Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More on Obama at NPG

Yesterday I told you that the Shepard Fairey portrait of Obama had been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.

Obama portrait by Fairey

Today I learned from my colleague Martin Irvine, whose fine DC art gallery represents Fairey, that the work had been acquired through the generosity of my good friends and ubercollectors Heather and Tony Podesta.

Wanna buy some Rothkos?

J. Ezra Merkin, the New York financier tied to Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, is hearing from collectors interested in buying his dozen $150 million Mark Rothko paintings, the world’s largest private grouping, according to his art adviser.

Though the paintings aren’t for sale now, “everything has a price,” said Ben Heller, 83, who helped Merkin buy the abstract expressionist paintings during the past five years.

“I am flooded with phone calls,” said Heller, the stepfather of actress Kyra Sedgwick who was himself a Madoff victim.

The Rothkos, housed in Merkin’s Park Avenue duplex, include two 9-by-15-foot studies for murals that Rothko executed for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building and Houston’s Rothko Chapel, and a third, smaller study for a Harvard University mural. The Four Seasons mural paintings are in the National Gallery in Washington.

Merkin’s Ascot Partners LP lost $1.8 billion from investments with Madoff, according to lawsuits. A second fund, the $1.5 billion Gabriel Capital LP, which also invested with Madoff, was closed last month.
Read the whole piece by Lindsay Pollock here.

Maruch Cafeteria

Located just a few minutes' taxi ride Miami Airport, Maruch Cafeteria is a perfect example of how real Cuban food can be sampled from a working class perspective, rather than from the haute cuisine perspective, or even the "real restaurant" approach, as Maruch is more akin to the million delis that dot New York City with hot food, but from a Cuban angle.

The City of Hialeah borders Miami airport, and just a handful of years ago it was an almost 100% Cuban and Cuban-American area. It appears to me that the ethnic diversity of the city is changing radically over the years, as I see a lot of businesses with Dominican, Colombian, Central American and even Brazilian names and products. Signs are nearly all in Spanish or have a Spanish translation, and they are also beginning to reflect the ethnic changes in the city, as Papuserias and Dominican Hair Salons are popping up everywhere. It is a clean, busy, nearly all working class neighborhood, with quiet one level homes with immaculate lawns in palm tree neighborhoods as well as super busy main commercial streets such as Palm Avenue and LeJeune Road.

I'm not sure how long Maruch Cafeteria has been there, but it is certainly a neighborhood hot spot, and chances are that if you drop by at lunchtime or dinner time, you'll see a lot of cops from the nearby precinct eating there, as well as a crowd of mostly working class Cubans and a sprinkling of Central American day laborers, often baffled by the Cuban dishes, but attracted by the cost of the food and the size of the servings.

There are about twenty small tables, and a small army of Cuban women of all shades, ages and shapes working behind the hot food counter, which is an array of Cuban food ranging from the kind of food that you'll see at any Cuban restaurant around the world, such as ropa vieja, tostones, black bean soup, yucca, etc., to less common but still very Cuban items such as vaca frita, ajiaco, tasajo, chicharron and more. If it is a sandwich that one desires, it is custom-made on the spot, and they offer the ubiquitous Cuban hot pressed sandwich or the lesser known, but tastier (at least to my taste) medianoche sandwich.

As you enter Maruch, the smell of garlic and cumin warn you that this is the real deal, and all the food (except for desserts) are behind a hot food counter with handwritten Spanish signs above each item. The prices are also written above each item, and range from $4.95 to $9.95 or so for a plate.

A plate usually includes one main item (pork, fish, chicken, goat, and beef) and two sides, plus rice and black beans or congri (both the congri made with black beans and the one from Oriente province made with red beans).

Congri is sort of a Cuban version of dirty rice, as the rice and beans are cooked together, and the white rice turns black or red, depending on the bean used.

There are several items of each kind of meat, such as 2-3 kinds of fish choices, 3-4 pork choices, etc.

The meat portions are huge.

In fact they are an exaggeration of culinary offering and would probably distress a hoity toity restaurant critic, but fit perfectly into the cultural norm of a neighborhood Cuban hole in the wall, mom & pop restaurant cafeteria, such as Maruch is.

When I say big, I mean really huge. Imagine a steak the size of a laptop screen, or a piece of fish 2-3 times the size that one normally gets in a restaurant.

In fact, I have never seen bigger portions of food served in any Cuban restaurant, or any other for that matter, anywhere else in the gazillions of restaurants that I have been in my life. These are Texas-sized portions times two!

When I last visited Maruch, I ordered chuleta de puerco, rice and black beans, yucca con mojo, platanos fritos, boniato and a couple of beers.

It was an enormous meal; an exaggeration of food to a spectacular degree and I enjoyed every bit of it. The pork was tender and well-seasoned, the black bean soup gave up their garlicky cuminy smell that separates Cuban black beans from all other ethnic Latin American black bean dishes, and the mojo for the boiled yucca was spectacular, reeking of garlic, olive oil, onions, and lime juice. The boniato (Cuban yam) was sweet and tender and the platanos fritos thick and sweet. This orgy of starches really complemented the huge portion of pork, and I ate it all.

In spite of the huge meal, afterwards I had a cuatro leches for dessert. "You must try cuatro leches," said in Spanish the raven-haired and green-eyed Cuban waitress, who looked more like a tanned Irish woman than what Hollywood thinks as Cuban. "The owner makes it herself."

Cuatro Leches is a taste numbing Cuban dessert cake made from four different kinds of milk (such as cow's milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, etc.). Cuban culinary urban legend has it that there are ocho leches makers out there, who introduce other milks (such as goat milk, and other milks that one better not ask about) into the recipe, which is not for calorie counters, even at just four milks.

I finished my meal with a cafe cubano, or a Cuban coffee, which is a tiny shot of super-sweet espresso with enough caffeine to ensure that I'd be up half the night remembering the orgy of food that I had consumed.

Maruch Cafeteria is located at 92 East 8th Street, Hialeah, Florida 33010, telephone (305) 805-9302‎. Next time that you're hanging around Miami airport with a few hours to waste, or just feel like exploring a true gem of typical Cuban food, go to Maruch and tell them that Ana Campello's son sent you.