Month: December, 2006

Millburn Snowflake Parade 2006

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006 | All Things, Events, Friends

D and LK picked me up shortly before noon to drive me to Jersey for our day with HH. Along the way, they picked up SYB, and breakfast. Door-to-door service and fresh-baked pear-apricot danish — sweet!

We met HH at his new(ish) home, and then set out for our day’s adventure. Earlier in the week, he and I consulted the Time Out Millburn for goings on around town. As luck would have it, our Sunday visit coincided with Millburn’s 23rd Annual Snowflake Parade.

Everybody loves a parade! I’m not sure why, but I am particularly fond of these small town parades, though truth be told, Millburn isn’t all that small; the 2000 U.S. Census puts the township population at just under 20,000. The five of us took a brisk, ten minute stroll to the turn-of-the-century downtown, along neat, tree-lined streets. We arrived just as the parade was getting started. From the distance, the (sometimes not so PC) announcer introduced each group of parade participants to the waiting crowds lining Main Street, Millburn.

All the essential parade elements were there: the brass band…

Millburn Band

… the Brownie and Girl Scout troops…

Girl Scout Troop 259

…clowns, floats…

Float and Clown

…giddy spectators….

Waving Girls

…men in kilts…

Bagpipers

Shriners in weird little cars…

Shriners

…high school marching band — this one led by one very young and very energetic bandleader…

Young Bandleader

…flag twirlers….

Twirlers

…Minnie and (surely not a Disney-approved) Mickey.

Minnie and faux Mickey

Afterwards, Santa needed a bit of assistance to dismount from the town firetruck.

Unsteady Santa

When it was all over, the police reopened Main Street, as a Snowman and a Dalmatian wandered among the townsfolk to the endless delight of the younger set.

Snowman and Dalmatian

Millburn Banner

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Girls Gone Wild

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006 | All Things, Friends

Final Saturday!

JD’s bachelorette party tonight. I was unsure what to expect of the evening: based on my last encounter with the Kiwi club, alcohol-induced blackouts were a distinct possibility; the email exchanges among the participants in the days leading up to the event strongly suggested that other mischievous activity would be in the works.

The ladies’ night began with several hours of tequila-fueled revelry. Around 10pm, I was instructed to meet the group at Duvet for Part Two of JD’s “last fling before the ring.”

Below: The nearby Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, all prettily lit for the holidays. It was the tallest building in the world for four years, eventually ceding the title to the Woolworth Building in 1913.

Metropolitan Life

I stepped inside the crowded lounge, and easily picked out our woman of the hour, who was outfitted in rather distinctive headgear and massive bling. The group had commandeered a table (not a mattress) which, by the time I arrived, was littered with wineglasses and other classy — and apparently very popular!bachelorette party accoutrements.

The back of JD’s shirt was emblazoned with a lengthy and daunting checklist of tasks which she was to complete that evening, setting the agenda for the reminder of the long night. After quickly dispatching with a couple of the tamer items at Duvet, it was time to get down and dirty.

Red Rock West Saloon opened under the abandoned train trestles of the High Line in the Spring of 1996. In its former incarnation, the corner was a blues bar called East Boondocks. Over the past decade, the bar’s neighbors have gotten progressively more upscale, while the bar itself has remained unabashedly trashy and gloriously rambunctious. Equal parts beer ‘n’ whiskey roadhouse and country dance saloon — any doubt why we were the third bachelorette party to descend there that night?

The easiest comparison to Red Rock West is the similarly themed Coyote Ugly — before it went from beloved East Village dive to GQ feature story to awful movie to national (soon to be international) franchise. The smell of sweat and booze permeates the bumper-stickered walls; wagon wheels suspend from the paint-peeled ceiling as monster rock and honky tonk blare from the speakers. One half expects to see a mechanical bull bucking in the back room. The main attraction: scantily clad, well-endowed female bartenders who mount the long bar for impromptu hoedowns. They are a talented group — though suspiciously… er, “professional” in manner and dress — gleeful in their raunchy stomping, thrilling the crowds with (literally) flashy bar tricks: taking a lighter to plumes of alcohol sprayed from their mouths, and in a grand finale, setting the bar ablaze with whiskey to dance like demons among the flames.

The staff is remarkably generous in their sharing of the well-worn bartop, regularly inviting (only female) patrons aboard, and at one point: all three future brides.

Step inside, walk this way
You and me babe — hey, hey!

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Tulcingo Del Valle

Friday, December 1st, 2006 | All Things, Eats

B joined me in tonight’s dinner adventure, deep into the heart of Hells Kitchen. I’d first read about Del Valle in The New York Times a couple of years ago, shortly after its transformation from “glorified deli into modest restaurant.” I was intrigued by the “hopelessly traditional” husband-and-wife-run restaurant, with a 203-item menu and a chalkboard offering house specialties like chicharrón (fatty pork skin) braised in salsa verde and barbacoa (roasted goat meats.)

We headed West from B’s office at the Crossroads of the World to a stretch of block that seemed relatively untouched by the rapid gentrification/commercialization in the area: one unassuming restaurant among a small crop of eateries with very modest surroundings. There are, in fact, two Mexican places of note on the same block — the other being Tehuitzingo, which is the slightly more downscale of the two, comprised of a few stools at the rear of a narrow bodega.

Tulcingo Del Valle — somewhere along the way, the restaurant was rechristened to better reflect the town in Puebla for which it’s named — has a huge menu of simple, classic Mexican lunch-counter food. Their tacos and tortas come highly recommended, as do their moles; Robert Sietsema waxed on rhapsodically about their “extremely delicious” mole pipian of pumpkin seeds and tomatillos in his 2004 review. New York granted Tulcingo del Valle three stars status, and the #27 spot on their oft-referenced (on this blog) 2006 Best Cheap Eats list.

We started off with horchata (not “hot chocolate”), XX and a plate of the nachos, topped with cheese, tomato, jalapenos and some pretty standard guacamole, as we considered our entree options.

Nachos

B ordered the carne asada con nopales (grilled beef with prickly pear cactus), which earned him an approving smile and giggles from our server. The nopal cactus is one of Puebla’s most important crops; every April, the central Mexican village of Tlaxcalancingo celebrates the Festival de Nopales in tribute.

Such generous portions! The dusky green paddles — spines removed, of course — arrived flopped over the meat, rice and refried beans piled onto the plate. The taste? Mildly vegetal — similar to green beans — with the unctuous texture of aloe or okra, but with a crisper core.

Steak and Cactus

From the specials board, I picked out the mole poblano — signature sauce of Puebla — served with chicken. The platter arrived with tender pieces of meat, swimming under rich, dark, reddish-brown sauce topped with sesame seeds, and accompanied by thick, warm homemade tortillas.

Mole is derived from the Nahuatl mulli, meaning “concoction” or “sauce.” Culinary anthropologists note that very few of the spices in mole poblano are indigenous to the New World; the sauce, is in fact, born in part out of Spanish colonialism, which was an imposing force on the cuisine of Mexico. In Puebla, several convents were active in creating dishes that modified traditional recipes to suit colonial tastes, comingling ingredients from both the indigenous Indian and Spanish cultures. Among the regions of Mexico, there are variations on mole type and color (red, green, brown, yellow), but the mixture is at its essence a puréed combination of chiles and ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, thickened with some combination of seeds, nuts, bread, masa and corn tortillas. The traditional poblano also contains Mexican chocolate, and can require dozens of ingredients and many hours to make.

The sheer effort involved makes me grateful for places like Tulcingo Del Valle, whose version of this dish is one of the best I’ve tried in the city.

Mole Poblano

B and I emerged from the restaurant into a downpour on Tenth Avenue. I thought wistfully of my umbrella, hanging uselessly on the coatrack in my office downtown. We huddled under a leaky awning and assessed our options: the IRT seemed too far away; the bus, too unreliable. We hailed a cab — fare hike or no.

Of course, moments after we shut the taxi doors behind us, the rains stopped.

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