This evening I went to the 20th anniversary celebration of Zarela, a regional Mexican restaurant in Midtown East.
It was a bad night for parties in Midtown East, because today was also the opening day for the United Nations General Assembly, which also is in Midtown East. So nearby streets were closed as dignitaries’ motorcades zoomed by, sirens blazing, snarling traffic and annoying everybody.
It sounds cool to have the U.N. headquarters in your city, making it kind of the capital of the world, but in fact it’s mostly irritating. When major sessions are going on there the static can be felt in the air nearby (or maybe it’s just the traffic). People are on edge. It feels sort of like when you have an itch between the lower part of your shoulder blades that you can’t reach.
But it was a good party, packed with high-quality people.
I arrived early, but Gilbert Gottfried already was installed on a banquette along the southern wall, talking to an entourage.
I chatted with our hostess, Zarela Martinez, and managed to stick my foot in my mouth as I wondered aloud about the possibility of reproducing authentic food outside of where it originated.
She said it was most certainly possible and the only thing that can’t yet be imported from Mexico is the corn.
“Haven’t you read my books?” she asked.
I haven’t. She disapproved, but nicely.
I congratulated both of her sons separately on the anniversary.
“It’s my mother’s restaurant,” each one of them said.
“Just say thank you,” I said to her son Aaron Sanchez, who I think categorizes me as one of those people he’s pretty sure he’s supposed to know but can’t quite place. That’s fair, he’s a somewhat famous, fairly hot celebrity chef, and that means he has a lot of people to keep track of.
Still, I asked him how things were going at Centrico, the Tribeca restaurant where he’s chef.
Things are good, he said, owner Drew Nieporent’s a great boss. Now if they could just convince more people who live north of Canal Street that monsters don’t live south of Canal, they’d be all set.
Tiny Dr. Ruth Westheimer — you remember, the sex specialist from the 1980s — arrived shortly before the buffet opened. And I met Saveur founder and former editor-in-chief Coleman Andrews.
Zarela introduced me to him and I was reminded once again that meeting famous people is useless if you don’t have both the inclination and the opportunity to have meaningful conversation.
Still, it made it into my blog, didn’t it?
Mostly I hung out with people from Epicurious — Megan Steintrager, her colleague Sarah Kagan, Michael Park, a freelancer who works for them sometimes.
We camped near the buffet and I mostly chatted with Sarah about New England and how great it is (she grew up in Redding, which apparently is the most rural part of Fairfield County, Conn., and has family in that crazy state of Rhode Island).
Shortly after we sat down, we were joined by Michael’s friend Zoë.
What I ate:
Mariquitas con Salsa Macha
Green plantain chips with peanuts, chiltipín chiles, garlic and olive oil
Picada con Salsa Cruda
Corn tart with purée of avocado, tomatillo and chile serrano topped with Mexican
cream and queso fresco
Taquitos de Cabeza
Corn tortilla with shredded veal cheeks garnished with pickled onion and jalapeño.
Ensalada de Camarones
Shrimp salad of fresh shrimp, avocado, cilantro, jalapeño and onion.
Served with lime and oil vinaigrette.
Green Mexican sausage with chile limón sauce
Makúm de Repollo
Pork shoulder with white cabbage, tomato, habenero chile and sour orange
Pollo Con Chile Seco
Chicken drumettes with dried chile, fresh orange juice and flavored with vanilla
Casserola de Huitlacoche
Layered crepes with huitlacoche, Mexican cream and cheese.
Served with ranchero sauce.
Ensalada de Chayote
Mexican squash with cilantro, olive oil and chile Serrano
Arroz con Crema
Rice baked with sour cream, white cheddar cheese, poblanos and corn.