Aimee Mann
Queens of the Summer Hotel

Sometimes I start a post by saying "Here's a weird one!"

Well this one's a weird one(!) on two fronts. First, despite being an Aimee Mann album, this isn't exactly an "Aimee Mann album." But it is. But not. What it is is for the last few years, she's been writing songs for a stage musical based off of Girl, Interrupted. Over time it was becoming less of a musical and more of a standard stage play, so she just decided to record the songs on her own and release it as an album. And it's good! It works! And it's an interesting listen, because these songs really do read as being constructed for Broadway (or, rather, off-Broadway) versus your traditional Aimee Mann collection. In fact it even injects some interesting tweaks to what has become a somewhat formulaic body of work over the years. There's full string orchestration, interesting structural twists and turns, some dimensional rhyme schemes. It's a nice sit!

Which brings me to the second weird point here. I bought this album on Bandcamp, paid for it but couldn't download it immediately. The next day, it was gone. No longer on Bandcamp! A week later, it was back, and then gone again. At this point, it's somehow on my phone's Bandcamp app, but not on my desktop, and it's not available to actually download. I emailed Bandcamp about it and they claim the artist "violated our terms of use." No idea what that could've been. But I guess they didn't actually charge me. And I can still listen to the album on my phone, I guess?

Love this new digital streaming economy of ours.

Aimee Mann
Mental Health

Hey this Aimee Mann album is real good! I feel like it's been a long time since I've been able to say that; not that there's anything bad about her last three (or four), but they've all just felt a little uninspired. This one is a nice little 'reset,' very calm and understated, primarily just Aimee and a guitar, with some minimal extra arrangement every now and then. Just lovely. But, I will say, a long-time issue I've had with her writing really makes itself known here: Lyrically, she has a tendency to write in couplets. Very simple and predictable A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D rhyme schemes. I've noticed it over the years with her, but this time around I was about to yell half the time, just thinking "If the ends the next line by rhyming 'down' with 'gown,' I'm going to lose it." And then she rhymes down with gown. Still, it's a really nice record, with better songs than she's written in years, and it's mellow and goes down smooth. I'll take it.

Aimee Mann
I'm With Stupid

I'm officially slotting this into the #2 spot on the Aimee Mann Discography Rankings* (behind Bachelor No. 2, duh). It's good, and I feel like I always ignore it when choosing which Aimee Mann album to listen to** for the evening.

* This does not count the Magnolia soundtrack, which would be neck and neck with Bachelor, because it's not really actually a real actual album, really.

** By which I mean "listen to half of," because as much as I love Aimee Mann, I can generally only can stand about 6–7 songs before I need a break. This of course doesn't count for the Magnolia soundtrack, which not really actually a real actual album, really.

Aimee Mann
Live at First Avenue

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo played a show at First Avenue, and it was great, yes. Ted played solo with just an electric guitar, and Aimee played with a band of absolute pros (it's nice to see a band made of of legit musicians, even if they're a bunch of 50 year old LA studio guys), and busted out a trio of my favorite Magnolia soundtrack songs that very well could've made me cry if I wasn't a real man. But my biggest takeaway from the night was just how reasonable and nice and friendly they both seemed. I kind of had an idea going in, what with Ted's random calls into the Best Show on WFMU and Aimee's connections with Largo and the LA comedy world, but it was just so nice to watch them on stage and listen to their between song banter, because it all came from this totally pure, humble, self-effacing place or realizing that the whole rock show/tour/life is pretty ridiculous, without making a mockery of it. Plus the fact that, musically, they're both at the point in their careers, 20 years in, where they have absolute control over their craft, and haven't fooled themselves into thinking they are anything other than what they are, which sounds like an insult, but I think it's totally respectable. My point being: the show was a joy, and I'm glad Ted Leo and Aimee Mann exist.

Aimee Mann

Sounds like every record she's put out in the last 12 years. I like it.

Chun YangQueens
Toffee cheese foam cocoa latte

Best toffee cheese foam cocoa latte I've ever had.

Taiwanese pork chop sandwich

This place Partea (formerly Play Date, I don't know if the rebranding is a step up or down), is right in the heart of Flushing, and is basically an arcade that only contains claw machine games. I'm sure if you're into that thing it's probably pretty fun. But up front, they also serve bubble tea, and an assortment of fried chickeny things, and fries, and maybe some simple dumplings. I never thought much of this place walking by it, until one day they were advertising this new Taiwanese pork chop sandwich. Now, I'm sucker for a fried pork loin sandwich, which basically are impossible to find here, and I did once have a Tawainese pork chop (also in Flushing), and thought it was delicious. So yes, I was immediately interested. A few weeks later I was finally in the right place at the right time, so here we go!

You might notice above that I posted a picture of the advertisement, rather than the actual sandwich. This is because the actual sandwich I was served looked perfect. Exactly like the professional photo. It was remarkable really. And it tasted nearly as ideal. Subtle, not some extreme taste explosion, but just a really nicely marinated and seasoned pork, some five-spice flavor vibes, fried just about perfectly, topped with some cole slaw and that was it. Honestly, it was good enough that a restaurant could basically use it as the cornerstone product of the entire menu. Like "Omg you have to go to this new Taiwanese pork chop sandwich place!" The fact that it was just a new menu item at this place that sells boba tea and hosts claw machine parties is pretty wild.

Arepas CafeQueens
Arepas de pernil

I don't have a lot to say about Arepas Cafe, other than that it was excellent, and I want it on the record here for when the day comes 6 months from now that I'm putting together my best of the year list.

Although it's funny that, considering that my neighborhood is deeply and thoroughly Colombian, with 200 different places to get arepas, but it was this cafe in Astoria that really knocked my socks off.

Umami BurgerManhattan

I think people don't like Umami Burger. I don't know what the whole deal is, but I know that the place, or places, started opening something like 7 or 8 or 9 years ago, one of the first like "fuck you we make expensive fast food under the guise of culture" sort of places that are now a little more commonplace. I remember seeing one or two Umami Burgers in random spots around town, but truly never thought much about them or heard anything.

Then earlier this month I started seeing sponsored Instagram posts and ads raving about Umami Burger's new recipes from our new chef! Seems like a bad sign when your entire chain has a new chef and you're seemingly starting from scratch. The problem was: those burgers looked real good in the photos.

So after a while, I discarded my shame, gave into social media advertising, and looked up the nearest Umami Burger. There's not many left. I also could not help to notice that its Google star rating was dire. Like 3 or 3.5 stars, which sounds okay until you realize that almost everything of even decent quality gets an easy 4 stars practically by default. Geez. But like, how bad could it be? So I ventured to some new glitzy food hall, not in the uber-glitzy Hudson Yards mall, but across from it, and got me a damn Umami Burger.

How bad could it be? Guess what? That was a sneaky red herring on my part! Because this burger was fantastic! Like, nearly perfect. I can't think of a thing to critique with it, and it truly was an umami burger, rich and savory and clearly had something beyond just beef going on in the patty. MSG? I don't care, it worked. It automatically jumped into the top, let's say 5, maybe even 3, burgers that I've had in this city. I also got some Japanese-pepper spiced fries, which were tasty, but more importantly came with this side of black garlic aioli, which was even better than the burger. Just absolutely mouth watering and addictive.

So I don't know what the deal with Umami Burger was. Maybe it sucked? Maybe it got too big for its britches? Maybe they started cheaping out on ingredients after a while? Maybe it got bad reviews because people didn't like paying $20 for a burger and fries? I can understand that. All I know, is I went to this "new" Umami Burger, sure I payed a little more than I would've at Wendy's (but not that much more than Five Guys), but I got one of the best burgers I've had in years.

Dallas BBQQueens
Barbecue ribs

If I asked you to name some iconic New York restaurants, we could all probably guess what might get listed. Katz's Deli. Russ & Daughters. Joe's Pizza. Momofuku. Shake Shack. Magnolia Bakery. Peter Luger.

But there's one place that, if you aren't from New York, I promise you didn't name, but if you've lived here for even a year or two, I could just as easily promise you did. And if you grew up here, it might actually be the first place on your list. Dallas BBQ.

Dallas BBQ is not a great barbecue joint. This isn't where you line up to get incredible platters of smoked brisket and sausage, nobody is about to even consider making an argument that it can compete with whatever other hometown barbecue joint you have in mind (such as, say, Hometown Barbecue down in Red Hook). Dallas BBQ is essentially Applebees. It's an affordable, big, loud, family-friendly sports bar-ish restaurant, which probably sells more chicken wings and margaritas every night than it does racks of ribs. There's about a dozen locations around the city, and as far as I can tell, it's solely a New York chain. And people love it.

And when I say "people," I mean people. Like, the actual "real" (scare quotes) New Yorkers that actually make up the majority of this city. Alec Baldwin has probably never been there. Your friend who lives in Bushwick has probably made fun of it in passing (although a fake Dallas BBQ lookalike was featured in Broad City as the location where Abbi and Ilana celebrate their anniversary every year, so it's possible your Bushwick friends once went there ironically). But for a ton of people in this city, Dallas BBQ is the place that you go for your son's birthday, or where you get drinks after a softball game, where your family goes after church, where you meet up with coworkers for happy hour every week, where teenagers can afford to go eat with friends on a Friday night. Like I said, it's Applebees. But as a friend of ours—a Queens native—put it: Dallas BBQ is for New Yorkers.

I'd usually jump in here and say, "And unlike Applebee's, it's actually good!" But honestly it's been so long since I've eaten at Applebees that I have no idea how that place holds up at this point in my life. Maybe it's fine?? But Dallas BBQ: yeah, it's actually pretty good!

Despite all my snark up there about Bushwick cool kids eating at Dallas BBQ ironically, I'd be lying if I said our visit there wasn't at least a little tongue in cheek. Like maybe 20%. But really it was just like, we felt like having some loud sports bar food, felt like going somewhere cheap and easy, and just said "Fuck it, let's actually go to Dallas BBQ and check it out!" I knew going in that they didn't actually have a ton of barbecue options. But I was slightly disappointed that the only ribs they offer are babyback ribs. Which, despite what Chili's would want you to think, are the crappiest cut of rib. Which is why Chilis and Applebees and Dallas serve them. They're cheap compared to spare ribs. But all things considered, these ribs were good! They were tender enough, not too fatty (I'm looking at you, Gentle Perch), and the sauce was tangy and had just enough personality that it didn't feel generic. I got a baked potato on the side, and it's pretty fucking hard to screw up a baked potato, so they nailed that too. Erin got some honey-lemon chicken which was fried, not smoked, which was disappointing, but still not too bad. And she also got a margarita the size of a tractor tire; almost everyone there seemed to have ordered a margarita the size of a tractor tire, I imagine that's mostly what keeps the place in business.

There's always talk and discussing and hemming and hawing about "real New Yorkers" versus transplants, locals versus tourists, rich versus mega-rich versus middle class versus poor. I don't want to say that Dallas BBQ is somehow in the center of it all bringing all those factions together—it's not that. But it absolutely is a place for "New Yorkers." Most people in this city aren't eating at Russ & Daughters every weekend. They can't afford Momofuku, probably haven't even heard of Balthazar or Eleven Madison Park, and absolutely don't care about whatever new hot pop-up is opening in Gowanus. But going to Dallas BBQ is the highlight of a lot of people's weeks. If you're ever in town, you absolutely don't need to go there, and I think there's something nice about that.