Wednesday, September 7, 2011

August 22 - September 6

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tango In Colors Milonga @ Colors Restaurant.
I wanted to go to this milonga the week before, when it first opened, but I got swamped at work and was just too tired afterwards. And after being underemployed for the last three years, it thrills me that I can write something like that.

I checked out the web site for Colors restaurant earlier that afternoon. It's run by a bunch of folks displaced by the September 11 World Trade Center bombing. Their menu is local, sustainable, made by folks making a decent life wage with ownership stakes in the restaurant, etc. In short, this is an ideal-values restaurant, a feel-good kind of place, kind of like Delancy Street meets Chez Panisse. Prices are reasonable, and so I wanted to have a meal there.

Amazingly just two days after Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, the trains were all up and running on normal schedule. Arriving at Grand Central at 6:30 p.m. was again harrowing and stressful, and I was thankful to reach the relatively safe confines of the subway to catch the 6 to Astor place. Emerging from the subway station, I spied a very interesting food truck: that of GoBurger. My God, it was the biggest food truck I had ever seen. And sleekest. And most gorgeous. If Cadillac made food trucks, it would look like the Go Burger truck. The smells emanating from the truck tickled my nostrils. Curious, I had to have a peek at the menu. Burgers started at $5, and the sides were around $5 as well. One intriguing side was their Vidalia Onion Rings. I thought really hard about buying a burger and rings instead of having a meal at Colors, but I resisted temptation and crossed the street instead, onto my destination.

The Tango in Colors milonga happens 6-11 p.m., with a lesson from 6-7. On this night, Ana Padron and a man whose name I didn't catch were the teachers. Since most of the folks in the lesson were beginners, they did very simple things like walking together, connection, and working on the line of dance with instructions not to pass any other couple, but to stay in place and do simple things if the couple in front of them was not moving. So I think it was a good lesson, though I did not participate in it since there were several extra beginner followers.

The restaurant's happy hour is 5-8 p.m., which gave me time to sample some of their bar nibblies as I knocked back my free glass of sangria included in the milonga entrance fee. There were four $5 appetizers at the bar available: Argentine meatballs with chimichurri sauce, chicken lollipops, fried calamari, and sweet fried tofu. I chose the meatballs (since I was curious about how well they might do Argentine meat and chimichurri) and calamari (because it's a bar staple and I am sure I am an excellent judge having had this dish in more place than I care to count). The 6 melon-ball size Argentine meatballs were decent, likely made with full-fat beef (and not the lower fat ground meat that I am used to), and served on a bed of "fresh herb" chimichurri, which was more like a very finely processed pesto (very different from the chunky, leafy chimichurri sauces I've had in BsAs). Though the chimichurri was unconventional, it was delicious. The calamari was good too, with the coating nicely covering all the pieces with no wet or excessively doughy clumps. Seasoning was fine, and the dish came sprinkled with a fresh tomato relish, which I thought was a nice touch. Instead of a little bowl of tartar sauce, the calamari was served atop a bed of it. I ended up finishing the meatballs first, and then finished off the rest of the calamari, dipping it in the chimichurri sauce. I also partook in a happy hour glass of wine, also $5. When the bill came, I was pleasantly surprised that each dish and the glass of wine were $4.59 each, so with tax, it all came to $14.99. I thought that was a nice touch for $5 to really mean $5, and not $5 means $5.50 with tax.

At the bar, I got to chat away with some other patrons. Apparently, at the opening milonga the week prior, the place was packed. So regretfully, I missed another packed opening day (same as the Purple Orchid milonga). Folks slowly streamed in for the milonga, many of them women, and many of them content to have a meal there as well. Tango royalty showed up, and it was super fun watching Facundo Posadas and his wife social dance the night away. Dancing for me was just OK. The crowd was on the light side, there were a lot more followers than leaders, and many couples did not switch partners. So I ended up dancing with two people the entire night, putting in several tandas. The highlight of the evening for me was meeting a super-fun Brazilian tanguera who is fluent in Spanish, so she could sing a lot of the song lyrics. She has a beautiful voice, knew all the words, and could translate their meaning into English for me. I told her she should join a tango band, as I am sure they could use her as a singer, and recommended she start with Malena. She sat next to the DJ, and I sat next to her, and we spent a good part of the night playing Name That Tune, impressing each other with our respective knowledge/guesses of songs and orchestras.

After I left the milonga, I saw the Go Burger truck was still there, so I succumbed to the call of Vidalia Onion Rings. I asked the gal if they were TRULY vidalia onions, and she said that that's what they were labeled. I am no stranger to Vidalia onions, having first eaten them in the early 1990s, shipped directly from Vidalia, Georgia in the summer, so I would know if they weren't. As I waited for my order to cook, other folks came up and ordered, so it seemed the truck did a very brisk business. Finally, my rings were ready. I bit into one of them, and they were good, but not great (as I was hoping because I love Vidalias). I don't think Vidalias are actually the best onion to use for onion rings, as their texture is a little softer, and their taste is sweeter. That being said, it was an excellent execution of an onion ring with the coating nicely adhered to the onion (doncha just hate it when you bite into an onion ring and you get a mouthful of coating with attached onion, as the onion pulls away from the coating and out of the center of the ring because of its tough membrane?). I only ate a few, and threw the rest in my bag to save for later on. The next morning I snarffled the rest of them up without reheating. Overall, I think they are a tad too sweet for onion rings. But it does cause one to pause and consider other possibilities like Walla Walla sweets or Maui sweets, but they don't carry quite the same recognition as Vidalias.

Saturday, September 3, 2011
Mala Leche milonga @ Club 412.
Unfortunately, time got away from me and I missed the lesson. I hoofed it over here, near Penn Station, from Grand Central, and I marveled at all the 24-hour restaurants I passed by.

The milonga itself is both traditional and nuevo, as there are two mid-size rooms, one for each, separated by the entrance area where they take the fees and serve the food and drinks (water and wine). They also have access to the swing room across the hall, although on this night there was no swing party, unfortunately. I was looking forward to it.

I got there on the early side, so saw the tail end of the lesson. Then I made my way over to the Nuevo room. Adam Hoopengardner was the DJ, and lucky me, he asked me to dance straight away, and for a milonga tanda! Since it was early, we had plenty of floorspace. This was not the first time I had danced with him (the other time was at Cafe Cocomo when he was in SF teaching with Luiza Paes), and I feel I did better this time around. They had not yet turned on the air conditioning in that room, so after our tanda, I was sweating and needed to rest. Interestingly, the air conditioning units were just like the ones in BsAs -- those ones mounted on the top of the walls that are about 4 feet long.

So I moseyed on over to the traditional room, where the dancers seemed to have a good time. I danced with a couple of my local favorites. After that though, my dances were few and far between. So sadly, what had started out as a brilliant milonga for me soon fizzled out to kind of boring. I left on the early side (at least for this milonga, which goes until "last man standing"), though I had warned my roommates earlier in the night that I might not get back until morning, as I might miss the last train and have to take the first one out instead. My hopes were THAT high for this milonga. Too bad it didn't work out. But I was thankful that the Halal food cart out front did not close until 2:00 am, and it served a delicious lamb salad (same as lamb over rice, only no rice) dish, and I believe the chef gave me a lot more lamb than normal. So I am glad I didn't get completely dolled up for nothing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011
Milonga RoKo @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance.
I missed the lesson, unfortunately, as it was taught by visiting maestros Alberto Catala & Belen Montell, who teach at Salon Canning on Monday nights. I do wish the local tango calendar had better details regarding the special visiting teachers of the premilonga lessons.

The milonga was very crowded, as it seemed everyone was happy to be dancing on this Sunday of a holiday weekend, especially after last Sunday post Irene. I danced with the usual folks I like to dance with, but no one new, unfortunately. I had intended to leave, as it got too crowded for me, and the floorcraft was lacking. To top it off, there was a raver party going on one floor below, so not only could we hear the monotonous music blaring, but we could feel the pulsating bass thumping up through the floor. So it made for a very jarring, annoying milonga experience, and a major distraction in connecting with the tango music.

But surprisingly, maestros did a performance (RoKo doesn't usually have performances). It was excellent, one of the best I had seen in a long time. So I am glad I stayed the extra 10 minutes to watch their three-song performance.

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