Antica Pesa, which has a sister restaurant in Italy, serves top-notch Roman fare in a muted Williamsburg-cool setting that feels like the culmination of the neighborhood's increasing blend of hip and high-end. Classic entrees like taglioni cacio e pepe are prepared with the utmost subtlety and attention to detail as are appetizers like fried sweetbreads and grilled octopus. The former is an explosion of gamey flavor while the latter hits a more restrained but no less resonant note. Cocktails are strong and to the point. A tequila and agave drink, Goodbye Lovers, even comes with the tongue-in-cheek warning: don't drive scooters after this.
Recently re-opened Colors, a stones throw from the Public Theater on Lafayette, proves that gluten-free food can be decadent with dishes like a crispy pork belly with apples, Korean chili flakes and raita and buttermilk fried chicken with spiced honey and potato puree. A sweet corn risotto with jalapeno, manchego and scallion doesn't suffer a lack of wheat. A chocolate cupcake with mascarpone and a dark chocolate glaze caps a meal off nicely. As does knowing the waiters are paid a living wage and the ingredients are sourced locally when possible.
The star ingredient at BV's Grill, a new addition to the midtown carnivore scene, is steak. They have the regular filets and porterhouses but the real standout is the Korean style skirt steak that has a perfectly tangy and tender taste. Side highlights include Brussels sprouts served with thick smoky slices of bacon and the mac and cheese. Diver scallops cooked in champagne and served with prosciutto are a light way to start along with an order of freshly baked pretzel bread.
On the theater front, the best things are happening in small spaces. The smallest is Ars Nova, the versatile performing arts mecca that's currently putting up The Debate Society's Jacuzzi, a wildly inventive and eerie play about drifters who find themselves in the middle of a family's disintegration. Taking place in a secluded home in the Colorado mountains - and mainly in a Jacuzzi that the patriarch (played with spiteful brilliance by Peter Friedman) defiantly had installed in the antique house upon wining it in a divorce settlement. It represents his freedom along with an ill-fated effort to regain his youth and the respect of his grown son (Chris Lowell) who's treading water as a ski bum. The drifters (who are played by the show's writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) walk a fine line between earnest and eerie, keeping their true intentions mostly hidden for the intermisionless ride. See it before it ends on the 15th.
David Rabe's Sticks and Bones takes a mind-bending ride through the artifice of 50s sitcoms to lay bare the disconnect a vet, David (played Ben Schnetzer), feels coming home to a family that no longer recognizes him. The parents, played by with an acute suburban aloofness by the great Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter, are actually named Ozzie and Harriet. His younger guitar-playing brother, Rick, feels like he's plucked straight from Leave it to Beaver and is played with startling wholesomeness by Raviv Ullman. As one of Rabe's first plays, Sticks and Bones is rough, both in story and dialogue, but Scott Elliott's production at The New Group rewards those who stick it out with a cathartic payoff that feels utterly relevant today as we send more troops back into Iraq.
The Last Ship, Sting's musical foray which deals with a town struggling to stay afloat as its industry is ripped out from under itself, is less successful. Even John Logan and Brian Yorkey can't help this plodding show from feeling painfully slight. The music, as many have written is the highlight, but it feels woefully out of place on the Broadway stage, lacking the dramatic pull that ignites songs in a theatrical space. The most recognizable song, "When We Dance," feels forced into the story and ends up falling flat.
Playing at the Atlantic Theater's intimate renovated church space, Found is bursting with energy and originality. Based on the story of indie pub Found Magazine, the show traces the trajectory of a trio of underemployed Chicagoans who find meaning and success cataloging and curating discarded notes and scribblings they find. Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree's concise and funny book sets up Eli Bolin songs, which occupy an endearing space between quirky and memorable. Highlights include "Johnny Tremain," an hysterical rendition of an ill-fated school play told with help from the Story Pirates and "Great Lake Bears," which peers inside the life of one of the main characters while providing some of the shows biggest laughs. Also of note, Community's Danny Pudi plays a variety of roles with aplomb and just the right amount of haminess. Hopefully, it will be his first of many off-Broadway shows.
On the comedy front, Marc Maron and Tig Notaro laid bare their souls on the Skirball and Town Hall stages respectively for the New York Comedy Festival. Their searingly honest sets fostered a sense of community and drew deep-shared laughs on the human condition. Notaro spoke of a confused airport security woman who was uncomfortable searching the comedian, who's had a double mastectomy as a result of breast cancer. She revels in the moment and her sense of play and confidence shine through. Maron meanwhile sits on a stool for most of his set, in a confessional way, as he talks about what he's learned about anger and how he sees his life in comparison to friends that have settled down with children. The highlight though came when he mused his suspicions that female ejaculation is really urine. Something he's okay with but would just like to be acknowledged.