09.19.2017
Kendrick Lamar
Damn

I was wrong about Damn. I heard the singles and wrote it off. "It sounds like he's given up and reaching for radio hits," I grumbled. "It doesn't hold a candle to has last two unimpeachable classics" I groused. "It's everything wrong with the current state of popular music," I whinged. Oh but then I listened to the damn thing. I already said I was wrong, what more do you want from me?


(1)
03.27.2016
Kendrick Lamar
untitled unmastered

There’s this whole contingent of music writers who refuse to accept Kendrick Lamar as our lord and savior. I understand them, but I don’t understand them. And it’s not an uninformed bunch. It’s hip hop dudes (albeit, probably like, white academic hip hop dudes who listened to Wu Tang growing up and wrote their doctorate theses on “Violence and Jewish Identity in Mobb Deep’s The Infamous”). They seemingly know their stuff? And yet there’s this uncomfortable unwillingness to give Kendrick Lamar his due. I almost feel like they want to fight off dudes like, well, me, who come in as outsiders who don’t really follow their world much, don’t care which mixtape Young Thug just released, have no idea who Lil Boosie is, and suddenly proclaim Kendrick (oh, sorry… “K Dot”) the contemporary master of the art form. I get it. We’re annoying. Kind of how I felt back when the Arcade Fire became a Thing. I had to be like, “Okay, calm down everybody” and then check out for a couple album cycles. But still—what’s their problem? The dude is great. He has things to say. He has a multitude of ways to say those things. His voice is a multi-instrument ensemble. He’s extraordinarily thoughtful, but still funny and surprising. His taste in collaborators and beats and arrangements is impeccable. What’s not to like? He’s the best. And this untitled unmastered proves it; it’s a collection of “unfinished” recordings not good enough to make his last album, and it’s possibly the best hip hop album of the year. I’m sorry hip hop music writer dudes. It’s real.

04.01.2015
Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly

Speaking of geniuses: Kendrick Lamar. This guy is the best rapper currently rapping. His lyrics are sharp and thoughtful and gut-punching. His delivery is dramatic and honest and musical. His choice in producers and collaborators is impeccable, and their work is seamless and progressive. To Pimp a Butterfly (as well as M.a.a.d. City) is an host-to-god work of capital-A Art. It should be playing on repeat in a museum somewhere. It's incredible. And it's no fun at all.

11.28.2012
Kendrick Lamar
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

Either I've been totally brainwashed by the tsunami of critical acclaim this Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City record has been getting, or else I'm fully convinced that it is seriously work of capital-a Art. I can't decide. But for now I'm going with Art. The lyrics, the delivery, the production, even the between-song skits (!) all come together in a way that is rare in the rap world and form something that is way bigger than the sum of its parts. There are no singles, no real hooks, nothing to play at a party. But it has this energy and narrative to it that's like reading a good book, or watching a great movie. And a legitimately emotionally jarring ending! When's the last time you've been moved by the ending of a rap album? Pretty amazing. Now I just need to get over the fact that he aped his style from Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne, and I'm totally on board.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
Sorriso'sQueens
Meatball sandwich, sopressata sandwich

This is the most New York place in New York. I actually heard the guy behind the counter say "gabagool." And they make some damn fine sandwiches.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
JollibeeQueens
Fried chicken, spaghetti, cheeseburger

New York City! Perhaps the greatest culinary destination in the world! It's got everything! Pizza pie! A spicy a meat a ballsa! Bagels! Enough Michelin stars to light up the night sky! Invitation-only chef dinners, $500 a plate steakhouses, experimental ice cream speakeasies, authentic Puerto Rican food served by grandmas with Weber grills on the sidewalk. You can't throw a stick in New York without it hitting the best restaurant you've ever eaten at. Or it'll hit Jollibee.

I've been fascinated by Jollibee for nearly 10 years now. I have a gross fascination in general with regional chains; whenever I go on a road trip, I generally try to find some sort of fast food restaurant that is native to the place I'm in. Jollibee is sort of an extreme version of that. There are hundreds of Jollibee locations in the Philippines and south Asia, sort of a Filipino McDonalds. But when I heard that there was one single location in New York, right in the heart of Queens, it's been near the top of my list of NYC restaurant destinations. Near the top. So, yeah, it's taken me a while to get there. Until now!

And as is often the case with international interpretations of American cuisine, it's just a little off. The main draw here is fried chicken. Or as they call it, "Chickenjoy." Fine. And actually kinda spicy and decent. But the next big item is spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. Although this is a bit of a regional take on the dish, with a sweeter and more bell-pepper-infused sauce than our traditional marinara. It almost tastes like ketchup with some spices. I know. Lastly, of course, are burgers. Their cheeseburger is actually nearly hidden on the menu, so it must not be a best seller. But interestingly, it was the best thing I had! It obviously wasn't a great burger, but it was very enjoyable! I'd honestly take it over a standard McDonalds burger if you were to make me choose. Oddly, it reminded me of when I was a kid and refused to eat Chinese food, and my parents would order me a cheeseburger at the Chinese restaurant. I don't know if it's the type of oil or what, but there's a very particular flavor to the char on the burger that I can't quite describe.

Anyway, Jollibee is weird. Real weird. I can't say you should go there, but if you are in New York for the 5th or 6th time and feel like treating yourself to something that's maybe the most New York of all.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Jezabel'sPhiladelphia
Empanadas

Here's a fun and random one! Just a couple blocks from where we were staying in Philadelphia was a tiny little Argentinian cafe called Jezabel's. "Fun?", you ask? I guess a small Argentinian cafe in a historic residential Philadelphia neighborhood could be fun on its own, but in this case, we happened to hit up Jezabel's right while Argentina was playing France in the World Cup! We were just stopping in quick to get some small bites before leaving for the bus station, but found this tiny little place crowded with people in blue and white Argentina jerseys watching the game on a huge flatscreen TV just sitting up on the bar. This place is really like the size of a small coffee shop, so even a dozen revelers made it feel super packed. And fun. So we stayed a bit and ate some empanadas. Which, for real, were some of the best empanadas I've ever eaten! I had two kinds: beef, and ham & cheese. The beef was fairly standard, but wonderfully flavorful, and the dough was flaky and tender and perfect, not stale or greasy like you could find at some other shops. Meanwhile, the ham and cheese—for which I kept my expectations low—was even better. I don't know why I thought it was just going to be cruddy cheddar cheese and off-the-shelf ham, but this thing had layers of flavor! I couldn't tell you what kind of cheese, or what else might've been in it, but damn, it was good. And I don't think I can get anything like it in this town.

Then Argentina gave up a couple goals and everyone was bummed.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Paesano's Philadelphia
Roast pork sandwich

Regular readers of this site (lol) might remember last year's trip to Philadelphia, where of course I had to get a cheesesteak from Pat's, or Geno's, or wherever else who cares it was very mediocre. Meanwhile, True Food Knowers will tell you that the Real Philadelphia Foodstuff is actually the roast pork sandwich. Which is: roast pork (either sliced, pulled, or chopped), sharp provolone cheese, and Italian marinated broccoli rabe, on a hoagie bun. That broccoli rabe is key, sort of like the pickle on a Chicago dog, or giardiniera on an Italian beef. I've never seen that on any sandwich in the midwest, or anywhere else, really. (Although, spoiler alert, I think you can find it in some of the more legit Italian delis in New York too).

So on my latest trip to the east coast, my first stop in Philly was at Paesano's, one of the higher-recommended joints for a roast pork. It seems that Paesano's used to be a bit of a hole-in-the-wall freestanding mom-n-pop shop, but it's now sadly and sterilely seated on the first floor of a new-construction apartment development. Lame, but forgivable. But it's still a small little shop, with just a grill behind the counter, a chalkboard menu up top, and one guy with an incredible Philly accent running the place. I'd never actually heard one in person before. It was eye opening.

I'll say this: every sandwich on their menu looked amazing. I wanted all of them. They even had porchetta! But I had to go with the standard roast pork, since, you know, that's what I was there for. I ordered it, was told to pay when I was finished, grabbed a can of Coke from the fridge, sat down at a table, waited for the sandwich, received the sandwich, took a bite of the sandwich, and died from happiness.

Fuck the cheesesteak. The roast pork is the righteous truth.