February 5-7, 2015

By now I have eaten upstairs at Dashi a couple of times – everything I have had has been delicious, although it’s like Mateo in that you can drop a LOT of money fairly quickly. Small plates, indeed. Although I think that one could probably make a pretty entertaining meal just on the yakimono skewers – the brussels sprouts are delicious, and a couple of those plus a bunch of chicken livers would only be [still kind of absurdly expensive at] around $20. It’s not a nightly joint by any means. At least not for me.

The lines out front for ramen have persisted, and have persisted in being insane. I suppose there are some people for whom lining up is a fun experience all its own. I was talking to a Dashi staffer who said “when are they going to realize that it’s just noodle soup!?” and, well, yeah.

In any case: If you hit the upstairs by around 5:40 or so, you’ll be good to go. You’ll get to snicker at all the people lined up out in front of the ramen side, and beat them upstairs & get a seat. Once the host downstairs has made it through the line, taken names & handed out approximate seating times, the line-standers all head upstairs, so there won’t be any seats left upstairs by around 6:00.

Get the pork belly tonkatsu. You won’t be sorry (assuming you eat pork).

In other Durham restaurant news, there was some controversy about some remarks made in an interview by a famous local chef about her new venture, her first in Durham. Some of the quotes made it sound like she saw her venture (a hotel restaurant and rooftop bar) as filling one or more niches that are [apparently, according to her] presently entirely unfilled in Durham. 

Some folks, including me, took issue with that suggestion. There was discussion on The Internet. I was, as per usual, probably more hyperbolic than necessary.

It was kind of unfortunate, particularly since she’s hardly the clueless bloviating rich capitalist developer type. Divorced from the context of her life & her other work and what her actual intentions quite possibly actually are, though, it kind of rubbed people the wrong way. Especially those people who have spent years of their lives filling the niches that her quotes implied were presently unfilled.

I suppose it’s an object lesson in how not to give an interview, which is to say that an interview with the press is NEVER a friendly conversation. It’s a battle: with the interviewer, and with your own brain. You have to step far enough outside of yourself to be able to view the whole thing in a broader context. This is one reason why I generally don’t talk on the record with the press. I can’t be trusted, and if I can’t be trusted, I’m pretty sure my interviewers couldn’t be trusted either.

[And yeah, as weird as it may sound, people still occasionally want to interview me for stuff. No, I don’t really understand it either.]

Anyway. I heard from some people about some things that I said. It is weird to be getting yelled at by one group of people, while being quietly congratulated by another group of people. At least the two groups didn’t have any apparent overlap.

Thanks to some generous friends, we got to see John Waters at the Carolina on Friday night. He started out the show so wired up and fast-talking that it took a bit to even lock onto his wavelength enough to be able to understand what he was saying.

Once I did, it was similar to the last time I saw him: one part random standup-style riffing, one part gleeful discussion of obscure sexual fetishes and their terminology, one part narrative of his movie career, one part general autobiography. Plus some talk about hitchhiking, since that’s kind of his current project. It was intermittently hilarious and hugely life-affirming. Plus of course that lovely Baltimore accent that comes out on certain words & phrases.

Saturday we saw A Most Violent Year, the third entry into what is shaping up to be the most remarkable early-career arc of this century. Writer/director J.C. Chandor has made three features thus far: Margin Call, a fascinating, claustrophobic look at the destruction of an investment bank over the course of one night; All Is Lost, the stunning, nearly-wordless shipwreck movie starring Robert Redford; and this new one, about one early-80s month in the life & career of a rising star of the heating oil business in New York.

A Most Violent Year is part character study, part suspense/thriller, part gangster movie. It’s like a movie that’s taking place just outside of the periphery of the Godfather Part II. Abel Morales wants to succeed on the basis of his own talent, or wants to deceive himself into believing that he has. Oscar Isaac & Jessica Chastain are both amazing.

So of course it wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. How many consistently amazing movies will this guy have to make before his peers acknowledge him?

February 5-7, 2015

January 30 – February 1, 2015

Friday night we attended the pre-opening of Dashi Ramen, which, when it opens officially, will be the 2nd-closest restaurant to our house. McDonald’s being the first.

M has been on a sort of semi-committal not-overly-strict Paleo thing for a while, and while I do my own thing, I have tended to eschew carb-heavy meals. Although lately I can’t resist getting fries with my burger at Geer St. I’m going to blame the cold weather for that.

Anyway, point being that the last thing we need 3 blocks from home is a noodle place. So I’m actually really excited about the Izakaya portion of the place, where presumably a variety of meaty skewers await.

Billy & Kelli Cotter have been our friends since the early days of Toast, which was nearly as close to our then apartment in West Village as Dashi is to our current home. I’m pretty sure there were entire months when I ate at Toast at least four times a week.

Judging from what I saw the other night, Dashi is aiming at a slightly higher price-point, which might piss off some of the locals who’ve been dreaming of a giant $8 bowl of ramen, but which should hopefully also minimize the line-out-the-door factor that plagues so many other ramen joints around the country.

The space is gorgeous, the people are friendly (and we saw a lot of familiar faces, including the woman who was the longtime front-of-house manager at Panzanella), and the food was of course outstanding.

Saturday I took M’s dad to the Wal-Mart to shop for jeans. I think the last time I set foot in a Wal-Mart was on a trip to Kentucky to visit M’s mom, so I guess this was kind of appropriate. Wal-Mart sure is weird, though.

Saturday night we saw the Branford Marsalis Quartet at Baldwin Auditorium. Branford’s drummer had been misled into having the eggs & salmon at Elmo’s, and was laid up with some heavy-duty food poisoning at the start of the set, so Branford & his longtime pianist Joey Calderazzo tapped one of their former NCCU students, Tyler Leek, to sit in for the first half of the set. He did a solid job, particularly given that he’d only gotten the setlist two hours before the gig.

The whole evening was loose and goofy and felt more like a Tuesday-night club gig than a Saturday night university performing arts thing. Lots of clowning around and shout-outs to friends in the audience. And the music was outstanding. I’ve seen & heard plenty of avant-garde/modern jazz in my life, but I’m still partial to a quartet that swings (and a rhythm section that doesn’t take many solos).

Sunday was Sunday. There’s a new taco night menu at Dos Perros which has a couple more appetizers and a couple more large entrees in addition to the tacos. The barbacoa taco is gone, which is OK with me since it was always kind of overly damp. The biggest & most important change is hand-made tortillas! Huge step forward & one they should’ve taken the day they opened.

January 30 – February 1, 2015