Saturday, March 12, 2016

Crabs, Pastries, and A Beautiful Death

At about 8:30 on Friday night I was cracking into a crab leg with my teeth. It tasted of creamy, yellow coconut curry. I peeled away the shell to reveal a thick pocket of leg meat and hungrily chewed on the morsel before starting the process all over again with another leg.

The bucket of crab legs and shrimp AR and I got came with a side of rubber gloves for avoiding messy hands, but I soon peeled mine off because I felt like I was conducting an autopsy. I also felt like I owed it to my South Florida roots to dig into the legs and the shrimp with my bare hands, soggy skin and fingernails be damned. And while having food detritus stuck under my fingernails is one of my greatest pet peeves, the annoyance was totally worth it to immerse myself more fully in the seafood experience we were having.

AR and I were dining at LoLo's Seafood Shack, on W. 116th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. The restaurant features Caribbean-inspired cooking (order before sitting, please!) ranging from conch fritters to seafood boils and much more. Entering the tiny vestibule where a line of people are curling away from the door, you might not know there's a host of tables in the back, down a slim, pastel-colored hallway.

Seeing all the tables inside the tiny, yet colorful and friendly joint were taken, AR and I went outside to the restaurant's back patio and ended up having the space all to ourselves. The night was just a little too chilly for the faint of heart to eat outside, but luckily such a phrase did not apply to us. We found ourselves at an aqua-colored picnic table sinking our teeth into not just the aforementioned crab and shrimp boil, but wok seared cauliflower and jerk-rubbed pork ribs. I couldn't believe our luck at trying the place on a whim, but it turns out the restaurant is also a Critic's Pick in The New York Times. Who knew? We left, delighted and satiated by dinner. AR was curious about a potential sweet snack however. Was there a bakery nearby?

Indeed there was: Patisserie Les Ambassades on Frederick Douglass between 118th and 119th, which defines itself as a French-African BYO cafe. We availed ourselves of a linzer tart (sweet and slightly lemony and just crunchy enough) and a vanilla eclair (the custard was simply devoom) and marveled at everyone whose style was much better than ours, including a man unironically wearing a neutral leather harness around his waist instead of his shoulders as a fashion statement. If I could wear such a thing without it swallowing my hips I might very well do so.

Sweetened up, we made our way a few more blocks north to our ultimate destination, the Apollo Music Cafe inside the historic Apollo Theatre. The utterly spellbinding, phenomenal singer Sophia Urista was playing, and I found it important for AR's musical education to drag him along with me. I had seen Sophia perform many, many moons ago at an art salon in the studio of photographer Gilles Larrain and had remembered her ever since. I had tried to get out to see her several times before (she is also the lead singer of NYC-based band The VeeVees), but every time had failed. This time, though, I knew I had to get there and take someone who would appreciate her with me. Because really, she's not just a singer. She's Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Robert Plant, Kurt Cobain, Prince, and Mick Jagger all rolled into one. For her opening song she sang a blues tune a capella that melted my innards. I had to force myself not to let my jaw hang open as she electrocuted the notes with her vocal shockwaves, holding my head in my hands to keep it from falling off of my body. As her raw, powerful, soul-quaking, funk/rock/blues/soul performance went on I felt the words WHAT IS HAPPENING fall out of my mouth several times. I looked over at AR who was having a similar experience. She killed us both, and what a delightful death it was.

"She makes me question my sexuality!" I joked to AR.
"She confirms my sexuality," he said, laughing. "Do you think she needs any groupies?"

Sophia, if you're reading this, my buddy AR is into it if you are.