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Best Place to Spot a Celebrity

The edifice at 30 Rockefeller Plaza has had many names over the years. From 1937 to 1988 it was known as the RCA Building. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the GE Building. And now, as of July 1, Comcast’s bold-lettered logo officially sits atop the iconic skyscraper’s 70-story façade. It matters little whose name is on the lease. As long as 30 Rock remains the headquarters of NBC and home to programs like Saturday Night Live, Today, Late Night, and The Tonight Show, the building will continue to reign at the premier location to spot ultra-famous musicians, actors, athletes, and politicians as they swing through the city. Rockefeller Plaza is a tourist destination in and of itself, but for many celebrities, 30 Rock is where they go to work. Strolling through the building’s high-ceilinged art deco halls, a New Yorker on the lookout might run into anyone from Questlove to Kenan Thompson to Fred Armisen to Jimmy Fallon. You never know. 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan 10112, 212-632-3975, rockefellercenter.com

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Usher

In anticipation of the R&B king’s forthcoming studio album, Usher recently released two new singles: “She Came to Give It to You,” featuring Nicki Minaj, which the pair performed at the MTV VMAs while engaging in a bit of bass- and ass-slapping, as well as the sultry, bump-and-grind, sorry-I-did-you-wrong “Believe Me.” Expect new tunes as Usher Raymond IV returns for a morning visit to NBC’s Today. It’s never too early for a little swooning and panty-dropping, right?

Fri., Sept. 5, 6 a.m., 2014

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War Animals: Nancy Rubins Goes Once More Into the Playground

You can hardly pass a toy store these days without thinking of Jeff Koons. Mr. Porcelain Smile has so deeply incorporated children’s playthings into his massive Whitney survey — those riffs on inflatable bunnies and dolphins; that storied balloon dog — that, for an art-aware New Yorker, a trip to FAO Schwarz now brings Koons to mind. (Let’s not even mention Split-Rocker, which presides over Rockefeller Center like a gargantuan testament to toddlerhood.)

All of which means that when you enter Nancy Rubins’s Gagosian exhibition, where each monumental work is made from found playground animals, you’ll hear echoes of Koons — “King Toys R Us,” himself.

Lucky for Rubins, the resulting compare-and-contrast tilts resoundingly in her favor. A quick peek into Rubins’s show and you might assume Koons had her beat — his balloon dogs outshine her scrap animals, some a bit worse for the wear, culled from postwar American playgrounds. But time spent looking at Rubins’s eccentric assemblages and their remarkable engineering will reward in ways that a Koons cannot.

Koons and Rubins are around the same age, and both passed through undergrad at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art. Koons, class of ’76, became a bauble-maker for the wealthy. Rubins, class of ’74, is less well-known (well, compared to Koons) and her large-scale works are not as well manicured. Born in Texas and now based in California, she’s been in the Venice and Whitney biennials and is collected by many museums. Past works, many massive, brought together airplane parts or boats that Rubins tethered with metal wire, as she does here, to make bulky, unwieldy objects.

The Gagosian show is called “Our Friend Fluid Metal,” but the four works on view are brutish and imposing. To make them, Rubins collected hundreds of postwar-era, aluminum playground animals, the kinds with springy bases that always seem to be rusting. There are ducks, skunks, hippos and eagles; horses (of course); and at least one turtle. (A motorcycle and spaceship are thrown in, too.) Rubins drilled holes in eyes, snouts, and knees and laced stainless-steel cables through and around them; tethering hooves and necks to other hooves and necks — some upside down, others sideways, and still others right side up. Most are contained within the confines of the wire as if caught in an enormous spiderweb.

The resulting sculptures are massive, the size (seemingly) of space debris. The largest stretches out 42 feet long and 24 feet wide. From a certain angle, its form echoes the images of that barbell-shaped comet the Rosetta space probe is studying. That the work appears to defy gravity makes the outer space metaphor all the more fitting. The piece is orbited by a trio of smaller satellite sculptures anchored to steel bases. In and of themselves,that threesome — with goofy names like Chunkus Majoris and Spiral Ragusso — is most interesting when considered as studies for their massive cousin. They also lend it a much-deserved audience.

For the major work, Rubins installed the animals around a system of compound steel trusses that cantilever out from the wall. The thing weighs 20 tons, and you can walk under it if you like. But the prospect is daunting, in the way a Richard Serra torqued ellipse pricks up your neck hairs. At the artwork’s lowest point, a pink horse head seemingly skirts the floor. The sensation is controlled catastrophe.

Rubins chose these decommissioned playthings for their unusual provenance. After World War II, retired airplanes were sometimes melted and cast into animals like these. In one way, their path traces American aspiration: Fight the battle so the kids can grow up safe. But to see instruments of war find new life in public parks also speaks to an abrupt about-face; the transition from wartime to peacetime is never so clear-cut. But the intersection of war and innocence, like that of restraint and chaos, is a place Rubins likes to travel.

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The Varied Impressions of the Most Valuable Photograph in the World in Men at Lunch

A picture is worth an hour’s worth of words in Men at Lunch, a documentary about the famed 1932 “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photograph that, according to image repository Corbis, remains the most valuable in the world. Narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, Seán Ó Cualáin’s film is a loving tribute to the photo, whose depiction of 11 men sitting atop a steel girder amid construction of 30 Rockefeller Center remains an enduring icon of innumerable things: New Yorkers’ relationship to their metropolis; the struggles and successes that defined the immigrant experience; and the aspirations, toughness, sacrifice, and resiliency of Americans both during the Great Depression and afterward. Through a standard mix of interviews and Ken Burns–style aesthetics, Cualáin details how the picture, symbolizing so much to so many, has in turn led to innumerable people’s claims that it was their relatives featured up on that steel beam. Given Men at Lunch‘s compelling argument that the identity of its anonymous ironworker subjects is beside the point—that mystery is a prime facet of its enduring appeal—the documentary’s desire to determine who they really were comes across as unnecessary. Nonetheless, shots of modern men rebuilding One World Trade Center stirringly evokes the majestic photo’s continuing connection to the present.

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Where Should I Go for Restaurant Week? Here Are 10 Suggestions

Don’t miss the lobster Bolognese at Telepan

New York Restaurant Week has been underway for two days. It will extend this year all the way to February 8, so you have plenty of time to dig for the choicest reservations. The guaranteed price on the core deal — not including tax, tip, or beverages — is $25 for lunch and $38 for dinner. We’ve found lunch is usually the best deal, and it’s often served in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Sustainable sardines at Esca

There will be 317 Manhattan restaurants participating this year. In making your choice, pick a place that is out of your regular price range, maybe one you’ve yearned to eat at. The place should be relatively expensive – there are establishments on the city’s list where the discounted price is actually more than a meal normally would cost there. Let the diner beware!

But most places want to encourage your future patronage by offering generous servings and signature dishes. Below are 10 restaurants that are among our favorites, where even a discounted meal is likely to leave you full and happy.

1. A Voce – Missy Robbins helms the kitchen at this attractive Italian just off of Madison Square, and the olive oil flows freely. The Restaurant Week menu features lamb sausage, sea bream, and, for dessert, zuppa inglese.41 Madison Avenue, 212-545-8555

2. Bar Boulud – Homemade charcuterie galore at this Daniel Boulud stunner near Lincoln Center, and it runs from a wonderful pastrami sandwich with a French twist to coarse-grained pates, then on to heavier entities like duck breast, roast chicken, and expertly cooked fish. 1900 Broadway, 212-595-0303

3. Brasserie Ruhlmann – There is an undefinable excitement that still lingers around Rockefeller Center, and this place has it in abundance, and distinguished architecture, too with a menu featuring rich Parisian fare with an American flair. 45 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-974-3711

4. EN Japanese Brasserie – A profusion of small dishes are offered in a haunted landscape of trees and polished stones. Don’t miss the garlic rice, truffle chawan mushi, or Japanese-style fried chicken, and bone up on your sake skills before you go. 435 Hudson Street, 212-647-9196

5. Esca – Chef David Pasternack comes from a Long Island fishing family, and it shows in the reverent commingling of seafood and Italian culinary traditions. Don’t miss the raw fish crudo, which the chef popularized when the place first opened. 402 West 43rd Street, 212-564-7272

6. Hospoda – This restaurant represents Czech food’s coming of age, a merging of Eastern European elements with Greenmarket sensibilities via Prague ham, hearty lentil soup, and such unexpected pairings as scallops and pork shank. 321 East 73rd Street, 212-861-1038

7. Kin Shop – Harold Dieterle won the first season of Top Chef, but that was no indication of how good his restaurants would be. Lucky for us, he’s established a small empire of places in the West Village, each with contrasting menus, and the one here skews reverently Thai, with some surprising innovations. 469 Sixth Avenue, 212-675-4295

8. MarkJoseph Steakhouse – This place founded by former Luger employees is as good as steak gets on this side of the river, and the secluded Seaport location is an added plus. 261 Water Street, 212-277-0020

9. Rosa Mexicano at Union Square – Things have been much more exciting at Rosa Mexicano ever since Jonathan Waxman revamped the menu with all sorts of arcane regional dishes. 9 East 18th Street, 212-533-3350

10. Telepan – Bill Telepan was one of the city’s earliest advocates of local and sustainable sourcing, and his bright, muraled Upper West Side restaurant still hoists the banner high, as a recent revisit demonstrated. 72 West 69th Street, 212-580-4300

Jonathan Waxman’s enchiladas at Rosa Mexicano

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WAKE UP, IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY

There are some New York holiday traditions that we can’t live without: Ice skating in Rockefeller Plaza, walking around in Central Park, and of course watching It’s A Wonderful life on Christmas Day. Watch it again and feel warm and happy because you deserve it. Merry Christmas!

Tue., Dec. 25, 1 p.m., 2012

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We Were Promised Jetpacks

As designers descend upon New York for Fashion Week, Scottish indie rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks will provide alternating uplifting and brooding soundtracks as they traverse their two-album repertoire of highly textured, scratchy guitar anthems for tonight’s Fashion’s Night Out event. Since their songs have the ability to elevate and crush, as they demonstrated most recently on some of the more complex and rhythmic numbers on last year’s In the Pit of the Stomach, it will serve as a great common denominator for fashion industry professionals and Rockefeller gawkers alike. With the Lonely Forest.

Thu., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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One Direction, Booster Club

The male teen idol might be the most unfairly maligned type of musical act among the rock cognoscenti—not nearly as musically skilled as jam-band noodlers, fluffier than the group of guys dressing up like Kiss and playing “Rock and Roll All Nite” at outer-borough dive bars, more likely to be derided for skating by on cute-but-not-hot looks than their female peers. So much of the animosity, of course, comes from the idea that the fans of these artists are young girls, screaming their hearts out as much because of the people flailing around and singing on stage as they are because of the hormonal awakenings happening inside them.

The newest entrant into this much-maligned category: the five 20-and-unders from the British Isles who collectively go by the name One Direction. Put together as a sort of patchwork from the British edition of the televised talent show The X Factor—each member had tried out for the show separately and not made the cut, but were seen to be more than the sum of their parts by pop spark plug Nicole Scherzinger (herself no stranger to the idea of being better in a band, having had a patchy solo career here following her tenure in the brand-extending girl group the Pussycat Dolls) and X Factor figurehead Simon Cowell—the group eventually went on to place third in the competition.

And now, thanks to a pump primed by the Internet (and a lead single that touches its target audience where it counts, about which more in a second), Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson seem to be poised to follow in the win-the-long-game tradition of such American-talent-show also-rans as Miranda Lambert and Jennifer Hudson, as well as that of imported idols like Justin Bieber, who is trying to grow up in the public eye by making jokes about a pet snake named “Johnson” and displaying fealty to his similarly famous other half Selena Gomez.

After a few appearances across the Northeast, One Direction made its New York debut Friday night, when they performed at Radio City Music Hall as the opening act for the Nickelodeon-borne boy band Big Time Rush. Excitement for their set was in the air from the moment the doors opened; homemade T-shirts fashioned (still!) from puffy paint and permanent marker declared which “team” the young women wearing them happened to be on, while a security guard stationed near the door checked pieces of oak tag proclaiming love and devotion. The crowd popped the moment a banner (really, a simple black sheet with the band name in what looked to be a font scavenged from a late-’90s CD-ROM of “grunge” typography) was unfurled; that moment had been preceded by a small blimp emblazoned with the headliners’ name launching itself above the crowd, and despite its aerial feats (whoever was in charge of the remote control should get some sort of bonus for the way it almost buzzed the crowd), it was the sheet that got the bigger reception by a long way.

The lights went down, and a video came up. Designed to count down the 60 seconds leading into the group’s performance, the clip has them all getting in a speeding van, with the action pausing on particularly attractive freeze-frames to outline each member’s basic personality quirks. (Harry dislikes beetroot. Zayn likes tour buses.) When they finally did hit the stage, the screams from the devoted were so loud they could almost be felt, like a pelting rain. At certain moments in order to fit all five of them into the viewfinders of the cameraphones that stayed, stubbornly, in the air for their whole set, it seemed like the members were gathering together. They didn’t dance as much as they leaned and bounced, bringing to mind the doo-wop-era groups that would congregate on brownstone steps. They thanked the audience. They covered Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” a curiously mature choice that had the mothers and daughters in the audience grabbing onto one another and singing along, like the younger women had with every other song. (I didn’t ask those around me if their knowledge of the band’s catalog, the sum total of which is an album that didn’t officially come out here until this week, was from smuggled-in CDs, or streams, or more illicit means of music-gathering.)

The seven-song set closed with the band’s current single, the peppy, slick “What Makes You Beautiful.” The track (No. 44 on the Hot 100) could be easily dismissed as a slick piece of post-Lavigne pop—just enough guitar crunch to make its sugar cereal go down a bit more grittily—if not for its lyrics. “You’re insecure/Don’t know what for,” it starts. And then it goes on: “You’re turning heads when you walk through the door/Don’t need makeup/To cover up/Being the way that you are is enough.” In the age of “It Gets Better” and those YouTube clips where young women unsure about their place in the pecking order ask the masses to weigh in on their appearance—and get crucified by the site’s anonymous, spelling-challenged hordes of commenters as a result—”What Makes You Beautiful” is an unbelievably canny move, a love song that doesn’t just glide over its intended’s imperfections, but instead transforms them into assets. It’s a rebuke not just to minor cruelties, but to the paparazzi-photo-sneering, awfulplasticsurgery.com-devouring culture as a whole—and it’s a message that, truth be told, could probably be appreciated by more than a few adults feeling isolated and hidebound as well.

Monday morning, the group performed on Today, filling Rockefeller Plaza after a weekend of suburban CD signings. The performance of “Beautiful” wasn’t by any means perfect; those familiar with Cowell’s notoriously sour reactions could have probably envisioned the face he made when the boys tried to hit some of the lower-register notes. (No charges of sweetened vocals here.) But watching individual members of the audience sing along, their mouths turned upward, it was possible to see awkward phases be not entirely shed, but at least forgotten about for a couple of minutes—an appeal that, sadly, too few of the people ridiculing haircuts and baby faces are ready to grant as not just valid, but necessary for girls on the cusp of womanhood.

mjohnston@villagevoice.com

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American Kobe Burger at Brasserie Ruhlmann

Sink your teeth into this baby — if you can afford it.

Sometimes you have to have a hamburger. The fries don’t even have to be that great. In NYC, the burger is probably the most ubiquitous meal available — ahead of pizza, falafel, salad-bar salads, sushi, and a dozen others you can find anywhere in the city. The number of styles and sizes of burgers currently available is bewildering. Consequently, Fork in the Road here inburgerates a new feature: Burgers at Random. Our first is an upscale one at Brasserie Ruhlmann in Rockefeller Center.

From overhead, it looks like a face with a mohawk of french fries.

The landmarked space mid-block on the north side of 50th Street is freighted with Art Deco features, from wavy metal décor and lots of dark mable, to the furniture in the bar and dining room, to the very ice buckets that your overpriced bottle of white wine will briefly occupy. The chef is Laurent Tourondel, formerly of the BLT empire.

The Kobe beef burger ($24) is a good half-pound of freshly ground meat deposited in a seeded brioche bun that’s been toasted on the cut surfaces. It comes with Bibb lettuce, raw purple onion, and a cunningly cut pickle, along with your condiment of choice — for me it was mayo. The cheese is extra, but who needs it?

I don’t give a shit if the beef comes from some quasi-bovine animal pastured on the moon. This is probably not Kobe beef, anyway, which comes from Japan, but made from one of the Kobe-inseminated Angus cows we have here, which is a different thing entirely. Nor would anyone in their right mind waste good Wagyu beef by grinding it up! No, what beef is claimed in the menu’s listing is of no consequence. The important thing is that this burger is lush, moist, and hot pink. The beef doesn’t taste aged quite enough, but it still tastes beefy in an American sort of way, with a pronounced minerality. I loved every bite.

Yes, the burger gets high marks, but you can get one almost as good at just over half the
price. The fries merit a B+, and the pickle is fantastic, of the sour-pickle school.

Bistro Ruhlmann
45 Rockefeller Center (50th Street)
212-974-2020

The monster shot

The view out the window at Brasserie Ruhlmann

Check out our 11 Best Burgers of 2011.

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Ice Skating For the Holidays

Nothing says holidays like ice skating under the New York City sky. This holiday season you’ve got the option on where to hit the ice, but knowing tourists, they’ll definitely be at Rockefeller Plaza. Opt for a more spacious and relaxed skate venue at Bryant Park. Once you skate here, you’ll never go anywhere else.

Mondays-Sundays. Starts: Nov. 23. Continues through Feb. 26, 2011