Monday, May 15, 2006

Carousing, Loss of Voice, Pictures

Well, was out very late last night, but had a great time, wrangling a bunch of groups of different friends together. Shouting over the din for so long--as well as, I suppose, a great deal of beer--made me lose my voice. But it was hella fun.

So, with no voice and no other words, I leave you with random pictures I have taken recently with my cell phone. And, at 2 megapixels, the pics aren't too bad, neither. :)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's Still Techno, Stupid

Best hard, deep techno I've hear in a while: Josh Wink's Profound Sounds 3. Give it a listen. It's deep, it's hard, it makes ya wanna move.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Viva Arepas!

Whew. Day after a long night (dose of house party, dash of a new music/dance spot and a pinch of late night/early morning pizza... yum!)....

So, last night, before the "Cinco De Derby" party, a friend of mine & I dipped down into the East Village--again; I've been down there quite a bit lately--to check out Caracas Arepas. It's a crowded little place: it has only 8 tables and four seats up near the kitchen. The space used to be a taco/burrito take out joint, so you can imagine the size...

Let me just say that I had high hopes for the place right away, as there were Venezuelans sitting outside waiting for a table. They were all very nice and let us know that they were waiting for a table in a hushed bit of english. I walked in, to see how long the wait was and, to my surprise, the hostess/waitress said she had a table right now. So, in we went.

Inside, the atmosphere is very laid back and personable. We were given menus right away and I saw San Miguel beer, so I was quick to order one when the waitress came back (I'd had San Miguel in Nepal and loved it so, whenever I see it around (which really isn't very often), I get one, or two, or three...). There was some Venezuelan music playing and the three people who'd been waiting outside were finally seated behind us and were singing along, which actually added to the good atmosphere (they weren't singing very loudly :)

Now, I've heard about arepas from friends of mine who'd been the Venezuela, but never actually had one before. They're basically smallish sandwiches, with the bread being made of cornmeal flour instead of wheat. They're filled with all kinds of things: pork, chicken, cheese, etc. And, I can tell you, they are yummy as hell.

I started out with the La Del Gato, which is avocado, fried sweet plantains and guayanes cheese (basically this is a solid, creamy, white cheese). My fellow diner picked the La de Pernil, which is roasted pork, tomato and a spicy mango salsa.

Hmm, let's see. How to describe these things. Well, besides, "friggin delicious!" Now, I'm a bit of a sucker for plantains, but these were really well done. Lightly fried--the arepa dough itself is also lightly fried--and not tough (I've had to gnaw on some plantains before). The cheese is very creamy and light, kind of like a goat cheese, but much less sharp, although less light and sweet than, say, a mascarpone cheese. The avocado was even very good (yeah, yeah, some of you may scoff at the idea of a good avocado). The pernil was also very good. The pork was lean and somewhat shredded. The mango salsa was spicy, but not too spicy.

Now, I have to tell you that these things are a bit greasy. I'm sure you've figured that out by now, with the whole "lightly fried" thing getting tossed around, but I felt I should explicitly state it. Moving on...

Now, after I went through my la del gato, I realized that my San Miguel was empty--how did that happen?--so I had to get another one, even though I had bourbon in my bag for the party we were going to. So, another beer came to the table and the waitress looked at us expectantly.

I hadn't planned on having another one. I was pacing myself, especially since there was reportedlyy food at the party (and it was a Texan party, so I figured there'd be booze and food), but when my friend raised his eyebrow inquisitively, I simply asked for the menu again.

Round two went like this: I ordered the De Pabellon, which is beef, black beans and that
guayanes cheese. The beef was shredded and juicy; the beans and cheese were quite a compliment to the beef. As a testament to how good it was, it was gone before I actually realized it. My friend ordered Los Muchachos, which has grilled chorizo, white cheese with jalapenos and sauteed peppers. This one was spicy, but not too spicy, despite the peppers. Both were excellent, both messy as hell. I tried to keep it neat, but much of mine fell into the handily provided basket that your arepa's served in.

Usually I don't really go in for desserts, but the
obleas just sounded too yummy to pass up: very thin wafers with "dulce de leche" in between. The wafers were white, thin and a bit bland, but this was the perfect match for a thin spread of dulce de leche. Soooooo good! Took a little while to eat, but dulce de leche can take a little while, even if it's a thin layer of it.

As I got the last bit of the dulce de leche off of my fingers, I asked for the check. The damage? Less than $40.00 and that's with $15.00 of beer (and a white wine, which was not bad; slight taste of apples and semi-dry).

Overall, I'd give Caracas Arepas a 4.5 of out five. The food was great, the service was very good and the only drawback I can see is that the place is so small (so, go early, as it gets crowded the later it gets). So, go listen to some Los Amigos Invisibles and head on over to Caracas Arepas Bar. You might run into me there, as I'll definitely be going back.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wine(s) of The Week

Ok, now some of you know that I'm really into port (then, of course, there's the rest of you, who don't even know who the hell I am :). Well, for my first pick of the week, I present the Barros Colheita 1977. I've bought (and drunk), over the course of 2+ years, two cases of this beauty. And I can tell you that every drop of every bottle was worth whatever I paid (and, actually, I didn't pay over $60.00 per bottle, which is incredibly cheap for this stuff). It's got a warm, rich feel; the first time I tried it, I presumed that it was warm because it had been sitting near the hearth in a restaurant I was in, but it's got that warmth all the time. It's perfect for capping off a good meal and if you can get your hands on a glass of this and a dark chocolate-coated fig, you will be in heaven.

Some may complain, "port, ugh. It's too sweet." Well, that may be true for young ports (like my next recommendation), but a colheita is a tawny port, which has aged for quite a long time. You can tell by the color of the port: tawnies are amber to light brown in color. You can also tell by the nose and the taste. This stuff doesn't overpower either your nose or your tongue; it's subtle and tantalizing, as well as refreshing.

Now, I wish my palette was expanded enough that I could roll off something like, "it has notes of cherry and caramel," but my palette is very limited (at the moment, but I hope to change this in the coming months). All I can tell you is, if you see this, buy it. If not for you, then buy it for me :)

Next up: Warres LBV 1994. Now, this is a young port. It's strong in the nose and on the palette. This is typical of an LBV (Late Bottled Vintage), since it ages in the bottle and is less than 20 years old. However, it's a vintage grape and is not a blend, unlike many ports. And 1994 was probably the best vintage year in the second half of the 20th century, so anything from this year is good to drink and great to cellar. And this port can be had for less than $20 a bottle, which is a steal. You can probably thank 1997 for that, since it was almost as good a vintage year as 1994 (and has hence brought down the prices of much of the 1994 wine and port that's out there). Unlike the colheita above, this stuff needs to be decanted, as it "throws a crust," meaning that, as the unfiltered port matures in the bottle, bits of grape leaves and such fall to the bottom of the bottle. In order for these bits not to be caught in the glass, you pour the port into a decanter and pour out individual glasses from there.

As far as taste goes, this is a young port, so you can distinctly taste the brandy as well as the grapes that have gone into the port. It's not as sweet as say, a ruby port, but you can definitely taste cherries in this one. It's aged in oak barrels for 4 years, then bottled and cellared for an additional five years, but that's a wee babe in terms of ports.

In any event, this stuff is tasty--bottles tend to go quickly at my place, especially if I have company--and will only get better as the years go on. I've ordered a case (that's 12 750ml bottles for the uninitiated), which I will cellar (in my apartment, the wine cellar is an extra closet I have; it's dark, somewhat temperature-controlled and, best of all, I tend to forget that I put stuff in there, so I don't drink it all too soon ;) and drink later. And, at less than $20.00 per bottle retail, almost anyone can afford this. I recommend getting some to try. You won't regret it!

TriBeCa Film Fest

Well, got lucky & scored some free tix to a screening last night. Friend & I saw Windows, which was preceeded by a screening of 16 Letters (a concatinated version of 25 Letters). Now, I'm all for "experimental cinema," but I can't say that I recommend either of these pieces for viewing. 16 Letters was mostly time-lapse recordings of rotting fruit, which is okay when you see it once, but it was three of the 16 vignettes in the short film. I actually liked the director interviewing himself, even seeing that section more than once. The rest of it was too kind of bland and decidedly anti-war. So much so that I almost literally felt beat over the head by it.

Windows was a much better piece, but you knew from the intro animation (a shadow figure literally trudging through endless spaces that looked like they had been taken straight from Pink Floyd's "The Wall") that you were in for a downer experience. I knew people would be walking out after one scene in which a rape occurs in a park; sure enough, another scene, intimating at either an older man with a young girl being held captive or incest, caused an en masse exit by a great number in the theater.

While neither of these works were my thing, it was interesting and informative to hear the Q&A session by the filmmakers at the end of the film. For example, it took 2 years for the director to finance his piece, but even still, most of the film was paid for with credit cards (the director's)!!! He also had a great response to the question, "where did the ideas for this film come from?"

"I dunno. I wake up with ideas every day. These are just some of them that I thought fit together into a film." Classic. And priceless. I'll need to use this for my writing projects.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Nice Spot For a Bottle

And now, for a word from our sponsors... Brooklyn, a good place to visit, a great place to live!

In support of that supposition, I offer you Pane e Vino, on Smith Street. A nice little place, with an indoor garden that's enclosed, so it's open year round. Stopped off in here for a bottle of wine and some starters. The wine was a nice Montepulciano from 2000. It started off a little bitter, but after 20 minutes, it had breathed enough to open up quite a bit (and it only got better as it breathed more). For dishes, we had the polenta, which was actually done right and well, with some white truffle oil, mushrooms and a hint of sausage. Very well done and you could tell the polenta was freshly cooked when we ordered, as it didn't cement up until well after we were finished with it (it was delish, but we were really there to drink wine :). We also ordered the bruchette tradizionale, which was fine, but a bit plain. Not that it was bad; it was exactly what it purported to be: tomato and basil on bread.

The standout bit of the evening was the dessert (man, am I on a dessert kick lately or what?): glazed pear in a red wine sauce with a bit of ice cream to make it all go down easy. The pear was really well glazed: not too sweet, not burnt. Carmelized pretty much perfectly. The red wine sauce was a wonderful complement to this, as well as to the wine were were almost finished drinking. And the ice cream, well, swirling that around in the sauce and getting to drizzle it on the pear was heavenly. And the pricetag for the evening wasn't too steep, either. I'd say it's affordable enough for daters who are out to hit Smith Street to make an impression or as an alternative to Manhattan wine/dining. The bottle we had was $32, which isn't bad. There were cheaper wines on the list--which was quite well rounded, both in white and in red varieties and regions--but this one was middle of the road. And the most expensive bottles on the list were only $80, which isn't that bad.... Overall, I'd give Pane e Vino a 4 out of 5.


Let's see... Continuing on the Spanish food tip, I went to Tia Pol last night. And I was blown away. There's tapas all over this town, and I've hit quite a bit of them. But this place, well, it takes top honors (at least thus far :).

It's a small little spot, long and narrow and brick-lined on one side. The bar's right up front and it's well stocked with some good wines (white and red, which I still find somewhat surprising when I go out). The sangria here is excellent: good fruit pieces and the wine that they start with isn't swill, so the end product is actually quite good. They add a bit of peach schnapps, which gives an enhanced fruity flavor to it. And a pitcher was $28, which isn't as murderous as it at first soujnds, since it's a pretty BIG pitcher.

The tapas selections look, at first, quite standard: calientes y frios, but upon closer inspection, you can tell someone's both been to Spain and has a very good palette. The 1st set we ordered consisted of:
  • White asparagus with mayonnaise and mujol caviar. Very interesting taste combination. The asparagus was a little to limp for me but, then again, I'm mostly a raw vegetable person, so don't let that sway you from trying it. The taste was quite yummy.
  • Fava bean paste and tomato on bread. My friend dug the shit out of this, but to me it was, well, fava bean paste, some grated cheese and tomato on a small slice of bread. Not that it was bad, it was, well, just.... fava beans.
  • Pescado en adobo. By far the best of the tapas we tried. Shark bits fried lightly and adoboed just enough. They were gone almost before we could decide how great they were.
  • Deviled eggs. The Spanish name for this was too long to remember, but it started out like this: huevos rellenos... Excellent, for deviled eggs. Nice bit of paprika here. Not too much nor too little.
  • Lamb skewers. With so much other yummy stuff to try, I dunno why my friend ordered this, but he's weird like that. Nice little bits of fried lamby, though. Wouldn't order it again, but that's not because it was bad, but because there's so much better stuff to order.
  • Jamon y queso Manchego sandwich. This thing was da bomb. The flavors of the manchego and ham blended perfectly and it all seemed to melt in your mouth in nicest way...
  • Salted green peppers in a light olive oil, The surprise taste treat of the night. We got these on the house--it's good to get to know your servers, people!--and I was really impressed, as I'd never had this dish before. The green peppers were only slightly spicy--"they're sweet peppers" our server said as she put them down on the bar for us--and the salt and the olive oil contrasted in a very subtle way with the flavor of the peppers. An excellent dish and one I would recommend.
Actually, there isn't a dish we had or that I saw that I wouldn't recommend here. And that's saying something. We even went in for a dessert, but how can you not get a dessert when you eat tapas? Anywho, we got an almond torta and carmel with a small dollop of vanilla ice cream. Heavenly. The prefect cap to a great tapas experience. I highly recommend the place. 4.5 out of 5!

El Quijote: A Review

OK, it's been a while, but I'm imbued with a serious feeling of purpose right now, so I'm gonna get right down to it:

El Quijote - Now, if you were new to town, or didn't know of other places, you'd see El Quijote, right there next to the Hotel Chelsea and think, "man, real Spanish cuisine. Right here." Well, before you go rushing off, let me just break it down a bit for ya.

Now, the interior of El Quijote is pretty impressive. Very tastefully done, it's not kitschy or too overly done; the bar is top notch, carrying every liquor I've ever seen--and quite a few I wish I'd had at my disposal as a bartender, lo those years ago--and I'm sure the service is quite good (but I don't know, as I only looked at it through the glass from the dining room).

The wait staff were dressed in their best red outfits, although they did, to me at least, look more like bellhops from next door than garcons at the restaurant itself. They were attentive and quickly delivered our menus, which were extensive. Overall, the wait staff were excellent and deserved the tip that we gave them.

Nowe here's my first nit: if you run a Spanish cuisine restaurant, what, pray tell, is the 1st dish anyone is likely to look for? The pescado valenciana en adobo? No. Paella. And it took me almost 2 minutees of looking at the menu to find it. And that's not just to say that the menu is large and extensive; it is, but come on, arrange it in a way that a layman can pick from it.

Anyway, we ordered a pitcher of red sangria right off the bat: no need waiting around, plus sangria lossens the palette for food. Now, there are reviews out there that El Quijote's sangria is the best in the city, but I beg to differ. It was good, but I'm not gonna rave about it (I actually had better last night, but more on that in a minute). It didn't have much fruit in it at all which, while not the hallmark of a great sangria, at least shows some care went into making it.

Onto the food. I ordered the paella valenciana con arragosta and my fellow diner ordered the fish in a tomato sauce. It took quite a while for our food to arrive--our sangria almost ran out before the food arrived, and not because we were guzzling it--but once it did, well, read on.

I've had paella before and, much to my continual letdown, it hasn't been as good as the valenciana that a friend of mine made me years ago (Kristi, my little Valencian friend, where are you? And why, oh why, didn't I get you to give me your paella recipe?), but I guess that's to be expected when a Valencian chef cooks you a Valencian dish. El Quijote's paella was huge, for a Manhattan restaurant, which I didn't expect at all. So, score one for them. And it wasn't a choice little selection of seafood bits with a lot of rice, either: a lobster tail and a large claw, a few oysters, mussels and littleneck clams rounded out with a hunk of chicken and modest vegetables was what was in the pot (and the fact that I got my paella in a pot was pretty impressive, too). So, color me psyched when the waiter started serving it out. And they put in saffron, as I got a whiff of it as the paella made its way onto my plate. So, I pull out my fork and get ready, completely ignoring the whole fish that they've served my friend across the table. More on that in a minute.

I take a bite of the paella and the letdown hits: everything, including the rice, is overcooked. Dry. Damn. Now, I'm no connesieur of food, but I did however learn through my travels, especially in Italy, that no dish should ever be overcooked. Dry food seems to be a peculiarly American invention, although I think that we Americans may have learned about how to overcook food from the British, but I can't prove that. In any event, as a fan of risotto (as well as many other rice dishes :), overcooked rice really depresses me. I actually thought of sending it back, but couldn't think of anything on the menu that I would have actually tried in place of my order, especially if it was overcooked. So, I drank some more sangria and that made things a bit better, although I'm not sure if that's because it made my mouth wetter or if I just started to get shit faced.

I looked over, to give my friend a bit of my paella and see how his food was. He was astounded by the amount of food he'd been given: an entire fish fillet, bones removed and all. I dropped some paella on the edge of his plate--the lobster was passable, so I gave him some, so he'd have the better part of the dish to taste--and he proceeded to cut off a hunk of his fish and put it on my plate. And the fish was actually very tasty. The tomato-based sauce was neither too thick or too watery and had just the right amount of spice, including a little paprika, which I found a nice surprise. Too few people use paprika, let alone use it correctly, in their cooking. And that's too bad.

We continued eating for a few more minutes and I asked for my paella to get wrapped up. That happened rapidamente, so we cut out. I gave my paella to a homeless guy I ran into a bit further downtown. Hopefully he didn't find it too dry or overdone. Overall, I'd give El Quijote a 2.5 out of 5, mostly because it seemed so hit-and-miss in its food offerings. I'd go to Malaga over it anytime.