Category: Eats

Plan B(otanica)

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Events, Friends

After work, I met up with SYB, RV and LC at Café El Portal on Elizabeth Street for some self-billed “home made Mexican” before the half-birthday festivities. Cute little spot, and the Mexican food did taste authentically homemade to my palate, though New Yorkers generally are not considered experts at judging such things – versus, say, Californians, whose tastes are finely honed by the abundance of local, authentic Mexican eateries.

After perusing the menu for an inordinate amount of time, I finally opted for the chilaquiles to compare against those I had at El Paso Taqueria a couple of weeks ago. They arrived hot and piled high on the plate, and tempting enough to prompt the woman sitting at the table next to ours to order the same.

Very tasty, if not quite as tasty as the plate uptown. Much later in the evening, I was comparing notes with JK about taquerias around the city. We were raving to each other about what we thought was the same place “in the low 100’s”, but which turned out to be two entirely different places, on different sides of Manhattan. I believe he was referring to Taqueria Y Fonda La Mexicana up on Amsterdam between 107th and 108th Streets, which if memory serves, I visited with B well over a year ago after we discovered too late that our intended destination – nearby A Restaurant – was closed on Sundays.

Cafe El Portal

And speaking of Plan Bs…

We left the restaurant and made our way around the corner to Pioneer Bar where the festivities were scheduled to take place. As we approached, something seemed off. Terribly off. Two of SYB’s friends were already standing on the street outside the bar, or rather, where the bar would be… if it hadn’t closed suddenly and without explanation some time in the past few days. Whoops.

I later learned that Pioneer Bar is indeed no more, soon to be replaced by R Bar, which is scheduled to open in early September 2006.

After brief consultation with AB, the other half-birthday reveler, she and SYB decided to move the celebration to nearby Botanica on Houston. SYB began frantically calling around and texting the 60+ people on the invitation list to let them know about the change in venue.

The new locale turned out to be just fine for our purposes. We set up in the back lounge, and it was like having our own private – if very dark – living room, complete with worn, deeply squishy couches. Spent some time talking to MW, whom I hadn’t seen in ages – probably since the night of our dinner at Le Jardin Bistro.

I also met for the first time DX, SYB’s International Center of New York English conversation partner, who hails from Qingdao, China, site of the world-famous Tsingtao Brewery.

Just after 12:30AM, SYB set out to camp overnight in front of The Public Theater for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Mother Courage (starring Meryl Streep) on Wednesday night. I got a text from him at 1:21AM, informing me that he was 6th or 7th in line, with just about 12(!) hours to go before ticket distribution. That’s dedication!

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The Dyckman Farmhouse

Sunday, August 6th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Music, NYC History

The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum sits anachronistically perched on a knoll, 15 feet above street level at 204th Street and Broadway on the narrow northern tip of Manhattan. The avenue has been lowered many times since the Dyckmans, one of the early Dutch families of New Amsterdam, built the house around 1783 to replace an earlier structure that had been burned down by British troops during the Revolutionary War. Today the original farmhouse is a museum, run by the City of New York/Parks & Recreation and the Historic House Trust since 1916, when it was restored and donated to the city by two daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up there. It is Manhattan’s only surviving 18th century Dutch Colonial-style farmhouse.

The Dyckmans harvested salt hay (from the marshes lining the river borders of the property) and planted cabbage and fruit orchards on land worked largely by indentured and freed slaves until the mid 19th century. The family owned several hundred acres of Manhattan property – worth about a bazillion dollars in today’s real estate market – before the last of the Dyckmans decamped for the urban comforts of a Queen Anne-style row house on East 71st Street in the 1870s.
The museum grounds cover just under 1/2 acre on which sits the farmhouse itself – reopened this Summer after three years of extensive renovations – a reproduction smokehouse and a tiny formal garden (both put in by the Dyckman sisters) and a reconstructed Hessian Hut, which in its former life had housed German soldiers, primarily from the province of Hesse-Cassel, during the Revolutionary War.

Several weeks earlier, I had made reservations for the after-hours guided tour. The group numbered just six people, plus the guide, which was just manageable, given the confines of the small space. We toured the inside of the house, which was still in the process of being refurnished after the renovation. Most of the objects inside date from the 19th century, brought in by the Dyckman sisters. With the notable exception of a dining room sideboard, almost none of the furniture pieces are original to the 18th century farmhouse; many objects were scattered when the family vacated after three generations, and some were lost in a trade with Boscobel, another Dyckman home, in Putnam County. The wall along the interior stairs leading to the cellar kitchen bares one of Inwood’s many schist outcroppings. The upper floor houses museum offices and two refurnished bedrooms. The space was stiflingly hot in even today’s pleasant weather; the guide told us that during last week’s heat wave, the lone air conditioning unit, running at full blast, could not bring the temperature below the mid 80s.
Dyckman Farmhouse

Back Porch

Hessian Hut

On the way out, we chatted up Maeve, one of the summer interns, who earlier in the day had given us a good recommendation for our pre-tour lunch. Inwood, once home to Irish and Jewish immigrants, is a predominantly Dominican enclave. Galeria Restaurant at 207th and Vermilyea is just one of the many local eateries serving authentic food at reasonable prices. The slight snag was in the ordering process, which I couldn’t figure out: most of the pre-set meals seemed intended for much larger groups, and there didn’t appear to be any a la carte option posted. In the end, we just pointed at whatever looked good (fried/roast chicken, rice and beans, sweet plantains) which the server obligingly piled onto a plate until asked to stop — all for $6.
Galeria lunch

Páprika – an all-female group from Brooklyn, specializing in dance music from around the globe, e.g., Turkish pop star Tarkan‘s Simarik, better known stateside as “Kiss Kiss.” At Riverside Park South, Acoustic Sundays:


GW Bridge

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Tantric Siddhas and Dirty Birds

Friday, August 4th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Eats

The Rubin Museum of Art opened in October 2004, in the Chelsea building on 17th Street formerly occupied by Barneys. I remember window-shopping through the same space when it was a department store — the Rubins, Shelley and Donald, bought the building in a bankruptcy sale for $22M to showcase their vast personal collection of predominantly Tibetan-region art, dating from the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries.

The most striking feature of the exhibition space is the six-story spiral staircase — original to the department store’s design. Architect Richard Blinder and graphic designer Milton Glaser (creator of the “I *heart* NY” logo and the DC Comics circular logo that was in use until 2005) are credited with the museum’s transformation.

RMA spiral staircase

The collection focuses on paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. This night, we were treated to a gallery tour and storytelling session focused on how gender lines are blurred in the imagery and folklore of Himalayan art traditions, during which I was struck by the museum’s guide/historian’s obvious passion for her work. The fifth and sixth floor galleries were taken up by a special exhibit entitled “Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas,” which focused on spritually accomplished men and women (siddhas ) who possessed magical spiritual and physical powers. Like stopping the sun to avoid paying a tavern bill — fun stuff!

One gallery is devoted to a fantastic mural being painted through the end of the year by Himalayan-trained Tibetan artist Pema Rinzin, on a residency sponsored by the RMA and The School of Visual Arts, where he will be teaching a Tibetan painting course in the Fall. When I arrived, he was talking animatedly with a couple about his previous eight-year project in Japan. His painting technique involves hand grinding mineral stone into a water and rabbit-skin extract solution and painstakingly applying it to the the wall with a tiny brush.


On Friday nights through mid-September, the museum plays host to CabaretCinema, an innovative themed film program. Their first floor K2 Lounge is a slick space serving drinks and light bites, and set up for live performances and DJ turns.

Afterwards, we stopped in for dinner at Dirty Bird to Go, the newish West Village organic fried chicken spot. Good — if slightly pricey — fried chicken: ours arrived hot, crisp and not too thickly battered. The shallot cornbread had a different texture than what I was used to — flatter, denser — but was nonetheless tasty.

We pulled up stools at the counter overlooking 14th Street, from which we could watch the fascinating array of Friday nightlife scenes unfold.

Dirty Bird to Go

Chicken dinner

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