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  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

Manhattan: Chow, Ciao, and Visits to TV Land - and the Summer of Love

Ben Fong-Torres

Manhattan: Chow, Ciao and TV Land.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK:
Another year, another trip to the Big Apple.
This time, Dianne and I hit Manhattan in June, when the city was weathering days in the high 80's, with occasional thunderstorms.
For us spoiled Californians, thats pretty darned hot but manageable, especially with AC in our apartment in the West Village, and in most shops. When its really hot, you spend a lot of time loitering in bank lobbies.

As always, we spent a lot of time in great restaurants. This year, they included Porter House New York, where Michael Lomonaco has rebounded. He was the chef at Windows on the World, atop one of the World Trade Center towers. Now, hes overseeing a steakhouse at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. And, in a town thats pretty exacting about steaks, Lomonaco has a winner. Perfect steaks and an amazing array of starters and side dishes. The service is well-done, too. Plus, Michael plays rock guitar. What more could you want from a chef?

Because we have a friend high up in the Danny Meyer collection of restaurants, we can get tablesand didat such stellar spots as 11 Madison Parkone of New Yorks very best restaurants, according to the New York Timesand the bar caf at the Museum of Modern Art. One was fashionable; the other, fast (we were going from the Modern to see "Frost/Nixon"); both were superb. So was Craftbar, owned by top chef--and one of the stars of TV's Top Chef, Tom Collichio . Its a casual jewel of a spot. And, just around the corner from where we were staying, we discovered a new restaurant, Caf Cluny, open from breakfast through dinner. Look for a hostess named Coco. We also loved two Italian places, Gusto, just around the bend from Cluny, on Greenwich St., and BellaVitae, in the South Village.

For a meeting with a couple of fellow Rolling Stone alumnus (who are planning a reunion in San Francisco in September), I went to a Burmese spot, Caf Mingala. David Felton , a long-time buddy who works at MTV, and I went to Ruby Foos, a lavishly decorated Pan-Asian emporium on Broadway. But, for lunch with my fellow AsianConnections writer, Lia Chang , we wound up at the midtown Caf Italiano. Go figure. After getting almost caught up (with a dynamo like Lia, its impossible to get fully up to speed), I was off to TV Land.

Yep, TV Land. The channel for nostalgic sitcoms and movies asked me to start up a blog for a new music Web site it has launched. My job: Write about Elvis . August 16 is the 30th anniversary of his death, and TV Land is unveiling a bronze statue of The King in Honolulu in late July. On the air, of course, therell be specials and old Elvis movies. And, now, online, theres my blog, once or twice a week. Check it out at www.TVland.com and leave a comment; I'd appreciate it. Im under "New & Notable." Soon to be moved to "Old & Forgettable." After August, I'll expand the blog beyond Elvis, and into music in general.

Meantime, as a personal tribute to the King, let me present a video clip of me doing "Treat Me Nice," with some custom lyrics, for use in the 1999 telecast of the S.F. Chinese New Year Parade on KTVU, which I co-anchored with Thuy Vu. This was done at the Yet Wah restaurant on Diamond Heights.

Also, in the heat of the Summer of Love flashbacks, I had a couple of my own. One took place at the Whitney Museum, where two floors are taken up with a Sixties exhibit. If you missed that decade, its worth a look. But for me, the posters, the underground papers, the news photos, the recreations of light shows and sensory roomsit was all "been there, tripped on that." The exhibit is light on politics, but does a fair job representing the scenes in San Francisco, New York, and London. L.A. is overlooked, and deserves at least a couple of walls of its own.

And because I was there, in the midst of that mind-bending summer, I've done some writing about it in recent weeks, including a feature in California magazine, published by U.C. Berkeley. I also did pieces in the San Francisco magazine, 7X7, (about Bill Graham and the Fillmore) and in VIA (The Calif. State AAA mag) about the Haight-Ashbury. But the California essay is my biggie. Its at www.alumni.berkeley.edu/calmag/200707/fong-torres.asp.

TECH TALK: Some people impress others with their cell phones; others with the latest, biggest handbags. While I do have a pretty awesome handbag, it's my Pure Digital Technologies thingamajig thats turning heads and getting people running to Amazon.com or certain camera stores.

The thingamajig is a video camcorder. It's about the size of an iPod. "Big deal," the more technically proficient among you might say. "I shoot videos with my digital camera, or my phone." But the Pure Digital Technologies point-and-shoot (boy, they've got to get a name, quick, for the camera) is better. It shoots 30 or 60 minutes capacity. It's essentially a one-button operation. It runs on AA batteries. Best of all, its got a USB plug that flips up and connects to your computer, so you can upload, edit, and share your videos by email, on sites like OneTrueMedia.com, Grouper or YouTube.

Before you get to your PC (or Mac), however, youve wowed the people youve shot, with your ability to show them your work on a 1.5-inch monitor, excellent sound, and easy operation.

And then there's the price. It varies, depending on where you buy itat Rite Aid, CVS, and Wolf Cameras, or onlinei.e., Amazon.com. The 30-minute model ranges from $100-$120; the 60-minute camera retails around $150, but can be found easily for around $120.

For that price, you get video quality thats not meant for your big-screen monitor, but fine for Web sites and emailing. Theres a 2x zoom, but using it adds a slight clicking noise to the audio. There's no mike jack, but the built-in microphone does a very good job of picking up sound. And, if for some reason you want to see your videos on TV, you can connect the camcorder to a monitor with the supplied standard yellow, red and white plugs.)

This just in: PDT is now calling its camera "Flip." That's more like it. And the latest model features instant uploading to video-sharing sites. Also just in: RCA, which licensed the technology from PDT, has its own version out (as do several other companies). RCA's 60-minute camera retails at $130, allows an SD card for extra shooting time, and reportedly does not make the clicky sounds on zooming.

Flip a coin and grab one. Whatever you get, it'll be a bargain.

ED JEW UPDATE: Ed Jew , the embattled San Francisco Board of Supervisors member I wrote about last time out, is hanging in there, and refusing to leave his post. He has been ordered to trial on charges that he violated election laws by misstating his residence when he ran for office as a district supervisor. (From all appearances, he was not even living in San Francisco when he became a Supervisor, although he stated that he was.) He's also being investigated by the FBI for accepting $40,000 in cash from local business operators. (Jew says it was meant to go to a consultant friend of his, and to a local park.) For the continuing sagaand its historyI recommend the San Francisco Chronicle's site, sfgate.com.

THEYLL NEVER LEARN: Fair warning. "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," the comedy with Adam Sandler and Kevin James , features Rob Schneider doing an Asian character. From all reports, he is doing no favors for either Asians or his own career. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis calls him "stunningly unfunny" as he "pops up brandishing buckteeth, glasses and an odious accent in apparent homage to Mickey Rooney's painful, misguided turn as the Japanese neighbor in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.'" Mick LaSalle of the S.F. Chronicle said his character was like one of those anti-Asian Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts come to awful life. And to think that Schneider's comedy career got started in San Francisco. Your hometown is proud of you, baby!