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Posts from — October 2008

Itinerary: Rothko Chapel and Discovery Green

Houston is home to the Rothko Chapel, but the first time I saw a Rothko painting was actually at the Tate Modern in London last year. This year the Seagram Murals, originally commissioned for a hotel restaurant in NY, are shown in an expanded exhibition at the Tate along with other works from the series. I have no plans to be in London this year, but according to the artist’s son the ultimate Rothko experience is in actually in Houston.

The exhibition has set off a wave of stories about Mark Rothko in the British press, including an article by the Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones who sheds some light on what the artist may have thought about displaying his work in a posh restaurant. The night Rothko had dinner at the restaurant (food transforming art?) for the first time he changed his mind about the commission and decided to return the money, telling his assistant that “anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine”. He donated the paintings to the Tate Modern in his final act of defiance against the NY social elite a decade later.

Fischer quotes Rothko describing the room in that very expensive restaurant in the Seagram Building as “a place where the richest bastards in New York will come to feed and show off”.

Rothko didn’t seem to Fischer in the least unworldly, let alone spiritual about his intentions. “I hope to ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room,” he gloated, with paintings that will make those rich bastards “feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up”.

Jonathan Jones writes well, but he’s also hard to read. Like many writers at the Guardian and the Independent he paints all Americans (and Houstonians for that matter) with broad brush strokes and his articles are dripping with pseudo intellectual innuendo, but he is also a capable art reviewer, so it’s worth slogging through his condescending prose. 

In his previous articles he draws on the similarities between the Seagram Murals and the Rothko Chapel, both influenced by the vault-like space created by Michelangelo. He digs up details casual art fans may not be aware of – before the building was even built, Rothko constructed a life size model of the chapel space in his studio in Manhattan to get appropriate sense of dimension. Rothko did finish the paintings, but killed himself roughly a year before the chapel was completed – the same day the Seagram Murals arrived at the Tate Modern –  never making it to Houston to place the paintings himself.

If you are in Houston and plan to see the Rothko Chapel, you’ll find that navigating the city can be somewhat disorienting. Even the locals are frequently surprised by what they find in the patchwork of neighborhoods that make up this giant un-zoned city, so I put together a suggested itinerary loosely based on a day I pretended to be a tourist in my hometown. Have fun and hydrate.

7am: no reason to wake up at 7 unless you have to. Collect $200, go right back to sleep.

10am: head down to Midtown and share a plate of chicken and waffles at the Breakfast Klub (it’s really more of a lunch dish). No one eats healthy breakfasts in the Republic of Texas. Neither should you.

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October 19, 2008   11 Comments

Bice evicted from Galleria, Gigi’s lives on

Spending some time at the Fox Sports Grill (against my will) I noticed that Bice was only a couple of feet away. I have been to Galleria III dozens of times since Bice opened a couple of years ago and never realized where the restaurant was actually located.

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For about a year now, I have been planning a lunch visit, but the few reviews of it convinced me that I need to be a bit more dressed up than I usually am at work. I work for a software company. Putting on slacks is considered on occupational hazard. The few times I was appropriately dressed, I found the lure of Brennan’s or Da Marco too much to ignore.

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No regrets there, but still. I waited too long. Bice was closed. Letter in the window advising the owners they can get their keys back if they pay a ripe sum of $164,731.37 (seriously, how do you fall this far behind on rent?).

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October 4, 2008   3 Comments

Myung Dong back on the map

Myung Dong might be the most carefully camouflaged restaurant in Houston. There is no listing for it in any of the food guides for Houston. Even Google isn’t aware it exists. The only reference I found to it was from an Alison Cook review – from 1994.

Although there is a small English sign on the shopping center marquee it fades almost completely into the background. The convex shape of the building and the odd glow given off by the green plastic that drapes the windows make the structure look like a decommissioned a B-movie spacecraft. It certainly doesn’t look like a restaurant.

I went in anyway, convinced that only people intent on keeping great food from n00bs would go through this much trouble to hide it. My original destination was the La Roca next door, which serves up some of the best pupusas on what may be the best stretch of pupuserias in Houston. Korean food in this neighborhood? Not so much.

Step inside Muyng Dong and you may wonder if you have been transported to North Korea. Few people know what North Korea really looks like, but I have been to more than a few Soviet institutional spaces to easily suspend disbelief. Naked fluorescent light fixtures. Brown window treatments. Formica tables. Surplus cafeteria  chairs.

The food I had at my one and only visit, however, was quite good.

Normally I’d eat bibimbap at the restaurant because the best part comes from the crisped bits of rice at the bottom of the bowl. Myung Dong packaged the rice, meat, vegetables, sauces and a perfectly fried egg separately that I was able to use my favorite cast iron pan to get the exact consistency I want at home. The red tinted rice was a bit more flavorful than typical white rice, so I think my next bibimpab order will be at in the dining room to see how it tastes when it doesn’t have to travel.

 

The typical sides that come with the Korean meal seemed quite a step above most restaurants as well and seemed more like foods you’d find in a Korean home. The kimchee was excellent, but my favorite were the tiny little dried fish, which look like seaweed salad, but have a great briny fishy taste.

 

The seafood pancake, often a flat crepe-like affair, had the consistency and volume of a very moist and doughy cornbread. I could have done without the imitation crab, but other than that it was the best part of the meal.

October 1, 2008   1 Comment