A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints at the Japan Society

Japanese garden and pond greet visitors to opening night of “A Third Gender” at the Japan Society. @ Sallerina for WhereNYC

Cover image:

Unidentified Artist,
Merry-Making in the Mansion (Teinai yūraku zu),
attributed to Kan’ei era (1624–1644). Gold and pigm
ent on paper. Royal
Ontario Museum,
989.24.46. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum,
©ROM

T.S. Eliot famously proclaimed April the cruelest of months, and while I would argue that March is far more onerous, April is indeed fickle. Should you find yourself the victim of cabin fever, staring contemplatively at the dust on your beach umbrella and picnic basket, you would do well to pass an afternoon at the Japan Society. Step into the Society’s natural light-filled lobby, complete with bamboo plants and a small pond, and make your way to the second floor galleries where A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints is on display until the end of the month.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770), Youth on a Long-Tailed Turtle as Urashima Tarō, 1767. Color woodblock print. Royal Ontario Museum, 926.18.110, Sir Edmund Walker Collection. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©ROM

Curated by Asato Ikeda, assistant professor of art history at Fordham University, the show is something of a mounted textbook on Edo-era Japan. The primary focus of the show is on wakashu, adolescent males who dressed in a gender ambiguous fashion and who figured prominently in the era’s culture as everything from Kabuki actors to prostitutes. Completely legal in Edo-era Japan (1603-1868), prostitution was housed in walled off pleasure districts in Japan’s larger cities and heavily regulated. An elaborate piece of block art, The Entrance of the Great Gate to the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarters, depicts the area as a lively center of commerce where leading fashions were on display.

Wakashu are identifiable by their shaved pate or upper forehead and their long forelocks, which are shorn as they enter adulthood. They occupied a unique place on the gender spectrum as well as in the pleasure economy. Block prints include depictions of wakashu as objects of both male and female desire, employed by both to occupy varying roles of passivity and dominance.

At the start of the exhibit, it seemed unlikely that that wakashu were indeed regarded as a third gender. Perhaps, these were merely adolescent males transitioning into adulthood, this presentation an attempt to draw interest with an overlay of a contemporary dialogue. At exhibit’s end, however, my attitude changed. The show’s focus is not limited to the wakashu, and prints of men and women displaying ambiguity in dress and other outward markers of gender do support the show’s premise that gender definitions were, in fact, not exclusively binary or biologically assigned.

Isoda Koryūsai (1735–1790), Samurai Wakashu and Maid, second half of the 18th century. Color woodblock print. Royal Ontario Museum, 973×85.123. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©Rbiologically assigned.

In less subtle meditations on sexual pleasure, the show includes a substantial and graphic set of prints devoted to erotica that suggests a society as yet unencumbered by the Victorian values that would enter the culture as Japan’s contact with the West, Great Britain in particular, increased. While the pleasure districts occupied their own physical locations, they were in many ways at the center of culture, leading the way in the realms of fashion and entertainment. Well worth the trip to the far east side of Manhattan, this show lands us in the heart of current conversations regarding gender and identity, contextualizing our present through the celebration another culture’s past.

Third Gender runs through June 11, 2017.

Also at the Japan Society this month:

Tuesday, April 11 12-1 pm
Wednesday, April 12, 6:30-7:30 pm Free Trial Japanese Lesson
Taught by Japanese instructors at the Language Center, for absolute beginners.

Friday, April 14 6-9 pm Happy Hour
Escape East @ 333
Cocktails and an immersive video-and-sound installation by Naoko Tosa

Thursday, April 20 6-8 pm Evening Lecture: Invisible Capitalism: Japanese Capitalism & the Future of Global Capitalism
Hiroshi Tasaka, professor and author of the book Invisible Capitalism: Beyond Monetary Economy and the Birth of a New Paradigm discusses the need to transition to a new form of capitalism that assigns value to invisible capital such as knowledge, relationships, trust, empathy, and other values.

Saturday, April 22 10:30-1:30 pm Connoisseurship: Erotic Prints
Workshop on appreciating Japanese erotic prints and other Edo-period arts. Discussion moderated by Lou Forster who sits on the Japan Society Board of Directors and Dr. Sebastian Izzard who sits on the Board of Directors of the Japanese Art Society of America.

Review: Indie Wineries National Portfolio Tasting March 7, 2017

Cover image: Indie Wineries National Portfolio Tasting © Kristen Smart for Indie Wineries

Those lucky enough to meet passionate, knowledgeable winemakers know to appreciate the product with each swirl of the glass.  Such was the case many times over at a recent event held by Indie Wineries near Union Square.

This lively event included winemakers and distributors from all corners of the world, offering wines that surprised and delighted. Indie Wineries specializes in supporting and distributing of independent wine producers who abide by organic farming practices and whose small batch style of production yields wines of truly artisanal quality.

Principiano © Kristen Smart for Indie Wineries

Highlights of the portfolio tasting included: SoloUva Brut, which now tops my list of sparkling wines to be sought out as a companion to a mouthful of bread and cheese or perhaps a decadent slice of sautéed foie gras. This glass graces the nose and tongue with notes of grapefruit and apricot at first sip, followed by a surprisingly long, supple finish. Similarly, Principiano’s Extra Brut Rosé also stood out as a fine aperitif for a spread of hors d’œuvres at a future dinner party.

© SoloUva Brut

Hailing from Willamette Valley, Oregon, Love and Squalor’s 2014 Pinot Noir, retailing at $27, balances ripe fruit–cherry and plum– with earthy flavors reminiscent of wild mushrooms from the forest floor. A tannic finish complements the wines delicacy with an unapologetic sturdiness.

Wines from Old World Winery of the Russian River Valley in California share none of the penchant of the region’s largest producers for wines of high alcohol and sugar content. Instead, these wines are the result of the maker’s adherence to a long tradition of Old World style production, pressing all wine by foot and using only elements in the winemaking process (wild yeast, protective sulfurs) that can be found on the winery’s grounds. Production is organic and biodynamic, and includes traditional Rhone varietals as well as the luminous and rare Abouriou. This grape, previously unknown to me, is full-bodied and tannic, rich with dark fruit flavors.

Producer Barco del Corneta © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

Finally, the tasting came to a close with a sip of a perfectly lively and crisp Verdejo from producer Barco del Corneta of Spain. Founded six years ago by 33-year-old Beatriz Herranz and producing just 5,000 bottles per harvest, this tiny winery included a map in its presentation, but the glass itself was cause enough to encourage investigation into its origins.

Indie Wineries boasts portfolios of wine-producing regions the world over, and this tasting was an undeniable confirmation of the fact that the independently produced wines they choose to distribute adhere to a very high standard that defies precise

definition. When one lifts a glass of wine that bears the Indie Wineries distribution label, one will not be disappointed. So, the next time you’re perusing a wine list and find yourself at a loss for where to begin, you might try asking your server whether or not they offer wines from Indie Wineries.

Review: Dinner for Two at L’Appart Jan. 30, 2017

Cover image:  L’Appart NYC © Chang W. Lee / New York Times

Perhaps on Valentine’s Days past, the holiday has delivered on its reputation for exquisite decadence and heady indulgences, and you’ve found yourself at a beautiful table, with a beautiful date, a heart-shaped dessert upon your plate.

L’Appart’s oyster triumph © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

Or, perhaps the idea of dining out on Valentine’s Day conjures visions of industrial-sized trays of plated desserts, wrapped in plastic and stacked in a walk-in cooler, awaiting last minute touches–a streak of caramel here, a mint leaf there–before being whisked from the overworked garde manger (the pastry chef has been gone for hours) and placed before guests who dine on a special-occasion-only basis. Such are the perils of dining out on any busy holiday when restaurants are all but forced to turn to prix fixe menus to handle customer volume. Even tasting menus tend to lose their luster, turning to the crowd pleasing but uninspired: cue the lobster ravioli and chocolate lava cake, or some version thereof.

I’ve been on both the serving and receiving end of such meals, and thus my Valentine’s Day dining has been confined to my kitchen for years. Thanks to the culinary genius of Chef Nico Abello and the effortless warmth of Maitre’d’ George Thomas and his extraordinarily attentive staff, my husband and I may be liberated of our hunkering in habits on Valentine’s Day this year.

Here’s why: The Valentine’s Day menu at L’Appart marries the earthy and the sublime, as, I suppose, any aphrodisiac inspired menu should, and while the meal is built around the inclusion of amor-inducing ingredients, had they simply been put before me with no other explanation than that they tasted great together, I would have held the flavors alone responsible for the otherworldly places to which I was transported.

The pair of amuse -bouche that began the meal, established the interplay of the earthy and the ethereal that would thread its way through the evening’s plates.  Served in a tiny glass cup with a tiny spoon to match, black trumpet mushrooms sprung from a fine and perfectly pungent onion mushroom puree that reminded one of the origin of all flavor: the soil itself. Until one was made to think of the sea with the second amuse,  a bite of tuna made light and acidic in the company of mandarin and black radish.  As if by magic, the flavor of the black trumpets reverberated in the mouth, even as it was learning the notes of the tuna trio.

L’Appart’s Lobster and avocado © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

And it only got better from there. Here are some highlights: The oyster’s aphrodisiacal properties are well known, but this oyster’s powers were gilded with the addition of saffron, another of the evening’s amative elements. The thinnest sliver of radish, crisp and mildly acidic, balanced the saffron cream, making this a heavenly bite.

Lobster floated on cloud of avocado whipped so as to be cloud-like in consistency and energized by a touch of ginseng so delicate and well-paired as to be unrecognizable.  Crisp, unsweetened tapioca pearls crowned the dish, lending it just the bit of air and texture it needed to achieve transcendency.

Black Sea Bass © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

 Black sea bass, tender and flavorful and moist, served with an aromatic combination of celery root whipped into a foamy lather and star anise, a touch of ginger inhabiting melange of flavors, was almost airy in the mouth such was the play of the flavors and delicacy of the textures.

L'Appart NYC

The inspired quail dish © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

                         

The quail grounded the meal, landing us back at the table, where we were reminded once again of the earth and its bounty: almonds, pears, swiss chard and rosemary. If the time-warp speed with which L’Appart was granted a Michelin star–in under sixth months of its opening–needed justification, surely this was it. As if for emphasis, the meal ended on an unsurpassably grand note: dark chocolate tempered with blood orange and ginger and finished with gold leaf.  Yes, real, actual, edible gold!                                                      

A luxurious chocolate orange finale © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

This restaurant, tiny and cozy, apart indeed from the bustling market in which it is ensconced, seems as if it were built with Valentine’s Day in mind, so symmetrical are its numbers in relation to the holiday: 28 seats, exactly enough to accommodate 14 couples at once on the 14th.

Luckily for us all, the charm and warmth of this room and the stellar offerings of its kitchen are available year round, items from the Valentine’s Day aphrodisiac menu offered on and around the holiday.

For reservations and information, visit l’Appart.