have a lunch special where you get two sushi rolls, soup, and salad for under $10. Hm, maybe I'll have that today.

Friendly service. The people who work here are really nice. Always smiling, always willing to oblige. Which contributes to the...

Overall good feel
to the restaurant. The four tables make it a very cozy environment for a lunch break from work.

Fast service. Almost everything I have ordered from here has taken less than five-six minutes to prepare. Good for if you're in a rush or just really, really hungry.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Coffee Pick of the Month: The Muffins Cafe

This coffee is really good. So good that I once walked 30 blocks, passing who-knows-how-many other coffee shops, just to have Muffins Cafe's coffee. Now that I've written that down, it does seem a little excessive.

Anyway, Muffins Cafe is located on 70th Street and Columbus Avenue. This is perfect weather for grabbing a cup and then walking two blocks east to the park to enjoy the crisp air and perfectly brewed coffee.

And no, I have never tried their muffins. Funny how that works, no?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The "What's That Architectural Detail?" Game

I have been busy/uninspired, and that seems to have led to neglecting Architectural Appetite - poor thing. And to think I would do so right before Open House New York, which is sort of New York City's Architecture Appreciation Day(s). Well, sorry not to remind you of that until now - maybe next year?

Anyway, the Museum of the City of New York recently announced that the first phase of their $97 million dollar renovation is complete! The project is being taken on by Polshek, and the completed phase includes a 3,000 square foot glass pavilion, and an expansion underground. Probably safe to build below instead of above, considering the original MCNY building is a landmark and undermining its original structure is mean. (Does anyone ever notice the landmark that's under the Hearst Tower? Are you asking yourself "what landmark?" Exactly.)

In reading about the renovation, I came across this image:

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what that thing coming down from the ceiling could be. It's kind of in the shape of a vacuum cleaner, no? Or a foot? Maybe it's a desk that has the ability to shoot files up to the second floor? Or maybe a display case? If anyone knows or can figure this out, please let me know so I will be able to sleep tonight.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recipe: Strawberry-Filled Lemon-Ginger Cupcakes With Cardamom Cream Cheese Icing

I was introduced to these cupcakes a few years ago by a couple of my friends who baked them and brought them along to a picnic. They were incredible. So recently I demanded that they provide me with the recipe, and they directed me to this LiveJournal entry. Today I went ahead and made them and despite my poor baking skills, they were still incredible. Sure, I could just link you to the recipe and be done with it, but 1) if you're as lazy as I am, you will never click that link and 2) what would one of Architectural Appetite's recipes be without Sarah's fun tips and notes?

12-14 strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Splash of orange juice

Chop the strawberries into itty bitty pieces, to the point where you would feel comfortable calling them "filling." Add the sugar and orange juice, then set aside. That was easy.

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
1¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
1/3 cup lemon juice, from 3 lemons
1 tbsp grated raw ginger
zest of two medium lemons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the butter into a large bowl and mash it until it's creamy. Add the sugar and beat the combination until it's light and fluffy (it should end up looking like really white couscous). Add one egg, beat for 30 seconds, add the other egg, and then continue beating until it's all mixed together.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the main mixing bowl (with all the butter and eggs and stuff) and mix it together. Then mix in the milk, ginger, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Fill the cupcake papers or pan or whatever you use half way, add a little bit of strawberry filling, and then put another layer of cake batter on top. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick (or in my case, a fondue stick) comes out clean.

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ground cardamom

In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese and butter until it becomes one creamy substance (I needed a machine to do this). Add the vanilla and then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar and cardamom (I just did one tablespoon at a time for the cardamom). Make sure to taste it when it's all mixed together, so you can add a little more sugar or cardamom to adjust to your taste preferences.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nicolai Ourousoff Totally Reads Architectural Appetite

As you may recall from my August 22, 2008 post, I called on Nicolai Ouroussoff to review the new 2 Columbus Circle. And on September 26, 2008, he did. It was everything I could ever hope for.

And today, Nicolai went a step further - to my delight - by listing the new 2 Columbus Circle as one of the seven buildings he feels should be demolished. I commend him for limiting his list to seven, as if I were to make a list of my own of buildings that should be demolished (future blog entry?), I would have extraordinary difficulty narrowing it down to 100, let alone to a number under 10.

Something I never really thought of that Nicolai brings up in his article today is the idea of tearing down Madison Square Garden and creating a contemporary design for Penn Station, rather than moving the train tracks to the Post Office across the street. While I am quite excited to have back a Beaux-Arts Penn Station (that's not to say that I'm old enough to remember the old Penn Station that used to sit where MSG does now), I think a light, contemporary design for the LIRR and Amtrak is actually quite compelling. Imagine being able to see SUNLIGHT upon arriving in New York City? That sounds quite lovely.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sarah's Favorite Buildings: Learning To Speak Positively About Architecture

I think, perhaps, I've focused too much on sucky new designs in this blog thus far. Time to write something positive, no? From now on, I will try to maintain a "Sarah's Favorite Buildings" entry at least once a month to limit my bad-architecture venting.

Astoria. If you know me at all, you probably know about my affection for this little Greek enclave of Queens. After two walking tours of the area in the summer of 2006, I was hooked. I think this crush, if you will, officially started when our class stood in front of a little, rundown 3-storey building situated on a thin, triangular block and our professor pointed to it and called it "the Flatiron of Astoria." Those with any sense of humor laughed for a good two minutes afterwards, despite the professor being completely serious. And while that building isn't the pick for this month (it really should be), it still maintains a place in my heart as an introduction to the endearing-ness/charm of Astoria.

Removed from the Astoria nightlife and the restaurants and the - well, everything but factories - is this house:

The Steinway House
Images from The New York Times

Oh hey there, enormous 1858 granite building that overlooks the East River and has its own lawn. You don't exactly look like you belong in Astoria, do you?

Why I Like This Building: It's enormous and grandiose and intimidating and beautiful, all at the same time. Sure, I would prefer it without the white paint in the front (oh wait, I'm supposed to be positive - white paint is great!), but it's really gorgeous overall. Secondly, William Steinway used to live in it (this is why people refer to it as the "Steinway House"). Thirdly, it is a really scary place to visit. This house is literally in the middle of nowhere, and the only sound is the quiet humming of a ConEd plant that's a few blocks away. Fourthly - and this one kind of ties into my third reason - it is quite the trek to get there. The 30-40 minute walk from the subway will make you appreciate being so close to history even more once you reach the top of the hill.

This post has managed to reveal more about my quirks than information on the building, but I hope your interest has been piqued enough to go on an adventure to Astoria.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Restaurant Review: Wait, What Kind Of Food Do They Serve?

Turkish Cuisine. Both the name of the restaurant and the type of food they serve. Crazy! Unfortunately, it does not seem like the straightforward technique works for this little establishment on 44th Street and 9th Avenue. The few times I've visited or passed by, only two or three tables had actual people seated at them. And maybe that's why the wait staff seems to be sort of nonexistent most of the time. Really, the place is so tiny that I have absolutely no idea where they go to, but the waiters apparently do not like hanging around their 4-10 customers. Sadface.

Uncreative name and somewhat bad service aside, Turkish Cuisine does have a few things going for it. First off, the interior is designed and ornamented beautifully.

Every decoration is Turkish-ified on some level and the colors are extremely vibrant and lovely. Motifs are carried throughout, including on the furniture and napkins, showing that a lot of thought was put into the design (as opposed to the restaurant's name).

There is a wide variety of dishes, albeit all Turkish dishes, on the menu. I decided to go for the Spinach Plate, because I love spinach and was enticed by the tomato sauce/yogurt combination. I think my main problem with the food was the rice, which resembled the rice that comes out of those bags of frozen rice and vegetables. Too thick, too shiny, too white, and has corn kernels interspersed throughout. The spinach dish itself was not bad, but not amazing. I will say that the combination of spinach, tomato, and yogurt (which is really more of a tzatziki sauce) is a very good mix of flavors, and their tomato sauce had just the right amount of spice in it.

Some additional observations: their pita is delicious and put on your table fresh out of the oven, their hummus is quite good, and their Turkish iced tea kind of tastes like non-carbonated apple soda.

Overall: good atmosphere, semi-bad service, decent food, somewhat reasonably priced. B/B+

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fancy Address + Lazy Design = $$$?

Well it looks like the former Newsweek Building at 251 West 57th Street is being hacked away at:

Fact is that 251 West 57th Street is slimming down for its fancy, new address: 3 Columbus Circle. Situated two blocks south of 59th Street, 3 "Columbus Circle" is actually not part of a circle. Or a half-circle. Or a semi-circle. Or even a curve (OK, maybe you can argue that Broadway kind of curves somewhat near it, but we'll just disregard that for now). It's in the heart of the city's grid system, and I'm not sure how the owners or developers managed to get away with latching on to the Time Warner Center's Circle of Capitalism. Well done, though.

Now on to the real problem I have with "3 Columbus Circle:" the design.

Nope. Your eyes are not deceiving you. It is in fact the same exact structure. All they're doing is stripping off the facade and putting up a glass curtain wall (remind you of any other recent Columbus Circle projects?). Everything else looks pretty much identical.

There is only one reason for such laziness: the less thought that goes into a new design that is meant to exhibit sleek capitalistic ideologies, the less money that needs to be spent on ideas, resulting in a greater profit when renting out space. Add that whole new "3 Columbus Circle" cherry on top to this money-making sundae, and it all becomes too, too clear.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coffee Pick of the Month

This pick is actually a coffee recipe. One of my friends reminded me of the article in the New York Times from last summer that had a formula for making your own iced coffee at home. Well, last night I put it together and this morning I drank it for the first time and it was magical. I realize fall is just around the corner, but there are a still a good few weeks left where drinking iced coffee remains socially acceptable.

Here you go:

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)
Milk (optional)
[Sugar is also optional]

1. In a jar [I used a thermos and it worked just fine], stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.

2. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. If desired, add milk.

Very simple, very yummy. Provided that you use good coffee, of course.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

LPC Loves Water, Hates Hipsters

The Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the $50 million redesign of McCarren Park Pool this past Tuesday. Be nice to your hipster friends this week - these are tough, tough times.

image from curbed.com

So it looks like the pool won't return to its Olympic size, but instead will take over about 70% of the space. The remaining area will be filled with things like pavilions (who can't get enough of those?), cafes, and some indoor space. There is talk that this "indoor space" will be used for concerts - an attempt to appease those who were vehemently opposed to removing the large Williamsburg concert venue. Even if there does end up being an area for shows, the space will be at least 90% smaller. Pittance!

One thing that's kind of awesome about the redesign is that the pool will be turned into an enormous ice skating rink during the winter. Do hipsters ice skate? I guess we'll find out.

I do wish that someone would save this little...pavilion?:

picture taken by me at the last mccarren park pool party 8/24/08

I don't really know if it's historic, but it is awesome.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Recipe: Spinach & Feta Rice Balls

These cute, scrumptious morsels can be used for an appetizer, a snack, or a meal-that-keeps-on-giving for those of us on a tight budget. The traditional recipe for Greek rice balls calls for each ball to be covered in bread crumbs, but because I have never really developed a fondness for bread crumbs, I decided to go a slightly different route.

2 pounds fresh spinach - remove large stems and wash thoroughly
1 cup chopped scallions (about 7 scallions, I'd say)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2.5 cups cooked brown rice (only 2 cups if you decide on using bread crumbs)
2 teaspoons dill weed (or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, if you're feeling fancy)
1.5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (will probably take 2 lemons to create)
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
salt and ground black pepper to taste
OPTIONAL - 1 cup bread crumbs

After washing the spinach, place it directly into a very large pot and cover it. Steam for about three minutes, and remove from heat once the leaves begin to wilt. Drain and chop the spinach, and then put it into a large bowl. Place the large bowl to your left. Or right. Or on a different counter. Don't take those last three sentences too seriously.

Combine the olive oil and the chopped scallions into a pan and sauté until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). At this point, you should preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring back the large bowl with the spinach and add the scallions, rice, dill weed, feta and lemon juice. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Stir well with a large spoon until the mixture begins to hold together.

Get out a large baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Run your hands under water for a bit, and then begin the fun: taking handfuls of rice mixture and rolling it up into snowball-like creations. They should be about the size of a ping pong. I highly recommend washing your hands clean of rice mixture every once in a while so that the process remains easy. If you have decided to use bread crumbs for the recipe, roll the ball in the bread cups before placing it on the baking sheet. This is what the rice balls look like without bread crumbs, before being cooked:

Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Even if there are no bread crumbs on the surface, the rice balls should turn out crisp on the outside. Recipe makes about 24 rice balls. Bon appetit. Or kali órexi, as they say in Greece (I think).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dish Review: Café Lalo's Moroccan Delight

I will probably never review Café Lalo as a whole in this blog. While the name might not immediately ring a bell with some people, it is as famous as it is because of its guest appearance in that delightful Upper West Side romantic comedy You've Got Mail. Lalo may shamelessly have stills of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks chatting it up in the café plastered over parts of its façade, but despite being an obvious tourist destination, it still maintains a chic, laid back feel and does not overcharge to the same extent as some other popular NYC tour guide favorites.

Because of its fame, there are enough full reviews of it out there. I am trying to remain original here at Architectural Appetite. AA: Blogging with integrity since...3 weeks ago?

Today I would like to focus on a Café Lalo brunch dish that may get shortchanged because of its appearance:

The Moroccan Delight

So some of you may be looking at this image now and are saying "ew" quietly to yourself. Others may be more sympathetic and just curious as to what it is. Is it chicken? Fish? Something that was scraped off the streets of New York and covered in tomato sauce and garnished with olives? Well, your made-up-by-me guesses are wrong.

The Moroccan Delight is an amazing egg dish. The eggs are are baked with a really delicious sauce made of "fresh tomatoes, tricolor bell peppers, garlic, jalapeno, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh mixed herbs," and served with two pieces of pita. The jalapeno and the herbs (I am still trying to figure out which ones they use) really make this dish quite the flavorful experience, and separate the the topping from being confused with a regular tomato sauce. It is extremely unique, and gets extra bonus points for that fact alone.

The Moroccan Delight is - yes, I'm going to say it - a "delight." Make sure to try it out the next time you dine at Lalo.

Friday, September 5, 2008

NoHo Historic District Successfully Extended!

City Council approved the landmark designation of the NoHo Historic District Extension yesterday! Yay! The extension stretches from Lafayette Street to the Bowery, and from East 4th Street to Bond Street, adding 56 new buildings to the district. Some of the newly landmarked buildings date back all the way to 1820, though the majority were built between 1860 and 1900. The great thing about this area is that while it's filled with all different types of buildings with all different sorts of styles, it still feels like it's all apart of one great plan to create an area of Manhattan called NoHo. Maybe that's just me.

I signed a letter to send to City Council so I feel partially (cough fully cough) responsible for this very exciting new designation. Here's a map from the Historic District Council's website of the newly designated area, just in case you'd like to take a stroll around HISTORY (!) this weekend:

The blue area is the newly designated section. Enjoy!

Image from the Landmarks Preservation Commission's website. Check out their press release on designating the extension from back in May.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Death of Coney Island

From Curbed.com:

Coney's Astroland to Die on Sunday: "Barring a last-minute change, Astroland will actually die on Sunday. Owner Carol Albert, who sold to developer Joe Sitt for $30 million two years ago, has told employees the amusement park will really walk the plank on Sunday."

This comes a few days after sharing my theory that maybe Coney Island has just been threatening its demise to increase popularity (hey it's worked for the past two summers, right?). Well, everybody makes mistakes.

Last year, I went to one of the Municipal Art Society's Coney Island programs to hear about the plans straight from the horse's mouth. And quite honestly, they didn't sound so bad. They even promised to preserve the three main landmarks and keep development far enough away from shore. They were also so nice. And from Brooklyn (strategic!).

But the more I really think about it, the sadder I get that these plans are being carried through. Why do I like Coney Island? It's because when I go there, I feel like I'm being transported into a different era of New York. And really, that whole dilapidated/falling apart look that Coney Island has gives it its charm. When the new rides come in, and the new real estate adds value to the land, will Coney be able to maintain its wholly-different-from-New-York character? Will it still be a place for the lower middle/middle class of New York? I suppose we'll find out soon. Let's just hope it's not a complete wasteland come next summer.

picture from one of my summer 2007 trips to coney

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The African Battle for Best Cuisine

Some of you Ethiopian food lovers (or soon-to-be Ethiopian food lovers) who live in/visit Morningside Heights or the Upper West Side might often face one of the most difficult decisions to make on a weekly basis: Massawa or Awash?

Sitting only 14 blocks away from each other on Amsterdam Avenue, Massawa and Awash are two of my favorite restaurants in the neighborhood. And that's mainly because they both serve incredibly tasty Ethiopian food. But for people who don't eat Ethiopian food as often as I do, and therefore won't find themselves going back and forth between restaurants regularly, I have done a compare/contrast study of the two so that you can make an informed decision when you suddenly are craving African cuisine and are at a loss of which restaurant to pick (I am so nice, I know).

Before I begin, I should note that I am a vegetarian, and consequently this analysis will only focus on the two restaurants' vegetable dishes . However, everyone I have met who eats meat at Ethiopian restaurants seems to prefer Awash. Yay Awash. OK, onwards:

Has significantly better Tej Honey Wine & spiced tea
Has much better Shiro (cooked and spiced chickpeas)
Offers rice as a substitute for injera for the gluten-free among us
Has an awesome collection of hard candies to select from when you're done with your meal
Massawa's "Can't Miss" Dishes
Duba - "pumpkin tenderly sautéed with berbere, tomatoes and rosemary"
Hamli - "spinach sautéed with spices and garlic" The Hamli is really good paired with the Shiro (which I would put in the "can't miss" list if it weren't a staple at every Ethiopian restaurant)

Sometimes gives you warm towels before you eat
Has a much better collard greens dish
The injera is generally of a better quality
Awash's "Can't Miss" Dishes
Key Sir Alicha - a combination of red beets, carrots, and potatoes (so good - especially if you like beets, which Massawa is sorely lacking)
String beans and carrots (cooked and seasoned in spicy garlic sauce) - this kind of tastes more like a Thai dish than an Ethiopian one, but that doesn't stop it from being delicious. Plus, how often do you get to eat Thai food with injera?

The "Best Meat" Award goes to Awash.

The "Best Beverages (Including Alcohol)" Award goes to Massawa

The "Best Shiro" Award goes to Massawa

The "Best Injera" Award goes to Awash

I will not come to any conclusion on which restaurant is better overall, though I am slightly biased towards Massawa because I had my first taste of Ethiopian food there my first week of college, and maintained a weekly ritual of eating there for the remaining four years. So dear readers, it will be your task to go out to both restaurants and form an objective opinion.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Putting the "Suburban" in "Urban" (Wait, That Doesn't Fit)

I almost fell off my chair after coming across this article in today's New York Times. Partly because I only live about 8 blocks away from the building and have not noticed this construction happening at all and partly because suburban homes are being built on top of a 7-story prewar Upper West Side apartment building. What? Gabled roofs? Decks? ATTICS? WHAT?!

OK, the units are cute. And most certainly original for the area. But doesn't context matter? Doesn't it? And isn't this type of dwelling something that most New Yorkers are trying to escape by living in Manhattan?

If only all mid size apartment buildings in Manhattan started having these types of rooftop additions, then maybe instead of heading out to New Jersey, Long Island, or Westchester after having children, New Yorkers could just move up to Manhattan's "higher elevation," if you will. No, really, we could connect the tops of buildings with windy, tree-lined roads where SUVs go unjudged and children can ride their bikes and sell lemonade. My definition of suburbia is apparently very limited, but I think you get my point.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Cupcake Challenge

Last night I had five lovely ladies over to find out, once and for all, which bakery makes the best cupcake on the Upper West Side. The bakeries represented: Crumbs (75th and Amsterdam), Buttercup (72nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam), Soutine (70th and Columbus), and Magnolia (69th and Columbus). Now that I realize all of these places are within six blocks of each other, I will start refering to this area of Manhattan as The Cupcake District. Spread the word.

The cupcakes were numbered so that none of the taste-testers went into the experiment with name biases, and each person was provided with an evaluation sheet created by yours truly:

To make things fair, I bought two vanilla cake/chocolate frosting cupcakes and two chocolate cake/vanilla frosting cupcakes from each place. I realize some places have insanely creative recipes, but simplicity can sometimes be the most difficult thing to master.

So the results are in, and the winner for the best overall cupcake (judged on icing, cake, combination of icing & cake, and appearance) is Crumbs. Yes, ladies and gentlemen - after years and years of saying,"Crumbs is so much better than Magnolia; go to Crumbs," I now have evidential proof that I am always right.

More interesting stuff: Buttercup came in last place, Magnolia had the most aesthetically pleasing cupcakes, and Soutine's chocolate cake/vanilla icing cupcake came the closest to beating out Crumbs. The cheapest cupcakes were from Buttercup, and the most expensive were from Crumbs. Apparently you get what you pay for.

Comments from the test group:

BUTTERCUP: Most complained of a coffee flavor in the chocolate icing, which Kiera pointed out as most likely cocoa powder. Tsk, tsk for not hiding your ingredients well enough, BC. The taste testers also felt that the vanilla icing tasted more like cream cheese icing.

CRUMBS: More positive reaction from the crew, but Kiera at this point decides she hates cupcakes. Sad news.

MAGNOLIA: Not one, but TWO people described the icing as "lobster-y." Well, I don't know about you, but I'm never buying cupcakes from there again.

SOUTINE: Vanilla cake had no taste and the vanilla icing, while it had the texture of whipped cream (which is a positive, I think?), there was not enough sugar in the mix.

There you go, kids. Use this scientific study wisely for your future cupcake endeavors on the Upper West Side.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CSI and BSA: A Love Story

After over five years of public hearings and community meetings and seemingly endless paperwork, the Board of Standards and Appeals has finally approved 7 special variances so that Congregation Shearith Israel can build a luxury condo-filled monstrosity behind its 1897, doubly-landmarked* structure.

Rendering by ProtectWest70.org

The purpose of the new structure? To raise funds for the struggling non-profit religious institution, of course. But one has to wonder: will the expectedly super-high rents for these new condos ever make up for the past five years of paying lawyers and architects and [cough] theboardofstandardsandappeals [cough]? Just kidding about that last one. But seriously, one question should come to mind when non-profit institutions start considering luxury condos as a remedy for their financial difficulties: is it worth it? The legal fees alone (not to mention being despised by the surrounding community) would make me think no. More wine and cheese fundraisers, it is.

I won't consider this controversy over until construction begins, but I worry that granting seven special variances to one non-profit will mean granting who-knows-how-many special variances to other non-profits. Churches and synagogues and museums and historical societies will be shadowed (literally) by their own special glass towers.

For more information on the saga, visit ProtectWest70.org

*Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) is both part of the Upper West Side/Central Park West historic district and an individual landmark.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yogurtland: The New Frontier in Fro-Yo

OK, maybe Yogurtland isn't so much a New York City secret anymore, but I am on a crusade against Pinkberry until they lower their prices. So be prepared for Frozen Yogurt That Is Not Pinkberry entries. I am convinced that my endorsements of other plain, tart yogurt around the city will get a medium original at Pinkberry under $6 again.

Yogurtland, unlike That Other Frozen Yogurt Place That Shall Not Be Named, only has one location in the city that sits in the heart of Greenwich Village (267 Bleecker Street, to be exact). The greatest part about Yogurtland is that it's serve-self. This not only lets you get creative with flavors and toppings, but it will also give you a new appreciation for employees who can operate soft-serve machines without making a mess.

There are over ten flavors at Yogurtland, including things like New York Cheesecake, Espresso, Banana Tart, and my personal favorite: Taro (a tropical plant, it seems?). I also prefer their Plain Tart frozen yogurt over You Know Who's, but this is primarily because it has an icier texture (which I find most people actually do not like - be warned, creamy fro-yo lovers).

The toppings also kick You Know Who's butt by having a greater variety of fresh fruit AND stuff that is really bad for you. Why not pair those blueberries and sliced mangos with some gummi bears and Butterfingers?

You'll find yourself pleasantly surprised when you checkout. Thirty-nine cents an ounce is even more awesome than it sounds, and creations that look (and taste) like they should be the $6+ PBerry standard end up being much less than you imagined (sometimes).

Friday, August 22, 2008

The New 2 Columbus Circle

The new 2 Columbus Circle was unveiled to the public a few months ago. Since then, articles have been popping up occasionally about the new design and how it kind of, well, sucks. Paul Goldberger's most recent article in The New Yorker is a tad more sympathetic, yes, but I am most curious about what Nicolai Ouroussoff will have to say. Hear that Nicolai? I am waiting for your review with bated breath.

In the meantime, I will put in my two cents. Well, maybe not. Quite frankly, I have difficulty looking at this building objectively because it was one of the great preservation losses of the 21st century. While the new building's architect, Brad Cloepfil, may have chosen to put the original "lollipops" at the base of the building behind glass to preserve the memory of the Edward Durell Stone 2 Columbus Circle, it feels more like an intentional reminder of how a long and hard-fought battle was lost.

Interestingly enough, the friends that I've spoken to about the new building seem to really like it. After strolling around Columbus Circle a few times, I have finally discovered why: it's really shiny. Yes, apparently we cannot avoid that basic part of human nature even when it comes to architecture.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Coffee Pick of the Month

And the winner is: Trader Joe's French Roast Coffee

While I am a little biased because my father has been brewing this blend since I was a wee child, I do believe TJ's hits the mark in creating a wonderful, strong, not-overly-bitter coffee that puts a smile on my face nearly every morning. What's even better is that about $5 worth will last at least a couple of weeks, thus keeping your wallet full and your serotonin levels up. Do note that adding milk and/or sugar to a cup of this coffee is, in fact, a crime against humanity. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Institutional Preservation in Buffalo

Just returned from Buffalo, so it seems fitting to start this blog with a project that was brought to my attention by an architectural insider based in the Buffalo community. Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, Buffalo does have some lovely architectural gems from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of which is its Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, now referred to as the Henry Hobson Richardson Complex (Buffalo's attempt to downplay that it has crazy people, while simultaneously showing off that famous architects once paid attention to Western New York).
Built between the years of of 1870-1890, the now Henry Hobson Richardson Complex was designed by H.H. Richardson (just in case that wasn't obvious enough) and Frederick Law Olmsted (in charge of landscape - you may also know him as That Guy Who Designed Central Park). Unfortunately, many parts of the complex are now in deplorable condition due to neglect. Thankfully, the Richardson Center Corporation has taken on a "rehabilitation" project for the complex that will restore both the historic structure and landscape. They are also in the process of creating an Architecture and Visitor Center, which I wholeheartedly support. Education is awesome.

However (!), such a major renovation with as much funding as it's receiving will, of course, find ways of making the property more profitable to the city by "reusing" the area. The list of ideas currently being thrown around are as follows: "a hotel, conference center, parking structure, high end condominiums, artist studios, townhouses and academic space for Buffalo State College." Three of these ideas make me extremely nervous (I made them bold, and thus more threatening so that you, the reader, will emphathize with me). The others have the possibility of also being an eyesore, but I will have to wait until the plans are public before curling up with a box of tissues and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Mood Magic flavor for bad architecture and site planning. Click here to read more about the project.