Friday, April 24, 2009

Graziano's, Coral Gables, Florida

There is something primal about the sound of meat sizzling over an open fire. Something visceral about seeing golden fat drip off fresh meat onto crackling embers.

Just inside the door of Graziano's restaurant in Coral Gables, an asador brazier burns specially imported quebracho wood behind a glass wall. Its upright steel spikes skewer whole chickens, and generous cuts of beef and lamb that rotate slowly over a traditional Argentine style grill. Savoring the sight of the slow roasting meats and vegetables, I am transported back to Las Lilas restaurant in the Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.

A juicy slice of Bife de Choriso (New York strip steak) dipped in chimicurri is heaven on a fork. The meat is not aged. No marinade is used. What you taste is fresh beef that aborbs its flavor and fragrance from the grilling process. Everything is made from scratch. Brie comes from France; stilton from England. Desserts and breads are made in house. For the vegetarian, there is a selection of salads and vegetables. Papas a la provensal - steak fries sauteed with garlic, parsley and white wine, is a house specialty.

Thirsty? Ruby red walls of the dining room are lined with over 3,000 bottles of wine; many imported from Argentina, South Africa, Italy and California. 

Graziano's is a family business begun over 18 years ago as a meat market and small gourmet butcher shop by its founder, Leo Graziano. It has now expanded to 3 restaurants in the greater Miami region.

Enjoy the cuisine of Argentina in Florida, and skip the 11 hour flight .

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

La Nueva Catedral, Managua, Nicaragua

In 1972, a major earthquake destroyed 90% of the city, along with the old cathedral in downtown Managua. Since the church’s structure was thought beyond repair, a new cathedral was begun in 1991 and completed in just two years.

Visitors approach La Nueva Catedral (the new cathedral) along a paved street that cuts through a field of tall palm trees. Here and there street vendors peddle snacks and chilled soft drinks from plastic coolers. The avenue abruptly ends at the lip of a broad grey block plaza in front of the church’s austere low facade.

Its architectural style is modern, with a roof composed of 63 concrete cupolas, each representing the individual dioceses in the country. Some locals call it “La Chinchona” because the many cupolas look like so many “chichas” - Spanish slang for breasts.

Doors and windows are open air, allowing birds and breezes to enter freely. It’s not unusual to see pigeons fly from their perches on a narrow ledge atop concrete pilasters to racks of pigeonholes near the choir loft.

La Nueva Catedral cost $4.5 million dollars. An American tycoon provided financing and construction supervision. Having built his billion-dollar Domino’s Pizza chain, founder Tom Monaghan experienced a religious awaking after reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series. The inspired Monaghan took a two-year sabbatical from Dominos, during which time he funded and supervised the construction of La Nueva Catedral.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Casco Colonia Parade, Quito, Ecuador

Early on a chilly Sunday morning, the distant sound of a tinny brass band drifted over the Plaza de la Independencia. I stepped onto the 2nd floor balcony of the Hotel Plaza Grande to see a colorful parade of celebrants strolling over the petal-strewn streets of old town, Quito.

Dressed in costumes of northern Andes villages, girls danced by wearing delicate white blouses tucked into layered skirts of richly embroidered petticoats fringed in macramé. Fellows wore dark blue tunics over knee-length pants. Each wore rounded white felt hats festooned with colored ribbons and pompons.

In a curious mixture of Christian symbolism and native culture, Wise Men on pantomime rag camels followed attenuated angels; these followed by musicians and llama herders.

A young boy, standing not much taller than the animal he led on a rope, wore a rainbow striped poncho over white alpaca leggings. His mother was wrapped in a cotton shawl (panis) with a hand made woven bag (shigras) tied over her shoulders; her luxurious black hair bound by a brightly colored ribbon (cintas).

It was the last Sunday of Advent, 2008 and the procession terminated on the steps of the San Francisco cathedral, several blocks away. Dating from 1534, this is the American continent’s oldest church. Catholic Mass was said under a canopy erected on its broad plaza, made of large stone blocks that once formed the walls of an ancient Inca temple.

Quito, Ecuador lies high in a valley basin at the foot of an active volcano - Guagua Pinchincha. Watching dancers whirling and dipping with such energy was dizzying.

Or was it the thin air of this capital city that lies at an altitude of over 9,300 feet?