10-20-2021
Sufjan Stevens
A Beginner's Mind

Sufjan Stevens has been in the mix for so long now. Michigan was like, what, 20 years ago? So long! And what's interesting is that, this whole time (so long), every Sufjan release has felt like some sort of event. They've been grand experiments, comforting returns to form, stylistic left turns, theatrical projects, deeply personal confessions. Whether or not they've all been successful (though he does have a better 20-year batting average than most), they've all felt like something happening. A Sufjan release makes you notice.

A Beginner's Mind is the first new Sufjan album that I can really remember that just kinda came out and that's that. I think there's a bit of a theme to it: it's technically an album co-attributed to Angelo De Augustine, written and recorded by the two of them during the pandemic, locked up in a cabin somewhere, seemingly writing songs about the movies they were watching and books they were reading. Or something like that? The point is that isn't really important in this case. It's not a grand testament about life and the cosmos. It's not a confessional ode to his parents. It's just a nice collection of songs, maybe his best in a handful of years. A comforting return to form.

07-16-2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

04-01-2015
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell

Everyone's flipping out about Carrie & Lowell, calling it maybe Sufjan's best album, praising its deep honesty, all that stuff. Look, I like it. It's super pretty to listen to, it has some lovely and dark lyrical moments, great restrained arrangements. It's a great piece of work. But it's certainly no Illinois or Michigan. I'm not even sure it's better than Seven Swans. But it's plenty good to make me forget about The Age of Adz.

10-23-2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

That 25 minute song at the end of The Age Of Adz, the one which I skipped the first time around because 'come on, it's a 25 minute track at the end of the album!", turns out to be the best thing on the album. Who'da thought? Between that and the 11-minute title track and the 17-minute "Djohariah" from his All Delighted People EP from a few months ago, he could've had an incredible 3-track record, which would still clock in at nearly twice the length of Weezer's green album. And I would've been a happy camper. But as it stands, he's put out 3 tracks of genius and 16 tracks of filler this year, which, mathematically, is not in his favor.

10-16-2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I've given this a couple admittedly unfocused listens so far, and am left not feeling strongly in one way or another. It's definitely a grower. It's definitely a headphone album. And it's definitely the best use of trombone from an indie rocker this year (although Joanna's "Good Intentions Paving Company" seemed like the runaway trombone song of the year). Beyond that, we're left with a bunch of squelching, squealing electronic experiments, which may or may not have good songs hidden under them. I haven't figured that part out yet.

10-13-2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I don't know.

08-23-2010
Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People

Sufjan Stevens released this "EP" completely out of nowhere this weekend, which I think is great, and is something artists should do more often. And while I'm only halfway through the first track (the 11-minute title track), the only thing that keeps coming to my mind is how similar it is, in a few different ways, to the music and arrangements on the new Joanna Newsom album (other than the fact that this is an EP and that was a triple LP). Which is awesome.

06-11-2022
Mariscos El SubmarinoQueens
Ceviche

Who knew that I loved ceviche? Raw fish dowsed in citrus and seasoning, I don't know, doesn't sound like my thing. But after an eye opening experience at Caleta 111 a while back, and now my local NYT-approved "hidden gem" of a Mexican ceviche place Mariscos El Submarino, I think I'm on board with this whole endeavor. And when I say NYT-approved, I really mean that Submarino has been appearing on every Best Of list in a bunch of different publications this year. You'd usually assume that means it's some sort of cool new hotspot, but there's truly nothing cool about this place. And not even in a "cruddy little hole in the wall" way. Their logo is a clip art cartoon of a yellow submarine with a (probably offensive but not really?) stereotypical Mexican mustache on it. I mean I guess there is a certain string of Bushwickian thinking that would lead that to be cool, but just trust me that it is not that. The walls are covered in other fish cartoons, and the entire place is inhumanely lit with bright white fluorescent lights.

But the ceviche! Wow! I mean, I guess wow, because I thought it was delicious, and seemingly does every food writer in New York. But like I said, I truly have only had ceviche like 3 times in my life now, so hell if I have any idea what makes it good or bad. But just on pure enjoyment alone, hell yeah, I'd say this is some excellent damn ceviche.

06-11-2022
98k HamburgerQueens
Chicken sandwich

So I'm trying this new burger-slash-chicken place in my neighborhood (well rather, the adjacent and heavily Chinese and Taiwanese neighborhood of Elmhurst), 98k Hamburger. It's fairly new, I'd seen it before and thought that I'd give it a shot some day. It's mostly unremarkable from the outside, other than they have an odd logo that almost looks something like a gun scope? Who knows.

But as I'm waiting for my order inside, I see that there's some sort of crossed-rifle military or paramilitary crossed-gun insignia stenciled on all of their seats. Very odd, definitely not an accident, but suddenly their gun scope logo makes some sort of sense. I don't really understand the design decision, maybe they just got the chairs from some surplus outlet that made them for a different client?

But then I go around the corner from the register after ordering, and in the hall leading to the bathroom there are these giant vinyl wall graphics, both high contrast, like comic-book style black and white. One is a woman in a military hat holding a small machine gun. One is a guy with a stocking cap pointing a handgun towards the camera. WTF? So aggressive! But weirdly familiar?

Then I look further down the hall into the open door of the bathroom, and when I see the vinyl design on the bathroom wall suddenly it all makes sense; my god, this is a PUBG themed restaurant.

A quick google of "98k PUBG" showed me that the Kar 98, aka the 98k, is a very popular sniper rifle in the game. And that the crossed rifles of the military insignia on the seats were indeed the silhouette of the 98k. I further noticed the phrase "Winner winner chicken dinner" vinyled on another wall, which initially made sense for it being a chicken restaurant, but suddenly made way more sense in the context of a fucking PUBG themed burger and chicken place randomly on the streets of Queens.

It's so weird! The oddest part being how they don't like really go for it, y'know? If you don't notice the rifle insignias, or go back to the bathroom and see the PUBG logo behind the toilet, you wouldn't really guess what's happening. Because otherwise the restaurant is a very average, plain, independent fast food counter, playing some adult-contemporary Chinese pop music on the radio and the weather channel looping on a TV in the corner.

And yes the chicken sandwich was a winner.

05-26-2022
Chun YangQueens
Toffee cheese foam cocoa latte

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

05-22-2022
PARTEAQueens
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.

05-22-2022
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.

05-17-2022
Umami BurgerManhattan
Burger

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.