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Priscilla and Hainanese chicken rice
Sofia Coppola restaurants, Fingernails, dizzyingly good pasta, and the worst bagel I've ever had
Poignant chronicler of the listless privileged, Sofia Coppola has for decades explored various forms of loneliness, from girlhood to celebrity to modernity and more. Artfully assembled with a touch of fashionable melancholy, her indelible films and their serenely curated images have served as two decades’ worth of Tumblr and Pinterest inspirations for all of today’s aesthetic-minded (read: fashion) girlies.
It’s easy to see then, that the restaurant equivalent of a Sofia Coppola would be anywhere that epitomizes mood, a tasteful establishment chockful of ambience where you could dine alone and drink it all in. Restaurants in general aim to be transportive, and many people dine are dining for vibes rather than food, feeding their eyes and soul, not their stomach. But I believe Coppola, vintner’s daughter and Italian-American, would want the best of both worlds. It makes sense that her favored haunts, like Via Carota and EN Brasserie, manage to do accomplish just that. They’re also probably close to her West Village apartment:
If her latest movie, Priscilla, high on mood but low on substance, were a restaurant, it would be Peels, the now closed Southern restaurant on Bowery that offered handsome biscuits but an even more delicious crowd. I chuckled reading Sam Sifton’s original review, which goes full bore but was probably pretty accurate. For the young college-me, it was felt dreamy and cool in an aspirational way. It doesn’t get more Sofia-Coppola-esque than that.
On a short trip to Mountain View and back:
Everything bagel, Boichik Bagels. Among the reporting failures of the NYTIimes is its unconscionable declaration of this Very Bad Bagel as the best. With sparse seasonings and pockets of dryness, this was scarcely better than store-bought. The fact that the cinnamon raisin flavor was completely sold out one weekend afternoon should have been a clear indication of its questionable authenticity.
Everything bagel, PopUp bagels. Despite my reservations, I was spellbound by the offerings from this viral Connecticut upstart. Smaller in diameter, but puffed up enough to gain categorization as New York-style, these bagels demonstrate a beautifully crusty exterior, and a pull apart interior with softly rolling hills of dough. There’s a generous amount of toppings to accommodate for inevitable spillage when they’re cut. After they pooled onto the wax paper, I simply rolled my schmeared bagel to pick them right back up. Just last month they closed on $8 million in funding—here’s to hoping the quality will stay in check.
Cookies at Manresa Bread. Reminiscent of Hilton Double Tree Hotel, this feels a bit of school austerity—coarse and grainy, as if to regulate any of its indulgent pontential.
Fallen chocolate souffle cookie, Manresa Bread. Velvety and supple, slightly out of fashion and utterly delicious. Had I known better I would’ve bought a dozen of these home and frozen them.
Pho with bánh canh at Pho tran vu. Seeking Vietnamese spots in New York that will allow me to augument my soup with amusingly thicc, udon-like bánh canh noodles.
For those participating in PSL-cheer, there’s these pumpkin spice pie bars and this pumpkin fudge torte, both of which I, elementary-school baker, recreated with minimal effort. For those allergic to their ovens, Lady M pumpkin brulee crepe cake hits the spot.
Sofia Coppola, 2023
For Sofia fans, Priscilla presents as a foiled minor work, primly safe and simplistic, that confirms accusations of emptiness leveled by her detractors. The realm of American royalty and the 1960s backdrop, ripe in fashion and music, seems like ideal material for the filmmaker who deals in appearances, thoughtfully curated richness. Yet Priscilla falls entirely short, struggling to make impact beneath its artfully constructed atmosphere and delicately opulent imagery, of which there doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s another collection of vignettes and moods, a la Marie Antoinette but without the same impact. That anachronistic and political film harnessed beauty for survival. Indulgence, in the form of cakes, gowns, merriment, and leisure turned out to be an empowering and emancipatory force for the cooped-up queen. Coppola does nothing half as interesting with Priscilla.
As an excavation of a crumbling marriage it lacks severely, but as a portrait of young girlhood it’s rather affecting and clear-headed in its depiction of what is essentially grooming. Coppola is, as always, expertly and extraordinarily attuned to frequencies of adolescence, its attendant daydreams and longueurs. The film loses momentum when it relocates to Graceland, stranding Priscilla in a stunning palace cum prison and turning the tale of puppy love into that of kept woman. Going through his Vertigo-phase, Elvis prohibits Priscilla from wearing prints due to her stature. Spaeny is 5’1’’ to Elordi’s 6’5’,’ and their alarmingly conspicuous height differential becomes a visual manifestation of their emotional and psychological chasm.
The cinematic grandeur of Priscilla (achieved on quite a budget) is at odds with the poverty of its themes, rendering the many excellent music cues* and montages feel flat and perfunctory. The latter focused more on boyish frolics of Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, go-carting, setting off fireworks, roman-candling, than Priscilla. Her life is cloistered and stifled (she’s never having fun unless she’s with Elvis) but that doesn’t mean the film should be, too.
*The 2001 cue is better earned and funnier here than it is in Barbie.
Sofia Coppola movies, ranked:
Lost in Translation*
The Beguiled or The Bling Ring
On the Rocks
*Honestly this could be higher, I don’t know, I haven’t seen it in ages and I am afraid to rewatch it and confront its Orientalist gaze.
Christos Nikou, 2023
The risk of love has been removed in an alternative future where romantic compatibility is assessed by slotting people's fingernails into an analogue oven. There is no divorce, but also no magic. Anna (Jesse Buckley) lies to her longtime partner Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) about getting a new job at a love institute, which helps couples increase their chances of matching through relationship coaching and exercises that include Pavlovian electro-shocks, marathoning Hugh grant movies, dueting love songs in French, the most amorous of tongues, and even undergoing the Force Majeure test.
Fingernails recalls The Lobster but without its acerbic edge and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind without the beautiful devastation. With tepid force, Christos Nikou—whose films are best described somewhat reductively but not inaccurately, Lanthimos-lite—poses questions like does knowing the outcome of something change your outlook? Do you let data and machine-test results rule your life? Is it possible for couples to change together as they grow? Fingernails is studiously tender in tone, emptily so, with little to reinforce its motivations. Buckley and Ahmed evince some chemistry, but Nikou’s deliberately light touch seems to undermine their potential. The anodyne locations (the filmmaker purposely chose Toronto for its indistinction, ouch) coupled with the rigorously autumnal mood result in something unidentifiably bland. It has the feel of a DTC-brand ad, packaging sentimental aspirations in vacuous phrases for products that are passable and convenient, and it is precisely the consumers of these products that will buy into Fingernails.
Priscilla and Fingernails rely on soft moods and feelings without imbuing them with proper depth, but the same cannot be said of Hainanese chicken rice—a dish that is extremely evocative and ethereal in taste yet somehow flavorfully substantial at the same time.
SPOT CHECK: Forsythia
9 Stanton street, LES
Everything at Forsythia, a veritable temple to pasta, remains identical to my first visit. The only potential distinction lies in the possibly slightly reduced size of the cacio e pepe arancini—which I only note because I made such a fuss about it last time.
Each meal begins superbly with focaccia and ends with seasonal biscotti, both gratis. They swap the pastas frequently, so try not to grow attached as I did. Part of the permanent collection, short rib agnolotti, lightly oiled with duck jus, remains firmly on the right side of unctuous. The tonnarelli carbonara is deceptively light, the noodles gratifyingly springy, calling to mind fresh jajangmyun.
But this season’s sleeper hit is undoubtedly a pasta e fagioli that employs Sardinian gnocchi, aka the pupae-like malloreddus. There is no potato to speak off, just gentle whorl of pasta. Temptingly cozy, it tastes like red-sauce joint soups of yore got an exquisite glow-up.