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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Travels with Sam

Metroland Retrospective Dept.: Where did I dine two decades ago? At Sam Zoleo’s newest restaurant. He ran Sam’s Place in Saratoga before opening 95 Ferry in Troy, but took that name with him when he returned to Saratoga. He would go back to Troy with a couple of different ventures before leaving the business, as far as I can tell, in 2008, although I see he recently has offered cooking classes at the Troy Arts Center.

                                                                          
                    

SAM IS A PLEASANT MAN who gets very serious when the subject is food. “I use what’s fresh,” he says. “That’s why menu is written the way it is. There’s no swordfish on it, no tuna. How can you put things like that on a menu without having to bring them in frozen?”

Nothing to do with Sam's, but it's pretty
Fish, in fact, is a special obsession. Having worked for several years in New York’s Fulton Fish Market, Sam knows fish. “I get in a box of fish from someone I never bought fish from before, first thing I do is turn is upside-down. Open it from the bottom. Then I see what kind of fish they’re really putting in there.”

So the talapia I sampled the other night was fresh. In fact, I got the last order for the night. It’s a sturdy but slightly sweet salt-water fish, reminiscent of scrod. And everything assembled around it was fresh – the onions, the parsley, the basil. The black olives came out of a jar, but they need a little curing.

Sam used to run 95 Ferry Street in Troy, and Sam’s Diner on Route 9 just south of Saratoga before that. Now he’s back in Saratoga, but downtown, in a building that also houses a steakhouse and a sushi bar.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Taste of Immigration

Our twenty-fifth Thanksgiving dinner at Jollity Farm. While we can't help but salute the melting pot that is the greater culinary world each time we lift a skillet, we thought it fitting to pay extra attention to some of those making the news of late.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Sloth

A preview of my Jan. 24 show at Saratoga's Caffe Lena. Somehow it ties in with Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Smitten on the Keys

MASTERY OF PROKOFIEV’S PIANO MUSIC requires complete mastery of the piano: the composer wrote for (and possessed) a blistering, ambitious technique, and the required skill usually is demonstrated with later works such as the Sixth and Seventh Sonatas. But pianist Yefim Bronfman reminded us that the same challenges await among the lower numbers by performing Prokofiev’s first four sonatas at Union College in Schenectady last Wednesday. And, in a wonderful programming choice, he slipped a bit of Schumann in there as well.

Yefim Bronfman
This allowed us to hear Prokofiev’s progress. The journey from his first sonata, from 1909 when he was 18, to the second, published three years later, is a trip whereon he discovers the voice that remained recognizably his. And the Schumann pieces reinforced Prokofiev’s essentially romantic nature.

No nonsense when Bronfman begins! He strides to the piano, takes a cursory bow, and is playing the opening work almost before he’s seated, it seems. Prokofiev’s First Sonata is a one-movement work, cut down by the composer from its original three, written while he was a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. It immediately asserts the romantic sensibility that never would leave the composer’s voice, but it’s free of the crunch and angularity that very soon would appear. Still, I’m not sure I’d want to meet this piece in a dark alley without warning.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Towards a More Perfect Union

From the Metroland Vault Dept.: Meeting larger-than-life actor George DiCenzo in 1987 meant dining with him as well, and we ended up sharing a typically excellent meal at Schenectady’s Appian Way restaurant, livened by DiCenzo’s animated storytelling. He went on to appear in the films 18 Again!, Sing and The Exorcist III, as well as such TV shows as Murder, She Wrote, NYPD Blue, Equal Justice, and Joe's Life. He appeared on Broadway in a revival of On Borrowed Time, directed by his friend George C. Scott. DiCenzo died in 2010.

                                                                                             

GEORGE DICENZO WOULD LIKE TO SEE A NEW THEATRE at Union College. But that’s not the reason he sepnt a week there shooting a promotional video for the college.

George DiCenzo in Dynasty.
“I love this place,” he says. “I’m just happy to do it.” DiCenzo graduated from Union in 1962 with the intent to practice law. But he had done enough acting with the college Mountebanks to suggest that he try that somewhat less reliable career – which he has pursued with enough success that he now can choose his own movie roles.

Recent appearances in Back to the Future and About Last Night have made him a recognizable fellow, so when Union alumni watch this new video, they’ll see his burly, bearded figure strolling the grounds of the campus, visiting classrooms, suggesting that the old alma mater is a desirable place to check in with now and then.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Greek to Me

From the Metroland Vault Dept.: Saluting my too-many years as Metroland’s restaurant reviewer, here’s another from the early days. In fact, it’s the last one I wrote before taking a hiatus for two years, returning in 1990 after a succession of other writers discovered that it wasn’t as simple a task as it seemed. The Chariot is long gone, its space currently occupied by an Indian eatery.

                                                                                            

EVER HAVE ONE OF THOSE DAYS when you can't think of anything good to eat? When there's nothing in the house, you don't want to send out for another pizza, you've been to the local Chinese place a dozen times in the last month, you don't want to see another piece of steak and you know if you don't think of something soon you're going to end up in the frozen food aisle of Price Chopper choosing yet another crappy microwave pseudo-gourmet dinner?

The Chariot's building, as pictured during
one of its on-the-market moments.
Al “To Hell with Hallowe’en” Quaglieri and I were supposed to get together for dinner and couldn’t think of a damn thing we wanted to tuck into. Until someone suggested a Greek restaurant down in the west end of Guilderland. An idea so refreshing that we were joined by significant others in a meal that was as delightful as it was different.

The Chariot was erected in a time when dining rooms were big places, happy hotel-like spreads unrelieved by varying levels and dividers of plants. It’s attractive in that context, with a warm bar off to one side of the room and a small selection of salads promising that no guest will stay hungry for long.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Bucket Listing

Remembering Metroland Dept.: While I don’t think the body has stopped breathing, while Metroland remains in its coda, I’m exhuming some of my vintage pieces for the redoubtable alt-weekly. Here’s a preview-review combo from 1987, when I covered dance. Garth Fagan is still holding strong at 75, and his company will perform at Proctors in Schenectady on Jan. 29, 2016.

                                                                                                   

GARTH FAGAN HAD A STRAIGHTFORWARD AMBITION: Invent a new kind of dance. It meant ignoring the conservative critics; it meant developing a company free of the preconceptions of the worlds of modern and ballet. So he went to the bottom of the bucket, as he whimsically put it, created a company out of dancers her trained himself – and now, after almost 20 years at it, he’s seeing that goal get nearer.

Garth Fagan
As Anne Marie Welsh, writing in the San Diego Union after Fagan’s Bucket Dance Theater’s very recent appearance there, put it, “The genealogy of modern dance now includes Garth Fagan, the newest choreographer to add a new branch to the modern tree.”

“I like that,” says Fagan. His Jamaican heritage is very much in his voice, a voice that has the fat sound of a chalumeau clarinet. “The company is in such wonderful condition after five weeks in California that we’re ready to burn in Albany.”

They’ll be appearing at the Egg Sunday afternoon at 2 in a program that comprises “Prelude,” “Oatka Trail,” “Touring Jubilee 1924 (Professional),” “Never Top 40 (Juke Box)” and “Mask Mix Masque.”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Prokofiev, with a Fist

From the Vault Dept.: Pianist Yuja Wang has out a new album sporting Ravel’s two concertos and the Ballade by Fauré, and its cover photo inspired a snotty lede from David Hurwitz in his ClassicsToday review, a topic well covered by my friend John Montanari. To self-aggrandize for a moment, one of my own earliest concert reviews included a similarly snotty crack about a performer’s outfit; my comment about his dressing up earned me a deserved dressing down, and I’ve since tried to focus on the performance itself, as in the review below.

                                                                           
                      

DURING A FRENZIED MOMENT in the opening of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6, the manuscript is marked, over a dense chord, “col pugno.” When she reached it, pianist Yuja Wang curled her fingers into a fist and skillfully smacked the keys, the percussive surprise of the moment executed with an inspiring combination of precision and charm

Yuja Wang
We’re so accustomed to the proficiency level of the top-flight pianists who live in or pass through this area that when an exceptional talent like this one appears, it takes a moment to register that something even more extraordinary than usual is happening on stage.

Yuja Wang is a 24-year-old enjoying a phenomenal career, having already appeared with many major orchestras, in many cases as a last-minute replacement. She made a splash three years ago in concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Saturday’s solo recital at Albany’s Massry Center should only add to her legend.

The big piece was Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, a four-movement but nonstop work that opens with some ominous octaves that, in Wang’s hands, suggested the sweep with which Horowitz took on the piece. But what most energizes her approach is a control over the dynamics that shades the textures with a more colorful palette than I’m used to hearing.