Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Is In Full Bloom at the New York Botanical Garden's 10th Annual Orchid Show.

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Houses The 10th Annual Orchid Show.
Photo by WGINY.
Situated on 250 acres of prime property, and operating since 1891, the landmarked New York Botanical Garden is a serene escape from a city known for its towering skyscrapers and urban overcrowding, to a kaleidoscope of color and the brilliant face of Mother Nature.  Through April 22, the main exhibit at the Garden is the The Orchid Show: Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens.  The Orchid Show, now in its 10th year, is housed in the Garden's "Enid A. Haupt Conservatory," an immense greenhouse modeled on a similar structure at the British Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.  The show features a rotating annual theme-- last year's theme focused on Broadway, while this year's show highlights "Vertical Gardens" designed by artist and botanist Patrick Blanc. 

"The Waterfall Wall"
Photo by Talisman Brolin. Used with permission.
Entering the Conservatory, visitors are immediately transported into a lush, tropical rainforest, where a flowering "Waterfall Wall," designed by Blanc, greets guests.  Continuing through the various halls of the Conservatory, look up, through trees and all around, as Spring is blooming everywhere.

On display are vanilla orchids (a building block of vanilla extract), butterfly orchids, rainbow orchids, reed orchids, and more, from every corner of the globe.  Make sure to read the placards situated around the exhibit so as to be able to discern the "butterfly" from the "rainbow" orchids and pinpoint which orchids originate from the Americas, or from as far off as China and Vietnam.
Orchid Close-up.
Photo by WGINY.
Rainbow Orchid Close-up.
Photo by WGINY.
Reflecting Pool.
Photo by WGINY.
Let the fragrant aromas of these flowers guide you from the forest to the desert, as you move through the Conservatory.  Although exhibits at the Conservatory change frequently, some of the surrounding flora remains perennially.  There's more to this exhibit than just orchids. Don't neglect the other well-preserved beauties, such as the deserts of the Americas and Africa, or the reflecting pool in the "Palms of the World Gallery."
Nevertheless, if it is orchids you came to see, you can rest assured that approaching what can only be described as the grand finale rooms of the show (aka "The Seasonal Exhibition Galleries") will make visitors squeal, "Oh my, oh my, oh my!" (Yes, that is a direct quote from an anonymous guest...).

"Visitors Enjoy a Cube of Orchids"
Photo by Talisman Brolin. Used with permission.
Patrick Blanc has arranged thousands of vibrant orchids, creating stunning "walls of living foliage" that mesmerize the eyes.  Blanc's method allows flowers and vines to grow along walls without any soil.

In the first room of these Seasonal Exhibition Galleries stands a 13' x 13' cube, both aesthetically and architecturally pleasing, made of walls lined with vertical foliage, and housing some of Blanc's personal reflections on his works, as well as images and drawings of how vertical walls have been practically applied, such as on buildings in Paris, from where the designer hails.

Bursting with brilliant arrays of orchids, this year's show, "Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens" is truly a visual treat. Click here to purchase tickets to the Garden, which includes admission to the entire grounds, as well as the Orchid Show.  Ticket and membership purchases help Garden conservation.

"Orchids at the New York Botanical Garden"
Photo by Robert Benson. Used with permission.
Reed Orchids.
Photo by WGINY.

More Tips For Attending the Orchid Show
Take a personalized audio tour using your cell phone, by dialing (718) 362-9561 in the Conservatory, and keeping an eye out for placards with tour codes. 

The Orchid Show is an extremely family-friendly environment.  Children of all ages are welcome and will be especially happy if they have their own camera or can at least borrow Mom's camera-phone. 

Don't miss the display of miniature orchids at the show, encased in glass for the plants' protection, these small wonders can contain hundreds to thousands of tiny blooms. 

Wear appropriate shoes.  Remember, you are walking through a rainforest and a desert...  

If you'd like to see the orchids at night, while sipping on a complimentary cocktail and jiving to a DJ, you may enjoy "Orchid Evenings," which takes place every Saturday night throughout the Orchid Show, as well as Friday, April 20.

For the true orchid enthusiast, there are orchid-themed films, classes and lectures available almost daily throughout the show. 

Finally, when you do head out to explore the remainder of the garden (which could take half a day), make sure to grab a map.  You'll avoid getting lost, and you'll know the locations of all tram stops should you tire early.  

Snapshots of Other Suggested Areas to Explore at the Garden
(All remaining photos are by WGINY)
Magnolia Trees are Getting Ready to Bloom... 

Cherry Blossom Trees are ... Blossoming!
The Children's Garden features activities for young folks. 

Picturesque, Historic Stone Mill.

Daffodils on Display: Don't Stare Too Long at This "Narcissus"... 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Laugh Yourself Silly at These NYC Comedy Clubs.

Do you like to laugh? Of course you do! Want to know where to go to see your favorite stand-up comedians and improv acts, heckle some amateurs, or try out your own jokes at a comedy open mic?

Here are my suggestions for comedy clubs in NYC:

#1 PickComedy Cellar.  Located in Greenwich Village, on MacDougal Street, between W. 3rd Street and Minetta Lane (just a few doors down from Mamoun's famous falafel restaurant...), Comedy Cellar is by far my favorite comedy club in NYC. Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, and "Godfrey" are just some of the regular comics on the lineup here, and on one occasion, while I was enjoying a Comedy Cellar show, Jerry Seinfeld even stopped by unannounced. Apparently famous celebrity comics tend to drop by quite often.  From Sundays through Thursdays at Comedy Cellar, if you make your reservation early enough, you can get a free "no cover" pass for up to four people (although a 2 item minimum still applies).

I also highly recommend Dangerfied's, a legacy of the late Rodney Dangerfield himself ("I don't get no respect!"), located on 1st Avenue, off of 61st Street.  Dangerfield's, which has been in operation since 1969, claims to be New York City's longest-running comedy club.  There are special discounts available nightly, such as free cover tickets Mondays through Thursdays (with a two drink minimum), and 2 for 1 tickets Fridays through Sundays (with NO drink minimum).  Dangerfield's does not announce a daily lineup on it's website like Comedy Cellar, but you can call for more information (917-210-2541).  Jerry Seinfeld and many others have been known to appear here as well.

If you prefer the improv scene, make some time to stand in line at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, founded by comedian Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation," "Saturday Night Live," "Baby Mama"), among others, and operating in New York City since 2003.  Although the main location is on W. 26th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, there is also a second NYC location in the East Village, on E. 3rd Street, between Avenues A and B.  "UCBT," as it is often referred to, was the first theater to bring "longform improvisation" to NYC, which the company describes as "an entire show consisting of interconnected scenes, characters, and ideas completely made-up on the spot with no pre-planning or pre-writing." UCBT's shows are a riot, and they are, quite literally, a different experience every single time.  Check out the schedules for UCBT and UCBT East to find the show(s) that suit you.  Note: Although you can make reservations for most shows online, at well worth-it prices, typically $5-10 per ticket with no drink minimum, plan on arriving 30 minutes or even an hour before your showtime, as lines form down the block for nearly every ticketed show.

For a more low-key improv experience, I have a soft spot for Big Apple Playback Theatre, an improvisational group that brings audience members' stories to life through theater, musical performance and sometimes even interpretive dance.  Attending a "BAPT" show can be quite a cathartic experience.  Don't be shy... When the performers ask for audience members to tell a personal story, raise your hand and pour your heart out.  Speak your mind and then watch your own story unfold on the stage in front of you. You may even be called up to participate in the re-enactment.  BAPT holds public shows, runs anti-bullying programs for school-aged children and teenagers, and other community programs.

If you don't have cash to burn on comedy shows, there are also many bars and clubs throughout the city that have free comedy nights.  My suggestion is "Gandhi, Is That You?", a free weekly show on Wednesday evenings, downstairs at Lucky Jack's Bar and Lounge. Other free and low-cost comedy shows are frequently advertised/announced on NYC event and nightlife sites such as theskint and murphguide.

If you're looking to be the one on stage, this calendar provides a pretty comprehensive listing of comedy open mics nightly.

Finally, unless there's a specific comedian you are heading there to see, avoid over-hyped, midtown tourist haunts like Broadway Comedy Club and Caroline's.  They're overpriced and they lack the friendlier, cozy atmosphere of the smaller clubs.  Nevertheless, Caroline's does have a long-running "New Talent" night weekly, where you just might see some amateur comic get his or her start.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"French Roast" Serves Up More Than Just a Good Cup of Coffee.

Brunch has always been my favorite meal of the day, but learning how to "brunch" in New York City can sometimes be a challenge. There is no such thing as "french toast," only "brioche french toast," or "challah french toast."  A short stack of pancakes doesn't exist, but "cinnamon apple pancakes" and "pumpkin pecan pancakes" are all the rage. And those scrambled eggs you love? They're probably available somewhere, but you'll need to get more creative than that if you're looking to fit in at a trendy brunch spot on a Saturday or Sunday mid-morning or afternoon.

Soft Polenta With Brie (and a slice of "Breakfast Pizza" on the side...)
Well, look no further than hip, Upper West Side café,  "French Roast."  While it may be named after the superb cup of coffee it serves, the palatable brunch options more than compliment the java, as I discovered during a recent brunch at French Roast. 

Despite a packed house at around 1:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, we were seated within minutes, and the food was served quickly, yet was fresh and hot. 

My dining companion went for an inventive "breakfast pizza," made with eggs, tomato sauce, parmesan and spinach, while I opted for a "soft polenta with brie" dish, which was a concoction of eggs fried perfectly over easy, situated on a stockpile of fluffy, buttery, brie-ful polenta, garnished with sprigs of asparagus and drizzled with tantalizing white truffle oil. The taste remained on my tongue, and in my mind, for hours after the meal. Although we of course could not try them all, some of the other scrumptious-sounding menu items included a "potato, leek & goat cheese frittata," a "tomato & avocado salsa omelette," "brioche french toast with mixed berries," and, quite classically, "buttermilk pancakes with fresh strawberries and Vermont maple syrup," along with other interesting egg, croque, salad, soup, burger and sandwich options, to name a few... 

"Breakfast Pizza"

French Roast is located at 2340 Broadway, and is open 24 hours a day, but brunch is served only from 10am until 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. French Roast also has a downtown location, in the West Village, with varied menus. Leave a comment if you have any information on the downtown café.