Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parallel Universe

Bogota Latin Bistro
141 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Couple Amidst Eight Others, Including Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, and multiple mojitos: Free

Eventually, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will converge onto the region referred to by some as Gowanus (by others, the projects and various rusty buildings), but until then, the two will coexist as parallel universes, each having a Joya, a Lobo, a Mezcal, etc. As a resident of the latter, it is a rare occasion that takes us east, but we're never disappointed. In fact, Smith Street and Fifth Avenue are the furthest thing from any sort of Biggie and 2Pac beef. Every time we make our way up to the numbered blocks, we say, "You know, we should come up here more often." Thank goodness for friends like the Foley-Murphys, who were kind enough to provide the occasion, a 10 person feast that brought friends and family together around a table full of Latin delights.

Bogota is characteristic of many Pan Latin establishments; the walls are painted loudly, arroz con pollo is the signature dish, and the booze claim to fame is the mojito (Bogota's is blue). I recommend having one to start, but then switching to beer in order to avoid being the drunk guy with the mint leaves in his teeth. Make your way past the stock components and you will happen upon the specials list. This particular evening's offering included grilled shrimp skewers and other things we didn't order (clearly the mojitos had been doing their job). Along with the skewers, we ordered say-vee-chay (another Pan Latin favorite) and guacamole (who can resist muddled avocados?). All three were delivered expeditiously. The clear standout was the plate of shrimp skewers, lightly grilled and basted with a spicy barbecue sauce (chee-poat-lay for sure), beautifully plated atop corn freshly shorn from an inedible cob, and if I'm being honest, I went back for seconds without checking to see if the rest of the table had sampled the smoky shellfish. And if I'm still being honest, I shall weigh in on the say-vee-chay. It's not my thing. From a scientific perspective, it's a junior high masterpiece, and if you get it out of the citrus juice at the right moment, the fish actually "cooks" perfectly. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with 20 plus tables, timing gets tough. Last time I checked, the majority of restaurant patrons would rather not wait 3 hours for fresh ceviche. So when you're out, I recommend steering clear of it, no matter the establishment. And if I'm still being honest (God forbid I somehow turn back into that wooden doll), I'll tell you that the guacamole was delicious. No pretentious tableside preparation, enough spice, and the correct chip to dip ratio.

I stole the final shrimp skewer using the "Look! What's that!" tactic, and was chewing it up when the meals came. I wished that the table had decided to share, because I wanted a bite of the pork chops, the lamb chops, and the plantain crusted chicken. Luckily for myself, I ordered the bandeja paisa, a pile of meat, rice, and beans fit for a vaquero coming in from a long day of rustling vacas. The bandeja paisa makes a mockery of portion control. Laid out before me was a steak, chicharron (thick pork skin), arepa (corn tortilla), rice and beans, and avocado, all topped with a fried egg spanning the whole plate. Even if I wanted to eat from everybody else's plate, there was no way I could have without having to leave some food on the plate in front of me, disappointing vaqueros from here to the tip of Argentina, and suffering a similar fate to the poor dude who didn't bring Pace picante sauce to the campsite (get a rope). So I set to work on the hodgepodge. The plate was reminiscent of a summer night in Salt Lake City. I came home drunk, and after stating the obvious and telling me that my breath was horrible, my mother took whatever was in the fridge, put it in a skillet, and created a masterpiece. Bite after bite, I created different combinations of food: rice and beans, chicharron and steak (my favorite), arepa and beans, avocado and fried egg. The possibilities were endless. And then the food ran out. I had conquered the bandeja paisa, and boy was I proud (and drunk). I also managed to sneak a bite of the plantain crusted chicken courtesy of my fiance.

As delicious as the food was, I have to say that the company was the meal's all-star, and I'm not just saying this because Murph's folks paid for dinner. I tried my best to pay attention to the food, but more than a few times during the meal, I had to put my fork down to converse. But this is a beautiful thing about food, gathering around a table to learn about his and hers lake houses, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the organized chaos that is the New York City public school system. With so much talking, my head was as full as my belly. I was 100% satiated, and so I raise a glass full of muddled mint to the new friends I made this evening. Thank you.

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