02.13.2019
The Mars Volta
Amputechture

I'm not always in the mood for the Mars Volta. But when I'm in the mood for the Mars Volta, the Mars Volta is the greatest band of all time.

02.12.2019
Jessica Pratt
Quiet Signs

I used to not like Jessica Pratt, but then she released this new album and now I do. This is some beautiful spooky stuff.

(Side note: Jessica Pratt has a notably odd voice. It's lovely and she sings well, but it sounds almost like someone else's voice sped up. At one point I got curious and wanted to hear what it might sound like slowed down, so I dragged a song into my audio editing program and shifted the pitch down about a half octave. What came out is honestly one of the most enchanting "male" voices I've ever heard—somewhere between Jose Gonzalez and Sam Beam and Joao Gilberto, but with a control and purity that none of them can match. I know this is just make believe, and a construction of digital manipulation, but damn. As much as I like Jessica Pratt's voice, I'm finding myself crestfallen that this fantasy man singer doesn't actually exist.)

01.29.2019
Walter Martin
Reminisce Bar & Grill

God I hate when this happnes one of my favorite music guys Walter Martin who had my favorite album of a couple yaera a go released a new album in Frebruary of last year and I didn't even know about it and I missed a whole year of listening to it and it probably would've been in my top 10 because guess what it's super good but I just heard about it today and why didn't anyone etell me about it befor e now????

01.24.2019
Makayla McCraven
Universal Beings

This is a very nice jazz album to listen to.

01.21.2019
Foxwarren
Foxwarren

At the beginning of 2018, I discovered this record The Party by a Canadian singer songwriter named Andy Shauff. It's a great album of great songs, and it was one of my favorite albums of the year. Except I couldn't put it on my Best of 2018 list because it came out in 2016. Oops. But then, late in December, like a traveling magi visiting my midnight stable with the region's finest frankincense, Andy Shauff's band Foxwarren releases their new album. And while it's not quite as great as The Party, it's still damn good, and more or less sounds like a Shauff album. See Best Of list below.

12.31.2018
Steve's Favorite Music of 2018
A List

Oh crap it's New Years Eve and I haven't posted my year end lists yet oh my god oh my god I better hurry up! Here's the deal for this year: I'm gonna go ahead and throw EPs and singles and compilations on the list. Because there are 4 specifically that really did it for me this year, and I'm just going to treat them all like equals. It's (almost) 2019, and it's a new landscape for media! Anything goes! Content! Here's my list:

1. Ryley Walker - The Lilywhite Sessions*
2. Hailu Mergia - Lala Belu
3. Chastity - Death Lust
4. Ought - Room Inside the World
5. Sidney Gish - No Dogs Allowed
6/7. Jeff Rosenstock - POST**
6/7. Barely March - Marely Barch**
8. Khadja Bonet - Childqueen
9. American Pleasure Club - A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This
10. Fluisteraars - De Oord
11. The Mountain Goats - Hex of Infinite Binding
12. Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive
13. Warthog - Warthog
14. Mick Jenkins - Pieces of a Man
15. Prince - Piano and a Microphone 1983
16. Self Defense Family - Self Defense Family
17. Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past
18. Sandro Perri - In Another Life
19. Foxwarren - Foxwarren
20. The Internet - Hive Mind

*I can't fuckin believe it either
** These are tied, because they're so spiritually similar that it seems silly to separate them. Barely March basically got his break by covering a Jeff Rosenstock song for a compilation.

12.30.2018
Fluisteraars
De Oord

This is one of those beautiful rare black metal releases that makes me want to open up a window like the reformed Mr. Scrooge on Christmas Day and shout, "You there, boy, tell me, why can't all black metal be this good??". And the boy will look up and answer, "Why, because it's Danish sir!" Well, I don't know if the Danish part has anything to do with it other than making their band name nearly unpronouncable, but the point is that Fluisteraars have unlocked some sort of black metal composition holy writ, and every one of the 15 minutes of this song (yes it's just one song, but it may as well be a full album. A symphony, even) is perfect. I've dug into some older work of theirs, and while it's quite good, I feel like De Oord is where they've really figured it out. So kind of like VRTRA from a couple years ago, I'm going to be on the edge of my seat waiting for these Danes to release a new full length as soon as possible.

12.30.2018
Mitski
Be The Cowboy

Everyone's real into this Mitski album but I'm kinda not. I think it sounds like St. Vincent but not as good.

12.13.2018
Blake Mills
Look

Blake Mills released a beautifully unique alt country (?) album back in 2014 that I can no longer listen to because it's just one of those albums. Then I guess he just started producing for other artists ($), which is remarkable in 2018 because he's what you might call a guitar guy and it's 2018. But now he's finally returned! With an all-synth instrumental EP? Okay. It's very chill, which, by the way, in 2019 I'm hoping chill will no longer be an adjective. Or verb. I also hope Blake Mills puts out some more music. Because, look, Look is good and chill (shit!), but this guy has to have more up his sleeve.

12.08.2018
Ryley Walker
The Lilywhite Sessions

My relationship with Dave Matthews and his band is a complicated one which I won't get into here. Well actually, it's not that complicated and I will get into it here: I don't really like Dave Matthews Band, but sometimes they do something that I like. There. So. Ryley Walker, whom I have already written about on this blog during this calendar year, apparently grew up a huge Dave Matthews fan, and even though he's now an infamously scuzzy Chicago post-Tortoise-rock figurehead, he has not let go of his love. So after releasing one fantastic album this year (Deafman Glance, as seen on my top ten albums of the year list, I'm sure), he decided to get some of his cuzzy Chicago post-Tortoise-rock friends together and record a full album cover of a Dave Matthews Band album. And it's shockingly good. Maybe even better than Deafman Glance, which I've already pointed out as being in my top ten this year. It's a passionately earnest album; although I don't know the original DMB version of The Lilywhite Sessions, it's clear that Walker isn't trying to deconstruct or reinterpret or otherwise ironically play these songs. Yes, he's doing it in his own voice, and changing arrangements here or there, but it's fully from the heart, lovingly performed, and fully musical. Almost makes me want to dig in to the original Dave version lol jk yeah right.

11.08.2018
Warthog
Warthog

I hate when people say things "rip," but this album rips.

10.02.2018
Low
Double Negative

This new Low album is indeed the best Low album in a long time, but also isn't the paradigm shifting masterpiece that some people are making out to be. It's a real cool headfuck and a good listen while out for a walk late on a cool autumn night though.

09.16.2018
George Clanton
Slide

I got this album by this "George Clanton" kid, who does "vaporwave"—which I can hardly stand to type without using scare quotes—and it's so dreamy and odd nebulous and that I forgot that I even bought it until I just saw it in my iTunes. This has happened every other day for the last two weeks. I mean "dreamy and odd and nebulous" in the best way though. I honestly don't exactly know what "vaporwave" usually sounds like, although I sort of kind of have the general idea of it, but this isn't exactly that. This is something else, some kind of millennial fantasy of XTC with trip hop breakbeats and shoegazey drones, and a bit of modern day bedroom r&b. Actually it plays well with this year's American Music Club's A Whole Fucking Lifetime Of This, the idea of a young 20-something taking a bunch of "old" 90s touch points and throw them seemingly blindly into a home recording blender and pouring out a mix that is, my god, something interesting and listenable. Also it makes me wonder if Jack Drag is ever going to have a renaissance.

08.22.2018
Trust Fund
Bringing the backline

Apparently this is going to be Trust Fund's last album, which is a bummer because I feel like Trust Fund still has unexplored greatness in them. That's unfair actually; their Seems Unfair album is truly great. Really everything they've done is some shade of great, even if this one is a little paler than the others. But I still don't want them to stop. We'll see.

08.22.2018
The Internet
Hive Mind

I'm gonna make this statement, but I'm not gonna be too passionate about it: The Internet's "La Di Da" is my Summer Jam of 2018. Except I still can't figure out where the beat actually lands; it's as if they took the ProTools file and shifted every track over by a half beat. Still a cool song though. Steve Lacy gets it.

07.25.2018
Melody's Echo Chamber
Bon Voyage

This album is basically Dungen and Tame Impala jamming while a French girl coo's some vocals over it. Your mileage may vary. My mileage, however, will very.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Andrew's LuncheonetteBrooklyn
Cheeseburger

This is the best burger in Brooklyn until further notice. I want another one right now.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Foxfire Mountain HouseThe Catskills
Flank steak

I've already typed a bunch about the Catskills being uncomfortably bougie and urbane given its status as a woodsy mountain getaway (see my Phoenicia Diner post below), so I won't do that here. I also won't do that here because it would make me a hypocrite. See, on our last night in town, we wanted to get a nice meal, and found this seemingly new boutique hotel restaurant called the Foxfire Mountain House, which was well reviewed, albeit by very few people. In fact, when we showed up, there were only 3 other people eating there, and the staff seemed genuinely surprised to see us. But let me just say: this entire meal was a wonderful fucking experience. The place was super charming (if a little interior-decorator-y), the cool guys running the place were extremely pleasant and decent, and the food was truly one of the best meals I've had in a while. Erin's in particular was mind blowing; a slow roasted pork rubbed in some sort of garam marsala maybe (it was slightly Moroccan, see also my Phoenicia Diner post below!), with a corn meal mash and some apples. It was out of this world.

So, yeah. I can't hate on the Catskills. They treated us right.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Phoenicia DinerThe Catskills
Moroccan chicken sandwich

We took a mini-vacation up to the Catskills this weekend, and I have thoughts.

1. Holy cow the Catskills are close to New York City. And very pretty, to boot. For as much as you think of the city as this huge, gray, sweaty, uncaring block of concrete—which yes it is—you never really think of the fact that it's basically situated in a river valley at the foothills of mountains. When you're in the city, nature as you know it is basically confined to a rectangle in the middle of Manhattan. But even getting towards the outskirts of the Bronx, you can start to make out real hills, actual topography. Then once you pass Yonkers, you're basically in the forest. Sure the forest is hiding any number of dead and dying industrial towns and suburbs, but gosh it's lovely. And then in just about 2 or 3 hours, you're in the mountain wilderness. Or at least a relative wilderness, because:

2. Wow even the small towns are fairly dense. At least compared to my midwestern definition of a small town. Unless you're in the actual, government-protected wilderness, there isn't really any "free" space here. Not even the appearance of it. I figure people have been building and farming here since the fucking 17th century, so any bit of open space has generally been claimed and partitioned. Plus the fact that you're just a short drive north of 20 million people. Which then leads to:

3. Urbanity. You can "get away", but you can't get away. People in New York have money. And they like to open bakeries and eat at farm-to-table restaurants and teach yoga and acting classes. And they like to drive up to the Catskills. So, of those 20 million people, of course there are any number of entrepreneurial souls with money to burn who want to open bakeries and teach yoga in the Catskills. So in just about every town you drive through, you are never far away from the creature comforts of the city. Modernist AirBnbs, kombucha bars, pop-up fashion boutiques. And of course:

4. The Phoenicia Diner. This place pops up on nearly every Guide To The Catskills article, and Retreats From Brooklyn blogs, and probably Gweneth Paltrow's magazine. It's basically an old 60's roadside diner that has been carefully retrofitted to the needs of the Millennial. Cool minimalist logo, alcoholic milkshakes, kale. Think Hi Lo Diner but about two clicks cooler. But, hey, I like the Hi Lo Diner! A lot! And I like the Phoenicia Diner too! They do just enough to keep the real old diner charm to not turn it into some sort of bullshit faux-earnesty charade. I had a Moroccan-spiced chicken sandwich, and I have to say it was damn good. Fries were a little greasy and limp, but whatever. The chicken itself was seasoned nicely, and cooked perfectly considering it was grilled, which is often a dry disaster in any setting. And I guarantee every person eating there was on a road trip from Brooklyn. So shit, I'm guilty as anyone I guess.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
La Caridad 78Manhattan
Cuban pork and dumplings

To get this out of the way, let me first say that La Caridad isn't particularly great. It's totally acceptable, but disappointing for the price point. Now, the interesting part:

La Caridad 78 is the oldest of the Upper West Side's Chinese Cuban restaurants. Which is a crazy thing to parse, because that means it's not the Upper West Side's only Chinese Cuban restaurant. There are more. 3 or 4 more, in fact. What happened is, back in the 50s and 60s, when the Castro regime took over Cuba and boatloads of defectors and asylum seekers fled to America, many of the ethnic Cubans ended in and around Miami. But Cuba also held a surprisingly large Chinese population, many of which came up to New York City, home to an already substantial Chinese community. These Chinese Cubans did what so many other new American transplants did, and started restaurants. But because they had a tradition of both Chinese and Cuban cooking, they just went ahead and opened restaurants that served both. Why not, I guess?

The excitement of learning of these places is tempered somewhat, when you learn that the Chinese side and Cuban sides of their menus are more or less independent of one another. There's no fusion here. No plantain dumplings, no szechuan cuban sandwiches. The closest you can do is to order a side of yellow rice and beans with your kung pao chicken instead of plain old white rice. It seems like a huge missed opportunity, but when you consider these places have been around for 60 years, I guess you can't complain.

Anyway, as I mentioned, there's nothing spectacular about the food. It's all good, yes, and if you got this quality of Cuban food from some hole-in-the-wall joint on Flatbush for $6 in a styrofoam container, you'd be thrilled. But this is the Upper West Side we're talking about, and you're paying Upper West Side prices. So yeah, it's charming and weird and maybe worth the trip if you're in the area and open to some novelty. But otherwise, just sate yourself on the knowledge that it exists at all.

02.11.2019 - by Steve
Sabor UnidoNewark
Portuguese beef rib

Hey I bet you didn't know this: Newark, New Jersey has a large and concentrated Portuguese population. You didn't know that, right? I certainly didn't know this. But it does! Portuguese immigrants started coming to town in the 50s and 60s I guess, and took over a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Newark that's called—seriously—The Ironbound. Which is the most Game of Thrones shit I've ever heard. Anyway, there's still a good amount of Portuguese people there, but in the last couple decades the Ironbound has also attracted a lot of Brazilians, which makes sense when you think about it and didn't fail 7th grade Western Civ class. So now, driving down the main drag of the Ironbound, it's just one Portuguese/Brazilian restaurant after another. Seriously, you can't throw a rock without hitting one; I've seen Chinatowns and Little Italys like this before, the there's something very odd about being surrounded by red and green Portuguese flags while just a mile away from downtown Newark. Which, by the way, is a dump.

So since we had about 20 places to choose from, we more or less threw that rock. And checked the online ratings. And what we chose is Sabor Unido, which was pretty well rated and not terribly fancy. The gist of the menu at this place—and most any other place like it—is a grilled or stewed meat, rice and beans, and some kind of veggie. I went with the beef rib, with fried plantains and steamed spinach. Erin, meanwhile, got their special famous pork stew, which was basically jazzed up black beans with hunks of roasted pork and sausage. I don't know exactly what Portuguese cuisine usually consists of, but this mostly felt more Brazilian/Latin to me than anything Iberia-Peninsulan. But either way, it all tasted great. The beef was maybe a bit fatty, and it was all on the slightly pricey side considering this wasn't exactly the fanciest place in town. But I cleaned my plate and was sad when I finished, so I guess that qualifies as a success.

So, while I can't recommend you ever, ever go to Newark NJ for any reason, I do recommend that, if you do, you absolutely need to get to the Ironbound and eat some meat. You don't necessarily have to go to Sabor Unido, but really you may as well. Recomendado!

01.24.2019 - by Steve
Buffalo's FamousBrooklyn
Garbage plate

There's a Buffalo themed restaurant in my neighborhood. The city of Buffalo. Themed. We're talking wings, of course, and Bills helmets and Sabres jerseys. But they also serve a regional delicacy of upstate New York called the garbage plate. The dish was invented in a bar Rochester, apparently, as an efficient way to feed drunk college students, and can vary from bar to bar. But the basic makeup of the garbage plate is as follows: French fries as a base, a big scoop of macaroni salad (or beans), a hamburger patty or hot dogs, topped with a coney-style chili sauce either cheese or mustard. This was my first garbage plate experience—sadly in a NYC restaurant rather than actually up in Rochester or Buffalo—but I have to say, it was incredibly satisfying. I can't say that the ingredients all come together in some magical more-than-their-parts kind of way (like the garbage plate's cousin the Hawaiian plate lunch), but as long as you've got good fries and good chili and good everything else, hell yeah you've got a good garbage plate.

Also Buffalo's Famous has buffalo wings. There's nothing wrong with them, but whatever.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
Hometown BarbecueBrooklyn
Barbecue pulled pork

Hometown Barbecue, way out in Red Hook, is supposedly one of the best barbecue joints in New York. Eater even had it on its list of 37(ish) "essential" NY restaurants. So it's kind of a bummer that we went there on a whim—a very fast whim before grocery shopping right next door on some random Wednesday night—rather than really planning out and luxuriating in its barbecueness. What did I get? I got the pulled pork and baked beans. How was it? It was quite good, although maybe a little too wet, with all the cole slaw slopped on the top. And the beans had been seemingly been sitting in the bottom of their pot for too long, and just had that "thrice cooked" kind of taste. I couldn've lived without the beans. But, yeah, the sandwich was good from what I remember of it. But also nothing terribly remarkable. Really what it reminded me of was Green Street Meats in Chicago. Almost like the owners visited Green Street during the planning stages and said, "This is the barbecue place we want to be!" Right down to the service style and christmas-lights-in-old-warehouse decor. So for further detail, scroll back to, say, 2011, and read my Green Street Meats write-up. I'm sure it'll apply here.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
JojuQueens
Banh mi

The difference between NYC and Minneapolis (well, St. Paul) Vietnamese places is pretty noticeable. The Twin Cities are known as a pretty good area for Vietnamese food, and that's true, but that seems to come mostly in the form of mom-n-pop, hole in the wall joints. The exceptions are few—Ngon Bistro is maybe the only fine-dining Vietnamese spot, and only in the last couple years are places like Lu's trying fast-casual-ify the pho space. (I can't believe I just typed that). But all in all, Twin Cities Vietnamese feels very much like an immigrant group simply wanting to feed themselves and have a taste of home, and if curious Minnesotans want to get some lemongrass chicken, great.

In New York, meanwhile, Vietnamese feels much more like a trend. The restaurants are younger, cooler, expensiver. I've seen very few 'hole in the wall' banh mi joints, relative to NY's uber density of course, compared to MSP. And the cheaper, counter service ones are often more like the subject of this food post, Joju. Located in a very heavily Asian neighborhood in Queens (and I mean "Asian" non-accidentally; we're talking Korean restaurants next to Thai grocery stores next to specifically Taiwanese restaurants. American melting pot, etc. etc.), Joju is what one might call "cool". But not in a Williamsburg pink neon sense, more in an "anime sandwich mascots and K-pop record cover" sense. It also, like many of these places, touts itself almost as much as a bubble tea shop than it does a restaurant. Joju doesn't even have Coke!

But what they do have is delicious banh mi. We ordered two kinds, caramel pork and beef bulgogi. Oh, that's another thing—there seems to be some very blurred lines at NY banh mi shops in terms of which nation's cuisine is represented on this ostensibly Vietnamese sandwich. You're just as likely to see Korean bulgogi or Thai basil pork on the menu as the standard Vietnamese chicken or pork with pate. Which is fine by me. Anyway, the sandwiches were delicious. Maybe a little heavy on carrot, and the actual construction of the veggies and meat made for a slightly awkward eating experience, but they tasted great. They also represented one more difference that seems to separate NY banh mi from MSP banh mi: the bun was refreshingly soft. So many hole in the wall banh mi I'm used to seem to lean towards using chewy, crispy baguettes. But these NY versions are soft, and much easier to bite into. A much more satisfying experience in my opinion, and one that comes in to play with a lot of New York dough-based food, from pizza dough to bagels, simply to bread you're served at restaurants or find at bakeries. Whether it's the water or the high turnover or simply the quality of local bakeries, bread truly is better here than in the rest of the country. Crazy as it sounds.

So anyway, Joju. It's good. It's pretty deep into parts of Queens you might never go to, so maybe don't worry too much about it. There's probably others like it.

01.20.2019 - by Steve
Schnipper'sManhattan
Cheeseburger

Manhattan's got a lot of chain restaurants that aren't really chains yet, but are clearly trying to use the cachet that comes with simply being in Manhattan (usually Midtown) as a springboard to becoming a chain restaurant. The examples are so plentiful that I can barely even think of one right now. They're ubiquitous and almost entirely forgettable—forged so carefully by marketers and designers and focus groupers to create fast casual fried chicken sandwiches and vaguely ethnic salad bowls that appeal with a laser focus to newly moneyed 20 and 30 somethings, that they become invisible in their omnipresence. Hell, I posted about a fried chicken place just a month or two ago, my very first living-in-NY food post, and I don't even remember what it was called.

Anyway, Schnipper's isn't exactly that. Sorry, I don't know why I started with that whole paragraph rant. But it's at least something like it. It's a chain restaurant that exists solely within the island of Manhattan, as desperate as it seems to stretch beyond. Basically it's a fast-casual diner. We're talking classic, Mickey's-level burgers and fries and shakes, even served on those plain white diner plates. I had a cheeseburger there, and it was good. Why are there so many Schnipper's'es? I don't know. Why is it so popular? Is it?

12.31.2018 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2018Brooklyn
A List

Holy cow this is a jet-setting, internacional version of a year end food list! Minneapolis! St. Paul! And other cities! Anyway here's the list:

1. Hai Hai (Minneapolis) - Balinese chicken
2. Berber and Q (London) - Lamb shawarma
3. Nandos (Manchester) - Piri Piri Chicken
4. Paesano’s (Philadelphia) - Roast pork sandwich
5. Thai Cafe (St. Paul) - Sour pork ribs
6. Porchetteria (Minneapolis) - Porchetta
7. Werkstatt (Brooklyn) - Wienerschnitzel
8. The Naughty Greek (St. Paul) - Lamb
9. MT Noodles (Brooklyn Park) - Banh mi
10. Camping (North shore) - Grilled bbq chicken
11. Crepe and Spoon (Minneapolis) - Peanut butter and jelly vegan ice cream
12. Mission Chinese (Manhattan) - Kung pao pastrami
13. Sorriso’s (Queens) - Meatball sandwich
14. Tavial (St. Paul) - Al pastor tacos
15. Kingfisher (Manchester) - Fish and chips

12.31.2018 - by Steve
Malaysian JerkyManhattan
Malaysian Jerky

There's this tiny little shop in Chinatown that sells Malaysian jerky. I don't think they have a name, and they don't sell anything else. But I promise you, if you go to the Malaysian jerky shop and buy some Malaysian jerky, you will not be disappointed.