Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Rise of SoHa and LoMo

In today's New York Times Dining section (at least online) they discussed some restaurants in an area that real estate giants are trying to name. I guess it's in the West West Village and potential names include WeVar (west of Varick) and HoHo (Holland Tunnel/Houston). Who knew that NYC Neighborhood Nomenclature could be so tricky? But with areas now called SpaHa (Spanish Harlem, and also the name of a restaurant in Toronto on the corner of Spadina & Harbord) and NoLIta and Carnegie Hill (aka we're not in East Harlem Yet) it's all about squeezing an extra couple hundred dollars a month out of tenants since their area "sounds nicer." Turtle Bay? Clinton? Hamilton Heights? Who are they kidding? Somehow Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt doesn't sound so out there.

SoHa has yet to find a distinct set of boundaries. It's the area between Morningside Heights and Harlem (hence South of Harlem), supposedly, although some of the bars in the 100s and Amsterdam say that they're in the "SoHa" area (remember, the infamous dive where Barnard girls danced on tables for locals?) While it sounds more swanky than Morningside Heights, per se, it seems like a name permitting students to go outside of the 110th-120th bubble without *gasp* going to Harlem. Since some of my freshman floormates a few years back were convinced that 109th and Amsterdam was, in fact, Spanish Harlem, I'm somehow not surprised that shopkeepers banked on the SoHa nomenclature.

When I first arrived at school, SoHa as I define it - the stretch along Amsterdam from 118th-125th - was more or less a void. There were some eateries: AmCaf, the only bar I'd go to, Max SoHa, Kitchenette, but it seemed more or less like an abandoned strip. I remember walking down Amsterdam to 125th with a skirt to be dry cleaned and not seeing anyone walking down the street. Now, SoHa is just booming. Honestly, the 110th-116th restaurants are really subpar, mostly because they're known for their bar scenes and not their food. But Radio Perfecto, which opened on 118th & Am a few years ago serves some decent entrees, Panino Sportivo has excellent (albeit expensive) paninis (Amsterdam btwn 120 & 121), and Max Cafe on Amsterdam & 122 is a great lounge area for the stuffy but amazing Max SoHa. Since arriving at school, Sezz Medi - known for its coal oven pizzas - opened, AmCaf became AmRaTL (or Amsterdam Restaurant and Tapas Lounge, now off-limits to undergrads), and just recently "Fresh Cafe" opened at the southeastern corner of 121 and Amsterdam. Plus, last year Turquoise Grill opened, the Israeli restaurant that I briefly served at, but that is definitely not an asset to the now-trendy SoHa. When serving at Turquoise I saw so much foot traffic on Amsterdam, hitting up these restaurants. When I lived at 122nd over the summer the same thing. They don't even need their name anymore. Store facades are getting facelifts, dry cleaners are no longer dirty, and everyone's looking to buy in. Talk about a change. Luckily, all the food coming into the neighborhood is great.

When I was a wee freshman I told my parents - eager to move to the city once my brothers were at college - that they should consider investing in LoMo. A name I invented myself, LoMo (or Lower Morningside Heights) is "that void" between 96th and 110th, the area that's not quite the Upper West Side and not close enough to Columbia for most students to venture to regularly. The area is safe, but it was visibly different - plenty of 99 cent stores, buildings being demolished, abandoned storefronts, you name it. They didn't listen. On Saturday Jon and I were walking down Broadway in LoMo to get to Indus Valley - the best Indian restaurant in walking distance - and he stopped, turned to me, and said "damn, you were right." The neighborhood really has gotten a face lift.

Ben and Jerry's opened at the corner of 104th and Broadway during my freshman year. So did Carne at 106th, PicNic at 104th, Cafe du Soleil somewhere in that vicinity, and Garden of Eden at 108th. Construction sites from freshman year are now pricey condominiums - the Opus building at 107th and Broadway was featured in the New York Time some months back as in the few million dollar range for a 3-bedroom, another highrise on 103rd has a new Gristedes on the bottom. At 100th they're building another high rise which I noticed has a girly name that now escapes me. At least some of the neighborhood joints in the area have stuck around during this mass gentrification of the area - Taqueria and Noche Mexicana are packing full houses, La Meridiana (though overly expensive) is still around, and the 99 cent stores are still lining Broadway albeit in smaller quantities.

I have witnessed culinary evolution outside of the borders of my school and the enormity of its scale when tied to gentrification. I wonder how much it will change when I revisit it for my five-year reunion in 2011. Will it be uber-yuppified? Or will it go back to being desolate? Maybe it will be the next big restaurant area - especially since the UWS had been frowned on for subpar restaurants for years. That would be nice.

Angel Hair with Checca Sauce
This dish is 'bangin.' I picked it because of the wonderful Italian food that I had last night at Max SoHa. This is actually Giada de Laurentiis' recipe (Everyday Italian) and my friends absolutely love it. All you need is a blender or a food processor to make the sauce.

8 ounces spaghettini or angel hair pasta
4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (12-ounce container) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 (1-ounce) piece Parmesan, coarsely chopped
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the next 7 ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (do not puree).

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl. Add some of the reserved pasta water (about 1/4 cup) if the sauce looks dry. Serve immediately.


At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever actually been in any of the LoMo restaurants, as everytime I walk by them it's 1 or 2 in the morning and I'm on my way home from work. But I do know of them. Besides the ones you've mentioned, there's the glatt creperie place, Henry's, Silver Moon, the edible flower place, the big health food market, and more. And while it's not a yuppy spot, Texas Rotisserie is LoMo's answer to Boston Market, for those times when you don't want to go down to 23rd. I think if they renovate the metro theatre then the gentrification of this area will be complete.

Someone could write a really interesting comparison between the names of NewYork neighborhoods and RENT fanfiction couples. For example, MoJo? RoMi? Do these not sound like places on an NYC map?

At 8:36 AM, Blogger dreaminaret said...

K - You keep me laughing. I totally forgot about Silver Moon but that place is my favorite (esp when I went to an interview to counter there and they're like "are you okay working with people from other races and cultures and places, like wisconsin?" ummmm... well all of my friends fit into that "other" category. Anywyay, CMi could be Central Midtown (does anyone even live there?), CMo = Central Morningside? Collins would be getting all the action. AC = Alphabet City. Oh wait, I didn't make that one up.

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