Friday, December 27, 2013

Mr. Crystal, We all commiserate…… good friend!

Mention the performer 'William Edward 'Billy' Crystal' and one might be first tempted to smile, recalling a favorite cinema line or humorous quip from your memory, and one might even fully believe that having spent the last 40 odd years watching, listening, and laughing (at and with) this Long Islander, that one might believe that they actually 'know' him.

And on a certain level one might be right in that conviction. It's a common delusion among media mavens (all of the viewing public) that the real personality of any performer can be extracted or distilled from the very attributes and characters he or she chooses to portray, or at least some might believe that you can. The 'relationship' thusly formed with any performer, or more the persona of the performer, may emulate a 'friendship' and lead this populace towards a more convivial one than otherwise exists.

Yet presently at The Imperial Theater in New York (and not too much longer mind you!), one learns for themselves both the truth and the fallacy of this 'reality'.

Having had the opportunity to sit before such a 'friend', and hear him tell you (and 1475 of his other closest friends) the backstories of his life, the quirky machinations of his inner mind, the joys as well as the fears, trepidations, and anxieties of growing up and then at 15 years old dealing with the death of his father (having been together for only '700 Sundays'), was as emotional a roller coaster as one can summon.

This, yes, THIS was the fireside chat that will allow you to not only enter the mind and heart of one of the world's most enjoyable performers but, when you leave this wonderful theatrical experience, you will genuinely feel as though you leave as friends (or, at least leave you with a much better understanding and closeness about YOUR friend!)

Intriguingly, there was never a belief in my investigative mind that a Saturday afternoon spent with this fine comedian ("I was never a comic, no, a comic was the guy wearing the cow head running across the football field at the game. No, a comedian would be the guy who got him to do it in the first place! There IS a difference!") would result in unexpected moments of such poignancy and such heartbreak, moments that drew you into the emotional viscera of his life. And then after lingering for just a moment, the deft performer and ever professional that he is, turns on a dime (subway token) and makes a heartbreaking moment disappear before your very eyes and quickly replaces it with the deep belly laughter and elation that he seems quite capable of summoning up at will.

Very few in life can perform such feats……to travel the emotional gamut from Anxiety to Zany-ness and convince us all every step of the way.

It was truly an honor to have the privilege of spending a short afternoon with Mr. Crystal, and I would harken to say that in the very short time left that this performance has to run (it closes early Jan. 2014), one should do everything within their power to allow themselves such a treat…. it will be a joy one will remember for a very long time.

Yet, knowing this to be an impossibility for so many, our 'friends' at HBO (I still remember when it was called Home Box Office) will be recording the Jan. 4th and 5th performances to air sometime in the fall of 2014……..a recording that (in my humble estimation) will seal one William Edward Crystal as one of this world's all time talents …… and forever our good friend.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Becco Beccare Bastianich Bravisima!

Becco on Urbanspoon The provenance of the name 'Hell's Kitchen', that now gentrified area west of 8th St. in Midtown Manhattan north of 34th St. and south of 57th St., has been bandied about almost as often as our dear Mrs. Hudson frets about her proper Scottswoman's breakfast!

Perhaps one of the most plausible explanations appears to be the dense propensity of butcher's, slaughterhouses, and disparate rookeries that had sprouted up in this tight little area in the mid-1800's. When melded together with the steamy and hardscrabble German-Irish denizens and disparate street vendors cooking and openly exchanging their (ahem) 'services' curbside, along with the visceral (and openly visible) nefarious street gang activity (you might visualize Scorcese's 'Gangs of New York'), this West Side sector rightfully garnered the infamy of being 'Hotter than Hell'!

'Hotter than Hell' indeed for it was this very proclamation, infamously voiced by one rookie green patrolman upon witnessing before him a conversation between two of the area's hooligans (using knives), which caused his more veteran partner to then opine 'It may be hotter than hell, but THIS here? THIS is Hell's Kitchen!"

And thus 'Hell's Kitchen' was baked solidly into New York lore, with 'Kitchen' being the definitive word here.

Moreover, more than 100 years later, NYC Mayor John V. Lindsey, in a public dedication in the very heart of Hell's Kitchen - West 46th St. between 8th and 9th Ave., proclaimed: 

"Where else, except maybe Paris, are there so many great restaurants to choose from …. than here on Restaurant Row!"

There and then Restaurant Row in Hell's Kitchen was born, the name bestowed upon the thoroughfare bursting with the esteemed eateries found on this stretch of W. 46th St. in Hell's Kitchen.

Now, in the winter of 2013, it beckoned us for a preliminary investigation of our own.

And so it was that an excursion was made to visit 'Becco' late on a recent Friday evening, which had us arriving late after a Broadway visit with Mr. William Porter's fabulously 'Kinky Boots', an occasion more heralded than had been anticipated. (And, if one needs to know, the Sex is indeed in the heel……even if you break it!) 

Circumstances and timing being what they were it was decided that rather than rush hastily to arrive and dine prior to this Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein extravaganza, we would visit these environs afterward, calling ahead and making what would surely be an unnecessary reservation for 10:30 PM…..

It was only dining with Watson during a prior excursion at 'Esca' on W. 43rd St. of this year that we were brought into the nexus of 'Becco' in the first place. On that visit my investigative instincts unearthed that the matriarch of 1/3 of Esca's Pasternak-Batali-Bastiniach triumvirate had opened previously opened 'Becco' in 1993 and has been keeping patrons deliciously sated ever since.

Thereupon, leaving 'Esca', a mental note was made to return to the area and perform a further review of this progenitor establishment.  

Accompanying me on this visit, what with my good friend Dr. Watson laid up with a mysterious and unnamed malady, was my good friend Lady Cassandra of County Orange who so graciously rode the iron rails for nearly 2 hours to join me on this festive night in 'The City that Never Sleeps'. Having not seen Lady Cassandra in more than 30 years it was a gesture of great faith and trust on her part to take a leap of faith and agree to meet with me, to which I will be forever indebted; her company made what could have been a more solemnly singular affair remarkably delightful (as well as delicious!)

Yet truth be told, the arrival and subsequent company of Lady Cassandra immediately diverted my investigative attention much more than I had anticipated for her form and beauty was beyond what I had remembered or imagined it would be. Deciding to add a Maker's Mark Manhattan or two to allow me to get my bearings again and remove the harsh traveling edges of this sleuth seemed to only leave me more smitten and beholden! This case would certainly be much more difficult!

A quick stroll on a warm November eve from the Al Hirschfeld Theater (named for the forever revered Artist of Broadway, Al Hisrchfeld) to W. 46th St. took less than 5 minutes and we were seated fairly quickly in the back dining area past the short yet well appointed bar (removing another Manhattan from its confines along the way.) 

Seated at a fairly tight and crowded table, it must be mentioned that the din of this restaurant with it's reverberating ceiling pummeling sound waves all about us essentially eliminated the ability to hear much more than a jumble of words between us, and certainly none of those from our mumbling and  angst-ridden waitperson. For from his first verse methought his morose verbal tendencies were simply rehearsal lines for a nearby depressive-ridden audition.

In episodes like this one where my faculties are being compromised by senses all about me (both alcohol and female related) I amble along a well worn mental path by choosing an establishments' flagship item and let the laurels rest where they may rather than venture into unchartered territory needlessly. If a restaurant's reputation is to be tested let their success be on that which they profess to excel at or hoist them up by their own petards with it's failing!

It was not difficult to find Becco's specialty for it is positioned at top dead center of their concise yet well balanced menu: "Sinfonia di Paste", the unlimited tableside service of three freshly made choice pasta's by Executive Chef William Gallagher. Pushing both Lady Cassandra and myself  in our decision making was the ever-present and busily wandering servers hoisting hot skillet's of these freshly cooked pasta's dishing out seconds (and thirds) to other hungry patrons. With the primer of Antipasto Misto also included in the $22.95 price it was quickly decided that we would let these morels find their own level.

Arriving quickly, the Antipasto Misto (a sampling of marinated and grilled vegetables along with a side of pickled and marinated seafood choices) and surprised us both with it's substance and it's lightness. This item alone would be a splendid pre-show theater treat of sparkle, taste, and perfect balance… an attuned theatergoer the needed satiation without the accompanying post-meal sleepiness!

Also aiding our delight was a wonderful Garlic Hummus with choices of two types of bread for dipping: a delicious breadstick and a sustaining Italian loaf. (Again, my inability to truly capture these items in photos can only be attributed to the dizziness I was suffering from being in the aura of Miss Lady Cassandra.)

After enjoying the Misto, fresh plates were delivered and the three pasta's arrived in order: A delicious Portabello Mushroom Ravioli (methinks this was what was served for I did not actually hear our James Dean SAY this!), a luscious Rigatoni Pomodoro, and then a Linguine with a delightfully fresh clam sauce.

Each pasta was remarkable in it's own right, delivered perfectly al dente with each of these initial portions and thusly savored for it's taste and aroma. 

However, and I must speak openly, when taken in triplicate these three flavors soon overwhelm one's palate and this did not render one's viscera calmly. The clam sauce, with it's brothy and briny bromide (delicious as it is and served with fresh clams -in the shell no less) did not necessarily meld when taken in any volume with the Pasta Pomodoro and a Portobello Ravioli in a cream sauce.

While a little is wonderful, 'a little more' came off as less so. Picking your favorite of the three and then moving for a second (smaller) helping might be the preferred way to go and yoll surely come up trumps!

None of these minute concerns could dissuade us both of the geniality created in the moment. While I nursed another beverage, Lady Cassandra coddled an iced tea - allegedly to root out the toxins from a past weekend of fun and frivolity….as well as in anticipation of an upcoming one. (Lady Cassandra's thirst for fun was admirable in the most overt ways!)

And not until after 1 AM did we arise from the small comedy club sized table and venture out into the New York air, but not before we were effusively 'Thanked' for coming in on our way out….. a surprisingly sincere vocal gesture appreciated as it was received. 

It was then that I noticed additional patrons still waiting to be seated for their own Bastiniach experience! The authenticity of the meal and the relatively light effect on one's purse in comparison to many other locations citywide was not lost on more people than I had imagined.

So with constitution fortified, mental capacities returning, and still in the presence of the Lady's loveliness, a healthy 15 block walk to the hotel was MORE than what the good Doctor might have ordered and we made our way slowly from our bubble back into the realities of the real world.

My kingdom for the bubble's return!

Advice to be heeded, make the post show reservation and enjoy the experience.
Espied at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market on Saturday after the show