On the Culture Front: The (RED) Supper, Forbidden Root, The Yes Men, and More

06/19/2015 03:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

On a soggy evening on the last night of May under two large white tents set up on pier 26, I sat down with throngs of people at one endless table for the ambitious (RED) Supper. Hosted by Mario Batali in support of the influential AIDS organization, the four-course meal was prepared by a multitude of the city's best chefs. My section was treated to assorted grilled pizza and family style portions of quail, lobster, veal and beef from chefs Elizabeth Falkner and Mark Ladner. The highlight was a fusilli pesto salad that translated the complex flavors of Del Posto to a summer breeziness. It was a shame that summer hadn't quite yet arrive, but the Roots played a short opening set -- think sonic amuse bouche -- that ignited the event with festive atmosphere.

A few nights earlier, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of David Burke's Fabrick that combined in equal measures the playfulness and skill on which he's built his reputation. The Avocado panna cotta (think dressed up guac) is simultaneously subtle and rich. I could eat it all night if there weren't three more courses left. The candied bacon followed and was whimsically presented as on meat hooks in a slaughterhouse, dangling defiantly from its perch. A special treat for the anniversary menu included individual birthday cake, just-big-enough cylinders of layered perfection. I'm the kind of guy that will always choose pie over cake, so I'm quite surprised how this lingered in my mind. I would order it again in a heartbeat if it made its way onto the regular menu.

The menu at Minton's is the stuff of southern comfort dreams. The ecstasy of their biscuits served with sorghum butter is matched by the richness of their penne mac and cheese. I was first wowed a few months back but was lured back by saxophonist JD Allen who played two rousing bebop sets last night conjuring the ghosts of bebop's past. I sat across from a framed photo of Thelonious Monk who cut his teeth on the very same stage. This time I tried the pan roasted skuna bay salmon, which came with a decadent slice of fried avocado. It's not an overstatement to say that Minton's is hollowed ground or that Allen is Coltrane reincarnated. He plays with such fluidity and command of structure that every note -- even during spirited and elongated solos -- feels essential. In the course of the two sets, he played just about every song off his new album, "Graffiti," accompanied by the incomparable Gregg August and Rudy Royston on bass and drums respectively. As the MC announced throughout the evening, this is a trio that doesn't need a piano.

Down in a leafy area of Bed Stuy that I would call bucolic grit, I ate a nicely spiced bowl of gumbo while watching NOLA pianist Jon Cleary kill it solo on the tiny stage at Bar LunAtico, a rugged chic bar as warm as the musician, who maintained a wide grin throughout a pair of key-pounding sets that included a particularly spirited rendition of "Blueberry Hill."

On the theater front, I took in Bartlett Sher's magical staging of "The King and I," which felt like live action Technicolor. Every movement, breath and action is magnified and enhanced which melds perfectly with the outsized emotions of old fashioned Broadway musicals. Kelli O' Hara is a delight as always, playful and passionate as she lilts through "I Whistle a Happy Tune" or scolds the King for his regal aloofness. Ken Watanabe commands presence onstage as the leader of a not-so-free country, and the production has subtle echoes of global politics.

Chris Noth takes on the title role in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" but his presence is hardly ever felt. The charmed arrogance of Mr. Big and Peter Florick that would seem to be the lifeblood of the doomed doctor's wanton ego is all but absent, and he instead floats passively from scene to scene. In contrast, Zach Grenier as satan's right hand man, Mephistopheles, is a man who knows he's lost his soul and mourns for it while relishing the taking of others. He has a good sense of gallows humor as doomed men often do, and Andrei Belgrader's occasionally delightful and thrilling production is at its best when it embraces this sensibility.

God has taken over the body of Jim Parsons or at least that's the premise in David Javerbaum's mildly amusing and intermittently inspired one-man-show, An Act of God. Scott Pask's playfully dramatic all white set appears to open directly to the heavens and gives the show a nice contrasting gravitas as Parson's answers fake questions from the audience and updates the Ten Commandments. It starts of as an ecstatic joyride but the joy of its novelty wears off towards the middle and starts to feel more like a bible lesson as God agrees with the commandments he long ago decreed. In a way though this pays off in the ending, which cleverly subverts expectations and delivers a thought-provoking twist the recontextualizes the previous ninety minutes. For this alone and Parsons' razor sharp timing, it's worth a look.

Rooftop cocktail parties and outdoor movies are two classic marking of a New York summer, so it makes sense the London-based Rooftop Film Club and Yotel would combine them in the hotel's expansive outdoor space that sits quietly tucked away atop bustling 42nd street. With tacos, sliders, sushi and a seemingly bottomless glass of sangria, I watched a screening of "Top Gun." The sound is delivered silent disco style through individual headsets so you can freely chat with your friends without disturbing anyone. They'll be screening nostalgic classics like "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty Woman," and "Stand by Me" all summer.

A new brewery, Forbidden Root, wowed me at an unveiling this week in the village. Sitting on a stool in Redfarm's basement space, I tried an IPA (actually WPA) that gave a whole new meaning to the oft-used descriptor floral as it's made with actual wildflowers. It's a perfectly quaffable beer for the summer, going down easy with maximum flavor. Founder Robert Finkel has traveled all over the world, culling the finest ingredients for his truly unique concoctions. The Sublime Ginger is made with South African honeybush along with Asian ginger while their namesake brew features balsam of Peru and tastes like a savory root beer. The evening ended Divine Mud, an imperial stout clocking in at 9.2% abv and featuring single origin West African chocolate and magnolia flowers.

The Yes Men's sensibility for socially conscious pranks is on full display in their latest film, "The Yes Men are Revolting." Taking on climate change as well as documenting the profound life changes of the activist duo creates a powerful duality that propels the film forward. Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos peel back the mask of their respective alter egos, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and co-director Laura Nix takes us back to their childhood homes and across the globe as they stage increasingly intricate pranks that shine a light on injustices.