I’m in New York now, and staying with Lemur friend L in her lovely Brooklyn apartment with cat and laptop, so I’m hoping to catch up on some blogging. However, I still only have my shonky camera phone and emailing the pics to myself is kind of laborious, so I’m afraid my next few posts will not be awfully pretty. On top of this, I have an insane backlog of meals to write about, plus am gorging on the New York restaurant scene in an unseemly fashion, so there’s going to be more to write about than spare moments in my days. Sorry, but there are DVF dresses to buy, movies to see, and friends to catch up with out there in the city – that said, I simply must take a moment to evoke my extreme happiness at being back in a city with a proper Latin American food culture. New York, I am so very glad to be back…
One of my first stops was Caracas, an arepa cafe in the East Village. I’ve been eating here since it opened and it’s now a mini-chain with a take-out window two doors down and branches in Brooklyn. In many ways, Caracas is the archetypal downtown cafe, at least in terms of interior decor: it has pressed-tin ceilings, exposed brick on one wall, a mural on the other and shelves of Catholic tschotschkes. It used to be more down-home Latin and less hipster – an update has spruced it up a bit – but the new look is cute and so are the waiters. I ate what I always eat, which is the arepa de pabellón: shredded beef, black beans, grated Mexican cheese, and ripe fried plantains. It is so very good, resonant with the deep flavour of black beans and the happy-making surprise of buried maduros. I washed the arepa down with a cocada or coconut and cinnamon shake that was something of an indulgence. Caracas features several long-braised meat dishes but there’s also lots here for the veggie. Arepas with various combinations of black beans, avocado, cheese, plantains and chilies hit the spot and there’s even a veggie tasting platter with some inventive arepa fillings. In short, I love Caracas. If you’re going to be in New York you should really check it out.
For dinner, L and I checked out Hecho in Dumbo, a fancyish Mexican place that used to be, as you might imagine, in Dumbo, but has now moved to the East Village (in the old Marion’s space). It boasts of house-made tortillas, breads and even cheeses, as well as a combination of traditional foods and modern Mexican cuisine. We started with some rather lovely cocktails – mine was serrano-infused tequila with grapefruit juice and elderflower liqueur and L’s was some devilish mixture of cucumber, basil, tequila and gin.
We decided to share a bunch of small plates. The absolute winner here was the Tacos de Tuétano: roasted bone marrow topped with caramelized Wagyu beef tongue with avocado salsa and homemade corn tortillas. They had me at bone marrow tacos. I can’t tell you how delicious these were.
We also had tacos with sable fish, shrimp and octopus, garnished with fish skin chicharrón and sopes with nopales. Both of these were lovely, especially the seafood tacos, though the pictures didn’t come out terribly appealing. We followed these up with a shared entrée of braised oxtail with mole amarillo, topped with a warm salad of tripe, red pepper and haricot vert.
Yes, you read that right: tripe salad. Tripe salad! I really didn’t think those words could be put together but there you go. L did not love the tripe but I enjoyed it just fine. It didn’t have that much of a taste, to be honest, in comparison to the delicious Chinese tripe dishes I’ve had, but it lent a pleasing chewy texture to the dish. We were kind of overwhelmed by this point, but not too overwhelmed to order a super moist, condensed milk-drenched tres leches cake with caramelized pineapple. It was the first of what will undoubtedly be many days of overconsumption, but I needed the Latin food binge.
Caracas Arepa Bar, 93 and 1/2 E. 7th St, New York, NY 10009
Hecho in Dumbo, 354 Bowery, New York, NY 10012