Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steak of the Union

Every so often it is important we take a break from our glib discussions of restaurants, nostalgic snack items, and the tight-fitting wardrobes of CNN journalists to discuss the weighty and serious issues of the world. The larger, more difficult questions that plague us; whose answers elude us; and whose resolution could change the fate of society. Today, we tackle one such mystery.

Who the fuck is my cab driver talking to?

Seriously – if you’ve ridden in a New York City cab anytime over the past ten years, you’ll agree that every single taxi shares certain characteristics:

• Everyone ignores the bulletproof separator with the little pass-thru dish for your fare;

• The smell of a Christmas Tree-shaped air freshener purchased at a car wash in 1987 is completely useless to obscure the smell of sweat, alcohol, gyros, or – on Sunday mornings – vomit;

• The TV will primarily play commercials punctuated by a weather report for climate conditions you already experienced six hours ago; and

• Your driver will be a non-native English speaker who spends the entire ride on his cell phone, stopping only to tell you that the credit card machine doesn’t work.

I really want to know who my driver is talking to. Is there some sort of Taxi Driver Party Line they all dial in to so they can chat all day? Do they tell funny stories about the long lines at the gas stations on Tenth Avenue, or how every time they try and escape Brooklyn they pick up some hipster near Tompkins Square Park and end up back in Billyburg? Do they bitch about the construction on Broadway or share fantasies about picking off cyclists on the Ninth Avenue bike lane?

And the weirdest part is: Half the time the driver barely speaks. He’s got the ear buds or the headset or the Bluetooth on, but he only says one or two words every ten minutes. I came back from LaGuardia the other day and the driver was clearly on a call the whole time, but in 33 minutes his entire contribution to the call were the words, “Yes,” “Thursday,” “Unh…,” and something that sounded like “Frizzle.” Granted, I make the same intelligent contributions to half the conference calls I end up on, but that’s because I’m usually answering email, eating something that crunches, or trying to figure out what the heck people are talking about.

In all seriousness, though – setting aside the cab driver mystery for a moment – there is something important to discuss this week. The President delivered his latest in a long line of “Inspiring Speeches I Give When My Poll Numbers Tank or I’m Otherwise In Hot Water and Have to Inspire People In Lieu of Actually Accomplishing Something.” To be fair, I thought the State of the Union Address was quite good, and I think we can agree we all learned several things:

• Debbie Wasserman Schultz generally looks like a cartoon frog with a bad hair-do. Every time they cut to her I thought they were broadcasting Shrek’s Wedding.

• At age 50, Scott Brown is about to become the twink of the Senate Republican Caucus. Generally you only see this many old white men get excited about one guy in fetish porn.

• The President cannot talk for more than 45 seconds without punctuating his speech with that gesture where he presses his thumb and forefinger together and pokes the air.

• Samuel Alito sweats.

• No, he sweats a lot.

Truthfully, though I thought the President did a good job framing the debate, I can’t figure out why the Democrats seem to have such a hard time governing. They can’t even seem to explain that healthcare is important to the economy because:

• If companies aren’t hiring, it might be that the high cost of subsidizing group health care prevents them from having enough cash for more jobs;

• If you haven’t gotten a raise – or enough of a raise – in several years, it’s because the skyrocketing costs of health care are eating up your raise;

• If you’re worried about losing your job, think about how much it’s going to suck not to have health insurance if you do. (Boy, I'm using bullet points a lot in this posting!)

I’m worried that we’re never going to break the partisan gridlock in Washington, and the leadership isn’t doing enough to govern around it. The people voted for you; do what you said you’d do rather than worrying it’s unpopular. It’s unpopular because it’s not a law yet – people can’t benefit from it, so all they see is the process of making it. Process stories suck – when I worked in politics the worst media event that could happen to you was a process story. It exposes all the backroom deals, all the brokering, all the things that making governing difficult and that most people don’t understand and end up clouding the merits of the bill they’re debating. This is why Americans have no faith in government and have instead placed their trust in the Apple Corporation and the final season of Lost.

(Are you DYING for the Final Season of Lost to premiere? Me too! Tuesday!!! Yay! Not so impressed by the iPad, though – mostly because I just got a Kindle for Christmas and I hate to have my new toys become obsolete five minutes after I get them.)

I will close with a restaurant review for you today – not in New York, but in Columbus, Ohio – should you ever find yourself there. We’re working on a potential deal in Columbus and I got to spend some time there this week. (Little known fact: Columbus’s sister city is Dresden, Germany. The only apparent explanation is their shared love of root vegetables and Heidi Klum. )

So, if you’re in Columbus, go to the Short North neighborhood and check out Rigsby’s Kitchen. A new American restaurant with an excellent wine selection, Rigsby’s was delicious. The beet salad makes a menu item that’s become boring pulsate with new life, and the Strip Steak I ordered came perfectly cooked atop a Madeira cream sauce that I could have bathed in. Skip dessert though, I swear my cookie plate had Stella D’Oro cookies on it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everybody Wins

If it's January it must be awards season, which literally fills me with glee.  Red carpet no-nos, acceptance speeches, snubs.  It's like extending Christmas by a month.

We begin with last week's Golden Globes and Saturday's Screen Actor's Guild Awards.  Both evenings were pretty much carbon copies of each other, so it's easay to cover them in one sitting.

First, we have to give it up for Mo'Nique.  If you saw Precious, you know she deserved this award, and if you didn't, you can at least admit that all the attention she's getting makes up for how blatantly she was snubbed for Soul Plane. 

Ok, seriously though, if your career can survive a movie called Soul Plane and you're still a front-runner for an Oscar, you've got some serious staying-power.  This rule was invented in 1990 when Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar despite having appeared in "Jumpin' Jack Flash."  (For the record, Jumpin Jack Flash is actually one of my favorite movies ever.  If you don't thrill at the sight of a young Annie Potts or giggle when Whoopi yanks the toupee off of Peter Michael Goetz's head, you're not human.)

The other sure thing seems to be Christoph Waltz, whose turn as a comically fey Nazi is the only real attention Inglourious Basterds is receiving. 

I don't know that I'm down with Avatar winning everything, since Up In The Air, The Hurt Locker and Precious were all such powerful films, but the film is a clear feat of movie-making.

I am enjoying watching Sandra Bullock win everything in sight, especially since I've been a fan since The Net, not to mention the Miss Congeniality films.

And, speaking of fashion, Project Runway has begun again.  Season 7 proves to be more entertaining than Season 6, in no small part due to contestant Ping.  In the first episode she made it into the top three with a dress that looked to me like she threw bolts of fabric on her model as if she were about to commence the Dance of the Seven Veils.  In the last episode, where the designers were asked to create an outfit out of potato sack material, she designed a very architectural and shapeless shift that looked like, well, a potato sack.  Oh - and it wasn't long enough to cover her model's butt.  This makes we want to call the dress Ass Foo Young - but only because it sounds funny.  Anyway, she landed in the bottom three but didn't get sent home, for what I can only imagine is the producers' reasoning that she's going to be comic gold this season.

And I'm already glued to American Idol.  I ordinarily don't get sucked in until Hollywood week, but the auditions this year are so ridiculous.  Aside from the usual heart-string-pulling stories about people who were born with 11 toes or childhood asthma, the number of ridiculous contestants getting escorted out by security appears to be at an all-time high.

I think Kara DioGuardi just brings out the worst in people.

But the TV I'm really salivating for (other than the midseason returns of Glee and FlashForward) is the final season of Lost.  I've invested five seasons in this weird island with the smoke monster and the numbers and the time-jumping.  There better be a good payoff.  It's like, on the weekend, when I'll do a really long run - like 7 or 8 or 10 miles.  I want a cheeseburger for lunch, so if we end up some place with salads or chicken, I just feel disappointed.  Like it's all foreplay and no money shot.

Other than that, there isn't too much to report, folks.  It was a long week at the new job - with travel to Texas and DC - and I'm still spending Saturday catching up.  I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and I don't learn as well as I used to - or I don't remember as well as I used to - but as I approach 40, I'm finding the challenge of learning a lot of new information harder than I remember it being.  Still, I have to say, I forgot what it was like to jump out of bed excited to go to work in the morning. 

At my last company everyone was staring down divorce and mid-life crisis.  Here, we've got a guy in his 20s who is so smart we acquired his company and hired him before he even graduated from college.  Now, for a company that sells to the education space, this is a great example of practicing what we preach.  But on a personal level it's hard not to bring every inadequacy I feel about myself to the surface.  In my 20s, I slept until noon and the only thing I invented was a way to combine Fruity Pebbles with the Rice Krispie treat recipe.  (Do not try this at home - this snack can keep you awake for 54 consecutive hours and give you the dental experience of an Englishman.)

Finally, Neil and I did have a chance to try the new Accademmia di Vino on the West Side this weekend.  We love the one on the East Side, but I'm sad to report this one is a poor facsimile.  The design, which works nicely in the Third Avenue location, has been replicated here, but the building on Broadway isn't actually brick, so the exposed brick is a facade.  It shows, and looks cheap.  When combined with the trappings of Tuscany they're trying to create- plaster walls, faux vines - the whole effect is very Olive Garden.  The wine list is still excellent, but the food was just OK.  Grab a glass of vino, then head over to Ouest for a better meal.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Looks Good To Me

I know that it is way too soon to be anything other than solemn about the crisis in Haiti, but can we pause for just one moment to ask ourselves this: How jazzed is Andy Cooper?

Seriously – more than four years after Katrina, Anderson Cooper was beginning to fade back to bland; that colorlessness that seems to be more than physical, but emotional and visceral with him. Katrina was his moment to go from old grey mare to silver fox, adding a shock of electricity to the coverage and reporting with energy and empathy, perhaps for the first time ever.

So it should come as no surprise that, after years of regurgitating the news for a few hours at 10pm, trying to color it up with an array of pundits and outsize personalities to detract from his discomfort as an anchor, that he grabbed the first plane to Port-Au-Prince, staked out a great location amidst the rubble, and threw on a tight black t-shirt (yeah, the arms are pretty jacked, thank you Equinox, but the whole effect is a bit creepy. Like Taylor Lautner’s body with Dan Rather’s face.)

In other news, Massachusetts goes to the polls today to fill the Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy. Democrat Martha Coakley, who had a 30-point lead not long ago, is now slightly trailing the Republican challenger Scott Brown. Brown, who was once an actor and model, is married to a local newswoman and has a daughter who was once a semifinalist on American Idol.

He’s running as the candidate of the Average Joe.

The shocking thing is that he’s getting away with it. Largely because Coakley has run an entitled, lackluster, utterly antiseptic campaign. However, part of it simply has to do with the American psyche. Pundits can call this a repudiation of the Obama agenda (and they wouldn’t be completely wrong,) discomfort with single-party government, or simply an anti-incumbent sentiment fostered by the lack of improvement on jobs, the economy, healthcare, or anything major that the President ran on. And it’s sort of his fault because he’s spent so much time trying to build consensus that he’s lost sight of actually governing. Of the fact that compromises sometimes aren’t possible, or occasionally create results no one embraces. Bush knew this – he ran in 2004 as standing behind his own decisiveness, and the electorate rewarded him for it, even as they disagreed with much of what he was doing because at least he was doing something.

I’ve learned this from a career in sales – sometimes your client doesn’t mind not getting what they want, as long as you’re direct and honest about what you’re doing. That being able to do something is as important as what you do.

But I also think this election is about optics. Brown and I disagree on a multitude of things, but he’s conversational and charming and pretty damn good-looking. Coakley looks like a cold dyspeptic bitch – the cold eleventh grade teacher who always corrected “it’s me” to “It is I” and wouldn’t take your quiz paper if you were one minute past the due date.

We’re still a country where looks and charm make a difference – a big one. Clinton was charming and rascally. Bush was athletic and mischievous (and Gore was bloated and scary-looking.) Obama is lithe and (in the word’s of Harry Reid) light-skinned and well-spoken. If he spoke like Al Sharpton or was as dark as Esther Rolle, he might not even have made it out of the early primary states.

Even Andy Cooper is an object lesson. After 9/11, the ubiquitous Ashleigh Banfield went brunette and all but disappeared from national television in a few months. Andy Cooper blued his hair silver, pumped up his guns, and gets two hours a night, beginning in prime time.

I don’t know that I have a message for this entry, folks, or if I’m just proselytizing . It’s not decorous that we give good looking people a pass, or let them get farther than the uglies, but I don’t know that it’s unfair. After all, plenty of people are born smarter than others, and we don’t hold that advantage against them. When we look at both attributes as being somewhat innate, and then fostered or developed, I don’t know that favoring one is anymore more right or wrong than favoring another. You can make the argument that intelligence is more important to doing a good job than looks, but when you’re representing the message – in person or on the air – part of your job is having the audience embrace you, and physicality is a big part of that.

Changing the channel to NBC (Nighttime Blows Chunks), I catch the lead-in to the nine o’clock hour, where the news has softened to the consistency of brie at a picnic. Meredith Vieira is interviewing Whoopi Goldberg, who is currently admitting that she wanted to be a Rockette or act in Tarzan movies. I’d change the channel to Good Morning America, but I decided to temporarily boycott is when I realized the promoted Diane Sawyer and Chris Cuomo, and left the gays behind. I’ve never been a huge Sam Champion fan (and find the sight of him in orange sweaters and casualwear disturbing – why can’t they ever let the weatherman look like an adult?) but think Robin Roberts seems ill-as-ease with George Stephanopoulos. She had more chemistry with Diane. And George looks afraid of her (which he should be.)

So that pretty much leaves me with answering email or sitting through West Wing reruns and imagining a Democratic presidency I wish we had. President Bartlet why have you forsaken us?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mazel Tough

"Ugh, how much are you giving him?"

I'm on the phone with my sister, about two hours before our cousin's son's Bar Mitzvah.  I haven't been to a Bar Mitzvah since the dawn of my own pubescent awkward phase (1985-1989) and have no idea how much constitutes an appropriate gift.  (Let me explain: the generally accepted gift for a Jewish life event is a check.  Gifts and registries are for Hanukkah (Worst. Holiday. Ever.) and Engagement Parties.  Bar Mitzvahs and Weddings require gifts of cash.  It makes it easier to figure out exactly what people think of you and what to think of them in return.  We're going to judge each other anyway, so this provides a quantifiable way of keeping score.)

"$268."  This is $250 + another $18 representing "ch'ai."  No, not the spicy tea of cloying sweetness served latte-style by Starbucks.  Pronounced like the word "Hi" as if spoken while clearing your throat or mocking a comical German accent, it is the symbol for "life" based on the numerical value of two letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

I'm a little blown away.  I figured, unless you are a close relative, the standard gift for a couple would be between $150 and $200.  After thinking about it, I decide to go with $200.  This has the benefit of making my sister look good while saving me a little bit of cash.

By 7:30pm Neil and I have ventured out into the frozen night and into a rental car.  Half an hour later we're  on Long Island - in the same catering hall where my sister got married - assaulted by an array of cousins, children of cousins, and non-cousin cousins (the cousins of your cousin who you aren't actually related to - like when the bloodline is through your aunt, so her kids are your cousins, but your uncle's bloodline produces nieces and nephews who are your cousin's cousins, but no relation to you.)

My mother has no brothers and sisters, but all her first cousins were like aunts and uncles to me.  All three of them had at least two kids - and one had four, now ranging in age from 40 to 17 - so I've always had lots of cousins.  And since most are (or were) married and had kids, there are a lot of people for Neil to meet for the first time.  Most of them live outside New York, from the DC area to Florida to Arizona.

I have to say Neil did a great job navigating the smorgasbord of family whose general sense of humor covers the limited range from snarky gossip to fart jokes.  Honestly, the evening was tame by historical standards (everyone got so drunk at one wedding ten years ago, none of us can remember it and no one is sure the couple ever actually got married.  Listen, at this point they have three kids, two mortgages, and one personality.  It no longer matters.)  I guess things quiet down now that most of them are between 40 and 50 and are in the presence of their teenage children.

One thing did happen, and I can't wait to tell you about it.  "Cousin" Trevor (I know, I usually stay away from names unless I have permission.  But Trevor is a public personality - he lives in L.A. and produces movies.  Bad movies.  Blame him for "All About Steve" - the dreadful Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper vehicle that no one saw but everyone laughed about.  And "License to Wed." Barf.)  Anyway, Trevor is a non-cousin cousin - we're all related through my aunt, and he's from my uncle's side of the family.

Trevor is the kind of guy who was attractive at 19 but probably treated you badly. And the combination of his looks and cocky attitude and your low-self-esteem issues made you think he was awesome.  But really, he was an asshole.  And a tool.  And a douche.  (I'm guessing.)  He's the guy whose looks get swallowed up by food and alcohol and arrogance so that, by the time he hits his early thirties he's bloated and obnoxious - sort of a junior Tony Soprano - who still wears his hair long and slicked back.  Yuck.

So "Cousin" Trevor hits on one of our cousins who is 50, going through a divorce, and clearly grossed out.  So, when she points out that it's gross, he's gross and - um - they're sort of family (like in Clueless, when they're not related, but sort of related, and it's kind of creepy when they become a couple.)

So he proceeds to hit on her 19 year old daughter.

Oh ... and his opening line, "You know, I'm kind of a big deal."

Can't make this stuff up folks.  I'm seriously glad there's no much crazy in my life, otherwise this blog would be nothing but Macaroni and Cheese recipes.

But otherwise, it was a great evening.  Most of my cousins are making the transition from 40 to 50 looking almost exactly the same.  My sister looked incredible.  Seriously - she's had three kids and gets about 11 minutes of sleep a night, but looks terrific and could easily pass for 27 (she's not.)

When we left, I thought about how nice it was to have so much family - and how much we all genuinely seem to love each other.  Maybe it's just because there's a better than even chance we're going to need to borrow money from each other at some point, but I do love a big family event.

Speaking of big events, I spent the balance of the week in Nashville - departing early Monday and returning late Friday.  It was my company's big sales kickoff meeting.  Ordinarily, I hate these events.  They always happen the second or third week of January.  Since most of the last six weeks of the year are relatively quiet, or are focused on one or two deals, January is when you're itching to see your clients and they have awoken from their food comas with a million things they need from you.  It makes it difficult to spend four days in a conference room without feeling a little antsy.

But I was looking forward to this - I'm new and needed to meet people, build relationships, and try out my jokes on a whole different audience.

I must admit - it was a great event but the duration wore on me after a while.  By Thursday I had gotten to the point where I couldn't sit still for longer than twenty minutes at a time.  My body had grown resistant to food fetched from a chafing dish (corporate trough) and the endurance challenge of starting my day with a 7am meeting and ending it with a social event lasting until 11pm. My brother-in-law, who is also in sales, calls these events "Structured Fun."

Oh - and the event was in Opryland - a massive resort with several wings connected by paths and gardens and a fake river.  It simulates the outdoors, but indoors, like being in one large pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center.  At one point, I went 69 hours without going outside.

The company has an energetic and entrepreneurial culture.  It's only been around 12 years, has grown rapidly through the massive adoption of its core product and several acquisitions, and everyone is so bright and eager it can be hard to avoid becoming cynical simply to provide some contrast.  The ethos of the company is jeans with a button down (not tucked in) and a blazer.  The muscial tastes are routed in the years between 1985 and 1992, with a dash of bar mitzvah thrown in.

There are no restaurants to report, since we mostly ate in the resort, except the night the party was downtown at B.B. King's and I wouldn't send people I hate there to eat.  Feh.  It's not about the food there.  It's about making it out without dancing like a fool.  (Pictures of me on the dane floor will NOT be posted here.)

Most of the week was spent in a news vacuum.  There was simply no time for television, and the only newspaper I saw was USA Today - so I didn't get any outside news that couldn't be represented by a pie chart.

Occasionally I got updates via Twitter, Facebook or CNN online.  I followed the battle over televising the Federal Court trial over Proposition 8.  I think it's ironic that the argument of the Prop 8 supporters is that they represent the popular will of the people (not really - it was a close vote, not a blowout) yet these people somehow represent a fragile populace and need to be protected from any risk created by televising the trial.  If the argument is popular will, then you can't deny the right of the people to view the process.

I also occasionally got updates on the tragedy in Haiti.  This is awful, people.  Awful.  There is no word, there are no jokes.  This is a country that cannot seem to escape devastation.  It has been plundered, exploited and battered over the years, from dictators to disease to natural disaster.  Yet, through it all, you cannot tamp down the incredible spirit of its people.  Haiti is the only country to rise from a slave revolt, kicking out the French Colonial imperialists and claiming their own nation.  The people resonate with hope and optimism and joy, even in the most terrible of circumstances.  It is humbling to watch people who had nothing, who lost their entire country and tens of thousands of family members and friends, entertain each other by dancing in the streets or line up patiently for a bottle of water and some food.  Yes, there has been some looting, and some riots, but the overall situation has been one of hope.

And, I have to admit, it was inspiring to see President Clinton and President Bush teaming up to assist in the relief effort and help raise money.  It reminds you how much more we could achieve if more issues were handled in a non-partisan manner - if we agreed the issue was too important for politics or partisanship and tried to legislate from the compromise rather than the differences.

Whatever you think of Bush - and the divisiveness and policies that arguably destroyed the country, or Clinton - and the pettiness, the triangulation and the high ideals but low morals - both of them have always been humanitarians.  Bush did more for the continent of Africa than any other President - addressing issues from malaria to HIV.  Meanwhile, Clinton has used his Clinton Global Initiative to help fund and tackle the world's greatest problems like poverty and disease.

So, we won't end with snark this week, folks.  There are a million ways to help. (Text "HAITI" to 90999.) Give to aid organizations such as Partners in Health, or Doctors without Borders, or the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Even gross Cousin Trevor would give something.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy New Years

Why do people say that? “Happy New Years.” Is it plural? I certainly hope not – I can barely handle them coming one at a time. Does it come from December 31 being New Year’s Eve? Do we need another lesson on possessives and the apostrophe?

Anyway, Happy New Year, or New Years, to you and welcome to a new year on my blog. I’ve settled into a pretty good rhythm at this point, posting weekly , though may return to twice weekly posts if the muse moves me.

Neil and I kicked off our year with a nice long weekend. There wasn’t much to clean up from our party (thank God for paper plates), so we were able to start 2010 fresh – a new chapter, a new journey.

OK, I’m being glib here. My friend Suzette made me promise to work the term “journey” into a posting. She’s grown weary of every other person on television talking about their “journey.” I have to agree with her. Politicians, reality show contestants – all of a sudden everybody is referring to their recent past as a journey. If you come back from a physical disability to climb a mountain or help rescue Sudanese from the janjaweed militia, you’ve had a journey. If you’ve done body shots off a cocktail waitress or cheated on your wife, you’re not completing a journey.

You’re trying to get a sixteenth minute (and, potentially, pre-empting Glee – shame on you!)

Seriously, have you been watching Glee? This show is GOOD . If Up in the Air was the story of my adult life, Glee is the story of my high school years. Well, at least the part about being a lonely misfit who liked to sing. I never saw a cute football player break into song, but – then again – I grew up on Long Island. We didn’t have many football players and those that we did have spent all their time getting into fights with the basketball team.

Anyway, watch Glee.

I have restaurant news this week, too. Saturday we went for brunch at a new (-ish) Mexican restaurant in the Village: Yerba Buena Perry. Owned by the folks who own Toloache on 50th St and Yerba Buena, this newest site on Greenwich Avenue between 6th and 7th Avenue boasts a great location, good design, and incredible food. The fish tacos are the best in New York (yes, even better than my esteemed 202 on Ninth Avenue, which I’ve raved about for years.) I also tried their arepas – chicken tinga, scrambled eggs, avocado on small corn rolls. Just writing about them makes me want to take Neil there tonight.

Oh – we also saw Precious (we had to – Oprah told us too. She’s told everyone, so you must have seen it, too. She picked the President, she picks our books and movies. Really, when will we simply surrender all free will entirely?) I have to say, aside from some unevenness in the linear progression of the narrative, it was really very good. The lead actress, Gabourey Sidibe, gives a strong, nuanced performance. Mariah Carey is better than you’ve ever seen her (though, that’s not hard, since her only other film role of note was in Glitter. Ugh. Still, she’d good here.) Lenny Kravitz is convincing and compelling (though it’s never clear why he keeps giving Precious money.) Paula Patton, as Precious’s teacher (and 80s sitcom actress Kimberly Russell (Head of the Class) as her lover) are fantastic.

Mo’nique, however, completely steals the film. In a performance that is exhausting, ferocious and utterly unexpected she steals every moment of screen time, keeping you on the edge of your seat with curiosity and anxiety about what she might do next. Clear the mantle – she’s taking home a Globe and an Oscar.

Last night we ate at A Voce Columbus, a recent addition to the Time Warner Center. You know, just as a side note, I’m not sure how they do it – maybe it’s being in NYC, maybe it’s the view – but the restaurants at Time Warner don’t ever let you feel that you are – essentially – eating at the mall. Maybe if more mall restaurants were more Landmarc and less Cheesecake Factory, they’d get a better reputation.

Anyway – A Voce. On third floor, opposite Landmarc, you enter A Voce down a long corridor, which contributes to the feeling of separation from the mall. The hall gives way to an expansive, open room, with generous bar space. The sunken dining room covers nearly a room and a half, and offers spectacular views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. With dark wood floors, white leather and chrome seating that mimics high-end office furniture (it’s weird; it works) and a shiny, light-colored ceiling, the room is contemporary and bright.

The wine list was eclectic, and – for an Italian restaurant – had a surprisingly think selection of French reds and not nearly enough Italian ones for my taste. Still, the selection is broad. We started with a mezzaluna pasta of ricotta, butternut squash, butter and sage, which managed to be rich and light at the same time. While it would have been too much as an entrée, it was perfect as an appetizer. The only criticism I’d offer is that the dish could have used more than a few small squares of brunoised squash. Oh – and maybe a little less butter; after finishing the dish our plate looked like an oil spill.

As an entrée, Neil ordered the beef cheek which was as tender as a braised short rib, without all the fat. Served with winter vegetables, farro and a red wine reduction, it may not have been inventive but it was well executed. I went with the pork chop – a double cut which was expertly seasoned an achieved the very difficult feat of being completely cooked through, perfectly to the temperature I ordered (medium) and hot. With a cut of meat that thick, it’s nearly impossible to cook it properly and get it to the customer hot enough to eat. Oh – and as a side – Brussels sprouts. Roasted and served with a broth that was tangy, they were good but Neil’s homemade variety is better. And I couldn’t taste the supposed Pecorino.

It’s funny, but reading this, it doesn’t sound like a great review, and yet I really enjoyed myself and would go back in a heartbeat. I definitely enjoyed the pork, and my wine was good, but I really think what made our experience enjoyable was the service. Our server was attentive without being over-solicitous, funny and knowledgeable. I left a tip of nearly 30%, which is high even for a 20%+ tipper like me. Between the service and the décor and view, it was a great experience.

Well, that’s about it. I need to go dive in to a bowl of Lucky Charms and then head to the gym. Tonight we’ve got my cousin’s bar mitzvah. Various cousins in various stages of employ, marital strife, and chemical dependence will be converging from around the country – ostensibly for to witness a rite of passage, but really to drink free liquor and to find out who got fat, who got fired and who got divorced.

I can’t wait.