NYC Summer Adventure: Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens

socrates sculpture park summer 2015 living pyramidThe Socrates Sculpture Park, located at the western end of Broadway in Long Island City, Queens (about a half mile walk from the N/Q station), is one of the great grass-roots success stories of the past few decades here in New York City. In 1986 a group of local activists and artists banded together and, with some help and leadership from world-renowned sculptor Mark di Suverno, transformed an illegal dumping ground and abandoned landfill into both a working studio and a public exhibition space right on the banks on the East River. Nearby LIC residents make great use of the space as a pleasant place to do everything you might normally do in a park, but it's the two primary exhibitions, one in the spring, one in the fall, that always bring me to this tranquil little spot. Like last week, for instance, when I made the trek to see the five new works taking over this NYC gem.

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7 Santiago Calatrava Sculptures Line Park Avenue

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This hasn't been an easy time here in New York City for the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. His World Trade Center Transit Hub–officially called Bird In Flight but sneered at by critics as a "kitsch stegosaurus", or a dead fish, or a picked-over Thanksgiving turkey–is some eight years behind schedule, $2 billion over budget, and STILL not open, though apparently we will get to go inside a portion of it "soon". I happen to think it's aesthetically pretty amazing, and am looking forward to the time when we'll all have freedom of movement throughout the whole site, but the outrage over the cost and snark about the design has taken its toll on the architect, who recently told the Wall Street Journal, "I have been treated like a dog." In the meantime though, as all of that plays out downtown, Calatrava has another, much simpler and really quite lovely thing going on in Midtown, an exhibition of seven new sculptures on the Park Avenue median in the low 50s.      

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NYC’s Best Ice Cream List Adds Two New Contenders

nyc-best-ice-cream-milkmade-tasting-room-flightTrue story: I've eaten ice cream every day for just about sixteen years now. And, for the record, with as much frequency as is normal for all of my (many) years before then. I started the daily routine for a very specific reason, and though pretty much everything else has changed since then, the ice cream habit gloriously remains. The point, though, is this: I've tried a LOT of different brands and purveyors in my day, and am unforgiving when it comes to anything mediocre or worse. Which is why I'm genuinely thrilled that two brand-new, highly-anticipated parlors–Ice & Vice on the Lower East Side, MilkMade Tasting Room in Carroll Gardens–not only live up their promise, but need to be immediately included on any Best NYC Ice Cream lists.

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The Summer Guide To Governors Island

Have you been to Governors Island yet this season? I missed the great Figment Participatory Art Festival for the first time in years earlier this month–June was been crazy full with fun parties and spectacles–but the good news for laggards like me is that several of the event's primary attractions remain in place all summer long. I took the afternoon boat from Manhattan's Maritime Building over to Governors Island last Thursday (remember: the island is open every day again this summer!) and while it felt a bit lonely, the adventure gave me a good opportunity to check out all of the new installations left behind by the Figment crew down there at the southern end of the park's magnificent Parade Ground.

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Exploring America’s Great Migration at MoMA

jacob lawrence great migration moma suitcases

It's one of the most significant (and, to my mind, one of the most interesting) stories in American history, the epic tale of the "Great Migration" of American blacks, as six million descendants of slaves fled the Jim Crow south to the cities of the north and west between the First World War and 1970, and forever changed pretty much everything about the nation, economically, culturally, politically, sociologically. There's so much to this vast demographic shift, the implications so deep and lasting, that it's impossible to fully capture in a single art exhibition, or book, but two recent endeavors–one an exhibition at MoMA, the other a Pulitzer Prize-winning book–do an excellent job of bringing the story to life. 

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Your Guide to Rockaway Beach 2015

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No question, Rockaway Beach got hit hard by Hurricane Sandy almost three years ago, and recovery's been slow-going in parts, but there's also no doubt in my mind that Rockaway Beach remains New York City's best subway beach. By which I mean: exit the subway, and you're just two blocks or so from the water. Farther out on Rockaway there are a couple of terrific public beaches, at Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park, but you'll need a car, or a bike, or a bus, to get there. But to get to what most people call Rockaway Beach, the A train, usually plus the Shuttle, puts you right there. I went out to Rockaway a couple of times over Memorial Day Weekend, mostly around the popular Beach 90 to Beach 99 area, and here's a quick look at what's new, and what still needs some work.

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Dominque Ansel Kitchen takes to the West Village

dominique ansel kitchen west village outdoor

The first time I gorged myself silly at Dominique Ansel's Bakery in Soho it was back when we all still lived in the pre-Cronut world. Yes, Ansel was much-acclaimed at the time (he was the Executive Pastry Chef at Daniel for six years before venturing out on his own), and the small, friendly shop was usually pretty bustling. But it was neighborhood crowd mostly, as would be expected at any bakery. And then Ansel unleashed his mad-genius Cronut monster, and soon the Bakery opened every morning to around-the-block lines, every tourist guide in on the planet sent visitors to his place, and a tremendous amount of hype greeted his every next creation. For example: the Frozen S'mores, and the Cookie Shots, which still might be my personal favorite Ansel creation (full disclosure: I've never had a Cronut). And now the chef has finally expanded his realm here in NYC with the brand-new Dominique Ansel Kitchen in the West Village which, in a pair of bold moves, serves about a half dozen savory dishes, and absolutely zero Cronuts. 

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One World Observatory Now Open to the Public

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It took eleven years to build, which sometimes seemed like forever. Especially that first half decade or so when there was just that monster hole in the ground, and the construction process was more about meetings and arguments than the actual laying of steel. And then, after a burst of building, all of a sudden One World Trade Center was done, with the first tenants moving in last fall, and, last week, the One World Observatory on the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors–the piece that the rest of us were waiting for–opened to the public. As expected, tens of thousands of tourists eagerly plunked down at least $32 for the privilege of seeing for miles in all directions on opening weekend, but there were plenty of locals in the crowd as well, including myself. Here's my report.

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Your Guide to the Best June Events in NYC Parks

best-events-nyc-parks-please-touch-brooklyn-bridge-park

First, it's important to note that you don't have to "do" anything to enjoy virtually any one of New York City's more than 1,700 public parks, stretching out over 28,000 acres across the five boroughs (and that doesn't include the 18 miles of public beaches!). True, there are some spaces among that number that remain in a state of neglect, sad holdovers from the general decrepitude of 1970s and '80s, but for the most part NYC parks are in better shape, with more community activity, than they've ever been, certainly in my lifetime. And a big driver and consequence of all that renewal are the countless special events–often organized with the help of private organizations and commercial sponsors–that have become an integral part of the greener parts of the city's landscape. Here's a quick look at a tiny fraction of some of these upcoming or ongoing events and exhibitions.  

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Why Semilla is One of NYC’s Best Restaurants Right Now

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One of the most exciting things for me about the New York City restaurant scene this past decade has been the emergence of semi-cheffy, startlingly tasty comfort food in low-priced restaurants. Burgers, pizza, tacos, mac-n-cheese, salads, fried chicken, ramen, grilled cheese, barbecue, dumplings, sandwiches, bagels… really every category of this sort of "basic food" has seen a host of first-rate places opening everywhere, a real boon to people like me who like to eat a lot of good food. That said, there are also those special occasions where a bit of a splurge is in order, and when I welcome the concurrent NYC restaurant trend of wildly inventive and insanely delicious multi-course tasting menus. For example: the vegetable-forward Semilla, a thoroughly remarkable place in Williamsburg that offers a fixed, ten (or so)-course menu every night for $75, and at which I had what will almost certainly be one of my favorite meals of the year. 

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