Back Forty West

If you’ve ever walked around the east village, you probably know about Back Forty. They throw an awesome crab boil party every summer and boast an excellent burger. I’ve eaten at Back Forty a number of times and have walked away from the meals feeling quite satiated.

But, sorry to say, that’s not the case for Back Forty West, the new branch located in SoHo. The two-floored establishment sits on the corner of Prince and Crosby, right in the center of tourist mecca, which equates to several points against them from the get-go.

Back Forty West Fave Bean Hummus

fave bean hummus

Yelp reviewers share gripes about Back Forty West’s slow service, and, for a change, I agree. It took the waitress about seven minutes to come over and take our drink order. I got the Back Forty West mixed drink, which was pretty good.

Back Forty West’s menu is arranged by what you use to eat the food i.e. “hands,” “fork,” and “spoon.” Under “breads” (an outlier in the categorization convention), we spotted some fava bean hummus and decided to order it. “Why is this under ‘breads’?” asked My Dining Partner. “Because it uses flatbread for the hummus,” I replied. But I agreed with his sentiment. Confusing. Why can’t they just use the word “appetizer”?

The hummus came with some beets and olives on the side, which I mostly enjoyed. On its own, the hummus had the right texture, but lacked any discernible flavor. MDP wasn’t a fan, but I ended up nearly licking the bowl–I guess I was hungry.

Back Forty West Burger

burger

For dinner, MDP ordered the ribs with corn bread and slaw. The ribs were outstanding, but the sides were just okay. His corn bread was drier than most–which is pretty dry–and the slaw had an odd flavor that I couldn’t pinpoint. In typical fashion, I ordered the cheddar burger, which was accompanied by “rosemary” french fries. I put rosemary in quotations because it seems they were rosemary in name only–not in flavor. (Yelp reviewers also noted this fact.) I ordered my burger medium, and it came to me medium rare if not rare. I ate it anyway, since I’m not one of those people that sends food back, but I wasn’t pleased with their misstep.

Though we weren’t largely impressed by the food, we decided to order dessert. I had suggested that we might head to Balthazar for some treats after dinner, but ultimately chose the almond cake with some kind of sweet corn sauce to end our dining experience. The cake was fine, but the sweet corn sauce tasted strange with the cake. I wondered what ever possessed them to put these two flavors together. I’ll never know–and I can live with that.

Back Forty West is fine, but not great. I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking for a good burger in SoHo, you might try Burger and Barrel which is on Houston Street, but even that’s not nearly as good as, say, the Shake Shack.

Back Forty West

70 Prince Street

SoHo, New York

Take the N/R to Prince Street. Walk east one block to Crosby Street.

 

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“Ronan”: A Revelation of Taylor Swift’s Songwriting Ability

I’ve never cried while listening to a song before I heard “Ronan,” Taylor Swift’s latest single. She wrote this unbelievably poignant song about a little boy named Ronan who died from neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor of the nerve tissue. Taylor learned of Ronan’s story through a blog written by Ronan’s mom. She even credits Ronan’s mom on the song. All of the proceeds from the song will go to the Taylor Swift Charitable Fund.

Now, why is this song so incredible?

It’s truly a revelation of Taylor’s songwriting ability. She has mastered the key to great writing: using details to craft a story. Taylor very carefully builds the narrative of a typical child’s experience that transforms into heartbreaking sadness. The first two stanzas of the song focus on the elements of a happy, healthy childhood:

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Racecars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

Yet Ronan’s childhood was plagued by illness, which is hinted at in the third stanza: “You fought it hard like an army guy”–“it” being his neuroblastoma, obviously, but the listener doesn’t quite know the severity of Ronan’s condition or the tremendous lost felt by his mother until the fourth stanza (the first stanza after the first instance of the chorus):

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

And then the song launches into the chorus again.

The fourth stanza is where the listener realizes that Taylor Swift truly understands the magnitude of this boy’s illness and its effect on his mother. She alludes to his funeral with that one line (“Flowers pile up in the worst way”) without saying “It was so sad to attend his funeral.” And that terrible feeling of not knowing what to say when “a beautiful boy” has died — she hits the emotional target square on the head. Then, it’s when she mentions Halloween that the listener’s heart truly breaks. She captures the agony faced by the mother who realizes that her son would have probably loved nothing more than to dress up on Halloween and collect candy, in the way that all children do.

Taylor Swift truly comprehends the loss that the mother has faced. Her deep-rooted understanding is further established by the bridge:

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Through her miraculous grasp of the human condition, Taylor is able to lock herself into the mindset of the mother and ask the questions any parent who has experienced such a loss would ask. Again, it’s the details that make this bridge so affecting: the closet where all of his clothes and belongings are; the clothes the mother had from previous children or other family members’ kids that Ronan will never wear–these small details are what make the song so great.

My Dining Partner asked me why Taylor Swift doesn’t write more songs like this. In his estimation, “Ronan” is one of her greatest songs. “Maybe if she had different life experiences, she’d write different (read: better) songs,” he said. I think, with the advent of “Eyes Open” and now “Ronan,” it’s abundantly clear that Taylor Swift is one of the greatest living songwriters today.

And by the way she sings “Ronan,” it’s clear that her voice is but a mere vehicle for this tragic tale. There aren’t any flourishes of her voice, no riffs on the last gasp of the chorus. It’s just her simple voice, the guitar and a drum.

I cried my eyes out the first two times I heard “Ronan,” and I’m afraid to go back and listen to the song again, for fear of bawling uncontrollably. I don’t know Ronan’s mom personally and I never will, but I understand her plight–something I, myself, have never experienced and hope to never experience–because of Taylor Swift.

Here is a video of Taylor Swift singing “Ronan” at the cancer benefit from Friday night:

The full lyrics (as I heard them) are listed here:

“Ronan”

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

 

I can still feel you hold my hand, little man

How even the moment I knew

You fought it hard like an army guy

Remember I leaned in and whispered to you

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

Out of this curtained room in this hospital grey

We’ll just disappear

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

 

Come on baby

We’re gonna fly away

From here

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I love you to the moon and back

Mario’s

Hidden from the main thoroughfare, Mario’s sits on a quiet corner just south of Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. Its simple blue awning belies the sophistication of the cuisine found within.

mario's mozzarella and roasted red peppers

mozzarella and roasted red peppers

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to try Mario’s about a week ago, when we were on a brief run to donate school supplies to the local library. We realized Mario’s was one of the few restaurants we hadn’t tried in our neighborhood. Italian food is sparsely found in Sunnyside, so Mario’s was a must-try.

When we arrived, it looked like there weren’t many people inside, but, as we ate, more diners strolled in. We sat by the window at a small table for two and the waitress quickly came over to take our drink order (a half carafe of red sangria). Another waitress brought us some bread and our appetizer, which was a delicious plate of mozzarella and roasted red peppers. The mozzarella and peppers were drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

For our entrees, I ordered a special chicken dish with melted mozzarella and roasted asparagus with a sherry sauce, while MDP got a tortellini dish with mushrooms, peas and a cream sauce. My chicken was flavorful and perfectly cooked. The asparagus was crisp and the sherry sauce was slightly sweet. MDP’s tortellini were large rings filled with ricotta cheese, and the sauce was creamy and decadent.

So satisfied with our entrees, we opted for dessert, a warm brownie with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Chocolatey and dense, the brownie delighted our taste buds.

If you’re in the neighborhood, try Mario’s. Dazie’s, the other prominent Italian restaurant in Sunnyside, is pricier and satisfactory, but Mario’s definitely has a special edge.