Eatable Things: Roti Roll

roti roll

Part one of Indian Food Month here at цarьchitect covers the frankie, probably the best post-bacchanalian food, and also the most delicious vegetarian fast food. In college, I was lucky enough to live not far from a little joint called Roti Roll. From the tiny storefront, they served up massive indian dishes wrapped in a slightly-fried whole wheat Indian bread called roti. Unlike naan, roti is unleavened, which makes it much cheaper, but also a little less fluffy. Because it’s flat, it makes an ideal edible food container. Though, unlike tortilla, roti is pretty thick, so you still have a really satisfying squish when you bite into it.

Now, because the college I attended has a remarkably incompetent administration, I had the brief opportunity to go up and grab one the other day. I came in from the cold and got my prize: the Unda Aloo Masala frankie (pictured above). Inside its shell, you’ve got a mass of almost-melted potatoes and peas with a little egg for moisture. It brings soft satisfaction to every part of your gullet. The Aloo Gobi Muttar variant has a moister mix of peas and cauliflower that’s more refined, even if it’s not pure carbolipid ecstasy. The Aloo Masala and Masala Unda are minimalist for the dieting/poor drunkard. And if you insist on carnivorating your Indian food, the Chicken Malai frankie and Chicken Lollipop (not a wrap) are good choices.

If you’re in New York, hop on up the B/D up to 110th street. Especially if it’s cold, and you’re a little sloppy, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better. There are other Indian places in New York that serve fast Indian food including frankies, primarily serving the taxi-driver set, and 53rd&6th Chicken and Rice is a legend unto itself, but I’m feeling nostalgic today.

I think what I’m saying here is that DC needs to get a frankie joint. This is a multi-kulti extravaganza of a city – it should taste like one. It’s practically destiny. Despite Dave Stroup’s White-Guilt-fueled “it must be racist” silliness about the Fojol Bros.’ getups, If they, or any other food entity set up a frankie cart in DC, I’d make the pilgrimage. Weekly.

Karl Kroeber 1926-2009

Karl Kroeber

Proud academic and children’s literature critic Karl Kroeber passed away today after a long struggle with cancer. Kroeber had a 50+ year career in education, working on eclectic subjects across literature, but most significantly American Indian literature. In recent years, he railed with a lovable grumpiness against the dumbing down of books and films aimed at the under-12 set. When interviewed by the Blue and White in 2007, he put it this way:

The other side of it, what goes with [my opinion of] Disney, is [my reaction to] this grade-level business, this idea that you must not write a book for a 7-year-old that includes words a 7-year-old might not understand. This is how you encourage dumbing down.

Regrettably, I was never able to fit one of his classes into my schedule, but a single lecture and all the google searching had to suffice for consuming his really brilliant work. The rest of his family is equally distinguished, with an anthropologist father and mother, and celebrated author for a sister (the K. In Ursula K. Le Guin is for Kroeber).

He was also that kind of professor that garnered a large cult following, due in no small part to his open love of scotch and his cat, Mr. Underfoot. Oh, he was also an incredibly nice and generous man. He will be missed.

Now, Ourousoff is just clueless

Nicolai Ourousoff, the architecture critic (or something) for the New York Times, has lately been letting out evidence of what a lightweight polywanker he really is. The most recent evidence that he has no idea what is going on in the architecture profession came in a reflection on the death of Charles Gwathmey, in which he lamented the lack of heroes in the New York architecture scene. First off, it’s ludicrous to whine about New York losing its hegemony over the design field, like rich white men whining about discrimination. Secondly, it shows ignorance of the many cutting-edge practices in New York he claims do not exist or otherwise do not count. Finally, it’s backwards to wax nostalgic over the handful of heroes whose primary accomplishment was to separate formal Modernism from its revolutionary social program.

Gwathmeys final building, one of his best. Click for more pictures
Gwathmey's final building, one of his best. Click for more.

Luckily, цarьchitect favorite Andrew Bernheimer, defended fair Manhattan’s honor. Bernheimer mentions a number of practices that perfectly suit Ourousoff’s criteria, except that the architects have remained committed to teaching and social issues, in addition to formal investigation and self-promotion. This is just basic research he could do – he doesn’t even mention Diller Scofidio + Renfro, even as they drive the East Coast architecture scene. Besides, it sounds like Ourousoff is simply looking for new autonomous heroes to worship, rather than supporting teams of architects that manage to maintain their individuality while also accepting responsibility for the environment, the public, and the context. After all, the New York Five made their careers through wealthy patrons with large, auto-centric houses. The future cannot sustain those kinds of heroes. That period is over.

Just fire the kid already, he won’t learn unless he fails.

Eatable Things: Italian Pizza Kitchen

Pizza is a staple of American cuisine. Good pizza, however, is hard to find outside of a few metropolises where Italian immigrants settled. Chicago, New Haven, and, of course, New York lead the pack. For more designer pies, the urban boho can easily acquire a california-style pizza in any place touched by Whole Foods. For a simple, cheese-sauce-bread combination handmade from fresh, straightforward ingredients, getting a pizza that’s delicious is rare.

margherita from the italian pizza kitchen
Who knew DeKooning could be so delicious!?

Middle path density gets some news

Option A
Option A (by nydiscovery on flickr)

This  past weekend, the East Bay Express (a paper in Oakland), wrote a fairly balanced article about the battles over densification in Oakland and Berkeley. Although it took as its subject a particularly acerbic debate over local development projects, the scenario is the same everywhere. The article presents three largely oppositional theses: tall buildings are environmentally sound, all density is environmentally unsound, and that density can mean Paris as well as Manhattan. Each one is given a fair voice, but ultimately only the middle path comes out looking informed.

Of course the commenters jumped out of the starting blocks and onto their respective causes: the electric car, renewable energy, zero population growth, THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS, planting “subsistence” gardens in quarter-acre lots, and obviously the meme that developers are profiteers and gentrifiers. But what none of these people seemed to see was that the options of a pleasant human environment and a limited footprint on the natural world are not mutually exclusive.

Option B (from baslow on flickr)
Option B (from baslow on flickr)

Read the article; take a look at the section on pages 3 & 4 in particular, where Mike Pyatok, an architect with decades of experience, drops the usual truth bombs.

In an environment with artificial scarcity by way of outdated and strict zoning, the costs of land allotted to tall development, prices will be too high, even for luxury development. 5-8 story buildings are cheaper, more comfortable, and more energy efficient on a regional scale. Similarly, the need for a large footprint to justify the vertical costs means a less refined urban grain and less human-scale detail and fewer potential owners.

As long as cities are lusting for the skinny towers of 1920s New York, opponents will only see a superblock grime of the 1970s. Unfortunately, those skinny towers never made much money and definitely won’t nowadays. So, many opponents are simply reacting to unreasonable visions of the future with equally wrong visions of dystopia. Expect to see knees jerking until city councils and armchair planners ask for middle density.

Breaking the Transit Cartel

Today, Streetsblog followed the New York Times in running an astonishing expose on the newest cartel to move in. Unlike most cartels, these guys have both power and political influence in their vast network:

Through a complex network spanning at least four continents, [Gil] Peñalosa funnels innovations from one city to the next. Formerly the parks commissioner of Bogotá, Colombia — where his brother, Enrique, is known as the godfather of “Bus Rapid Transit” — Peñalosa is the mastermind behind the “Mexico City hop,” an intellectual property route whereby Latin American BRT cartels reach massive North American markets with an unslakeable thirst for surface transit improvements.

OK. Obvious parody. Yet when you read the New York Times article on the subject, you can see why satire can come so easily:

In the process, she has run up a travel bill of about $35,000, according to city records. And in some cases, Ms. Sadik-Khan has allowed outsiders, including transportation advocacy groups, to help foot the bill.

So, yes, she did what any professional of a certain caliber does, visiting example projects and speaking at conventions. Sadik-Khan is a professional, not a politician, so issues of working with advocacy groups and going to conferences are likewise professional.  Admittedly, the Times is just reporting on something they found, but the conspiratorial tone over $470 airline flights and a total expense less than the Mayor’s monthly transportation costs is simply whacked. The Times has been playing to the highway set so desperately that they’ve lost credibility. Decent reporting, I suppose, but the creeping editorial is pathetic.

Biggest urban gamble of the past 20 years opens

The High Line opened today. The much-vaunted and extremely chic park built on a former railroad viaduct south of Penn Station will be a test of both urban design theories and the exceptionality of New York. Diller Scofidio + Renfro have built what appears to be a truly beautiful modern park that appeals to theorists as much as hipsters and bankers. It’s also an elevated pedestrian structure, with limited access and some other design decisions that contradict basic public space design practice. But it’s popular and it’s going to get a lot of attention; many cities are already looking to copy it. 

There hasn’t been a place in New York that deserves close  observation since the West Village in 1961. The degree to which this works could change the way governments approach marginal spaces, just as the Embarcadero and the Central Artery/Tunnel projects have show the civic potential of highway removal. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is the same.

Is America ready for an Urban President?

This weekend, the Obamas went on a personal trip, to New York City, eating at the chic Blue Hill Restaurant before seeing August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, before returning home. Their not-so-little-trip was only one of a handful they have been having, beginning with a trip to the Kennedy Center in February, their night at Citronelle, the pre-inauguration trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Joe and Barry’s Excellent Adventure back earlier this month. There are probably others events I’ve omitted, but add his preference for basketball to the mix, and it’s not quite brush clearing. 

Their nights out reflect a certain kind of lifestyle, an elite urban one. The ability to ditch the kids for a few hours and get out to a nice restaurant is precisely the sort of habit that is vaunted by pro-urban activists and expected of cities by young people looking forward to the freedom of the city. It’s luxurious, it’s cool, and it’s only possible in a city. Even for denizens of suburbia, a night in town is still obviously possible, but you still have to go into town, even if you start and end elsewhere. As for the elite part, anything any president does will be tinged with a degree of fanciness, for better or worse.

Not unlike Bill Clinton’s much-publicized jogging in the Nineties, I wonder whether Obama’s enjoyment of city life will raise attention – and elevate the place of  – something many people are already doing. Americans were already crowding into Broadway shows and going out to dinner, and going into urban centers for dates. There is nothing new here, but the perception has historically been that these activities do not jive with the populist image that comes with the Resolute Desk. 

At the same time, the more recent trips outside the White House do not depict the less glamorous benefits of cities. They reinforce the sort of young, fashionable life that has always been associated with date nights; they do not demonstrate that more prosaic aspects of life, especially with children, are still possible. Hot nightlife might be attracting people to the city for a boozy 10-year sojourn, but it doesn’t keep them. Comfortable neighborhoods and convenient shopping do. Perhaps Obama’s recent trip to the Palisades to watch his daughter play soccer is a reasonable balance to the condo-advertisement life that has otherwise made the news. 

On the other hand, no Twentieth-Century President has lived a particularly ordinary life, not mowing his grass or running down to CVS to get cough medicine. It might be unreasonable to expect a world leader to move the culture of country by example in those areas. The best citizens can expect, then, is better policy. If he delivers that, a night out doesn’t have to mean anything.

Three interesting things

Metropolis ran an article online discussing the unorthodox business model the firm Delle Valle Bernheimer employs. They have begun integrating development into their portfolio, realizing that controlling all elements of a project essentially cuts a lot of inefficiency from the process of getting something you care about built. In addition to giving them a high degree of control in regards to design and quality, it tempered their exuberance by bringing issues of engineering, cost, budgeting, and dealing with problems into their realm, on their bottom line.  Their strategy is not new – it’s a standard practice called design-build-operate/maintain – but this is one of the first boutique architecture firms to employ it. 

But back wen DB were just getting started, a depraved genius named Zak Smith managed to produce illustrations of each page of the book Gravity’s Rainbow. Somehow, he  managed to sit down and produce 760 works of art, in multiple media, depicting pretty much everything that happens in the book, in some way or another. I haven’t had a look at the whole thing, but the sheer amount of creativity would make an edition of Thomas Pynchon’s book with these drawings a worthwhile purchase.

And also terms of good (early) works, Metropolis has nicely been hosting blog posts about Yale’s First-year house project, where they also design-build a house for a local rent-to-own program.