Theatre Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

I admit to being mystified by this show. There were so many colours and so much movement that I found it hard to cast my mind back to the story, read in my youth, or possibly told in the classroom: I remember that elementary school teachers particularly liked to read aloud Roald Dahl, this one, or James and the Giant Peach.

But I do remember the story: awful children get their just desserts, and the dreamer, Charlie, ascends above them, becoming pals with the mysterious Willie Wonka.

But I either couldn’t follow the way the story is told here, or I just didn’t care. I was expecting good things from Shaiman and Wittman, the creators of the music for Hairspray, but none of the songs were memorable. The kids didn’t seem particularly more bratty than a lot of kids these days. I found some of their scenes of morbid demise amusing (giant squirrel attack!) but found the cultural comic stereotypes (Russians, Germans) not funny.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing Christian Borle, and thought he was good here, but didn’t have a lot of material to work with. The boy who played Charlie, however, was a highlight: occasionally I’ve found child actors to have a particularly precise style of belting out the bigger notes and keeping on the melodies. But Jack Ryan Flynn was infectious in his energy and gusto: not sentimental, just really being the role.

Reviews for the production are mediocre at best, though the Hollywood Reporter really trashes it. Darn, I wish we’d booked in advance for Dear Evan Hansen instead!

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Cosme

Cosme has caused a big buzz, apparently. I can see why: sleek, chick setting, and a modern interpretation of Mexican food.

In Sydney, Australia, while some nicer Mexican restaurants have opened up in the last years, it’s certainly not fine dining. So, this felt like a particularly cool NYC experience to eat here.

The earliest lunch reservation we could get was for 1:45pm, though it didn’t seem completely packed when we arrived.

Their Bloody Marias ($17) which you can choose between three different chilis, were bloody fantastic. The tomato juice was thinner, in a good way, than what I’m used to, filled with spices and came with a handy jicama stick to stir it with.

The Arctic Char, tostada, elderberries, yuzu and avocado ($21) was a perfect dish. Very lightly cured fish. Great combo of crunch and soft.

My better half was not as impressed with the Huevos rancheros, refried black beans, mushrooms and queso fresco ($24) and thought it a little weird. I quite liked the fancy interpretation of something I’ve had in diners. Perfectly poached eggs, interesting mushrooms, fresh cheese.

The duck carnitas, to share ($34), were recommended, and were a standout. Fresh corn tortillas, and nice garnish but the star of the dish: a melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked duck.

No room for dessert. The (rave) review in the NYT classified this restaurant as expensive, so escaping for $135 for the two us was as good or better than I expected.

The service was attentive and efficient. We liked this place, yes we did!

Cosme Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Momofuku Milk Bar

So, the main reason I wanted to try Momofuku Milk Bar is that I wanted to see how my homemade version of their Crack Pie stacked up to the real thing…

I mean, I know I’m supposed to try the soft serve cereal milk cone, but maybe later…

Various folks, like the Brown-Eyed Baker, have a recipe up online, and I decided to give it a go. It was tasty, and super rich, and I wasn’t sure at the time whether it was worth the trouble. The smallest size bag of milk powder I could find was a kilo… and months later, I still have most of it. What does one do with milk powder?

In any case, while I like the oatmeal cookie crust, and the kind of buttery pecan pie or butter tart sort of filling, the taste of the real thing told me the main thing to do: cut smaller pieces! It’s really rich, and as I was serving up big slices, I think it was a bit overwhelming.

But in other ways, I’m pretty pleased with my homemade version: it was definitely more rustic without the perfectly thin and uniform crust of the store-bought version, yet you could taste the oatmeal cookie crust better because of it.

Momofuku Milk Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Luke’s Lobster

A colleague mentioned a few times that a lobster roll is a must in NYC and that Luke’s Lobster Rolls are her choice. I kind of remember the last time I was in NYC having a lobster roll… but that it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Time to investigate again, I thought. This outlet of Luke’s Lobster Rolls is in a busy, buzzy food court in the Row hotel. A bit crazy really.

Aside from some delicious premium soda pop (ginger root beer for my better half, blueberry soda for me), we opted to split the special: a half sandwich each of shrimp, crab and lobster. It was a good decision that we got to try each of these kinds. The verdict? OMGDELICIOUS. This is simple, fresh, high-quality seafood, and reminds you of why lobster is a valued protein, and how delicious crab and shrimp are when you don’t have to shell them yourselves. With only a little bit of sauce and seasoning, and served in a lightly toasted, buttered, beautiful soft little bun, this was a great NYC experience.

Luke's Lobster, Times Square Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Del Posto

    Where do I start with Del Posto? We first came here on our last trip to NYC. I’d heard about the incredible lunch deal. This is top-notch dining, but if you go for lunch, the price really drops! I remember it being a special meal, and thought that it would be nice (and economical) to go this trip. 

It was as perfect as perfect can be. Aside from the food, this place makes you feel special. The atmosphere is rich and luxurious. There are dozens of wait staff. Everyone treats you like royalty and there are all of these special touches: the basil scented hot towels, the complimentary amuse-bouches (white asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, grilled polenta squares with yummy stuff on top).

And then at the end more sweets. Even though they are treating everyone in the restaurant the same… it feels like you’re getting special treatment. And that was good.

I mean, it can be a little over the top, in an amusing way. The ladies got little stools to rest their purses on… and we both thought it was hilarious when we had our dishes cleared and our dinner napkins replaced by dessert napkins…

We opted for the Captain’s Table, six courses, decide by the waiter after asking you about some of your food preferences. $95. We added to this a beautiful Italian bottle of wine ($60) and I was impressed that the very competent and warm sommelier recommended one of the more reasonably priced bottles on the menu (which suited me).

Each dish was beautiful and memorable.

My better half liked this one the best though: perfect little bread rolls, a combination of a baguette and a grissini. Served with whipped butter shaped to imitate a burrata, this tasted like a creamy cloud. He said he could eat it all day.

So happy they brought us lobster… Delicious. With a deep-fried artichoke heart. Homemade raviolis swimming in truffle butter (photo at the top) were unbelievable and luscious.

Love that we got a second pasta dish: homemade orrichiete with lamb.

Halibut, one of my favourite fish to eat.

Aged beef, with a salt spice crust, grilled romaine and two bites of little potato hashbrownie sort of things.

A light dessert, but then with extra goodies which I didn’t take a photo of (chocolates, cookies).

Love this meal. Loved the service. Loved the experience. Happy happy happy.

Del Posto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Theatre Review: Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre, NYC

Before the performance, Glenn Close announced that she had been sick and that her voice was not at full strength but there was nowhere she’d rather be than with us tonight. She is obviously a classy actor and woman, and her performance, a return to her Tony-winning performance from about a decade ago, was amazing. She is charismatic and commands the stage, and portrays the rather monstrous Norma Desmond with menace and lunacy. I am as immune to the starmaker machinery as anyone else, and found it exciting to see a famous actor performing in a lead role on stage.

But as for the rest of the musical, my expression was not unlike that of Norma above: hand on my brow, clutching my dress. What a dog of a show! The music, aside from the two hit songs, is monotonous and repetitive. Like, really repetitive. The opening number is a killer, and not in a good way. Characters repeating back and forth, in a sort of dialogue, the exact same musical line. It is lite classical? Children’s songs? Slowed down Gilbert and Sullivan? I wasn’t sure, but it was not the rich, complex and orchestral pieces raved about by some reviewers. It was cloying and often annoying (to use the same simplistic rhymes and cadences as much of the book).

The story is just as bad. As valiant the actors were, and as beautiful as their voices were, I couldn’t muster up any interest or sympathy for the writer who comes under Norma Desmond’s spell. He seemed lacking in willpower. Too cynical to chase success. Why root for him to fall in love with the more appropriate ingenue?

Having the full orchestra on stage was distracting. My better half said that he wants to be transported by a musical, not see the mechanics, not see the conductor on stage moving the pieces. The cast mainly climbed up and down stairs, or performed, static, in front of the orchestra. There were mystifying bits with people running around simulating headlights of cars, and the various projections just confused me as to what they were, rather than helped the story along.

All the worse off, since we saw Hello Dolly the same day in a matinee performance. But I think it would have failed under any circumstance. This musical was definitely not ready for its close-up, nor a close-up analysis.

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Theatre Review: Waitress, Brooks Atkinson Theatre, NYC

I’ve always like Sara Bareilles. She has a beautiful voice and I think her songwriting is interesting and distinctive. So, seeing that she was starring in her own show, Waitress, which seems to have had some success already on Broadway (and with Jessie Mueller originating the role), was a good excuse to go.

I thought she did a great job in the role. The cast were wonderful. I liked the music, a lot, and found that the musical motif that continued through the show made sense. I thought the staging felt fresh, with the cast sometimes moving around their own set pieces, with musicians stepping forward onto the stage, a simple but malleable set.

Christopher Fitzgerald, in a comic role, and an original cast member, I gather, had the audience eating out of his hand, so much precision and timing in every moment of his performance. I’m sometimes put off by performances as showy as this, but he was just so funny, it worked.

I enjoyed seeing Chris Diamantopoulos, after remembering his manic role in the TV show Episodes… and he’s a fellow Canadian.

I thought the story was serviceable. Sometimes I wish that in adapting a script (this one from a movie), the creators would be satisfied to be inspired by the source material, and not follow it exactly. That one of the characters is married to someone disabled and decrepit was kind of weird and jarring. Will Swenson, in a thankless role, conveyed a feeling of actual domestic violence. But you could feel the discomfort from the audience too. Marrying such fantasy (pies, pies, pies!) with flashes of a reality of domestic violence didn’t really work for me. There were clashing visions of romance and love: the drudgery of marriage that requires extra-marital affairs to be bearable; a love at first sight that makes an affair acceptable even though the marriage sounded OK; a comic romance composed of meet-cute moments. I guess this all came from the movie, but I found it rather strange.

In any case, I loved the music, I loved Sara Bareilles and the whole cast, and it was a very enjoyable night out. I’m glad we saw it!

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Barn Joo 35

Most people who I told that we were staying in Koreatown for a few nights in NYC didn’t know where it is. Well, I’ll tell you. Right below the Empire State Building. On W 32nd between 5th and 6th is the epicentre, and it kind of stretches a few streets north up to W 35th. But how to choose a restaurant, when it seems like there are hundreds of them?

Zomato doesn’t seem like it’s made a lot of inroads here in NYC: some of the new restaurants aren’t even listed, and many restaurants don’t have very many votes or reviews. I turned to Yelp and chose the top-rated of Korean restaurants in the area, with nearly 450 reviews and 4.5 stars! Barn Joo 35 calls itself Korean tapas, combining Korean food with more contemporary ingredients and styles.

I loved it. It was happy hour so I ordered a bunch of dishes for $5 each (and a beer and a cocktail). The spicy chicken wings had a delicious sauce and were nice and crispy. The truffle fries were very delicious… and a generous portion. On reflection though, I would have passed these up so we could have eaten more of the unusual dishes on the menu. On the other hand, the tuna salad on toast (with fresh tuna) was pretty awesome.

Sadly, we only had room for one more dish before rushing off to the theatre. But what a dish it was. Cold bibimbap with sashimi (photo at the top). This is such a simple dish, and you can find it at all Korean restaurants. But this combination of bits of sashimi and roe and seaweed and vegetables and spice. It was absolutely incredible.

It’s very possible I’ll be coming back here to try more dishes before I leave town. Highly recommended.

Barn Joo 35 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Theatre Review: Hello, Dolly! Shubert Theatre, NYC

Oh, thank heavens for husbands. That’s what I say.

Mine – handsome, considerate, charming and organised – booked us for front row tickets to see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! for a Wednesday matinee. We were nervous about that old myth that stars are more likely to take a Wednesday matinee off, and give the show to their understudy. But we needn’t have worried.

This show was such a delight. Pure entertainment. We gave Bette at least a few standing ovations during the show (and at the end of course). She was spry, funny and charismatic, everything that Dolly should be. I didn’t feel like it was Bette playing Bette… but Bette playing Dolly, where every once in a while, her famous smile or a set of expressions would peak through.

The cast, already nominated for Tony Awards, was outstanding. David Hyde Pierce with perfect comic timing. I loved the joyous enthusiasm of Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl. It took a while to recognise Taylor Trensch at Barnaby Tucker but we did! He played Bok in the production of Wicked we saw, I think five years ago, his blond mop of hair recognisable. Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy had such presence and made the song ‘Ribbons Down My Back’ a showstopper. And I particularly liked Beanie Feldstein as Minnie Fay: charming and hilarious.

The sets were amazing. The costumes stupendous. The cast looked like they were having a whale of a time, and while some might find the front row a little too close, I found it thrilling. Bette even looked at me during one of her songs. Yaaass!

It’s really interesting to see such a great musical with a great cast and big budget. I didn’t know where to look in some numbers as I wanted to see what each cast member was doing; I was so transported into the show that I forgot the construction of the show (dance number, comedy number, second act opening) and unlike other shows we’ve seen this week, and enjoyed, no song or moment or plot idea seemed weak. It was classic, and so much fun, I shed a tear of joy at the end.

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Tsurutontan Udon Noodle Brasserie

I’ve wanted to go to this restaurant ever since I read this review in the New York Times. Sounded very, very intriguing. It’s the first of the chain outside of Japan. I love noodles. What’s not to like? I didn’t really know what to expect.

My brother, visiting NYC a few weeks before I could, said he went here and ordered the regular udon and thought that it was… regular (and overpriced).

Uh oh. After finishing a Monday night 5 rhythms dance, I rushed over to their location, knowing that they’re supposed to close at 10:30pm and I’d arrive at 10pm. Would they let me in? Yup, no problem, and no rush either. This place is beautiful: a big stylish complex with multiple areas to sit. It looks fancier and cooler than any ramen or noodle bar I’ve ever been to, that’s for sure.

Mindful not to order something too regular, I decide to go with the hot and sour soup udon. I’ve always liked this flavour combo from Chinese cooking. The bowl was huge though slightly an optical illusion as the base of the bowl is smaller. Could I tell that the noodles are freshly made with ingredients flown from Japan? I’m not sure. They were delicious though, slightly chewy (in that freshly made sort of texture). But I was too busy concentrating on how delicious the broth was to focus on the noodles: perfect little exotic mushrooms, a few pieces of crisp deep-fried eggplant, various other goodies in a generous egg-drop broth that tasted slightly sour and slightly spicy but without strong flavours.

As you can see, I thought this dish was wonderful, and washed down with a little glass of sake, pretty perfect. As for the cost, $20, everything in NYC seems super-expensive to me, even without considering the current poor exchange rate with the Australian dollar. So, I’m just going to eat my way through the city for now, and not think about the cost…

Normally, I wouldn’t have room for dessert, but how could I resist the water cake? I love this: a perfectly round clear ball of jelly, that tastes of… nothing. But with some sweet brown sugar syrup, and then some mochi powder on top, with a side of matcha ice cream: I love this dessert. Weird-arse Asian desserts appeal to me.

TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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