Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Metropolitan Museum

A trip to a major city is never complete without some culture - but I've learned over the years to cherry-pcik the best collections. This means that you get to see highlights, without suffering too many blisters or tired feet. (Seeing all of the galleries in the Prado, Madrid was not one of my holiday higlights). So, where do you head to in New York for some culture but to the Metropolitan Museum.

The Met's simple facade belies the elegant lobby that awaits visitors and the fantastic collections that it holds. With the aid of a map, we planned our course of attack on the exhibitions. First on our list was the Superhero fashion collection, which was the theme of this year's famous Met ball. The collection mixes pieces from top-end fashion designers with famous superhero costumes, while explaining the cultural signifance of the comic-book superhero. The exhibition isn't large but it is amazing and features costumes such as the Batman outfit from the first Christian Bale film, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman costume from Batman Returns, Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman outfit, the Spiderman outfits from Spider Man 3, the Superman costume from the original Superman movie and lastly, my favourite, the iron suit worn by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man.

Wow, imagine wearing that. I thought it looked great in the film, but it looked damn impressive in real life also. I would have gone to see any exhibition that displayed only these costumes, but the clever use of designer creations to complete the setpieces was amazing.

We then switched to the Armour and Weapons display, which has an impressive range of European armour on show. The gilded ceremonial armour of King Henry II of France (link) captivated me for a while and as I moved around the display, I wondered about the idea of encasing oneself in a metal suit, I imagined the weight and the feel and the lack of vision and mobility. (Incidentally, Henry II died as a result of an accident incurred in a tournament!) There was even a child's suit of armour, made for the Infante Luis, Prince of Asturias, constructued in 1712 and thought to be one of the last suits of armour made in the continent. (link)

An amazing piece in the exhibition is the last suit of armour worn by King Henry VIII of England. It is thought to be Italian in origin, but is the size of the suit that makes it stand out. When compared to surrounding suits, it's clear that King Harry was fairly large at that stage in his life. (Substitute "fairly large" for fat!)

The last stop was the Musical Instruments collection which is split between European (or classical) instruments and ethnic (or tribal instrument). While there are some amazingly intricate pieces in this exhibition, the lighting or location doesn't do them justice. The room is dimly lit, and it's hard to discern features on some of these beautiful pieces. To me, musical instruments are fantastic pieces of engineering and somehow capture our human desire for beautiful things. This exhibition ultimately felt disappointing, especially considering the fantastic exhibition spaces available throughout the Met building. However, coming across a guitar-like stringed instrument made using an aadvark shell was worth a trip.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Sunday's Eating in New York

Our guidebook informed us that New York brunch was the thing to do on Saturday or Sunday. Therefore we decided that we would stop off somewhere on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to enjoy a brunch. Our hotel was on West 57th and we headed over to 5th Avenue where it runs along the east side of Central Park. Walking under in the green soft light under the shady trees in the warm morning air was fantastic, but we weren't finding anywhere to eat, so we went eastwards to Madison. After several blocks and no food, we switched to Park and eventually Lexington. At this stage we were wondering if there was anywhere decent offering food on this Sunday morning.

We were passing a deli when we noticed an elderly gentleman being helped out of a car by his family. They were chatting amongst themselves about the fact that it was Father's day and that Grandad wanted to go to this particular deli for lunch. We interpreted this as a good sign and followed the family in the door of the Pastrami Queen deli (located at 1125 Lexington Avenue).

The deli is small inside but the counter is laden with kosher foods and breads. We took a table and ordered two of the signature sandwiches made with warm pastrami. While waiting, we were given a small sidedish of fresh coleslaw and pickles. The sandwiches turned to consist of about two solid inches of warm mouth-watering melting pastrami, simply served between two slices of bread. The flavouring of the meat meant that no further seasoning was necessary and we tucked in with gusto (after all, walking the streets of NY in the sunshine gives you quite an appetite). The sandwich reminded me very much of the hot salt beef sandwiches available in Selfridge's Food Hall in London.

Due to the sheer volume of meat in the sandwich, I managed to make eat about two-thirds and I sincerely regretted not having the capacity to finish it. From watching the amount of take-out being prepared and the other guests, it would seem that the deli has quite the following and it's clear to see why. We had been searching for a quintessential New York meal and I think that we got it in the Pastrami Queen.

After our fine sandwiches, we did make it to the Met, though to be honest, we could have benefitted from a snooze after that meal.

Later that night, we went for a meal at Quality Meats on West 58th, where I enjoyed the best steak I've tasted to date. I opted for the aged rib-eye steak, cooked rare, which was served on the bone. It had been rubbed with salt prior to cooking which gave the outside a great texture as well as adding a wonderful flavour. Inside the meat was tender and buttery. This steak set the standard for all future steaks and I expect that it will be a while before I eat anything that surpasses it. By the way, just in case anyone is wondering, the rest of the meal at Quality Meats was also excellent. We selected this restaurant based on the fact that it was close to our hotel. Sometimes when you pick blindly, you get very lucky!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Manneken Pis and his Sibling

Brussels has a tiny landmark statue, the Manneken Pis, which is famous beyond its diminuitive stature. It's essentially a fountain consisting of a little boy urinating into the fountain basin. The little guy even has a wardrobe of costumes which are changed as occasion demands. (All costumes feature a strategically placed hole!).

The little guy has had a varied and eventful history. Originally created in 1619, he's been kidnapped, stolen and vandalised. A copy has stood proudly on his perch at the corner of rue de l'Etuve and rue Chênet since 1965 - a sensible precaution considering the predictable mutiliations that the little guy has suffered.

However in 1987, following feminist calls, a female counterpoint to the Manneken Pis was erected
the east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité or Getrouwheidsgang. This little girl, who is squatting to pee, became known as the Jeanneke Pis.

There's a certain charm to the Manneken Pis, especially when he's dressed up in one of his costumes, and he has been the source of numerous novelties (especially corkscrews). I think though, that it's fair to say that the Jeanneke is singularly lacking in charm and really just seems vulgar. Perhaps the feminist calls should have been ignored in this instance.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Collector of Worlds - Iliya Troyanov

Another advance reading copy (ARC) in my postbox! Will wonders never cease? (Wistful sigh - Probably). This one arrived courtesy of Faber and Faber via the Early Reviwers group on

Originally published in German, this is the English version of Iliya Troyanov's fictional version of the life of English adventurer and polyglot, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Burton was an amazing man with many accomplishments to his name. It is rumoured that he spoke nearly 30 languages, he translated The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into english and he was the first westerner to make the trip to Mecca.

The book deals with three episodes in Burton's life. We encounter him on his first posting to India, where he establishes a household and learns the native tongues. He undertakes spying missions for the British military and ultimately comes under suspicion for becoming too native. The second episode covers his trip to Mecca in disguise as Sheikh Abdullah. Lastly, we follow him on his trip to Lake Victoria in Africa, as he and fellow traveller, Speke, seek to find the source of the Nile.

I was initially hesitant about reading a book translated from it's original language. I often feel that something is lost in the traslation, that some elegant distinguishing turn of phrase is lost forever in the change from one tongue to another. It is clear when reading this book that it was not written in English, but it does not detract from the story in the slightest. Reading in different sentence structures to what you are accustomed sometimes forces you to read every world carefully.
Somehow the language used in the book reflects the different and strange Eastern world that Burton inhabited.

The narrative techniques used to describe Burton's adventures are creative and interesting. We obeserve him second-hand from people who dealt with him and even from a third-hand viewpoint. The three sections have different tempos and each set of third-hand obeservers provides their own form of humourous relief.

I feel that Troyanov captured something of the essence of Burton. We are left with a portrait of a highly intelligent, adaptable man who yearned for some spirituality. He appeared to find some comfort in the Muslim faith, but as a westerner, could never declare it and I think that Troyanov communicates this dichotomy excellently.


The Ecstasy and the Agony

I did not own one neat pair of black shoes until I started full-time work nearly two years ago. Even then, the ones I bought had a small platform sole and a sexy little Mary-Jane strap. I had to push the boundaries just that little bit. I still can't wear plain shoes. Life is too short to wear the same colours and styles that are in the window of every highstreet shop.

Hence, I'm always on the quest for shoes that will do for work, but yet allow me to be my little flamboyant self. I saw this gorgeous pair of Irregular Choice samples on eBay, I added them to my watch list, I bidded and I won. (Julius Caesar, eat your heart out, this is the modern woman's version of Vene, Vidi, Vici).

I love Irregular Choice. Sometimes the shoes are simply daft and other times they are just exquisite, just like this pair. Imagine my excitement when I opened the parcel and tried on the shoes, and then imagine the opposite feeling I had when I realised that they just wouldn't fit.

But I'm not daunted. I'm an IC fan, and they make their shoes small. I've dealt with this in the past. I'll wedge some bottles of nail varnish down into the toes and push them further in everyday for a week. This is an old trick in my book, and has worked wonders in the past with one of my favourite pairs of shoes.

These divine blue and gold suede shoes were simply too tight at the tips of my toes when I bought them. I spent most of our first night out together with them dangling off under the table as they threatened to kill the circulation in my toes. However, two and a half years later, we're still together and still garnering compliments. Surely that was worth a little pain at the outset and that makes me look forward to wearing my green patent wedges with a little flash of scarlet.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Diane von Furstenberg Mondrian dress

I was in New York recently on hols and had promised myself one designer item. What it would be, I did not know. I was ready to search and wait for the right dress/bag/shoes to present itself to me. I had money to spend and I was in one of the best cities in the world for shopping. What more excuses does any self-respecting lady need?

Now, I've never been a fan of Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dresses. Whichever fashionista said that wrap dresses are great for large-chested ladies clearly had had one too many mojitos. Wrap dresses divide the chest of larger ladies into two nice beanie bags, drawing attention to exactly the area you want to miminise. However, when I walked into the DvF outlet shop at Woodbury Commons, my perception of this designer completely changed. Fantastic patterns and colours filled the rails, and I loved her use of polyesters and man-made fabrics.

Browsing the sale rails (I know! Even in an outlet I'm still attracted to the sale rails) I found this stunning Mondrian-inspired shift-dress. I loved it from first sight. Have you ever seen the Mondrian paintings that inspired this dress? Up close, the tape that he used to block off the different sections has started to peel away from the canvas. However, from a distance, the simplicity of the paintings in their primary colours is amazing. That's the same feeling that this dress imparts.

One trip to the changing rooms and I was sold, hook, line and sinker. The best part? With sales tax included, the grand total was just over $160 or somewhere in the region of €100. The dress makes me feel unique and sleek and that is worth far more than €100. The only problem now is to find the right pair(s) of shoes to match the dress.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Good Plain Cook - Bethan Roberts

I recently snagged an ARC of "The Good Plain Cook" by Bethan Roberts courtesy of Waterstones. I didn't know that ARCs existed prior to this, and being the avid reader that I am, I'm definitely going to see what I can do about acquiring some more.

Loosely based on the life of Peggy Guggenheim, "The Good Plain Cook" is a fairly typical tale of British class society. With overtones of novels such as "Atonement", it is set in Sussex in 1936 in the household of bohemian Ellen Steinberg and her wayward daughter Geenie, the book opens with the hiring of Kitty Allen as the household cook. Living with Ellen is her communist poet lover George Crane, and later his daughter Diana.

We follow the difficulties faced by the different characters. We see Kitty's struggle as she learns how to cook, and to cope with the alien and scandalous Steinberg household which is so much at odds with the class structure she is used to. In fact, the book leads you to wonder how people submitted to such a system. The interaction between the two children and the plot that they hatch, as they attempt to influence the adult relationships around them is a key strand to this tale.

The story unfolds through normal everyday interactions (and a few unusual ones too) and
Roberts skillfully develops her female protagonists. It is a clever book driven by the key female characters, yet remains an easy read. However, I did feel that the ending was just a little too abrupt and left me with a sense of confusion. However, it is a well recommended summer book.
© Stitch and Bear | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Developed by pipdig