Beneath Traps Us Underground

In August 2010, a collapse at the San Jose Mine in the Atacama Desert trapped 33 Chileans nearly 2,500 feet underground, where they languished, awaiting rescue, for 69 days.

“It’s a bitter truth of mining,” writes Hector Tobar in a recent New Yorker profile of the incident, “that sometimes men are buried alive and die of starvation, their bodies never recovered.”

That truth looms over the opening of Ben Ketai’s horror film Beneath, as an outfit of American miners carts its way into the bowels of the Earth, music swelling around them portentously. Our players are perfunctorily introduced — there’s an agro meathead, a sensitive intellectual, an old-timer with one day left before retirement, and a young woman along for the ride — and, after a bit of ingratiating camaraderie, the roof duly caves in.

Now, you might think, given the vicarious fear the world endured on behalf of the Chileans, a horror film about a mine collapse need only induce a readymade sense of claustrophobia to justify the price of admission.

But Beneath exhausts the appeal of its thinly sketched characters almost as soon as they’re trapped together in the mine’s emergency bunker, and it isn’t long before Ketai, tiring of human drama, turns instead toward the supernatural. Are we really so easily bored by the terror reality affords?

It isn’t enough that our survivors must contend with falling rocks and a rapidly diminishing air supply; Ketai soon pits them against the ghosts of miners buried in rubble centuries before. Talk about bad luck.


Smash Mouth

At times, San Jose’s Smash Mouth can seem like a parodic cross between self-help guru pap and a commercial-jingle machine. “All Star” is their best-known anthemic goof, but it might surprise casual listeners to learn that they’re packing an entire discography designed to scratch the same populist itch. The group’s mash of ska, punk-lite, and power pop ingratiates, but singer Steve Harwell is its ever-present, backslapping main attraction, the host of every party you’ve never been at but declined to vacate for fear of missing out on something epic.

Tue., Nov. 26, 7 p.m., 2013



In this moment, New York underground rap is as creative as it’s been since before this new generation can remember, and Le1f, a Das Racist affiliate (he produced the group’s breakout “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”) working with Heem’s Greedhead label, is as creative as any of his peers. Dropping last week, Tree House, his second mixtape of the year, tops the first, effortlessly jumping from the even more spaced-out version of Jeremih’s spaced-out r&b found on “Hush Bb” to the tongue-in-cheek trap of “Damn Son.” The whole thing is a trip. Tonight, he heads downtown to Santos Party House, where he’ll be joined by Lakutis, another New York Greedhead dude, and Antwon, a San Jose, California, native whose hip-house throwback “Living Every Dream” might make you start your summer 2014 playlist three seasons early.

Fri., Sept. 27, 7 p.m., 2013


Wylie Dufresne Launches a Big New Tasting Menu at WD-50

The fun starts here: When you visit WD-50 on the Lower East Side to try its excellent new tasting menu, you don’t need to dress the part of Person Going to a Fancy Restaurant.

The dining room warbles with caftaned aunties visiting from out of town, sexless retirees in pleated, knee-length shorts, buff young men in brightly colored polo shirts discussing the menu with their dates, and disheveled cooks from other restaurants arriving to the bar like pilgrims, happy to spend their week’s wages on two sweet hours. Me, I went in jeans and sandals, with a sheen of sweat on my forehead and a lightness in my heart. Dressing down for a tasting is just the sort of thing that gets a few old white men flustered each year, pointing their fingers like sausages to declare the death of fine dining. But what could be wrong with a restaurant that welcomes you as yourself?

And that’s exactly what Wylie Dufresne has been doing since he first renovated the San Jose bodega on a grubby patch of Clinton Street almost 10 years ago and hit us with his eccentric, avant-garde cookery. Since May, he has been offering two tasting menus, a 12-courser composed of brand-new dishes ($155) and a five-courser of greatest hits ($75). The new tasting is an epic, culinary love story set in New York City. And it is a must-eat, packed with edible tricks and technique-bolstered extras you might expect from the science-loving chef who brought us squirt-your-own noodles and deep-fried hollandaise. It is also delicious, fun as hell, and well worth the fatso price tag.

The meal begins with a sticky nigiri of cured Spanish mackerel and salsify, beaded with pearls of trout roe and spherified seaweed, which you are encouraged to eat with your hands. It is soft and sensual and unexpectedly natural looking, as if we’d been eating it just like this for thousands of years. Pho gras, a mash-up of hot Vietnamese noodle soup with a cold torchon of foie, made me nostalgic for my first year in the city, during which Pho Grand’s cheap bowls of broth and noodles could sometimes be the brightest part of my day. As the waiter poured the centrifuge-clarified broth table-side, the sweet smell of star anise came up to greet me and I was moved, for just a moment, to tears.

“Can I get you anything?” the waiter said flatly to us after our third dessert. “Perhaps madame would care for a bean burrito?” Part of what adds to the joy of the place is WD-50’s distinct style of service. The staff is attentive, without hovering; casual, without being overly friendly. They’re knowledgeable, too—even the busboy who clears your table will know what that smear was from two courses ago and tell you how it was made.

Now we’ve got Ko, with its backless bar stools, and Brooklyn Fare, with its industrial steel communal table, but when Dufresne opened in 2003, his approach to fine dining was quite cheeky. A simple space with no tablecloths, no dress code, and unisex bathroom stalls? Hydrocolloids? It was kind of a big deal. It still is.

Some dishes, like the tiny nest of wide hot-pink noodles made from lobster roe, cradling halved grapes, reveal a particularly sexy collusion of technique and flavor. They are gone too soon. Others are more complicated, like the sticky, amaro-cured egg yolk, neatly packaged in ribbons of carrot, which comes with a few tiny scoops of carrots dusted with pea powder, pretending to be peas. This garnish is oddly intense and strange, but you keep popping these carrots in disguise. (Why? Because they give you access to some long-forgotten memory related to frozen, precooked vegetables.)

Desserts are exceptional. They’re the work of Malcolm Livingston II, formerly of Per Se and Le Cirque. His light, refreshing pre-dessert of cucumber with chartreuse and jasmine is a seductive invitation to move into the sweet courses. Such is the pacing, the order of dishes, and the portion sizes, that you will not want the meal to be over before it is. You will feel full, though, eventually.

Although Dufresne uses science to make his food more clever and tasty, the new menu makes it clear that he’s a thoughtful, brilliant chef, and not some wacky, show-off Dr. Frankenstein. But halfway through dinner, I did see a man go silly and wondered if the comparisons of WD-50 to a laboratory were right after all. The man folded his napkin into a hat, balanced it on his head, and grinned hopelessly at his date. Tasting menus are generally expensive and impressive, and often exhausting—but fun? Two tables away, I saw a grown-up break a thin sheet of cucumber sorbet like the top of a crème brûlée while making the sound of a four-year-old flying his imaginary airplane into the chartreuse-colored clouds. If WD-50 is Dufresne’s lab, then we’re some lucky bunnies.


Sao Mai and Xe May Sandwich Shop: Finally, Your Banh Mi Tacos

It was an auspicious beginning: a squat stack of culantro nestled against the branches of Thai basil and crisp bean sprouts on the herb plate accompanying my pho. It’s rare to find the dark green, jagged leaves in Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, as most eateries substitute the blander and more ubiquitous cilantro. Yes, my meal at Sao Mai, a casual Vietnamese joint on First Avenue in the East Village, was off to a promising start.

Unlike San José, Houston, and even the northern Virginia suburbs, the Big Apple isn’t a hotbed of Vietnamese cuisine. Nevertheless, the brick-walled storefront marks a refreshing stop for flavorful—if standard—Southeast Asian fare. Begin by plopping down on the black banquette underneath the fake bamboo plants and slurping some soup. The classic beefy pho ($9) comes showered with scallions and herbs and warms the gullet, but I actually preferred the more delicate chicken version ($8). Yes, the broccoli and celery slices were odd choices and should be nixed, but the stock—garnished with fried onions—was rich, and the noodles retained a snappy bite. Canh chua ($8), a tart tamarind broth accented with tomatoes and pineapple, works if you’re looking for something spicier. Not quite as sour as other versions I’ve had but still a keeper.

Bánh cuôn, or steamed rice crepe ($7), makes for a welcome change from the de rigueur summer roll. Minced pork and wood’s ear mushrooms arrive wrapped in pliant rice paper, delicate and savory. Looking for something cool and crunchy? Go for the lotus-root salad ($8.50)—though you might want to avoid the shrimp on top, which had an off-putting, muddy taste on one occasion. Or dive into the $16 sampler plate for some DIY-wrapping action. It’s chock-full of everything from barbecued shrimp and pork to pickled carrots to flat, woven noodle sheets and lettuce leaves.

Among the heftier plates, get down with the grilled chicken ($12), super moist and singing with carbonized char. Or if you gave up meat for Lent, try the crispy, stuffed tofu on a bed of bok choy ($10.50). Not everything’s a winner, though. Skip the clay-pot dishes ($10 to $12), which feature a runny sauce overpowered by a glut of green bell peppers.

While Sao Mai dishes up the classics, the tiny Xe May Sandwich Shop, a few blocks away on St. Marks Place, is decidedly 21st century. With just four stools, it specializes in fusion banh mi, the popular baguette-based hoagies brimming with assorted cold cuts, pickled vegetables, and herbs. The sammies are quite good, especially the Super Cub Classic ($6), which piles on headcheese, pork roll, and a livery pâté. The Lam’bretta ($6.50)—which tucks thinly sliced lamb in a mild coconut-curry sauce into a soft, chewy loaf—works well, too, especially when paired with a cooling basil-limeade soda ($2.50). But the most intriguing menu items? The banh mi tacos ($2.50).

Yes, you read that correctly. Less than a decade ago, the city went wild overnight for Vietnamese sandwiches. Then beginning in 2010, the Korean-taco craze migrated from Southern California, and kimchi-spiked beef wrapped inside tortillas was all the rage. Now comes the apotheosis of culinary trendiness. In truth, these Mexicamese snacks don’t work nearly as well as the sandwiches, mostly because the fillings are too dry for the corn disks. But it’s an interesting glimpse into the fluidity among cuisines nowadays and the warp speed at which culinary fads evolve. And it’s likely only the beginning. Spring roll manicotti, anyone?




On July 4th, an epic battle will be waged. Although American freedom remains secure, one coveted Yellow Mustard Belt is now at stake. This Independence Day, Nathan’s Famous will host its 94th International Hot Dog Eating Contest at its flagship restaurant in Coney Island. Last year, 40,000 fans saw Joey Chestnut of San Jose, California, beat six-time winner, Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, for the second time. Now, these two hot dog–eating heavyweights will face off again, with Italy’s mighty champion, Franco Camerini, and promising American contender Eater X also weighing in. Can Chestnut keep his title, or will one of the other 20 steel-stomached contestants snatch it away? Richard Shea of Major League Eating predicts, “It’s going to be dog-for-dog, bite-for-bite, swallow-for-swallow.” Don’t miss this food fight for the record books.

Sat., July 4, noon, 2009



The song turns 40, occasioning a Greil Marcus “biography.” Marcus can’t match Dylan either in nearness or displacement. Or can he? (In Chronicles a moody Dylan, the winter before Oh Mercy, nails both: “I had nothing more to bitch about . . . then it hit me.”) A chapter called “San Jose Idol” sends up a radio station competition in which contestants sang Dylan to win concert tickets: “Were the winners . . . really going to keep the tickets they won? If this is who Bob Dylan is to the people on this show, why would they want to see him? Why would anyone?” If American Idol made “received inflections and grimaces” our inheritance from the world of pop, was it ever any different?

Maybe that’s a non-question, like the one about whether our land is like or unlike (Marcus: “unlike”?) the land in 2003’s Masked and Anonymous, a Dylan-co-written not-exactly-vehicle that has him playing once famous, ill-forgotten singer Jack Fate. The third world has colonized the first; the inhabitants are “not the Statue of Liberty’s huddled masses” but “looters,” or “self-loathing, culturally narcissistic middle-aged white people trying to find something better to do than sing Townes van Zandt’s ‘Waiting Around to Die.’

Day two, take two (you knew these would be there) from the epilogue is austere: “There’s a bright introduction, but the piano slips, and after ‘Once upon a time’ everything is confused.”


One-Bedroom Renovated Apartment

Location Greenwich Village

Rent $1984/mo. (sublet)

Square feet 500

Occupants Lee Horowitz (Internet ad sales); Dana Zell (tour marketing associate, Disney Theatricals)

You said that you found your apartment when you started talking to a woman with a schnauzer. By the way, that reminds me of a friend who was talking about someone who was such a cheapskate. The friend said, Oh, he’s such a schnauzer. He meant to say schnorrer. Anyway . . . [Lee] It was last year. We knew we wanted to live in the West Village. We were sitting on a stoop. A lady was walking her dog, the schnauzer. I asked her, How did you get your apartment? She said, Do you want it? I’m buying a place. [Dana] Lee will talk to absolutely anybody. The other day he saw this pregnant woman at the Duane Reade. He yelled: Boy or girl! Before we got this apartment, Lee created flyers that had a picture of us. He was ready to paste them all over the Village. Fun-loving couple who like to go on walks, good restaurants, seeks one-bedroom—a stoop would be good. But we never needed the flyer. [Lee] We have His and Hers closets in the bedroom. They have lights. When I looked for my apartment on the Upper East Side six years ago, I saw two, three a day. I just did telemarketing, one out of every 10 million will lead you to something. It’s like sales, you’ve just got to make phone calls.

Your father is in sales, too? His whole life—pens, mugs, little tchotchkes! Ever try these?

You’re holding out a small dispenser that ejects what looks like a rectangular piece of plastic film. Put it on your tongue. It’s a mint—amazing! I grew up on the borderline of the Bronx, very small apartment. My grandmother owned a corner candy store in Brooklyn. They lived above the store.

People like your grandparents didn’t walk around saying it’s impossible to live in New York. I really wish we could afford a loft. Times were different then. They were just happy to be a family. Here’s a photo of me and Dana at Halloween. [Dana] Lee went as Lite-Brite, the toy. I was a Solid Gold dancer, that ’70s show. I’m from San Jose. My dad teaches first grade and all the kids call him Steve. I came to New York to be a dancer, lived on Bleecker and Thompson with three other girls in a one-bedroom for five years. It really didn’t get old until the last few months. [Lee] Dana and I met at an Internet trade show. She was working at the help desk. I couldn’t find the meeting I was supposed to go to. I walked away. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I went back, begged her to have lunch. We had the worst Chinese food ever. Then one night we tried to meet at a restaurant. I couldn’t find her. [Dana] Then he did. [Lee] After that, it was dynamite. I proposed to her on the roof last March. She was staring at the Empire State Building.

You have all these happy endings in your life. I’m pretty happy when I wake up every morning. We love this neighborhood. [Dana] I always wanted to live in the Village growing up. I saw it in movies, Chorus Line, When Harry Met Sally. Remember, he drops her off in Washington Square Park?

When I think of the Village, I think of Dawn Powell throwing one back or e.e. cummings typing without capital letters or, well, I guess it depends on one’s point of reference. I knew that Poe lived down there.

Oh, him. [Lee] There was someone famous on our block, I saw a plaque. Crane Hart?

Hart Crane. I like living around artists and poets. I hope it rubs off on me. I like to think I’m creative.

Are any artists left around here? You said your neighbors are lawyers, admen. There are still some. And living down here, you can be a little freer in your thinking. It allows you to learn more about yourself and what you’re capable of. [Dana] And every day is going to be completely different than the next day and . . .


Dream of a Worldwide Truce

On the eve of a United Nations special session on drugs, an international roster of luminaries signed a letter, penned by members of the Lindesmith Center, that lobbied for radical change. “We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself,” read the June 1998 declaration. “Persisting in our current policies will only result in more drug abuse, more empowerment of drug markets and criminals, and more disease and suffering.”

Among the signatories were Willie Brown, Joycelyn Elders, several former members of Congress, two former U.S. attorneys general, a former assistant secretary of state, three federal judges, the San Jose mayor, a former police commissioner of New York City, a former secretary general of the UN, 28 Spanish judges, past presidents of Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, and current legislators from Australia, Britain, Canada, European Parliament, Mexico, and Peru.

Non-politicos who signed include Kweisi Mfume, Walter Cronkite, Stephen Jay Gould, Andrew Weil, Isabel Allende, Günter Grass, a slew of professors at top-notch universities, CEOs, various clergy, and Nobel laureates.

Several representatives on Capitol Hill are also bucking for new approaches. Reformers include California representative Tom Campbell, who has suggested “experiments in supplying drugs to addicts the way Zurich tried,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Massachusetts representative Barney Frank has repeatedly introduced a bill to change pot from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, thus allowing states to legalize it for medical purposes. In its current incarnation, the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act is cosponsored by 14 representatives and is residing in a House subcommittee.

Many on the federal bench have also seen the light. During his tenure as chief judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (1993-2000), Reagan appointee Richard Posner argued in favor of legalizing marijuana and psychedelics. District Judge Warren Eginton of Connecticut wants to see pot and cocaine legalized, while District Judge James C. Paine of Florida has condemned the war on drugs.

Other leaders who question prohibition are listed below. —R.K.

Gustavo de Greiff

former Attorney General of Colombia

“We should legalize drugs because we here are providing the dead, and the consumers are there in the U.S.”

source: El Diario-La Prensa, May 8, 1994

Peter Bourne

President Carter’s Drug Czar

“We did not view marijuana as a significant health problem—as it was not. . . . Nobody dies from marijuana. Marijuana smoking, in fact, if one wants to be honest, is a source of pleasure and amusement to countless millions of people in America, and it continues to be that way.”

source: PBS’s Frontline: “Drug Wars,” October 2000

Joseph D. McNamara

former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City

“We should immediately stop arresting people whose only crime is possessing small amounts of drugs for their own use. . . . Marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol and cigarettes.”

source: The Washington Post, May 19, 1996

Jaime Ruiz

senior adviser to the Colombian President

“From the Colombian point of view [legalization] is the easy solution. I mean, just legalize it and we won’t have any more problems. Probably in five years we wouldn’t even have guerrillas. No problems. We [would] have a great country with no problems.”

source: Ottawa Citizen, September 6, 2000

George Papandreou

Greek Foreign Minister

“I can officially state that my government and myself believe that all over Europe we need to open a debate on the ‘drug question’ in order to create more coherent and human policies with better perspectives. . . . The policy of criminalizing consumers has failed, creating many problems to our society.”

source: Transnational Radical Party’s Anti-Prohibitionist Days, Brussels, December 11, 1997

Edward Ellison

former head of Scotland Yard’s Antidrug Squad

“I say legalize drugs because I want to see less drug abuse, not more. And I say legalize drugs because I want to see the criminals put out of business.”

source: London’s Daily Mail, March 10, 1998

Ray Kendall

Secretary General of Interpol

“[I am] entirely supportive of the notion of removing the abuse of drugs from the penal realm in favor of other forms of regulation such as psycho, medical, social treatment.”

source: Report of Premier’s Advisory Council, 1996

Juan Torruella

chief judge of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

“There is a need for pilot tests of some types of limited decriminalization, probably commencing with marijuana, and obviously not including minors.”

source: Spotlight Lecture at Colby College, Waterville, Maine, April 25, 1996

John Curtin

U.S. district judge, New York

“Education, counseling, less use of criminal sanctions, partial legalization, and legalization are all alternatives. It is a hard road, but the present course has failed.”

source: The Buffalo News, March 2, 1997

Robert Sweet

U.S. district judge, New York

“Finally, the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to others.”

source: National Review, February 12, 1996

House of Lords, Great Britain

“We consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use. This unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis preparations for therapeutic use.”

source: “Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis,” Select Committee on Science and Technology, March 14, 2001

Australian Parliament

“Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug trafficking, and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties as part of the battle to curb the drug trade. All the evidence shows, however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in preventing the supply of illicit drugs to Australian markets, but that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so. If the present policy of prohibition is not working, then it is time to give serious consideration to the alternatives, however radical they may seem.”

source: Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1988

Part I of this article: World Leaders on Dope