Off Second Avenue

Amid all the rending of garments lately over bloggers taking freebies, I should be hesitant to do a shout-out to a friend. But then years and years ago I tagged along to one of her parties with another friend, and I will always remember how well a virtual stranger was treated in a crowd that included luminaries from Geoffrey Beene to David Byrne. So I will say, once again, Zarela do throw one hell of a fiesta. The food was the cosa. I’d had the plantain chips with peanut salsa before, and the picadas, little masa saucers filled with tomatillo and avocado salsa, but not the potato crisps to be dunked into a sauce she later said was made with tomatillos, chile pasilla and worm. Because we had to leave early because my consort was leaving next day for a workshop in Kentucky, we wriggled our way too soon into the salivating line for the buffet and snared the full monte, of which I was most enamored of the huitlacoche casserole. This particular fete was at her home, and while I heard at least 125 people were invited, they seemed to have checked their egos at the door — media guests I expected to piss all over me were cordial to warm. The celebs were even mellower. Call this the restaurateur who mistook her clientele for real human beings.

Spanish for over the top

Remind me never to play matchmaker with anything more volatile than avocado and cilantro. The disengaged sideline is the best place to enjoy a party like Zarela’s 20th — I only had to concentrate on keeping my consort upright despite the high-octane margaritas. She does know how to marinate the guests. The bar was like a boozy A train, but we wisely listened when she insisted we move upstairs and then had to take all the crazy sightings secondhand — as someone said, “Where else can you see Gael Greene and Dr. Ruth at the same table?” A rhinestone cowgirl was also there but not throwing her usual “I’m a movie star” pissy fit, at least as much as I heard. My most in-focus memory is of Zarela’s consort helping to ferry the star of the show, a sacahuil, like a washtub-sized tamal made with fresh masa steamed in banana leaves. To this Arizona refugee it was like time travel into the landscape of memory over reality, but it probably went over or under most of the guests who still believe Mexican means fajitas. I skipped the chicken and pork in solidarity with the First World arrogants and had to wonder why the creamy rice with poblanos and corn is always better at the restaurant than when I make it from the cookbook. What was most fascinating was realizing that I remembered being in that space’s previous incarnation, back in another cycle when wine bars were the great white-and-red hope. It’s just too bad the inimitable Seymour Britchky’s last book was in 1991, when there was no Mexican category, only “Latin American.” It would be fascinating to see what has lasted two decades. Will the annoying newish wine bars on Columbus one day revert to real restaurants reflecting the real city?