Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Modern, Post-Fluxus, Alto Pig

The drive to New York from Philadelphia takes about two hours, traffic demons willing. Amtrak makes it a tad quicker and a load more relaxing but, as with most things that are too good to be true, it's special occasion or expense account pricey. The SEPTA/NJ Transit combo should be the ticket, but from outside the city it involves multiple connections — and SEPTA's late night service is all but nonexistent. There's always the option of driving from Philly to, say, Trenton, then taking NJ Transit into Manhattan....

The invitation came just a few days ahead of time. It took me the better part of those few days but finally, tired of letting myself find excuses, justifications, reasons not to go, I went. To New York. For a pig roast. Does there really need to be a more "important" impetus?

With the pig as primal calling, and given that the pig in question was to be found just around the corner from 53rd and 5th Avenue, I figured I'd head straight off the train for Midtown, even if I was five hours early. Just enough time to do a couple of things I'd been meaning to do for far too long.

First up: lunch at the bar in the loosely Alsatian-themed restaurant The Modern, set adjacent to the lower corner of the no-longer-new home of the MOMA. My first and last visit to The Modern, several years back, not long after its opening, had showed a good deal of potential but had been marred by awkward service — very much not a Danny Meyer hallmark — and a couple of dishes that were less than inspiring.

This time around, the food — not that it's entirely reasonable to judge based on only a couple of dishes — seemed to have found more solid footing. A seasonal salad of shaved asparagus, fava beans and Westfield Farm goat cheese provided a refreshing kick to the appetite, while a slightly larger plate of grilled yellowfin tuna, served with a wedge of preserved lemon and a couple of crispy veal sweetbread nuggets, was cooked perfectly and quite flavorful, even if a little heavy-handed on the seasoning front.

Last trip, I'd visited for dinner and ordered a bottle — of Riesling from Albert Mann, if memory serves — from The Modern's fairly formidable list of Alsace offerings. Lunchtime called for something more modest, though, which regrettably had to be culled from a far less inspired list of wines by the glass. Only one option really jumped out at me, the Crémant d'Alsace "Émotion" NV from Domaine l'Agapé, which turned out to be imported by Savio Soares Selections, a factoid that was unbeknown to me at the time of ordering. It also turned out to be quite delicious: generously creamy, direct yet elegant, concentrated yet lithe, bready and amply fruity, with just a touch of earthy funk on the finish. Not a bad start.

Next up: a walk out the front door of The Modern, twenty paces to the right, and a turn in through the front door of the MOMA. I find it hard to believe of myself that I had yet to visit the Museum of Modern Art since it took up its new residence just west of 53rd and 5th back in 2004. That definitely needed to be rectified.

I went to the MOMA and all I got was this lousy photograph.

Seriously, though, I took a picture of this seemingly innocuous poster because I liked the way the neon Picasso sculpture, hanging on the opposite wall within the current Fluxus exhibit, was reflected in its glass, and the fact that it featured saxophonist Peter Brötzmann who, 47 years later, still plays regularly in the Philadelphia area, courtesy of the Ars Nova Workshop.

I took a fairly random approach to my visit, simply winding my way from room to room, floor to floor. As good a way as any to get a feel for the new digs, I figured, which turned out to be very much to my liking. Nice flow, yet not without some peculiar nooks and crannies; good feel and space; very much in keeping with the scope of oeuvres within its walls.

Untitled #153, Cindy Sherman.
Image courtesy of Masters of Photography.

I was reminded of how naturally amazing were the works of Picasso. I was turned on in a thoughtfully provocative sense by Louise Bourgeois' textile collage called "Ode à l'Oubli." Looking at a single piece in the installation "The Modern Myth," I had to ask myself why I like Joseph Beuys, then I walked into a whole room of his work, contained within the Museum's permanent collection, and remembered. I remembered how much I like the works of Mark Rothko, and of how no one ever seems to remember him for the works he did aside from his large color-block canvases. I was struck by how important and influential are the works of Jasper Johns, even though they don't really move me; I remembered that I plain don't enjoy the works of his contemporary, Frank Stella. And I was reminded of just how startlingly beautiful the photography of Cindy Sherman can be, how her work intentionally manipulates lighting, setting, subject matter and exposure to create jarring surrealism from what is actually extreme realism. Most of all, I was reminded that I really do need to see art more often.

Last stop: the pig.

The pig roast in question was at Alto, where I'd been invited by Sommelier Levi Dalton. Levi had called together a group of friends from the trade to help him drink some wine, eat some friggin' amazingly good roast pork, and have an all around good time.

Silvia Altare was the guest of honor, the de facto impetus behind the night's gathering. Given the constant entourage of Skurnik-ites that surrounded her throughout the evening, the old make eye contact and give a nod was about as close as I ever got to hello how are you. That and drinking a glass or two of her Dolcetto and Barbera, which flowed fairly freely throughout the party. (De-incriminated photo courtesy of Levi D.)

If you want the scoop on the rest of the wines being passed 'round the patio, head on over to Brooklynguy's report of the proceedings. While I can concur that the 1989 Sancerre "Les Monts Damnés" from François Cotat was indeed a most excellent expression of honey-coated mineral goodness, I was so engrossed in conversation and that pig — oh, that pig — that I missed out on most of the other goodies. The pig doesn't appear to be on Alto's regular menu but I'm guessing it runs as a special from time to time or could be ordered in advance for a reasonably sized party.

I must have taken somewhere on the order of 173 photos of Levi Dalton (pictured at left above, along with Chris Hallowell of Wine & Spirits Magazine) but this is as close as I could get to capturing him with his eyes open. The guy in the upper right corner was obviously wondering what the #%*& I was doing....

I already knew what a good guy Levi was. Heck, last time I saw him he bought me a root beer. And now roast pork and Piemontese vino.... I had no idea, though, at least not until yesterday, that he's also a gifted writer. You won't want to miss his contribution, entitled Geraldine's, to 32 Days of Natural Wine.

It's something I really should do more often. Take the day trip to New York, I mean, pig roast and Barolo or no.

The Modern
9 W 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 333-1220
The Modern on Urbanspoon

11 E 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022
(212) 308-1099
Alto on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for being there.


David McDuff said...

'Twas my pleasure, Levi. Great to see you again, and the rest of the crew. Thanks again for the invite.


Joe Manekin said...

Don't know the pre ]- large two tone Rothko work, what's it like? Agreed on JJ's work, just doesn't speak to me.

David McDuff said...


My gut response as to what Rothko's early work is like is to compare it to a cross between Kandinsky and Miro, but less frenetic and more minimal than either. To get a real feel for it, though, start here.


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