Wednesday, January 30, 2013


My Dinner Club went to Balena last week. I absolutely love this space*, so I was glad I got there early for a good look around and a drink while I waited for people to arrive. For starters, I have to say the specialty cocktails were probably my favorite thing any of us ordered. Since I've been on a brown liquor kick I was deciding between the Francesco and the Mirto. The bartender wouldn't pick one over the other so I chose the Francesco. I had two. But I tasted several others and with one exception (the Dark&Stirred), loved them all. 

So awesome – we decided to just order a bunch of stuff and share. The Kale "Caesar" Salad for starters. I try and try, but I do not like kale. I also do not like anchovies but I tried those again too. I still do not like either one. The croutons and dressing were fantastic. Then we had the Brussels Sprout pizza. Out of all the things on the menu, I was the most ho-hum about the pizzas. Big mistake. It was my favorite thing we ate.

Of course I had studied the menu before we went and was deciding between the Tagliolini Nero – crab, sea urchin and chili – and the Roast Porchetta with creamy polenta and parsley red onion salad. We ordered both. The crab on the pasta was super good, but the dish itself could have been a lot warmer, temp wise. I didn't distinguish any sea urchin and I didn't care. I love black pasta though, so this was a good choice overall. We got two portions of it – good thing, otherwise we'd have each only gotten about a bite. The porchetta wasn't quite what I was expecting but it was also decent. More like a thick slice of ham with a crust of bacon around it (this is probably normal, I just wasn't expecting it). The polenta side was YUM. Better than the additional side of Baked Polenta with tomato fondue we also ordered, I thought. 

Dessert. Not normally having strong feelings about dessert one way or another, I conveniently opted out of the discussion on which one to pick. If pressed I side with chocolate anything. This was the case when a deciding vote was needed between the Mocha Parma Cotta and the Caramel Pine Nut Tart. As we ordered the Mocha, Teresa snuck in the second choice tart. Both were delicious, but the Mocha Parma Cotta – I can see myself going back for just that dessert alone. It was ridiculously good. Only one other dessert comes to mind that similarly blew me away, the salted caramel cheesecake at Enoteca Roma

And something must have been in the air because two people also ordered CaffĂ© Corretto + Liquor. Who knows what the other liquor choice was – she sent it back to get the Faretti Biscotti Joy had chosen. I don't want to give too much credit to this shot of a coffee accompaniment, but it prompted a passing around of the small glass and sharing stories of losing virginity. Even the server delivering it was practically drooling just from it's scent.

So basically, I'd go back for sure. But I'd like to sit at the bar for drinks, pizza and dessert (+dessert coffee!).

*Our table was under the window (and kitchen!) on the right in the top image. 
**All images are from the Balena website.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

So this happened. (Not really).

It was summer. Hot and sweaty and sunny. Girls were wearing sundresses and boys with tan backs were riding dirt bikes shirtless. The sunlight was so bright and thick you could see the yellow rays, and every color on the street was a richly saturated version of itself.

I was walking in DUMBO, looking for an art installation I'd heard about. Some creative housewife in Brooklyn had enlisted other creative housewives in Brooklyn to do a monthly "exhibit" in spots along the overpass. Each woman had a section she was responsible for designing and maintaining. There was a stairway leading to the top of the bridge, and each new theme was written in red chalk, on the vertical section of the step so it wouldn't get rubbed off by foot traffic. The first theme had been written on the bottom step. They were on the 11th theme.

Themes were single words, like SPRING or YELLOW. The current theme was SKY. One woman's section had about 100 light blue helium balloons, tied down with dark blue string, floating in the breeze.

I was noticing street signs looking for Freemont. The sign before Freemont said Magnolia, so I knew I was getting close. There were people everywhere. Sprinklers were spraying, doors and windows wide open, music playing out of speakers on the street. To my left was the overpass and to my right were the buildings, similar to homes you'd see in San Francisco. They appeared to balance on an uphill slope. Some had very tall, steep, narrow staircases to get to the front door, with garage doors underneath at the street level. Besides wanting to see the installations I was visiting a friend who lived there, Nicole.

When I got to Nicole's place, it was totally wide open. I could walk right in the front door and there was a large foyer with red Oriental rugs on the dark wood floor and the plaster walls and trim were painted in varying hues of turquoise. There were textures and fabrics draping the windows and doorways and pieces of antique furniture sparsely placed here and there. There was also a ping pong table. Then a college-aged girl stumbled in and she said Nicole wasn't home but did I want to see her room? And I also realized I was me, but my college-aged self, and of course I wanted to see her room. The house was an elaborate maze of interesting rooms, similar to a Wes Anderson film. We passed a few hippy-like kids laying around. A light breeze blew gauze-y floor-to-ceiling curtains.

Her room was pale yellow and the window faced the street. She had built a loft on the front wall and we climbed up it to get to the closet door up there, where she kept all the art she'd collected from a club she was the president of. You had to be asked to be a member to this club – it was very exclusive – and all the pieces that made it into the closet were very special. We sat up on the ledge of this loft leafing through large sheets of thick paper with intricate drawings on them.

Suddenly I had to go, and as I was making my way through the house I bumped into Nicole. People were sitting around smoking weed in a circle and we were both passing through the room from opposite doorways. I said, "You live with all these people?" Nicole is married and I found it odd she cohabited with about a dozen college students – I was back to my adult-aged self – but I also thought it was so cool. Anyway, I was in a hurry to meet Katie at the harbor for a ride on the boat she'd rented for the summer.

The boat turned out to be more like a ship. An ocean cruiser? It was massive and we were sitting on the deck at the top and there was enough room for several couches (they were made out of a woven natural fiber and covered in thick navy and white striped fine cotten upholstery) and space enough in the middle for a small dance floor. Katie's parents were sitting on one couch and her daughter Sarah was laying on the deck playing cards. Some people were fishing off the back.

I was sitting on the edge looking out at the water and trying to decide if it was littering to throw some of the pumpkins that were in a display near me into the ocean. I was debating in my head whether sea animals would eat a pumpkin, even though there was no way they'd ever have eaten or seen one in their habitat. Would they recognize it as food? Whether it would decay enough that little fish would nibble on particles or whether a whale would just pop the whole thing in it's mouth. And furthermore, would adding a thing like a pumpkin to the ocean be considered polluting the water?

Then I didn't care and I just started pitching pumpkins overboard and it was great. They would hit the water many yards below and surprise me by floating. It was so pretty to see the deep dark navy of the water, with white sunlit reflections bouncing on the waves, in contrast to these bright orange pumpkins bobbing. Some people were yelling at me for doing it but I ignored them.

Then I was back at Nicole's house. It was much more quiet and vacant than it had been earlier. I was tip-toeing back to the light yellow bedroom. When I got there it was empty and I snuck a drawing I did into the sacred closet. As I was leaving I ran into the girl and when she asked what I was doing there I said, "Just looking for Nicole," and then I got the hell out of there. I was climbing over the latched gate at the top of the stairs, and heading down the steep steps to the street and the sun was setting. The bright, vibrant street during the day was starting to fill with filthy dirty homeless people wearing layers of soiled clothing, pushing shopping carts loaded down with their stuff. They were setting up camps in between the SKY installations that the housewives of Brooklyn had actually origionally created in order to bring them some beauty. But I was afraid of them so I started to jog home. Past Freemont, past Magnolia.