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On the Culture Front: Celebrate Brooklyn Opening Night Gala and New Haven Weekend Getaway

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Celebrate Brooklyn kicked off their season of free outdoor shows last week with an opening gala featuring Andrew Bird. After days of temperatures creeping towards triple digits, the weather Friday night couldn't have been more perfect. As the sun retreated, the temperature fell into the sixties as we snacked on hors d'oeuvres like bite-size chicken pot pies and figs topped with goat cheese. They were tastier than the ones served at most cocktail parties and all too easy to eat. By the time we sat down for dinner, we must have had a couple dozen. Drinks were equally satisfying. It's no secret I'm a beer snob, so I was happy to see Goose Island IPA at the bar. It wasn't on tap, but we were in the middle of the park so that's a minor quibble. There's nothing worse than being at a fancy party with only Heineken to drink.

The vibe in the tent was very warm, and the passion for this great outdoor festival could clearly be felt. Many had been coming for years and some decades to support Jack Walsh and the festival he so ably runs. Borough president Marty Markowitz made an appearance, and we heard from others about the festival's humble beginnings and the way they transformed an abandoned bandshell into a cultural hub that gets some of the best local and international musicians to play on its stage each year. I thought about some of my personal highlights -- TV on the Radio, The National, David Byrne, Yo La Tengo, Isaac Hayes in one of his final performances -- and all the memories I have from summers past.

Several IPAs later, we took our seats for the concert. Andrew Bird ambled out to the stage, and launched into a set dominated by the excellent songs of his last album, Armchair Apocrypha, including "Fiery Crash," "Dark Matter," and "Plasticities," which he explained is about being trapped in a Target. I must have listened to that song hundreds of times over the past few years and always thought it had a more worldly scope than a conflict in the popular discount store. You learn something new everyday, I guess. It was also surprising (and disappointing) that he flubbed a number of the songs, stopping the band completely and apologizing. This is in stark contrast to the last time I saw him during the Armchair tour at the Beacon Theatre. He seemed to be either very distracted or under the influence of something more potent than the IPAs we were drinking. Still, half of Andrew Bird is more satisfying than most whole musicians.

I cut out before the encore to catch a train to New Haven for a weekend of food, food, and a little more food. We began our gastroenterological journey at Claire's Corner Copia, a mainstay café in the community for 30 years. Claire greeted us with a welcoming smile and stories of the business from the earliest days in the '70s at the height of the race riots through the town's revitalization. As a former nurse, she sees her role as not just a cook but also a preventive health care provider. The all-organic and vegetarian menu is evidence of this, and it's delicious. I opted for the Irish Breakfast, a satisfying mix of fried eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and potatoes. By the time we finished after splitting a piece of her famous coffee cake, I was bursting at the seams.

I looked at the time, and there were just a couple hours before we were scheduled for lunch at Miya's, the only sustainable sushi restaurant on the East Coast. I decided to check out Yale's art gallery to give myself a chance to walk off some of my hearty breakfast. The collection is impressive (probably not surprising considering it is Yale, after all) and contains pieces by Basquiat, Pollock, Picasso, and many others.

Miya's (like most restaurants in New Haven) is just a short stroll away. When we arrived, owner Bun Lai greeted us with tastes of a new salad he was creating. From there we moved on to a light soup, a couple vegetarian rolls, and a crab roll that was as much a piece of art as a delicious plate of food. It's served on a giant rock, with the pieces of the roll spread out and drizzled with a wonderfully creamy sauce. If that's not enough, each piece is topped with a mini crab whose crunchy shell belies the deliciously tender meat that hides inside. The menu constantly evolves as Bun learns more about the ecosystem and the best ways to support it. He even just purchased acres of beachfront land nearby to harvest his own oysters and help rebuild the oyster reefs that have vanished in Connecticut. He's had many offers to expand, but is content staying in New Haven, so you'll have to come to him for what is easily the best sushi I've ever had. I'd consider taking the train up simply to go back to Miya's.

While we could have spent all day there, we had plans to join a food tour of three popular restaurants representing diverse cuisines. First up was Thali, an Indian joint that treated us to some more crab and a refreshing glass of white wine. From there we headed to 116 Crown, a place that looks like it was torn from a brownstone in Brooklyn. The farm-to-table menu of small plates includes a handmade kielbasa that we personally saw ground up and stuffed. It was served simply on a bed of lettuce and garlic scapes topped with a dollop of whole grain mustard. Wrapping the lettuce leaf around the sausage made for an easy and tasty bite. I only wish we got to sample one of the cocktails that owner/mixologist John Ginnetti is known for.

That cocktail fix came soon after though, at Red, a modern American bistro with Asian influences. The tall fruity drink reminded us of the beach more than the soggy weather outside, and the accompanying veal cheek was delightfully juicy. Still, I was secretly hoping for whiskey, a wish that wouldn't be answered until pre-dinner drinks at the upscale Zinc. I ordered the one drink listed with bourbon, which came with an unlikely name: the mint-tangerine smash. Made with tangerine/orange bitters, muddle fresh mint, and knob creek, it had the vibe of mint julep with a citrus zing. It was so good I had to have another, and then it was off to dinner and a tequila tasting at Oaxaca.

The latter came first after we sat down at a large table in the front of the exposed brick covered room, and before I knew it, we were sniffing glasses of tequila as one would do with a fine single malt scotch. Chef Prasad Chirnomuola happily illuminated the subtleties of the many varieties we tried while we munched on warm chips and guacamole made tableside. They were nice, but I have to say that I preferred the simple margarita that washed down my generously proportioned hanger steak that nearly put me in a food coma.

I wasn't sure if I'd make it to brunch the next morning as I lay in my bed at the Study, a new boutique hotel located on the Yale Campus. Between the soft sheets and abundant pillows, I was temped to stay in my plushy tomb, but I was glad when I finally hauled my body downstairs for brunch at the hotel's locally sourced restaurant, Heirloom. I settled on waffles topped with strawberries and cream and was delighted how light the meal was, though the side of bacon I ordered might have been overkill -- a decision I was left to ponder on the train ride home.