[Pink Pig Time Machine by Wilfrid: March 28, 2016]
The melting pot, as we'll see, in a literal sense was one of the highlights of my New York week at the end of March, 2006. But it was also yet another week when gastronomy hit me from a variety of geographic angles.
Not least with the opening of a challenging modern Hispanic bistro from chef Alex Ureña.
I think it would be fair to say that everyone I knew was really rooting for this place--and eating there too--and at the same time aware of the obstacles it faced. An awkwardly narrow room on an utterly dispiriting block in the neighborhood which would now be NoMad, but which ten years ago was a sort of no-man's land between Kips Bay and the Garment District, it combined a sense of having been hastily pasted together with heady three star ambition.
The thing is, Ureña deserved a shot at the big time. A charming guy (his wife, who went through a pregnancy during the restaurant's short lifetime, was manager), he had paid his dues at Bouley, then grabbed everyone's attention as the guy coaxing the flavors out of Dan Barber's ideas as chef de cuisine at Blue Hill.
Ureña--the restaurant--shot of the launch pad with high end service and a costly tasting menu (and horribly uncomfortable banquettes). The food was largely as good as we all hoped, but the whole concept seemed unwieldy. Anyway, get a load of this from back then:
Marinated striped sea bass
Foie gras three ways: praline with almonds, à la crème, and sautéed
Roast rabbit, braised leg meat, red wine reduction
Seared duck breast
Spare rib stuffed with truffled chorizo
Desserts, including dill ice cream
I'm missing some detail there, but it gives an idea of the scale of the kitchen's ambition. Among the wines, a 2001 Rioja (this place had a strong Spanish wine and sherry list before that became fashionable).
In 2006, everyone was talking about the new and hipsterish Malaysian from Zak Pelaccio, Fatty Crab. Typically this provoked in me the perverse response of going out for some existing New York Malaysian, cooked by (Chinese Malaysians) at Skyway, an inexpensive and colorful spot down on Allen Street. The usual suspects: roti with curry sauce, chicken and beef satay, nasi lemak, and a coconut dessert.
From the same quarter of the globe came the Australian food at Eight Mile Creek, a cheerful gastropub on Mulberry. The basement rocked with Aussie sports and heavy drinking; the upstairs dining room and garden proved relaxing resorts for Australian cooking--especially in the early days, when it was still possible to serve kangaroo and bay bugs in New York. My first visit hit the casual parts of the menu for a quick lunch--most particularly a selection of mini-savory pies (yes, a whole bunch of them). England and Australia share a common and shared history when it comes to meat pies.
Although my diary has no record of the food, I was back at O.G. for some fusion (duck spring rolls, that kind of thing), after seeing a spirited production of The Melting Pot at the tiny Metropolitan Playhouse on East 4th Street. The author, Israel Zangwill, was raised in Jewish East London. The one book of his I'd read had been The Big Bow Mystery, a classic locked-room detective story, but he'd made his name in the 1890s with stories of London "ghetto" life.
Remarkably, The Melting Pot, set in New York, recreated him as a Broadway dramatist. It's funny, highly melodramatic, a work of its time: but its title gave the language an enduring expression, and it made its contribution to the story of America:
There she lies, the great Melting Pot--listen! Can't you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth--the harbour where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian,--black and yellow-" [VERA: "Jew and Gentile-"] "Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross--how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!"