Being a pre-teen with a mom who’s hipper than you is both humbling and awesome. While you would have preferred that you revealed to her that Nolita was the latest up-and-coming neighborhood for shopping and dining, when you marched into your Monday homeroom in a pair of the coolest high-waisted magenta suede pants anyone in middle school has ever worn, from a tiny downtown boutique your mom had discovered in a neighborhood your classmates didn’t even know meant “North of Little Italy,” the payoff for being bottom rung on the mother-daughter hipness ladder was clear. (Now that hipness is judged by one’s ability to name streets in the far-flung Brooklyn neighborhoods, it seems incredible that Nolita was ever under the radar, but in 1998 it was. Maybe I’ve lived in New York too long.)
Our downtown outings usually involved lunch at a hip restaurant. After a few jaunts, we adopted a handful of cafés as our own, nourishing beacons in still uncharted urban territory. One of our mainstays was Pommes Frites, of 3am craving fame (we went at 3pm). The other was Rice.
Rice, which closed recently, wore fusion cuisine like the best of its founding decade, the ’90s. Its concept was simple and brilliant. You ordered a bowl of rice–white, brown, Thai black, green–and then added toppings from anywhere in the world where rice is eaten, which is to say everywhere. I might eat Mediterranean lentils while you forked into vegetarian meatballs. I could order black beans and you could choose Indian curry. We craved that variety after walking through Nolita all morning. It’s one dish, the curry, that I want to talk about today, a dish that outlived the fusion trends and endured the crowds that began to stream into Nolita from neighboring SoHo, to remain just as hip today as it was back then.
The reason? Rice’s Indian chicken curry contained bananas. Salty sweet: sounds like 2013. The creamy sauce also coated raisins and mango chutney, and I’ve never forgotten the taste combination of salty curry, filling meat, and echoing sweetness.