04.03.2017
Cameron Avery
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams

Here's a funny one. I bought the wrong album!

What I thought I was buying was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player of The War On Drugs, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. What I actually bought was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player from Tame Impala, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. Imagine my surprise.

So what happened is that, yeah, both of those albums exist. And I think I listened to songs from both just a few days before. But instead of hearing the spooky and psychedelic choral swirls of the War On Drugs guy (Dave Hartly), I heard Cameron Avery's American-songbook inspired throwback crooning. But I don't mind, because it's good! And perhaps better than being "good," it's interesting.

The thing about this album is that it's a little gross. Whether he's writing these songs to be tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or even experimental, there's a palpable machismo to the whole thing. Songs about lovin' and leavin' and sayin' "sorry babe" when you have to hit the road with your band, telling your girl to get her hair nice and pretty so you can take a drive with the top down—hell, just referring to her as "your girl". This is all stuff that was probably in music in some times and places, and you could probably hear far worse in any random hip hop album of the last couple decades, but there is something jarring about even hearing someone referring to "my girl" on what's ostensibly an indie rock record. But looking past the lyrics—which yeah, are interesting and impactful in their shamelessness, if a little bit blunt at times—the music here is very much inspired by classic American songbook fare, and not in some corny, Pat Boone kind of way—they're beautifully constructed tunes, and recorded with the earnest grit of a National or Walkmen album, not an ironic horn section to be heard. And what keeps this all from becoming just too much is that, shit, this dude can fucking sing. I'm not saying he'd win American Idol or anything, but he'd at least make it to Hollywood. Although beyond a couple tracks, he actually handles most of the vocals more in the Leonard Cohen (late 80s Leonard Cohen) vein. Really, the short version of this review is "Leonard Cohen performing A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night with The National as the backing band". I can see a point six months from now when I'm sick of this album and never want to hear it again, but for now I'm absolutely fascinated by it.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Sidewalk KitchenU of M
Roast duck, bbq pork, ma-po

The (#problematic?) theory of Asian restaurants is that the more Asian people you see eating in one, the better the food probably is. Far be it from me to argue with science, but I will say this: Sidewalk Kitchen (why not Sidewok Kitchen??? Missed opportunity), located in that one corner of Stadium Village that's always had 2 or 3 random Chinese places that seem to cater to a large percentage of actual Chinese people, was full of Chinese students the night we went. It was a real 'sore thumb' situation for the two of us at table five. The menu seemed promising, although I worry a bit when a restaurant boats so many Szechuan and Hunan and Korean options. The food was just okay. There was some confusion about my order initially; I ordered the rice plate with duck and pork, and the waiter claimed that the kitchen said they couldn't serve that item, but then after some discussion with a manager and someone else in the kitchen, they decided they could, and when the plate came out, the pork was cold. Like, cold, not even room temperature. And crazy boney. As was the duck, although at least that was hot. Meanwhile, the ma-po (Szechuan dish with tofu and ground pork) had a very particular sadness to it, more of a watery orange color than the expected deep red, and full of freezer-aisle diced carrot cubes and peas. It tasted weird. It was all weird. The whole thing was weird. I still have hope for this place, because most of the stuff that everyone else in the restaurant was eating looked better than ours, so I think maybe we just got the wrong things. Maybe next time. Well, nah, maybe not.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Spoon and StableDowntown Minneaoplis
Duck breast laab

My previous trip to the hottest newest bestest restaurant in the North Loop, Spoon and Stable, happened a year and a half ago on my birthday, when I sat by myself at the bar and ate as much food as I could afford. I went in skeptical but left impressed. But I went no further than 10 feet from the front door to the bar. This time was entirely different; a Sunday morning brunch with some out of town visitors, I saw that the restaurant is a good bit smaller than I first thought it was, and actually has some lovely natural light from the ceiling, and all in all isn't quite as annoying as I might have thought it was. I mean, it's still all white-tile-and-natural-wood-edison-bulb-in-industrial-lighting, leather-apron'd-barkeeps and denim-uniformed-server Pinterest-chic, but it's not that bad. What was bad, regretfully, was my food. The brunch menu was fairly diverse as these things go, and I ordered a duck breast laab salad with crispy wild rice and a duck egg. It just didn't work. The duck was tough, the wild rice was soft, and the whole thing was way, way too salty. Whatever flavors were in there were just overwhelmed by soy sauce or fish sauce or whatever they had in there. Meanwhile, nothing else I tasted between everyone else at my table was much better. And to be honest I don't really remember what those dishes were. The only great takeaway from the entire meal was the small plate of hash browns that they brought the table (every brunch spot should do this!), which were satisfyingly crispy, and were infused with a sort of garlicky oniony oil. They were great. Everything else was a big bummer. So while I still think I stand by Spoon and Stable based on my great birthday dinner, I'll go ahead and recommend you skip brunch.