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  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out New American Brooklyn Moderate Good

I’ve enjoyed many performances at BAM, most recently Endgame with John Turturo, but a recent concert—a show called Ethel’s Truck Stop—left me perplexed and let down. Truck Stop was billed as a cross between music, theater and film. Not so much. Ethel is a band, made up of some very talented string and wind players. But there was no film and no theater involved. While they played a score of instrumental songs—some very beautiful and spiritually moving thanks to the resonant and haunting sounds of the native American wind instruments—a bit of random video of their rehearsals was flashed onto tall narrow panels littering the stage at odd angles. Rather than portray Americana as I imagined a show called Truck Stop might, and perhaps shoot video of the middle of the country or roadside stands, so as to bring someone or something from the outside in, this video was of the half dozen or so players tuning instruments and opening and closing guitar and violin cases. It added nothing to the story that I imagined the music was trying to tell, and in fact, detracted from its effect and beauty.

The show was just plain bizarre. After an hour of it, and some enjoyable music (best accomplished with eyes closed so as not to be distracted by the mundane rehearsal video), we decided it was time to get some dinner.

And after such a perplexing evening with Ethel, we were craving something simple and straightforward. After about a 15-minute stroll from BAM into Prospect Heights, we found James, the perfect antidote to Ethel.

James is a restaurant that’s received high praise from the critics (including Bruni) for its satisfying seasonal American fare. You’ll find it on a quiet corner of St. Marks and Carlton, where the soft amber glow the bare bulbs and ornately carved Lucite chandelier filters through the windowed facade and lights up the dark cold sidewalk with the warmth of an evening sunset. It’s quite a magnetic vision, one that draws in crowds from the neighborhood and beyond like pilgrims to Thanksgiving.

Chef Bryan Calvert (Union Pacific, Bouley) and his wife Deborah Williamson (who were best known for their event company Williamson Calvert prior to opening James) are responsible for James, which has the snug and cozy vibe of a restaurant that’s been nestled in the sidewalks of Brooklyn for a decade. Set in a century-old brownstone, it’s a small room ... [more, click below]

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