Straphangers who want to experience the rolling nightmare that is New York City’s subway system from the comfort of their own home are in luck. A new video game called “MTA Country,” which debuted this week, takes players on a treacherous ride through graffiti-lined tunnels filled with electrical fires, broken tracks, and stalled subway cars.
Users play as Gregg T., the face of the MTA’s “New Yorkers Keep New York Safe” safety ad campaign, who has since become a bit of a meme. At the start of the game, Gregg T. jumps into a subway car with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Together, the three must leap over track fires and broken-down subway cars full of irritated passengers while dodging pizza rats and passing under graffiti tags that say “Giuliani was here.”
The goal is to collect subway tokens and a series of glowing letters that — spoiler alert — eventually spell out the word “PRIVATIZE.” At that point, the subway car turns into a shimmering hyperloop pod, and Gregg T. disembarks safely in Washington, DC.
The game was created by Everydayarcade, a creative collective of advertising professionals that makes hot-button video games in their spare time. The group has created video games for The New York Times and The Outline. A satirical anti-Trump game, in which players throw stereotyped Mexican characters over an ever-rising border between the US and Mexico, was rejected by Apple’s App Store for being too offensive.
“We’re just three idiots who make topical video games, so we have no idea how to fix the subway,” Mike Lacher, one of the game’s creators, said in an email. “Everybody seems to propose a solution, so we thought it would be funny to play one out to the extreme. Collecting letters to spell out “RAISE FARES OVER FIVE YEARS TO FINANCE SIGNAL IMPROVEMENTS” would take too long, and be kind of a downer.”
(Lacher’s co-creator, Chris Baker, told the New York Post, “We didn’t want to hit anyone over the head with the libertarianism. We wanted it to be a funny joke that does have some merit.”)
Lacher said he and his friends were inspired to make the game by countless hours of being trapped on broken-down trains. “The three of us live in New York, and, like pretty much everyone in New York, have been frustrated by the subways,” he said. “We’ve spent lots of time trapped underground or fighting to get into full trains.”
He continued, “We’ve also been watching the intense debate and arguments around it, and we were amused by what an inescapable mess it seems to be and how no one can possibly take accountability for it. So we decided to poke some fun at the absurdity with an absurd game. We got excited about the connection between the abandoned mine level in Donkey Kong and the declining state of the subway.”
The buck-passing over the subway came into view this week as de Blasio and Cuomo sniped at each other over a $19 billion proposal to overhaul the subway. The money would pay to modernize the subway’s signal system and replace antiquated equipment, but New York’s governor and mayor characteristically couldn’t agree on who should shoulder most of the cost. (The correct answer is Cuomo, who appoints the majority of the MTA’s board members and controls its purse strings.)
I asked Lacher whether he’d prefer to ride a hyperloop, a non-existent technology first conceived by Elon Musk, rather than the subway. “In theory, sure!” he said. “A superfast, brand-new hyperloop would be a lot better than a vomit-caked C train with no air conditioning. Sadly, a one-mile test track under LA doesn’t do us a lot of good. I guess you could say the best thing about the NYC subway is that at least it exists.”
Trump cancels White House Christmas party for the press
President Trump has canceled the White House holiday party for the media, making the decades-old tradition a victim of his increasingly contentious relationship with major news organizations.
The annual Christmas-season gathering was a significant perk for those covering the White House, as well as other Washington reporters, anchors and commentators, and New York media executives would regularly fly in for the occasion. At its peak, the invitation-only soirees grew so large that there were two back-to-back events, one for broadcast outlets and one for print organizations.
Journalists who attended the events, which featured a catered buffet of lamb chops, crab claws and elaborate desserts, got to roam the decorated mansion with a spouse or other family member, a friend or a colleague, adding to the invitation’s allure.
But the biggest fringe-benefit was the picture-taking sessions, in which the president and first lady would patiently pose with guests and briefly chat with them in front of a Christmas tree, with the White House sending out the photos — copies of which were invariably sent home to mom. This would take a couple of hours, with long lines snaking across the building’s first floor. Bill Clinton even posed for pictures with journalists days after he was impeached.
The White House made no announcement that it was dropping the press party. The president and first lady threw such a gathering last December but did not pose for pictures. Trump made a brief appearance with his wife and offered a few welcoming remarks.
Top White House officials, especially the communications staff, routinely circulated at these media parties and often talked shop. Last year, chief of staff John Kelly held forth with reporters for at least 15 minutes, making informal remarks that turned into a mini-press conference.
The decision is hardly shocking, given Trump’s constant attacks on “fake news” and the overwhelmingly negative coverage of him and his administration. In recent weeks, the White House pulled the credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta after he refused to give up the microphone at a news conference and restored his pass only after the network filed a lawsuit.
Trump has also twice refused to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, a tony media awards dinner attended by every president since Richard Nixon.
While dropping the media party, the White House is in the midst of a full panoply of other parties this holiday season. Selected media people generally favorable to Trump, including a few Fox News hosts, have made those guest lists.
When Democrats have been in the White House, more liberal commentators have gotten invitations, while more conservative pundits have shown up during Republican administrations.
Some critics questioned whether those who cover or comment on the White House should engage in such socializing, but few turned down the invitations. Many Trump supporters who view his coverage as unfairly harsh will undoubtedly welcome the president’s decision to exclude the media establishment, at least for this year.
New York’s Top 10 New Restaurants of 2018
Staying focused on the soups and pies wasn’t always easy this year.
There was the unexpected punch in the stomach of losing two major voices long before we were ready to let them go: Anthony Bourdain, who took his life at 61 in June, and Jonathan Gold, who died at 57 the following month after a fast and brutal round with pancreatic cancer. Both men, Mr. Bourdain in his books and television shows, Mr. Gold in his criticism of restaurants in Los Angeles and elsewhere, expanded our ideas about food and the people who keep us fed. Neither seemed anywhere close to running out of smart, original, perspective-shifting things to say.
At the same time, everybody who writes about restaurants was still trying to metabolize last year’s dismal revelations about the way some major chefs and proprietors are said to treat women in their establishments. We all know that we are in a new place, but its contours aren’t firm yet. Each new turn in those stories started a fresh round of questions about restaurant culture and what its future should look like. Simultaneously, incidents of overt racism, sexism and anti-immigrant animus in the national news made it seem more urgent to face those problems in the restaurant business, where they are often so deeply embedded that they’re taken for granted.
On some days, it could feel like a revolution was happening on my beat. And then I’d go to dinner, and remember that restaurants take a long time and a lot of money to open, and that a major sector of New York City’s economy is not going to change overnight. As Chris Christie said, Rome was not unbuilt in a day.
But after I’d complained in print that hoteliers and developers were handing too many plum projects to the same people who’ve always gotten them, I was glad that a major builder in Brooklyn gave Missy Robbins the chance to build Misi in the redevelopment of the Domino refinery site. I was thrilled that when the Life Hotel couldn’t make its new restaurant, Henry, work, it called in J.J. Johnson, a black chef with ambitious ideas about African food.
I was encouraged that the restaurateur Stephen Starr and the design firm Roman and Williams put La Mercerie, their French cafe inside a housewares shop, in the hands of Marie-Aude Rose, and that the owners of Cocoron, on the Lower East Side, decided to back one of their cooks, Mako Okano, when she dreamed of bringing an omakase approach to shabu shabu.
And sometimes, I got to cheer for an entire cuisine. This year I watched a chef and his wife, both born in South Korea, open a restaurant that presents Korean food and culture in a new and often revelatory light. Its name is Atomix, and it easily won its spot at the top of my list.
A restaurant isn’t a particularly good medium for expressing philosophical concepts, but it’s ideal for expressing a whole culture. Atomix seizes this opportunity to open our eyes to South Korea over the span of a $175, 10-course tasting menu. The architecture, uniforms, ceramics, glassware, woodworking and menu art blend tradition and innovation to present a living, modern view of Korean aesthetics. Junghyun Park, the chef, builds dazzling, unexpected dishes out of things like white soy and an exhilarating tangerine vinegar from the island of Jeju. The dishes are elaborate, with upward of 20 ingredients on some plates, but they never go out of focus. The whole restaurant is like that.
The chefs, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, are veterans of the pseudo-brasserie scene who have finally opened their own restaurant after 20 years of cooking together in someone else’s. Their menu is a skillful and refined homage to the heart-stopping food served at a few old-time places around Les Halles in Paris; it includes snails, brains, tripe, tongue and other things that don’t exactly sell themselves in the United States. This might cause trouble with the chefs’ boss it if they had one, but they don’t, and they know just what they’re doing. The organ meats are beautifully handled. So are less confrontational items like duck breast with paradigmatic fries and roast chicken served over planks of baguette laden with rotisserie drippings. Frenchette also happens to have one of the broadest and most drinkable collections of natural wine in the city. The wines taste idiosyncratic and unbridled, just the thing for food that is a celebration of sticking around long enough to do what you want.
3. Shoji at 69 Leonard Street
New York is filling up with omakase sushi meals so quickly it’s hard to keep them straight, but 69 Leonard Street is one address to write on the back of your hand. The first half of the menu (available at three different lengths costing $190, $252 and $295) weaves some local ingredients into dishes that roughly follow the kaiseki format. This is a chance for the chef, Derek Wilcox, to freestyle a bit within that tradition’s prescribed boundaries, resulting in memorable hybrids like a late-summer chawan mushi made with East Coast lobster. The second half is a sequence of exceptional sushi, sliced and seasoned in the gimmick-free Edo manner. Either the sushi or kaiseki segments alone would be among the best of their type in the city, but the only place that does both this well is Shoji.
Missy Robbins has become the city’s leading practitioner of the bright, energetic, produce-centered branch of Italian cooking. Even in the winter, her food tastes like the afternoon sun beating down on a tomato patch. Misi is Missy (get it?) pared down to the things that show her skill off to greatest advantage, pasta and vegetables. The noodles, made on site, are a catalog of shapes, from long strangozzi with pork ragù to round, flat corzetti with cherry tomatoes warmed just enough to break their skins. For dessert there are six flavors of gelato, all with the same intensity and immediacy as the rest of the meal.
5. The Bar at Momofuku Ko
Officially, it’s just the bar for Ko, David Chang’s attempt to storm the palace of fine dining. It’s also the most experimental thing he has tried, a laboratory where Ko’s chef, Sean Gray, can give cooks a chance to learn new skills like making the gorgeous puff pastry for the formidable pork pie or to work out oddball ideas. “Animal sausage” is ground meat stuffed into a chicken neck that still has the head at one end; it looks like a Pez dispenser made by a serial-killer butcher. This may not be the safest place for a first date, but it is ideal for nights when you want to roll the dice.
6. La Mercerie
The only rough patch at this breakfast-through-dinner cafe comes at the beginning, when your server informs you that every piece of tableware can be purchased at the adjoining shop. After that it’s all as smooth as the melted butter in the pans where the crisp, savory buckwheat crepes are sizzled. Marie-Aude Rose, the chef, applies classical precision to eggs, salads, bouillon, boeuf bourguignon and other French cafe standards, which is more than you can say for some cafes in France.
7. Shabu Shabu Macoron
Mako Okano, the chef of this little Japanese hide-out on Delancey Street, loves shabu shabu so much that she decided to open a restaurant where she would cook it for every customer. Normally, it’s a do-it-yourself affair, but Ms. Okano’s evident pleasure in taking care of people brings a touching intimacy to the simple process of dunking meat and vegetables into hot broth. The shabu shabu meats are superb, from Wagyu beef crammed with fat streaks to exquisite chicken meatballs. But she has a lovely touch at the stove, too, whipping up an airy omelet before you notice her back is turned, or skimming swatches of yuba from hot soy milk to serve as a warm bed for a tongue or two of sea urchin.
8. Adda Indian Canteen
Chintan Pandya’s cooking is nothing if not energetic. At Rahi, in Greenwich Village, his plates are a whirlwind of local produce, Indian spices and gonzo notions. At Adda, the recipes are traditional, and all of Mr. Pandya’s ebullience goes into the seasoning. This is forcefully spiced food, although chiles aren’t always prominent in the mix. (When they are, buckle up.) The kaleji masala, or stewed chicken livers, employs a garam masala almost symphonic in its complexity. Cumin and cracked coriander make up the crust on the crunchy, twice-marinated bhatti da murgh. Adda may have been meant as a pit stop for students at LaGuardia Community College across the street, but those spices call out so loudly you can almost hear them in Manhattan.
9. Henry at Life Hotel
The theme of Joseph Johnson’s menu is Africa, not just the many cuisines eaten on the continent but also those of diasporic African communities around the world. Salmon noodles are inspired by Vietnamese immigrants in Senegal; Mr. Johnson came up with his transporting “Harlem curry” after reading Vivek Bald’s history of the Bengalis who settled in that neighborhood a century ago. This material is so rich and so underexplored that Henry is now one of the most fascinating restaurants in New York. It’s a remarkable about-face for a business that had closed two months before Mr. Johnson arrived.
The Oaxacan food at Claro isn’t the uncut stuff you’d find in Mexico; kale and sunchokes are in play, for one thing. But T.J. Steele, the chef, is serious about his moles, which show off the different traits of various chiles in deep, complex layers. Pork cheek, for instance, is stewed in a mole rojo with a beguiling undercurrent of chocolate. Masa, which can be dismal in New York City, is ground and nixtamalized in the restaurant, and makes a delicious foundation for about half the things on the menu. Mr. Steele, who lives part-time in Oaxaca, has filled the place with items he has brought back, including the plates and a mezcal that he imports.
76th Golden Globes nominations produce surprises and snubs
Even though it’s about a week too late, I’m going to give my thoughts on this year’s nominations for the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards.
The Golden Globes are basically the official first day of awards season in the film industry, sort of how Black Friday is really the beginning of the Christmas season.
And just as with Black Friday, the nominations provided plenty of surprises and hurt feelings by the end.
From some lukewarm movies or TV shows cashing in big time to shoo-ins relegated to one minor award — or none at all — the 76th Golden Globe Awards will certainly be an exciting start to a look back on 2018 in film and television.
Even though it hasn’t been released yet, Adam McKay’s “Vice,” a comedic biopic about Vice President Dick Cheney, raked in the most nominations for movies with six. No one except critics have even seen it, but apparently they all love it.
From Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Director and Screenplay noms for McKay to three acting nominations, notably Christian Bale’s portrayal of the VP, it’s safe to say this will be a promising trip to the cinema once it’s released nationwide.
After “Vice,” three films earned five nominations: “A Star is Born” and “Green Book,” both dramas, and “The Favourite,” a historical comedy. These all have earned critical acclaim and been appreciated by moviegoers, just not earning as much money as they should.
One of the biggest surprises was seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of Freddie Mercury and Queen, earning a Best Picture (Drama) nod even though it received mediocre reviews from critics. However, Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury getting a Best Actor (Drama) nomination was a surprise to no one.
On the flip side, the follow-up films for Damien Chazelle and Steve McQueen after their triumphs “La La Land” and “12 Years a Slave,” respectively, barely got any love. Chazelle’s “First Man,” a biopic of Neil Armstrong, received nominations for Claire Foy as Best Supporting Actress — which was absolutely deserved — and for Best Original Score, which was not as deserved.
McQueen’s “Widows,” on the other hand, didn’t receive a single nomination. With a powerhouse cast, McQueen behind the camera and his and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay, I would have thought it would have at least gotten a couple.
In television, the channel FX continues to make its presence known with mini-series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” earning the most nominations with four.
However, no other shows stood out, with seven earning three nominations and eight shows earning two.
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