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My Coney Island Babyauthor: Billy O'Callaghan
publisher: Jonathan Cape (UK), USA)
Ireland has long been home — physically, culturally and metaphysically — to those with literary ambitions. Much of what defined the written avant-garde was created by Irish scribes such as Samuel Beckett, Flann O’ Brien or James Joyce. But the public notion of Irish literature often seemed fixed in time, sandwiched between the Rising and The Troubles. Yet, Ireland has fostered many more generations of literary lights who are just as, if not moreso, disruptive than their predecessors.
As one of Eire’s new literary lions, Corkman Billy O'Callaghan experiments not only with form but also time and space. In his second novel, “My Coney Island Baby,” O'Callaghan applies a skillful subtlety to make two outwardly ordinary characters and their interior lives engaging and derive meaning from their portrayals. “The Dead House,” his debut novel, had already won him praise for how he used supernatural tropes to create a haunting story.
This new book provides a sensitive look into two middle-aged lovers — who happen to be adulterers. Focusing on these two characters, with their spouses as background abstractions, O'Callaghan’s Michael and Caitlin are two flawed individuals who had accepted each other's imperfections while carrying on a 25-year affair. They’re equally locked in their marriages and the confines of the hotel rooms in which they meet. In simple but elegant language, he presents an intricate look inside a relationship — and the moment when it all is about to change. The book makes no moral judgment on their affair; just that it... is. And considering its origins in what was once one of the most Catholic of countries, this book is a quiet a taboo-breaker.
Evoking such established Irish authors as William Trevor and Colm Toibin, “My Coney Island Baby” reveals, within the course of one day, the histories, tragedies and even touching moments that define these two lives who have been stitched together into one seemingly intertwined cloth. And though much doesn’t happen outside, the notion of “Coney Island” adds a further element to the landscape of the book and producing conscious or unconscious reference to ideations of the place, as a play land, a Lou Reed song and its nature as a popular oceanside tourist spot.
And in the way it recalls repressed longings and melancholia, it harkens back to characters from Joyce’s “Dubliners” or Toibin's “Brooklyn,” in which some of the principals sleepwalk through life without emerging as a free and whole beings. hat existential malaise populates these tomes and others with Celtic influences. Yes, they’re adulterers and betrayers of those they've sworn to love (albeit getting married in the 20s) but from a novelistic point of view that only adds to the drama and tragedy of their lives — beautifully expressed by this fine chronicler of inner worlds.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse148 W. 51st StreetNew York, NY(212)245-9600
With the holiday season upon us, the question of where to celebrate — whether for a family feast or for any time at all — becomes more than pertinent. Nestled in Manhattan’s Midtown is an exceptional, top-flight eatery, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on 148 west 51st between 6th and 7th Avenues.
When I was first invited there for an introductory meal, I had no idea that I was actually dining at one of a number of restaurants under the same brand name. That’s because everything feels “personal” – from the warm and attentive service to the outstanding quality of the food. Now that I’ve been back a number of times, and I’m even more impressed by the consistent and delicious quality Ruth’s Chris offers. And from what I’ve heard, every location adheres to the same exacting standards to please each guest set into motion by founder Ruth Fertel.
Let’s face it, steakhouse “chains” don’t often fare well with serious dining aficionados, critics and aesthetes. But any Ruth’s Chris spot is far too gourmet to be called a chain. And this Manhattan place is genuinely special.Whether at a table of hardcore carnivores or with those who seek alternate fare – from seafood to vegetarian -- Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse has won admirers across a wide range of the culinary adventurers I’ve dined with. Drawing on classic American cuisine with huge slabs of tender beef to fresh, local seafood entrees, the food is consistently excellent. Just the array of remarkable sides alone could make a delightful meal unto themselves.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have consumed a number of meals there, where I’ve had my share of the house’s ongoing favorites, from incredibly rich and tender filet mignon to its classic lobster mac and cheese. Several memorable recent dining sessions are not only worth recalling but deserve to documented here.
Most recently, I joined executive speechwriter and presentation coach, Mike G., longtime radio and club deejay Tony S. and international art-repreneur Agne S. in a full-out eating fest to further test the epicurean excellence I’d come to expect. We challenged ourselves to taste anything but the beef, just so we could focus on the other fine possibilities offered in both the seafood and poultry realms.
As Mike noted, “A decade ago, Jeff Metz, a speechwriting, video scripting and speech coaching client, introduced me to restaurant and since he’s in Culinary Management and a Ruth’s franchisee, I figured it was a recommendation to reckon with.”
That set off his own declaration of love for Ruth’s Chris’s cuisine. “I enjoy an array of generous, delectable portions that people want to share — lunch or dinner –- it doesn’t matter. What matters is the clear commitment to quality and a diversity of tastes: something for everyone...”
He added, “A few examples of my non-steak favorites include the spicy lobster tail and spicy shrimp. I love them both but sometimes I get a vegetable plate — always terrific — and a signature wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce over field greens, topped with bacon, bleu cheese and dressing. I never go wrong at Ruth’s.”
Even though officially a “steakhouse,” the wide range of options for varying tastes are here every time including seafood, vegetarian, and pasta. That night we deliberately selected main courses of the non-beef fare: like the stuffed double-breasted chicken that's been oven roasted, filled with garlic herb cheese and topped with lemon butter. So sumptuous it seemed to be almost too rich in taste. I say “almost” because it was nearly irresistible to consume more than I should have at one sitting.
Then there’s the encrusted salmon slab and the wonderfully subtle red snapper. Both were perfectly balanced having a taste right in between the peppery crustiness and the core flavor of each fish — without either being “fishy.”
A thorough selection of starters was also part of our table. The large succulent shrimp appetizer -- lightly fried and tossed in a spicy cream sauce -- was served with a refreshingly tangy cucumber salad. Then there was the calamari, also lightly fried and tossed with a sweet and spicy Asian chili sauce — quite different from the expected deep fried version found in most Italian bistros. We also tasted another shrimp dish – large, dusted with blackening seasoning and broiled just right. Then was the luscious cold water lobster tail, lightly seasoned with Cajun spices, sea salt and butter.
But when it comes to the steaks and chops, Ruth's Chris competes with the best in town. Having perfected broiling methods and seasoning techniques, the chef ensures that each cut of USDA Prime beef arrives cooked to perfection for the specific taste of the diner, always sizzling on a 500° plate — just the way Ruth liked it.
That what I’d had in my earlier meal with publisher Paddy M. and Irish Whiskey magnate Jack W. On that day, we tried some incredible cuts including porterhouse (for two) -- an overwhelming 40 ounces of prime beef with a strip’s rich flavor and a filet’s tenderness. And speaking of filet — the surf and turf filet was just enough tender meat, with not one part of the cut was a throwaway. I loved it all and manage to save a little to eat later at home.
With its odd name, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse has a classic backstory to tell. As described on its website, “Fifty years ago in New Orleans — one of America’s most culturally rich cities — single working mother Ruth Fertel, looking to provide a better life for her two sons, browsed the ‘Classifieds’ section of the Times-Picayune. She spotted an ad reading ‘Steak House for Sale.’ Driven by an inherent entrepreneurial spirit, she mortgaged her home to purchase Chris’ Steak House on the corner of North Broad St. and Ursulines in New Orleans. She didn't know much about restaurants or steak, but she took a chance with Chris Steak House.
“Even though she had no experience, her intelligence and drive to succeed enabled her to become a successful business owner and eventually to lead the company to become the largest upscale steak house with over 140 locations in the world. Ruth had never planned to expand, but after a fierce kitchen fire decimated the property in 1976, she was forced to relocate in order to stay in business. Within 10 days Ruth had the restaurant up and running.But the ‘Chris Steak House’ name wasn’t allowed to move with it. So with little time and a mischievous smile, Ruth added her own name to the sign, making it ‘Ruth’s Chris Steak House.’ And it worked — that tongue-twister of a name was born. Now with her own name in lights, Ruth later admitted the name was strange, but she managed to work around it. Ruth worked and lived by the mantra, ‘Do what you love, love what you do.’”
Even with all that history in mind, the 51st Street Manhattan location feels like it was the first address they launched rather than one jewel in an entire collection. It has that settled-in quality that a fine restaurant develops over time. With a warm friendly ambiance and servers who are part of its history — server Mark has been working over 25 years — it’s not just a place well-known for its executive lunches and long night-time dining celebrations with an extensive crew of regulars. It’s also a place so personal and cordial, one could call it the next best thing to having a home-cooked meal. I’m struck by the consistent excellence I’ve experienced at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
To learn more, go to: https://www.ruthschris.com/
Sure, the streets have been considerably cleaned up, going to CBGB’s today means getting a nice shirt instead of taking your life into your own hands, and the Chelsea Hotel is now a museum, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate the past sleaze and style of New York’s past. And what band better encapsulates the convergence of sleaze and style than The Velvet Underground? The Velvet Underground Experience runs October 10 to December 30, at 718 Broadway in Manhattan. The multimedia experience encompases the illustrious careers of the legendary band/burnouts.
The exhibit features six films on the band produced by Edward English, Alexander Keewatin Dewdney, Gerard Malanga, Marie Menken, Barbara Rubin, Andy Warhol, and Danny Williams. Additionally there will be a plethora of portraits of the band members and other 1960s/70s NYC pop culture luminaries. The exhibition tracks the history of the band, the foundation of their sound, and the impact they had on music for decades to come.
To learn more, go to: http://velvetunderground-experience.com/
The Velvet Underground ExperienceOctober 10 - December 30, 2018
718 BroadwayNew York, NY 10003
(Detail from Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Peacock Waistcoat, Standing. 1911, gouache, watercolor and black crayon. Collection Ernst Ploil, Vienna)
100 years since his passing in 1918, the art of Egon Schiele is still intensely gripping and fascinating to this day. Raw, grotesque, passionate, shocking and sexual, Schiele’s art is unlike any other artist of the 20th century.
To celebrate his life and art, galleries around the world are also mounting similar exhibitions.
New York’s Galerie St. Etienne (24 West 57th Street #802) will be presenting Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line from November 1, 2019 through March 2, 2019. Galerie St. Etienne has the distinction of being home to Schiele’s first American one man show in 1941, and their new loan exhibition planned to coincide with the release, by the Kallir Research Institute, of an updated, digitized version of Jane Kallir's catalogue raisonné, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works.
Other exhibitions include:
Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris
The first monographic presentation of Schiele’s work ever mounted at a French museum, this exhibition features over 100 works by the Austrian artist. It includes loans organized by the Galerie St. Etienne and an exhibition catalogue essay by gallery co-director Jane Kallir. The show runs concurrently with a retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat.October 3, 2018, through January 14, 2019
Egon Schiele: The Making of a CollectionBelvedere, ViennaThis centenary exhibition takes an in-depth look at Schiele’s works as they relate to the collecting history of the Viennese institution. Including preliminary studies and sketches, the show reveals new findings about Schiele’s painting technique and working methods. With loans organized by the Galerie St. Etienne and an exhibition catalogue essay by gallery co-director Jane Kallir who will deliver an opening address on October 18.October 19, 2018, through February 17, 2019
Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, ViennaRoyal Academy of Arts in LondonFeaturing close to 100 works, this exhibition provides an rare look at the Albertina's unparalleled collection of drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Join Galerie St. Etienne co-director Jane Kallir at the RA on Friday, November 9, for a special examination of Schiele’s mysterious watercolor “The Cellist.” An essay by Ms. Kallir appears in the exhibition catalogue.November 4, 2018, through February 3, 2019
To learn more, go to: https://www.gseart.com/
Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect LineNovember 1, 2019 - March 2, 2019.
Galerie St. Etienne24 W 57th St #802New York, NY 10019
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