On Saturday both New Yorker Festival events that I was attending were free. One led into the other – the first focusing on Mexican food and the second on mezcal. Both events touched on Day of the Dead celebrations. The events took place at Casa Neta, a mezcaleria and tequileria serving small plates in the Flatiron district.
Again, my lack of sense of direction did not make me late. This time I had written the address as West 20th Street in my calendar and I was on the west side because of subway work. The restaurant is on East 20th. I rushed to get there on time (it was first come, first served) but, unlike the other New Yorker Festival events I’ve attended, this one did not start on time. We had to wait on line outside past 2pm, which meant standing in the rain. Luckily most of us were covered by the awnings of neighboring businesses.
The first thing I noticed when I got in was that the few tables were full already with people eating chips with salsa or guacamole. The bar was very busy. It turns out the two drinks made specially for the event were free. I tried one of each. Both were very strong and very good.
I didn’t take a photo of the drinks but I should have. The Flor de Muerto was very pretty because of the hibiscus liqueur and La Ofrenda had an orange peel hanging from the rim.
Downstairs, where the bathrooms are, is an altar and lounge with a small bar.
A small screen off to the side was running a very short film that showed photos from Day of the Dead celebrations in Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. A table was set up for a cooking demonstration – one tray with the ingredients for mole negra (when I posted the photo on Facebook, meli said, “Not enough!”) and the other with ingredients for pan de muerto.
Waiters were walking around with trays of small bites of Oaxacan tamale and skewers of jicama, watermelon, and queso fresco all sprinkled with chili.
First to speak was Ivan Martinez-Vega from the Mexican Tourism Board. The Mexican Tourism Board was one of the sponsors of the Festival. He introduced Alejandra González Anaya, who is running the Mexico City Day of the Dead parade. The hope is to make Mexico a destination for Day of the Dead celebrations like Rio is a destination during Carnaval. The museums will be open all night and there will be theater and other performances.
They explained that Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and a tribute to those who have died. González Anaya said she would explain to her American and European friends that, yes, she did put her grandmother’s shoes on the ofrenda because her grandmother loved to dance. The ofrenda is decorated with food and other things so on that one day your loved ones can come eat and celebrate with you.
Co-owner Cody Pruitt introduced chef Joel Zaragoza and pastry chef Jovita. Pruitt said that Oaxaca is the land of seven moles but for today they would be explaining mole negra, which would be served over chicken. Zaragoza named the ingredients and there wasn’t a cooking demonstration. One of the surprising ingredients was animal crackers. Pruitt told us about the process of the women making the mole in Mexico and I admit the two drinks were hitting me plus I’d heard about and seen meli prepare moles and if I had any questions, she’s the first person I’d ask. Jovita’s English wasn’t that good but she named the ingredients for the pan de muerto and Pruitt showed us the top of the bread, which had four pieces that symbolized bones and he said the sesame seeds represent tears – both from those who miss us and from us for those we miss.
Now the waiters came around with small chicken mole cups and pieces of pan de muerto with Mexican chocolate for dipping. There was also quesadilla being passed around. With all the drinking and eating, I kept thinking that it would have been more fun to be with a group rather than by myself.
By Carene Lydia Lopez