Five questions. We just want to ask you five questions — or, rather, get five recommendations of things to read, listen to, watch, eat and buy from people who live, work or otherwise spend time in Cambridge. Here are some from Gus Rancatore, founder of Toscanini’s ice cream in Central Square.
Read: Rancatore has several reasons to recommend Merry White’s new “Coffee Life in Japan,” described by publisher the University of California Press as “part ethnography, part memoir”: The Boston University professor is not just a regular at Toscanini’s, but a regular date of its founder, and the two recently traveled to Japan together. But Rancatore is also a trustworthy adviser of reading on the topic, being an evangelist for and a walking encyclopedia of good coffee. He notes that the Japanese are not only devoted coffee drinkers themselves (more so than of tea, despite the stereotype) but influential in the high-brow coffee scene in Cambridge: Hi-Rise Bread Co., Voltage and Dwelltime (now heading into a soft opening), for instance, are city coffee shops that have adopted avant-garde individual-pour techniques popularized in Japan. “She’s opened my squinty eyes,” Rancatore said of White’s work. (Bonus recommendations: Rancatore is a fan of “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” (The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2011), by Harvard historian Ezra Vogel; and says a novel is due in May from John Irving, a onetime Cambridge resident, called “In One Person” (Simon & Schuster). In it the popular author take a first-person look at the life of a 60-year-old bisexual man.
Listen to: One Thursday a month Rancatore has been pleased to stop by Lilypad, 1253 Cambridge St., Inman Square, to hear a jazz trio led by pianist and composer Bert Seager. (The next appearance of the New England Conservatory and his Kombucha trio, though, is 8 p.m. Saturday.) “It’s amazing. It’s one of the great things about living in town: I can wander out of my apartment, go down the street and it’s what, $5, to hear this piano virtuoso?” Seager and his music have “kind of an otherworldly air — not of this earth.” (Listeners also get a glass of kombucha, the fermented tea-based drink, to mellow out with.)
Watch: Rancatore is only slightly embarrassed to say he enjoys a “series of videos of Korean-Americans making fun of almost everything” — that is, Just Kidding Films, the YouTube series created by Los Angeles-based Bart Kwan and Joe Jo. Even when the occasional video isn’t all that funny (there are five years’ worth of videos and other content), Rancatore finds the stars “innately engaging,” like a latter-day Abbott and Costello with the silliness to match.
Eat: The weather is getting nice enough for Rancatore to go bicycling into Belmont and back, and he likes to stop at Sofra when he does. The Oleana-spawned bakery and cafe at 1 Belmont St. is “wonderful,” he says. “I go there to see new ideas, new flavor combinations, spices that I’d never thought about and because I think it’s altogether delightful.” He buys a sharbat — an iced drink with fruit syrup and sparkling water — and a small item from the mezze bar and still rides back having spent $5 or less.
Buy: For commerce, Rancatore has to recommend the hipster wear Bodega, 6 Clearway St., Boston, even though “I do not fit their customer profile. I am much older and bigger than their customers. I’m wider, too.” But he can’t resist the store’s secret entrance through what looks like a classic bodega with a soda machine that slides mysteriously to the left to allow access to the clothing, featuring everything from Acronym to Yuketen gear. (This is only meters away from the Christian Science Plaza’s Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, with flowing typography by Cambridge’s Small Design Firm, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated David Small, and sound design by Kevin Brown, of Boston’s Brown Studios, which did Toscanini’s sound system.)
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