Sunday, December 6, 2009

Insomniac's Big Adventure (at MoMA)

I love museums. :)

On Sunday, my last day in New York, we attended the opening day of the Tim Burton exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a total stroke of luck that of the three days we were in NYC, one of them coincided with this exhibition. When I lived in NY, I loved MoMA and I hadn't been back since the remodel.

Do you remember how impressed I was with my ability to wake up at basically 4am when you factored in the time change to go to the Statue of Liberty?

Sunday was a different story.

If I'm really tired, I don't wake up. No matter what. If you tell me to wake up, I say "10 more minutes". If an alarm wakes me up, I hit snooze for 10 consecutive times or I turn it off. I have zero recollection of any of the events that take place during this period. It's like I'm sleep zombie.

I had the day planned out:
  • Wake up at 8am.
  • Have breakfast at Es-a-Bagel
  • Arrive at MoMA at 10:15, 15 minutes before the doors opened.
  • Use our previously purchased, already printed out tickets to be among the first to enter the exhibit when the museum opens at 10:30 to avoid crowds.
  • Leave at 11:30 to make our 12pm reservations at Bouley
  • Head to airport
Here's what happened.

Mr. Insom: Um... it's 10:40. Don't we need to be somewhere?
Me: *bolts upright in bed* OMG!

Perfect plan ended with me missing my flight and catching one a couple hours later. lol

But first was my third museum in 24 hours, lol.

Free timed entry tickets for the Tim Burton exhibition are suggested on weekdays and required on weekends, and you can buy them when you buy your online admission. Both Mr. Insomniac and I really enjoyed it and you should definitely check it out if you're able to before it ends on April 26, 2010. I'd suggest going as early in the day as possible - even though they limit the number in the gallery, when I went it was pretty packed in there (granted it was opening day, but still).

From the MoMA website:
This exhibition explores the full range of Burton's creative work, tracing the current of his visual imagination from early childhood drawings through his mature work in film. It brings together over seven hundred examples of rarely or never-before-seen drawings, paintings, photographs, moving image works, concept art, storyboards, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera from such films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Mars Attacks!, Ed Wood, and Beetlejuice, and from unrealized and little-known personal projects that reveal his talent as an artist, illustrator, photographer, and writer working in the spirit of Pop Surrealism. The gallery exhibition is accompanied by a complete retrospective of Burton’s theatrical features and shorts, as well as a lavishly illustrated publication.

Some pieces are humorous.

Others are early representations of his movies.

Some are scary.

Others are sweet.

The exhibition was quirky, beautiful, eye-opening, wondrous, disturbing, and enchanting. It's not every day you get to see inside the mind of someone like Tim Burton. He has such a uniquely bizarre slant on the world which I appreciate. Several pieces the featured art are simple musings or ideas used to communicate his ideas to other people in making films. For example, Johnny Depp describes how he knew everything about the character of Edward Scissorhands after Burton showed him this sketch.

If any this sounds remotely interesting, please check out the exhibition website - it has all sorts of goodies on it and paints much better picture of the exhibit than I'm currently doing. lol

If you can't get to MoMA, or can only spend a short time there because you have to head to lunch and catch a plane to take you 3,000 miles away, you can pick up a book on the exhibition.

You can get it at MOMA online or for a few dollars cheaper at Amazon.

We were lucky enough to get one of the last remaining copies of the more extensive book - The Art of Tim Burton. This book will not be available on Amazon, but can be purchased on this website.

The book was edited under the guidance of Burton and consists of 430 pages with 1000 illustrations, and includes film concepts and hundreds of drawings, paintings, photos, and sketches from his personal archives. It is grouped into thirteen chapters that examine common themes in Burton's work, from his fascination with clowns to his passion for misunderstood monsters, to his delight in the oddities of people. Many of Burton's friends and collaborators offer their thoughts, insights and anecdotes about Tim Burton's style and artistic approach to life.

And of course I couldn't leave MoMA without visiting my favorite painting in the collection. :) I love galleries that allow no-flash photography. Why can't they all?

I spent some time looking in the new Monet Gallery that houses the full group of Claude Monet's late paintings in the collection. These include a massive mural-sized triptych (Water Lilies, 1914–26) and a single-panel painting of the water lilies in the Japanese-style pond that Monet cultivated on his property in Giverny, France (Water Lilies, 1914–26), as well as The Japanese Footbridge (c. 1920–22) and Agapanthus (1914–26).

It's so restorative to just be in the presence of these pieces. They are definitely evocative of the outdoors and are so calming. It must be so strange to live in such an urban environment like New York City - I appreciate the many different available avenues to get a dose of nature.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dining Room

Does anyone that reads this blog really need an introduction to the Dining Room at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena?

Crib sheet:
1. Michael Voltaggio is the head chef of this restaurant.
2. Michael Voltaggio is about to win Top Chef and he was the past chef of the incredibly awesome Bazaar
3. I've eaten several tasting menus this year, and this was possibly the best one. No shit, folks.
4. Contrary to what the judges' comments might lead you to believe, Voltaggio isn't some culinary clown with a liquid nitrogen tank. The man knows flavors. He knows how they work together. Everything I ate was delicious first, dazzling technique second.

Here's something you may not know... I've been hearing that the Dining Room was scheduled to shut down at the end of the year for much needed renovations. It turns out that those renovations have been postponed until March - with the Rose Bowl and the National Championships scheduled in Pasadena, I guess The Powers That Be thought it would be prudent to keep the restaurant open for the influx of tourists and guests headed to the area. Whatever it takes to keep Chef Mike Voltaggio happy, is a-okay in my book.

Is the decor really that bad?

Crib sheet:
1. There are clipper ships all around the restaurant.
2. The place is stuffy.
3. You can't really tell where the kitchen is.
4. There are clipper ships all around the restaurant.

According to our server Ryan, the renovation promises to take down the dreaded ships and create a window to the kitchen. The terrace will be extended, so the restaurant will have less of a horseshoe shape. It will still be in the same style as the rest of the hotel, just less stuffy.

This will be a good thing. It's hard to see someone like this guy wanting to come into work in this place every day.

I became incredibly annoyed when the woman sitting at the table nearest to us began snapping pictures of her dishes with a flash. Picture taking is fine, but a flash is a no-no. One, flash makes your food pictures look crappy. Two, flash disturbs other people. Three, if you're taking flash pictures and disturbing people, restaurant staff might prevent me from taking my unobtrusive non-flash pictures.

When I first saw my yellow-red cast pictures inside the restaurant, I got depressed, thinking that all my pictures would turn out like Aureole's.

At Aureole, I longed for a white card to create a custom white balance.

Mr. Insominac: You should just use the tablecloth as your white balance.
Me: *scoffs* That's lame.
WeezerMonkey: You should just use the tablecloth as your white balance.
Me: ohemgee - Genius!!!!

But alas, the tablecloth was a weird off white. Would this affect my pics?? I pulled an agenda from a Thursday meeting out of my bag, frantically hoping for a side that was blank. Found a blank side. Snapped a photo. Played with the menu settings for a couple of minutes to figure out how to create a custom white balance.

I shot this picture of the white piece of paper.

Using this custom white balance, this

turned to this.

Victory. I literally could have frenched my camera, I loved it so much. Time to rock...

Amuse bouche - sour cream and onion potato chips. Tasted like... sour cream and onion potato chips! Point, Voltaggio.

We were offered a selection of breads. We both chose the bacon roll (shout out to Bacon Diva!) and the honey whole grain bread. Accompanying the breads were two butter choices - both were delicious.

Japanese Shima Aji with pickled baby peach, sea sponge, bonito. Inspiring layered flavors. Wonderful.

Truffle brioche roll. This is what they eat in heaven, I believe.

By this time we had amassed quite the collection of butters.

Langoustine with young fennel, porcini mushroom lasagna, broth. Delicious. I pretty much just grunted my way through this one.

Foie Gras with blood red orange, salsify, aerated brioche. I was a little leery of this dish - I had a passion fruit fois gras at wd-50 and I thought the fruit dominated the foie gras. This was perfect, although I probably could have done with a touch more orange. The brioche was sublime.

At first the presentation looked a little bland.

Boo-yah! Now we got some color.

Halibut Cheeks with scrambled cauliflower, lemongrass-scallion froth. I've never had fish cheeks. They were much heartier than the body of the fish. This was a perfect transition to the more meatier courses.

Pastrami Pigeon, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, rye. Salty goodness. Katz deli, eat your heart out!

Wagyu Short Rib, Flavors of Pot Roast. Carrots, potatoes, apples, beef so tender it will make you cry... Simple food at its finest. Kevin wishes he could prepare comfort food like this. lol

Raspberries and cream (dipping dots - hee!)

Did you know that Chef Voltaggio is also the pastry chef?

This dish had all sorts of flavor components - coconut, banana, kiwi, . Put it altogether and I nearly melted down the chair. And I don't even like dessert. Mr. Insom got this dish, and we went half-half. This was one of our favorite dishes of the night.

I got the "Fools Gold" 0 Chocolate, Salty Hazelnut Praline, and Milk Sorbet. This sort of reminded me of the dessert we had at Redd in Napa. It was a nice rich finish to end the meal.

Petit fours - passion fruit gummy with edible wrapper, fennel macaroon, dark chocolate lollipops with explosives.

Things I would change:

1. I want more food. Another meat course and dessert course would have been nice. Although I could barely walk out of the restaurant after eating all of this, so I'm not sure how that would really work. I suppose I'll just have to go back.

2. Cocktail menu?? Other reviews that I read mentioned a cocktail menu. When Mr. Insom asked for it, they said that they didn't have a cocktail menu, but had a full bar. Come on, Mikey. Whip up some cocktails - I know you can do it.

3. More prompt initial service. I hate waiting forever for a menu when I know I'm just going to order the tasting menu. I'm going to be sitting for the next couple of hours - let's get this party started quickly. The service during the meal was great and our meals came out at a pretty even pace.

All in all, a beautiful, wonderful, delicious meal. I'm so thankful to have Michael Voltaggio within a 30 minute (sans traffic) drive.

"Quick, Mr. Insom! Take a picture of the Hotel Langham sign on our way out!"


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Once upon a time, there was a moth

*taking a pause from NYC posts *

On the last Monday of each month, The Moth holds a StorySlam in Venice, CA at the Air Conditioned Supper Club. The Moth is non-profit live story-telling organization that was founded in New York City. Why is it called the Moth? Because the founder, George Dawes Green hoped that people would be drawn to storytelling as moths are to the flame.

Their mission statement:
The Moth is dedicated to promoting the art of storytelling. We celebrate the ability of stories to honor the diversity and commonality of human experience, and to satisfy a vital human need for connection. We do so by helping our storytellers to shape their stories and to share them with the community at large. One goal of The Moth is to present the finest storytellers among established and emerging writers, performers and artists; another is to encourage storytelling among populations whose stories often go unheard.

I regularly listen to Moth podcasts and always thought it would be cool to see some stories told live. The entry is $7 and you want to make sure to get there early for the best parking as you'll probably end up parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

I parked in the Tsuami Zone. I am such a risk taker.

I ran into two friends from my No On Prop 8/Vote for Equality volunteering and we grabbed some booze and some snacks before the stories began.

I had a (two) cocktail with Grey Goose Poire, St. Germain, and sweet and sour. Basically, I get any cocktail that has St. Germain in it. So boring, I know.

An order of frites, s'il vous plait.

Chicken quesadillas.

Angus sliders.

Tasty bar food. Nothing to write home about, but it did the trick.

And now let the festivities begin!

The theme for this particular Moth slam was AMBITION. Ooooo... looks like we could hear some good ones!

The rules of the Moth story slams are simple.

1. No notes, no papers, no reading.
2. No monologues
3. Stories should be under 5 minutes long.

After your story, you are graded by three panels of judges. The panels for Monday night were "Little Engine", "The Casting Couch", and something I don't remember.

If you're interested in telling a story, your name goes in a totebag and if you're one of the lucky people to be chosen, you get your 5 minutes of fame. Here's our host with the most.

Here's the thing about LA Moths. I've been to one, but I think I can safely make this assumption. A lot of the people that performed were, as we say, in the business. I like stories told by every day people. Not people who work the stand up comedy circuit.

The guy who won on Monday was a stand up comedian. He was good and funny. His story was about being a part time boyfriend to this girl in Alaska... He would clock out at around 10:30pm and another guy clocked in at 11:00pm for the good stuff. Our hero spent his time taking her to restaurants and walking her dog.

This woman told a story about working at a non-profit during 9/11 in New York City... She began by exclaiming that all non-profits are full of shit and ended past the allotted six minutes with a rushed account of how her non-profit boss was sending stalkerish letters to herself. Weird.

This guy told a story about how some television personality that he was dating was fucking the fashion photographer at her PETA shoot. Um, weird. And this isn't your therapy session, dude. And the anger which he told his story was a bit unsettling. Oh and he announced midway that he was drunk and lost his place in the story. He got bad marks on that one. lol

Another guy described his failure at putting together a replica of a Cutty Sark ship. At one point he was like FUCK YOU CUTTY SARK!! I laughed and laughed. That was the best part. Aside from that, not so much.

The first guy was gay. That's pretty much all his story was about.

Another woman told a story about hating her kid. Well, let's examine this further. It's not that she hated her kid, she just said something to that effect to be shocking. She didn't think she should have to spend all her time changing diapers and wiping drool. Instead, she wanted to do go on acting auditions even though she hasn't had any commercial success in 14 years or something. AMBITION!

And then there were two Latino storytellers that both featured soccer. I'm not being stereotypical, I'm just reporting the realization that one of them had. lol

But these were two of my favorite. The guy who was a little heavyset talked about how his father's ambition for him was that he become a world class soccer player, even though he wasn't the most athletic kid. The story ended with him lying stretched out on the field bleeding from a ball in the face. Nice and on topic. Yay!

This woman talked about how she wanted to be cool so she did some pot, and was horrified when the really cool girl passed on the pot and everyone thought that not smoking pot was cool. And then she played soccer with the cool girl thinking she could kick her ass on the field. She stole the ball from the cool girl and was about to make a goal when her crush stole the ball from her. The woman realized that her crush actually had a crush on the cool girl. AMBITION!! Actually, I have no idea how that relates to ambition.

My favorite story was probably this middle aged guy's. He was in London studying with some prestigious Shakespeare organization (Royal Shakespeare Company?) when he heads to a college production of a Tennessee Williams play. He's taken by one of the female leads, and proceeds to take her to a local pub. About an hour into their flirtatious banter, he realizes that he has no idea what her name is. Don't you hate that? You're sort of past the point where you can do a "What was your name again?", but our hero recovers nicely - he asks the fetching young lady, "What is your full name?" She responds, "[blah blah] Oliver." She doesn't say blah, but I forgot what the storyteller said. Whatever. Anyways, the storyteller says jokingly, "any relation to Sir Lawrence?" And she goes, "He's my father." He tries to focus on how hot she is and how he wants to do all sorts of carnal things to her, but he's obsessed with Sir Lawrence and the chance of meeting him that he totally blows it. See? That was a good one.

The last guy talked about trying to avoid a "JunCo" during his senior year of high school by quitting his drug habit and doing a bunch of extra-curricular activities like running for student body president. He was hoping to go to Cal State Northridge. I don't remember if he succeeded. AMBITION!!

And that was it!

Next month the theme will be Cars.