At the heart of Venezuelan cooking is the humble arepa, a dense cornmeal cake that can be filled or topped or dipped or eaten plain. Arepas even make an appearance at breakfast, as we recently discovered at Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village. Caracas occupies about as much space as Venezuela does in a textbook map, and eating in its tiny dining room can be a boisterous affair, with expats and staff mingling and hugging and chatting in a mix of English and Spanish. The real fun, however, is on the table, especially if you start with a perfect cocada (a coconut milkshake with cinnamon) and one of the daily juices, in our case a blackberry-strawberry mix that was so fruity it still had seeds floating through it. We split an arepa la del gato (fried plantains and avocado slices held together with guayanés cheese, a salty, soft Venezuelan specialty halfway between mozzarella and ricotta) and the criollo plate, a mix of perico (a scrambled egg dish with tomatoes, onions, and peppers), sweet shredded beef, hearts of palm, tomatoes, greens, grilled white cheese, and a plain arepa to stuff it all into.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
In 1923, Roy Chapman Andrews, one of the greatest paleontologists of all time and the supposed inspiration for the Indiana Jones character, discovered a nest of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. Andrews had been sent to the Gobi by his boss at the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn, who was wrongly convinced that human beings originated on the plateaus of Asia. Naturally, Andrews didn't find any hominids, but he did find a dinosaur Valhalla --- he discovered such now-popular dinosaurs as Protoceratops and Velociraptor, in addition to the cache of eggs, the first ever known. Near the nest (four inches away, in fact) he found the skeleton of a predatory dinosaur that came to be known as Oviraptor: egg-seizer. Andrews and Osborn surmised that the Oviraptor must have been on the verge of stealing the eggs when it and its prey were buried by a landslide.
Seventy years later, the museum had another team in the Gobi, this one led by Michael Novacek, Mark Norell, and Malcolm McKenna. Among the numerous other discoveries of the expedition was another Oviraptor-with-eggs, but this time, rather than creeping around near the eggs, the Oviraptor was resting on them. In fact, it was brooding on them, keeping them warm with the feathers that likely lined its body. The eggs were subjected to methods of analysis unavailable to Andrews and Osborn; inside were embryo Oviraptors. The nest, now on display in the Hall of Vertebrate Paleontology at the museum, shows that the thief was actually a good parent, one whose devotion has lasted for 70 million years.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
City Bakery's annual Hot Chocolate Festival is one of the few warm patches of frigid New York Februaries. A range of daily flavors --- spicy cinnamon, say, or Arabian Nights --- join the gooey original blend to ensure that New Yorkers get the necessary sugar and calories to battle the cold. In an effort to go green this year, they replace the lights with candles in the upstairs seating area every day at 3pm. It's not quite as romantic as it sounds, since the lights are still on in the main cafe area below, making the upstairs more candle-inflected than candlelit. But taking a quick break in the middle of the day to drink chocolate with homemade marshmallows is not the kind of thing even a New Yorker can complain about.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Award-winning Gobo is one of those restaurants that would be easy to make fun of. The all-vegetarian menu talks about serving food that pleases the five senses, the décor is a soothing blend of earth tones and organic materials, and juice-and-seltzer combos cost seven dollars.
But the food, especially the veggie burger with yam fries and sweet homemade ketchup, always makes us too full for sarcasm. On a recent visit, we had the aforementioned burger, which doesn't crumble or get soggy like most non-meat patties, along with the spicy Vietnamese noodles, full of seitan and other proteins that tasted like perfectly salted chicken and pork but weren't, with a side of tofu rolls.
To drink? The virtual Buddha tonic (peach, silk flower, and ginseng) and a make-your-own juice blend (we had apple, pineapple, and orange).
We know. We know.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
In one of those freakish coincidences that make New York New York, we saw Dean Winters again after leaving the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory in the West Village. We still didn't ask him what he thought of Becky Shaw, however, as we were too busy rhapsodizing about our sugary bombolini, sloshing with liquid chocolate, and our knee-weakening chocolate chip cookie, with seams of warm chocolate coursing through it.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
As part of the ongoing 2-for-1 promotion to Off-Broadway shows, we got tickets to Becky Shaw, a funny and sharp black comedy about marriage and mores currently being performed at the Second Stage Theater. And we weren't the only ones to take advantage of the irresistible discount: Dean Winters (Dennis from 30 Rock) was in our row. We didn't notice whether he enjoyed it, however, as we were too busy laughing and cringing, especially at the scene-stealing David Wilson Barnes in the role of Max, a hyperactive and hyper-cynical financial wizard who gets all of the play's best lines: "Try harder the next time you attempt suicide," "It isn't bad enough that Freddy Krueger has knives for hands, he has to be verbally abusive as well," and "You need to join some clubs: the KKK, the Daughters of the American Revolution, whatever."
Friday, February 20, 2009
Each year a selected group of design elite decide on that year's best designs, ranking entries according to such principles as form, function, balance, and innovation. Currently on display at the AIGA National Design Center, the 2008 winners include bottles of soda and beer; a clock that depicts the disappearance of animal species; various posters for bands, performances, and plays; shampoo, tissue, and hand-soap dispensers; magazines, notebooks, and college admissions catalogs; and logos. To us, design is often like business writing: we only notice it when it's really really bad. But this exhibit helped us get just how much thought and consideration go into the products that surround us.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Zoe Leonard's two-part exhibition for the Dia Foundation at the Hispanic Society of America, Derrotero, consists of her original photography and selections from the society's extensive map collection. For the past decade, Leonard has chronicled the changing retail landscape of the Lower East Side and other neighborhoods in New York and abroad as the mom-and-pops move out and the Gaps and American Apparels move in. The 400 or so photos are arranged in thematic groups --- several shots of signs, for example, followed by pictures of ad hoc bazaars or hanging shirts, and so on. There's no indication of location or time period, just grids following grids.
The second part is where the concept of "derrotero," a Spanish word meant to convey subjective representations of experience, comes into play. The maps date from the fifteenth century, and they're full of tiny details and images. (On a side note, the two halves of the exhibit are displayed not just separately, but in entirely different buildings. Were it not for a very nice security guard, we would have missed the map part altogether.)
Certainly Leonard wants us to link the subjectivity of the photographer's eye with that of the cartographer or diarist. Today we obviously traffic in much different media from explorers of earlier eras, but the desire to order, chronicle, and define our sense of location in space remains the same. A photo, a map, a journal entry, even a tweet --- each is a way of saying, I was here, I saw, I felt, I experienced. Each asserts the supremacy of the I in a world that, generally speaking, couldn't care less.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
For years, savvy New Yorkers knew that Sullivan Street Bakery was, in addition to being a fine purveyor of breads and pastries, a great place for pizza. Owner and baker Jim Lahey knows what he's doing with dough and crust, so when he finally opened Co., a standalone pizza place, the NYC food blogosphere went crazy.
We tried to go for dinner with some friends a few weeks ago, but the wait was over an hour (on a Wednesday at 6:30), so we were out of luck. But this week word came down that Co. would be opening for lunch, so we were the first people through the doors on Saturday. Even when the dining room filled up, as it quickly did, the service was consistently friendly and hands-on.
In a refreshing touch, Co. sells every one of its wines either by the bottle or the glass, so we started with a Malbec and a Fiano Seghesio, an interesting white wine that we'd never had before. And as usual, we couldn't resist the lure of a bowl of olives to start.
But the center of the menu is where everyone's eyes drift. Co. serves seven different pizzas (plus a daily special), three with a tomato base and four without.
The names are a touch silly, but the pizzas are in total and delicious earnest. We went with the Popeye and the Boscaiola (minus the mushrooms). The former had a nice kick from the pecorino and black pepper, and the bountiful spinach atop it was cooked perfectly, fresh and crisp in the center and charred and crunchy at the edges. The Boscaiola was spicy, sweet, and salty all at once, a tough combination to resist. The complimentary biscotti at the end were nice, but what we really wanted was seconds.
Monday, February 16, 2009
As part of our Hamilton Heights--Sugar Hill--Harlem walk, we strolled around Trinity Cemetery, site of a battle during the Revolutionary War and now the final resting place of, among others, John James Audobon (who owned the land), Jerry Orbach, several Astors, a son of Charles Dickens, openly gay Mercedes de Acosta (lover of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich), Ralph Ellison, and someone's Little Harry.