2021-10-20
Sufjan Stevens
A Beginner's Mind

Sufjan Stevens has been in the mix for so long now. Michigan was like, what, 20 years ago? So long! And what's interesting is that, this whole time (so long), every Sufjan release has felt like some sort of event. They've been grand experiments, comforting returns to form, stylistic left turns, theatrical projects, deeply personal confessions. Whether or not they've all been successful (though he does have a better 20-year batting average than most), they've all felt like something happening. A Sufjan release makes you notice.

A Beginner's Mind is the first new Sufjan album that I can really remember that just kinda came out and that's that. I think there's a bit of a theme to it: it's technically an album co-attributed to Angelo De Augustine, written and recorded by the two of them during the pandemic, locked up in a cabin somewhere, seemingly writing songs about the movies they were watching and books they were reading. Or something like that? The point is that isn't really important in this case. It's not a grand testament about life and the cosmos. It's not a confessional ode to his parents. It's just a nice collection of songs, maybe his best in a handful of years. A comforting return to form.

2017-07-16
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

2015-04-01
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell

Everyone's flipping out about Carrie & Lowell, calling it maybe Sufjan's best album, praising its deep honesty, all that stuff. Look, I like it. It's super pretty to listen to, it has some lovely and dark lyrical moments, great restrained arrangements. It's a great piece of work. But it's certainly no Illinois or Michigan. I'm not even sure it's better than Seven Swans. But it's plenty good to make me forget about The Age of Adz.

2010-10-23
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

That 25 minute song at the end of The Age Of Adz, the one which I skipped the first time around because 'come on, it's a 25 minute track at the end of the album!", turns out to be the best thing on the album. Who'da thought? Between that and the 11-minute title track and the 17-minute "Djohariah" from his All Delighted People EP from a few months ago, he could've had an incredible 3-track record, which would still clock in at nearly twice the length of Weezer's green album. And I would've been a happy camper. But as it stands, he's put out 3 tracks of genius and 16 tracks of filler this year, which, mathematically, is not in his favor.

2010-10-16
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I've given this a couple admittedly unfocused listens so far, and am left not feeling strongly in one way or another. It's definitely a grower. It's definitely a headphone album. And it's definitely the best use of trombone from an indie rocker this year (although Joanna's "Good Intentions Paving Company" seemed like the runaway trombone song of the year). Beyond that, we're left with a bunch of squelching, squealing electronic experiments, which may or may not have good songs hidden under them. I haven't figured that part out yet.

2010-10-13
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I don't know.

2010-08-23
Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People

Sufjan Stevens released this "EP" completely out of nowhere this weekend, which I think is great, and is something artists should do more often. And while I'm only halfway through the first track (the 11-minute title track), the only thing that keeps coming to my mind is how similar it is, in a few different ways, to the music and arrangements on the new Joanna Newsom album (other than the fact that this is an EP and that was a triple LP). Which is awesome.

2021-12-03
Leo's LatticiniQueens
Italian hoagie

If I posted about Leo's Latticini before, I was wrong. Last time around, whatever sandwich I had struck me as very average. This time I was totally wowed. Truly one of the best sandwiches around.

2021-12-03
Two Wheels Manhattan
Pho, chicken wings

Totally decent pho. Some of the best wings I've had in New York.

2021-11-15
Joe JuniorManhattan
Cheeseburger

Joe Junior, aside from having one of the charmingest signs in all of Manhattan, is a constant presence on "Best burger in New York" lists. The place itself is very much just a diner—a somewhat charming one yes, but not quite up to that sign outside. And on my visit, it was swarming with unmasked NYU students out for brunch who were annoyed at not getting served quickly enough. I know that's not the restaurant's fault, but yikes. Although Joe Junior's, shall we say, hands off approach to service definitely didn't help the situation. These guys have clearly been living the diner life for way too long and were did not g a f about it keeping the customer happy. I dunno, good for them really.

The burger: good! Not amazing, certainly not the best in New York. But it was very edible. Which I mean as a compliment. It reminded me of the Jackson Hole Diner burger (another VIP on your average Best Burger list), where it was almost meatloaf in its consistency—soft and even light in a way, almost like it was baked rather than grilled. I'd actually put Joe Junior's ahead of Jackson Hole's, simply because it was a much more reasonable size to actually eat, compared to Jackson's basketball-sized offering.

The other odd thing: Never before has iceberg lettuce worked so perfectly on a burger. Usually the lettuce gets immediately sloppy and wilted, and doesn't make a bit of difference to any burger. But the big ol pile of iceberg on this thing actually kinda bumped it from "good" to "pretty darn good". With that extra fragile texture to the burger, having a nice crunchy cool counterpart on top made the whole thing work.

2021-11-15
Hinomaru RamenQueens
Ramen

If this website wasn't hopelessly broken, I'd use its search function to see if I've written about Hinomaru before. I think I have. But good luck.

I just wanted to check in one more time on this place, because we stopped in last week and I had their tonkotsu ramen with spare ribs. Spare ribs! I don't think I've ever had ribs within Japanese milieu. But dang, it was good. Sweet and balanced and tender as shit.

Hinomaru is pretty great, it's got a Michelin Bib Gourmand and everything. Seems to be probably the best ramen in Astoria. Maybe in Queens as a whole? Mu was pretty great, but RIP RIP as of the pandemic. Either way, if there's a better spot, I'd certainly like to know.

2021-11-12
Ramirez!Brooklyn
Tacos

I did something last night that I almost never do. In fact I usually do my best to avoid it. What I did is I saw a swarm of Cool Brooklyn Children hovering around what appeared to be a cool new restaurant in a cool part of town, and instead of turning heel and going literally anywhere else, last night I decided to stick my nose into the scrum and—really—stand in line with everyone else.

The place is called Ramirez! (exclamation point included), and is a slick little minimalist box with a cool Bushwicky neon sign (even though it's in Greenpoint), which serves tacos and Coke and Topo Chico (yes New York City is in the midst of a Topo Chico revolution), and nothing else. Part of the reason for the mass of bodies was that, oddly, Ramirez! doesn't do take out. Every order comes on a cut colorful little plastic plate. You're free to take the plate wherever you want—inside, outside, across the street, down to the river, into your car if it's cold I suppose—as long as you bring it back. Thus the crush of people 10 years younger than me hanging out eating tacos on the sidewalk.

It's too exhausting to talk about how annoyed this all made me—because honestly it didn't. It's fine. Despite the popularity of the place, there was nothing outwardly obnoxious happening, and really I was there taking up just as much space as everyone else. And I'm maybe just over being over cool places. Fucking whatever man, let's just enjoy it all. Because ultimately: these were good fucking tacos. Absolutely nothing to complain about. And by "absolutely," I mean "I guess they were a little on the wet side and the tortillas got a bit soggy." But that's it. I had 3, al pastor, suadero, and longaniza, which is a sort of chorizo, the differences between which I won't explain to you because I can't. That one was my fave of the bunch, but they were really all superb. Too small (get 4), but superb.

So. Great tacos. Honestly some of the best I've had in this city. Don't even think about going there on the weekend.

2021-11-06
Broadway Chinese SeafoodQueens
Char siu on rice

For all the Chinese places to be found in this part of Queens (i.e. in Flushing and Elmhurst), there's surprisingly few—for lack of knowing what this sort of establishment is actually called—places with ducks hanging in the window.

If you go down to Manhattan's Chinatown, or farther down into Sunset Park in Brooklyn, you'll see a decent amount of ducks in windows. What this means is they make their own barbecue duck and char siu, i.e. barbecue pork. You can just pop on in and get duck or pork on rice. They take it right off the hook, chop it up with a giant knife on a giant wood block, toss it on some rice with some cabbage, pour some drippings over the top of everything. It's almost always dirt cheap and it's even more always delicious. Especially the char siu.

Problem is in Elmhurst and Flushing, you can hardly find any of it. But I finally found one in Elmhurst, this big weird place called Broadway Chinese Seafood. It was great, of course, but it was very strong, almost too intense. The thing about char siu is that it's made to essentially be an ingredient. Of course you can plop it on rice and eat it, but a lot of people will just buy it in bulk and use it in leftover fried rice, or in soups, or as a small side to go with a larger dish. So in that sense it makes sense to lean a little stronger into the seasonings. And that's certainly what was going on here.

The other thing that stood out with this char siu was that it was topped with this sauce, which was more or less a garlic salsa. I've never had anything like it before! Super tasty, but considering the already-intense pitch of the pork, it was a lil much.

But I'm being too critical! In reality I ate the shit out of this whole tray of pork and rice and felt like junk for the rest of the night. And I'll absolutely do it again.