Archive for May, 2008

Temporary Hiatus

Posted in News, Tom on May 28, 2008 by criticalreviews

Hello All,

Critical Reviews is on a temporary hiatus while KLK and I prepare for the rigorous move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. We might get one or two posts up over the next week or so, but it has been really hard while finding an apartment and packing. I plan to be back in full force soon, but for now I’ll do what I can.



Quinoa Gold: Dark Berry (a beverage by the Newport Quinoa Company)

Posted in food, Tom with tags , , , on May 15, 2008 by criticalreviews

I am typically a fan of health food drinks (Kombucha, fruit smoothies of the Bolthouse Farms and Naked varieties, and even some of the more bizarre ones that I can’t think of right now), and I also really like quinoa as a food (probably my favorite grain). Quinoa Gold Dark Berry is organic, which is awesome, and said to help sustain hunger. I was about to get on a plane and figured that it couldn’t hurt.

I chose the Dark Berry flavor because it was the most appetizing of the three(the others were Mango Passion and Pina Colada), but it was a mistake.

I have never had a quinoa beverage before, but it is a really interesting concept. This beverage was about the consistency of a fruit smoothy; thick viscous liquid with visible quinoa in the drink. The presence of the whole quinoa grains texture wise creates small little chunks or beads (like bubble tea) as they go down your throat. While this drink is 100% Organic it has a surprisingly medicine like taste. If you remember when you were little that weird pink anti-biotic that you were given every time you didn’t feel good (well, that was the case for me)? This tastes like that, but a really awful version of it (I liked the pink medicine). The berry flavor, I say flavor because there is no actual berry in the drink, is extremely fake, and it is just sickening sweetness…there was nothing tart about it (like a berry should be). The quinoa adds a grainy flavor that helps distract from the gross berry concoction, but not enough to make me ever drink one again.

I’m all for health food drinks, but this one just doesn’t do it for me. It was unique, but not in a good way. It was hard to stomach, and I found myself drinking it, not because I liked it, but because it was so expensive and I thought it would be a waste not too.

Purchase and drink at your own risk.


The Rusty Knot

Posted in alcohol, bars, food, Leah, restaurant with tags , , , , on May 14, 2008 by criticalreviews

I read quite a few reviews about the Rusty Knot before it had even opened its doors to the public. New York Magazine was hyping the classy-dive far at least a month before its opening. The Rusty Knot was hailed by founders of both Freemans and the Spotted Pig. I haven’t been to Freeman’s, but my office threw a x-mas party at the Spotted Pig once, and it was pretty amazing…Jay-z and LeBron James actually stumbled (accidentally) into our private room. Anyway, I like the premise of the Rusty Knot: nautical decor meets cheap booze meets prog rock jukebox meets gourmet bar food. I mean really, who could ask for anything more?

Last Tuesday, a planned meeting of old friends presented the perfect occasion to scope the Rusty Knot. I work in Soho, so I decided to walk over to the (waaay) West Village location. It was a painless trek, because the weather was nice, but I nearly walked straight to 14th Street. The Rusty Knot has a blue awning that simply says, ‘West. Bar and Lounge,’ and all of the shades were drawn. It’s a good thing that I knew the address. I was about a half hour early, so I took a seat in the lacquered wood 70’s style patio furniture and took in my surroundings. I thought that Taavo Somer (notorious taste-maker and co-owner of Freemans) made some wise, yet predictable decorating decisions. There was a smattering of ship’s wheels, a nice fish tank, flourescent beer signage, and many mounted fish. I don’t know if this makes sense, but the bar gave off a New England-old-man-bar in Hawaii kind of vibe.

The reviews that I read described the drinks at Rusty Knot as being utterly affordable. I guess that if you take target demographic into account, beers were aptly priced. I paid $6 for a red stripe. I think that cans of Tecate were $5 and you could supposedly order a shot of Busch for 99 cents, although I don’t really see the point in that. I did find myself wishing that the beer selection was better, however appropriate it was. Mixed tropical drinks, like Mai Tais and Zombies were varied from $7 to $12, and served in Trader Vic’s style ceramic glasses. I’m not the biggest fan of fruity concoctions, so I steered clear. But, people seemed to be enjoying their beverages.

Once my friends arrived, and also ordered Red Stripes, we decided to sample a couple of things on the menu. The chef at the Rusty Knot is a co-owner and chef at the legendary Momofuku restaurants, Joaquin Baca. I ordered a pretzel dog, which is basically what it sounds like. For $4, you get a hot dog, that is baked into a salted pretzel, and served with a horseradish-y mustard.

I wish that I could say that I enjoyed the pretzel dog, but I didn’t have the opportuntity. Two bites in, and my hot dog slid out of the pretzel and onto the floor. My pal Ravi suggested set screws to keep unwieldy dogs in place. Nobody else at the bar seemed to have any problems. Joleen, a strict vegetarian, ordered the beer balls. We expected fried, gooey, cheesy goodness, but instead received 4 or 5 little baked rolls with some sort of preserve (possibly apricot). They were tasty, but we expected something a little more savory. Finally, Nancy ordered the much-hyped chicken liver and bacon sandwich. Most reviews that I have read focus on this sandwich as the crowning glory of Rusty Knot’s kitchen. It was quite delicious, although chicken liver and bacon together makes for one salty sammie.

I would definitely recommend a visit to the Rusty Knot, based on my experience, although I don’t believe that it lived up to its hype. The service was great, but the crowd was not my flavor – nor were the food or drinks.


Flickr photo props to:

A Continuous Lean
Sarah Payton

North Fork Potato Chips: Cheddar Onion

Posted in food, Tom with tags , , , , on May 13, 2008 by criticalreviews
North Fork Potato Chip
Martin Sidor Farms, Mattituck
Long Island, New YorK

North Fork Potato Chips are grown and made at Martin Sidor Farms on Long Island, and they seem to be going things right. The company even has their green inititative posted right on their website:

Martin Sidor Farms and North Fork Potato Chips are dedicated to preserving the environment.

The Sidors run much of their farm equipment with biodiesel created from the byproducts of the chip-making process. Biodiesel is a domestic renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like sunflower oil.

For more information on biodiesel visit,

I really get satisfaction out of something that is as local as North Fork is, doing things in an environmentally friendly way, and is truly making one of the best kettle chips I have ever tasted.

The Cheddar and Onion chip is your classic kettle chip. Thick, crispy, a little oily, and delicious. I really like the Kettle Chip brand, but overall I find that their chips no matter the flavor have the almost the same taste. The taste of the kettle out ways the flavor of the chip. With North Fork you still had that signature kettle flavor, but the it did not take away from the the cheddar. The cheddar was bold, and wonderful…like the Cheddar Beer chips from Kettle Chip, but better…and the onion was very subtle and in the back ground. Together making a really savory chip, it reminds me of Cotswold cheese with a little less onion. A great company making great chips.

I haven’t tried any of the other flavors yet, but there are quite a few listed on the website and their Sweet Potato chips are supposed to be the best. They were expensive, but I did buy them at the airport (which explains the price), but I do know that they are available at Whole Foods (probably much cheaper than they were at the air port)


No Age, High Places, and Fiasco @ The Bowery Ballroom. Tuesday May 6th, 2008.

Posted in music, shows, Tom with tags , , , on May 12, 2008 by criticalreviews

Tuesday was a day of celebration. KLK presented her thesis, I took a half day off of work, and No Age released their first full length Nouns. We got to the show about ten after nine, and unfortunately Fiasco was already playing.

I had read about Fiasco on Oh My Rockness:

The young band is comprised of three mid-teenage guys from Brooklyn who (so far) seem to have grown up listening to all the right stuff. They especially like Sonic Youth’s feedback madness, Lightning Bolt’s distorted bass messiness, and Shellac’s scratchy rawness.
Make no mistake, this is punk rock. But there’s definitely a Strokes-y element to their vocals that make their noise pretty melodic, too.

Those are big words for a band that is so young (probably no older than 18), but they were great and played really well despite the fact that they kept making the “We Suck” joke (they might be young and insecure, but they are really fun to watch …I guess being insecure is better than being cocky). Their music is definitely punk, but almost more appropriately could be called chaotic rock. Besides the influences sited I definitely felt some Nirvana, Q and Not U, and Black Eyes in their music too. The guitarist, Jonathan Edelstein, and bassist, Lucian Buscemi, switched up instruments while playing, and both sang too. Their set up was interesting with drummer, Julian Bennett Holmes, up front while Edelstein was playing toward the back of the stage. For a young band they are doing really interesting things musically, including Edelstein doing some innovative finger tapping (utilizing this technique for both technical rifs, as well as making dancey beats). I was totally impressed with them musically, and if these kids are this good now I can’t wait to see what they turn into over the next couple of years. While they were playing there were a bunch of teens moshing up front (the show was 16+ and rightfully so), they were fun to watch and fairly courteous to the already really packed crowd.

High Places played second and, I am sad to say, was the least exciting act of the night. I have heard a couple people say recently that they “really like high places, but they don’t really do it for them live.” And while I love High Places I can definitely see this . I enjoy seeing them play, but after a couple of times their performances start to run together in my mind. Honestly they were all pretty much the same…a couple tracks off of the digital download, and a bunch of new stuff…so much the same that I am starting to recognize some of the new songs that haven’t been released yet. I’ll continue to buy their releases, and see them live, but I’m not sure that High Places alone can bring me out to a show (yet their full length coming out on Thrill Jockey is still one of the albums that I am anticipating most this year!). For more of my thoughts on High Places go here or here.

No Age had a big Tuesday, playing their album release show to a sold out Bowery Ballroom. I got the impression that they wouldn’t have been playing here if Todd P was in town, because they even mentioned that he was in Central America (not sure if this was commentary on the show not being all ages). Todd P or not the show was still a blast, and everyone was dancing within seconds of the first song.

I am honestly a fairly recent fan of No Age. I saw one of their music videos on New York Noise, and have listened to the music on their websites(I liked them right off the bat, and had even considered ordering some of their eps from Upset the Rhythm) , but had not bought anything until Nouns. For those who haven’t checked them out yet…No Age is a drum and guitar duo (Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt) that play noisy experimental rock, some might call it punk but I think that is more of the attitude that the band has than the sound (don’t really sound like Times New Viking, but I would love to see them play together).

No Age, honestly seemed a little older in person than I expected them to be (they look super young in these press photos), and this was refreshing because I was starting to feel old after seeing Fiasco (I’m only 24).

There was a pretty big mosh pit, and for the most part it was courteous…there were some lame people that weren’t being considerate: knocking down girls who were dancing, and pretty much acting like a gorilla (reminded me of some of the meat ball hardcore shows I went to when I was in middle school). Despite the couple lame people in the pit No Age is one of the most fun bands I have seen live in a quite a while. They play loud, hard, and fast…I think it would have been hard not to be bouncing around a little during their set. I’m really excited that they will be playing at South Street Seaport on Friday July 11th with Abe Vigoda (and unfortunately Telepathe). This summer is looking pretty good.


No Age “Eraser” off of Nouns

No Age live at Other Music!

Listen to High Places!

Listen to Fiasco here!

Photo Credits:

No Age at Bowery Ballroom by Staticsilence (via vlickr)

Fiasco at the Silent Barn by this meik (via flickr)

*Sorry about the lack in posting…it has been a busy two weeks. I hope to be back up to normal posting speed this week.


Bear Naked “Native” Granola: Mango, Agave, and Almonds

Posted in food, Tom with tags , , , on May 8, 2008 by criticalreviews

My typical, and favorite, breakfast is granola, plain yogurt, and honey. Now some people may think that granola is granola, but let me tell you there is a big difference between expensive granola and really expensive granola. I usually buy Pumpkin Spice Granola from Fairway (the Fairway brand), and occasionally the Whole Foods brand prepackaged stuff (beware the Banana Nut flavor from Whole Foods is awful). I needed to get cash before a show and also needed breakfast for the next day so I went into Whole Foods on the Bowery and Bear Naked was on Sale! It was a dollar off so it was $4.99 for about 12oz instead of $5.99…yeah, I know still pretty expensive.

I haven’t written about granola before, but this stuff really blew my socks off. The difference between expensive and really expensive is usually the the quality and texture. This granola, while all small pieces no big chunks, has a big crunch and very delicate and wonderful flavors.

The base of the granola is your typical oats/grains/ect…lightly sweetened with agave, and also a hint of cinnamon to the taste. Agave is a really expensive ingredient…similar to honey except a little thinner, and it is derived from the cactus. It also has a slight citrus taste (you really can’t taste this in the granola).

Lots of dried mango pieces through out the mix. This is something that I probably would have hated about a year ago, but since buying this granola I have since become a big fan of Mango! It truly adds an interesting twist on dried fruit in a granola, and is part of the unique flavor.

The best part about this granola is the almonds. They are not just any almonds either. You know those “Hot Nuts” that you can buy on the streets in NYC…they are like those, but not hot and better. These almonds were roasted in agave! They have a candy like agave sweet crust around them…they are crunchy and delicious! I wish I could find a “Hot Nuts” cart that made these almonds…I would eat them all the time.

I really enjoyed this granola (both by itself or with yogurt…it is so delicious that honey is not necessary), and if it wasn’t so expensive I would buy it all of the time…but I just can’t afford it. It is one of those gourmet delicacies that I will purchase when on sale, but I just can’t imagine paying over $6 a pound for granola all the time (no matter how good). I hope this sale lasts forever (but I know it won’t).

This is definitely the best granola I have ever eaten, and it has encouraged me to try many other varieties from Bear Naked…as long as they are on sale of course.

*please note: While I am 100% sure that I ate “Bear Naked “Native” Granola: Mango, Agave, and Almonds” I cannot find it’s existance anywhere on the internet. It might be a new product, but if you see it and can afford it check it out…you will love it.


Whistler Records: Mailorder and Karl Blau’s “AM”

Posted in mailorder, music, records, Tom with tags , , , , on May 5, 2008 by criticalreviews

I typically refuse to buy CDs but if I like a musician enough I occasionally will. In this case that musician is Karl Blau (who released one of my favorite records of last year and who I saw live earlier this year). Before I clicked on that BUY button on Whistler Records website I sent an email to Billy at Whistler inquiring whether or not they planed to release Blau’s latest master piece AM on LP. And I got this response:

Unfortunately we won’t be releasing AM on vinyl anytime soon, so the evil CD is the only way to go right now… But it’s funny you ask because we just recently decided to stop doing CDs and switch over exclusively to vinyl — so it turns out that AM was our first AND last CD release.

So I feel pretty good about buying their last CD release ever (ohh the death of a format). But a little more about Whistler Records. Whistler is a small record label located in Chicago, IL. Their current catalog consists of only five releases (two of which are Karl Blau, and it appears that they have one other CD other than AM). But none the less super small, and really nice people (Billy and I went back and forth on email a couple of times within a day).

So I ordered AM on 4:15pm on Friday (according to my PayPal receipt), and what did I find waiting for me when I got home on work on Monday? You guessed it Karl Blau’s AM! Whistler Records has to have the fastest mailorder on earth! The CD was shipped First Class from Chicago. These people do it right, and if all record companies were this quick they would be a threat to the independent record store too! On top of the fast shipping and the wonderful record Whistler enclosed what appears to be a set list from Blau which is accompanied by philosophical writing about life (which I can only assume is Blau’s being that it is on his set list). This random and wonderful surprise really makes me love mailorder, and I plan to order Blau’s 7″ from them some time in the near future.

I haven’t listened to AM enough to give a proper review, but it is very different from his last release, Dance Positive!. AM seems to be more on the experimental side, but with a pop sensibility…kinda what you might expect to come from this man from Anacortes, WA. AM was recorded by Phil Elverum, and Blau and Elverum are the only two musicians on the album…lyrics are taken from poems of A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Poo fame), and from Blau himself (with help from Elverum one track). I was listening to “It was hot we stayed in the water,” by the Microphones last week on my headphones, and I want to explore this album in a similar way (I am currently on my second listen as I type…and I know it is going to be stuck on repeat in my iPod for at least a week). As I have read the album is about that time when night turns into morning, and named appropriately so. There are lots of interesting things going on so it is easy to get fixated on a piece of distortion, or a lyric, or something of the sort, and you are thinking about it for quite a while…or at least I am.

Other people are already giving Blau and AM great reviews…Pitchfork said:

When confronted with Karl Blau’s large and often excellent catalog, the inevitable question is: Why isn’t this guy at least as well known as his musical cohorts Phil Elverum and Laura Veirs? It’s easy to get on one’s soapbox and suppose that people want mediocrity. I mean, how else are we to explain the success of a musical Steve Guttenberg such as M. Ward?

I would highly recommend checking out Blau’s AM, and if you do you should order it directly from the wonderful people at Whistler Records. AM should hit the spot for fans of Elverum, and the like, but those who are looking for something a little more upbeat, and may I say dancey, check out Dance Positive! Either way Karl Blau is wonderful, and he has rad people putting out his records.


“Spring Morning” off of AM

“The Lake King’s Daughter” also off of AM