Why Is This Night…?

2008.Apr.26 Saturday · 4 comments

in Drink, Life, Restaurants

 One could argue that these [today’s] ‘plagues’ are fundamentally different than the ones in the Passover story because they can be seen as humankind’s own creations and not sent by God.

– Dan Weiss, Only 10 plagues? Early Egyptians had it easy

Buenos Aires – Most Jewish kids I knew when I was growing up dreaded Passover. First, we had to spend a week eating strange stuff… well, that wasn’t so bad, but it was that we could only eat that stuff… we couldn’t eat other things. Peanut butter and jelly on matzo does, after all, make a satisfying crunchy noise, and certainly a mess a crumbs of matzo go flying off in all directions. So maybe that wasn’t so bad. I think it was the Seder, the first night (and for some, the second as well) of the holiday. There was nothing wrong with the Seder meal – lots of food, interesting stuff – gefilte fish, apples and walnuts, lamb or brisket… it was the ceremony. Like any ritual, it’s hard to keep kids involved, especially when it’s a long, involved ritual, that includes lots of explication, recitation, and droning. And unlike most of the other holidays, at this one we actually had to pay attention, because kids have their part in the ritual – asking questions at certain times, answering others – and having to eat certain parts of the meal and drink “wine” (grape juice for us) at just the right moments. We couldn’t escape.

None of this, thankfully, came to mind when Jorge, the owner of Mama Europa, contacted me and invited me to come with guests to his seder last weekend. As noted in my previous post, I’d already scheduled a Casa S dinner that evening, forgetfully, and I thanked him, but had to decline. He persisted, in the best way, and invited us to come on night two. I invited a couple of friends to join me, and away we went to Las Cañitas and the site of one of Jorge’s former Big Mamma delis (of which only the one in Belgrano remains), which I reviewed a long time ago. The key, and most important thing here, are my/our thanks that go out to Jorge for this invitation and opening up his restaurant to friends, family, and people like us in the community whom he doesn’t know (he’s a regular reader here, and we’ve e-mailed back and forth, but never met). The inviting of strangers to share in the family meal is one of the central tenets of the holiday, though most families probably limit it to a theoretical invitation with the setting of an empty place for the prophet Elijah, in case he were to amble down the street and pick their bell to ring. [Closed]

Jorge explains the significance of Passover and the Seder
I’ll get back to the restaurant at some point and dig into the food – the menu looks great – and talk about the redone room – it has been, radically. For now, just a quick run through – Jorge led the Seder “service” – which he announced he would compress from its usual three hours into roughly three minutes. It might have been closer to ten, but it was still the shortest version of the ritual I’ve been through – in fact, he left the ritual off, letting us know we were welcome to have as little or as much of it as we wanted at our individual tables – and talked, instead, about the significance of the holiday, especially in regard to modern life in Argentina – one could tell he was directing a good percentage of his talk to the children at the large central family table. He proposed a single toast with a glass of wine, instead of the ritual four cups of wine (which always seems to get much press when people comment negatively on the holiday – oh, there’s all that drinking that “they” do… – I don’t know, in my family it was four little one ounce pours or so of Manishewitz or Mogen David sweet concord grape wine – hardly enough alcohol for the average adult to notice, not even the equivalent of the alcohol in a single gentile martini – and for us kids, it was, as noted, grape juice. I’m sure there are families where it’s used as an excuse to drink heavily, but that sounds to me like a family where those sort of excuses pop up on non-holiday nights.

The Mama Europa Seder Plate
And, we dug into the food. When we arrived, there was a cute little seder plate at each of our places with representations of the various components that are traditional – something to nibble on once the meal got underway – and a prelude to a platter containing cured sardines (amazingly good), babaganoush, and chopped liver; then on to chicken soup with dense matzo balls; a duo of gefilte fish (for the two of us non-Argentines, the first time we’d ever had gefilte fish served hot, we’re both used to chilled and gelled); and then braised beef ribs with potatoes and kishka (a vegetable and matzo meal sausage, basically); and an apple tart. In proper tradition, it was way too much food, and by the time we got to the ribs we were reduced to nibbling, the dessert barely got a deserving glance, let alone eaten.

On the wine front, my friends had brought a couple of bottles of Spanish kosher for passover wine (these days, it’s getting much easier to find good kosher wine – when I was growing up, there was little of note out there… I think… I mean, I don’t really know… but most of the good kosher wineries I know of now, weren’t in existence then) – from Bodega Capçanes in Monsant, their 2000 and 2001 Peraj Ha’abib, or “spring flowers” – a blend of roughly equal thirds of Grenache, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2001 bold and spicy, lots of body, depth, and fruit, nice smoky tones; the 2000 very soft and fruity, just sort of lacking, all around, at least in comparison to the other – the friend who brought it felt it was an off bottle. Jorge contributed a third bottle to the table (we didn’t remotely finish the three bottles, and he joined us in the drinking of what we did consume), Familia Zuccardi’s Textual Marsellan 2003/4, a wine I’ve mentioned before, the grape being a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, and which I continue to enjoy – a light to medium bodied, spicy wine that worked, once again, really well with braised ribs.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

schussheim April 26, 2008 at 14:52

So you did not finished your meal? What a shame for a nice jewish boy!
Next time I’ll watch over you so I’ll be sure you eat everything. Capisce?

dan April 26, 2008 at 16:23

We ate all of our vegetables and fish and chopped liver and kishka like good jewish boys and girls… we just didn’t quite make it through the ribs and dessert… 😉

schussheim April 26, 2008 at 16:40

Dessert, shmessert… The only important thing to eat is the chicken soup, so you will be able to stay healthy as a horse. And don’t forget to wear your coat!

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