"The love of money and shiny new things is slowly but surely erasing the past," says Anthony Bourdain in a recent episode of "Parts Unknown" in which he visits Hong Kong. "So before it's gone, this is a reminder how [the city] used to be."
In the scene that follows, he visits a dai pai dong, a type of open-air food stall serving cheap-but-delicious food; according to one stall owner, there are only 28 left in Hong Kong. "Pull up a plastic stool, crack a beer, fire up the wok," Bourdain narrates while digging into a bowl of drunken chicken.
Just like Hong Kong, Washington Heights (and many other parts of New York) is changing before our eyes. Money is king, and older businesses that can only afford small rent increases are being pushed out.
So in the spirit of this episode, and in homage to Bourdain, who died last Friday, I made a pilgrimage to Galicia, a cozy Spanish restaurant in Washington Heights that has been in the neighborhood for more than 25 years and is closing this month.
According to the Village Voice, owner Ramon Calo can't afford the $20,000-per-month increase in rent–a whopping 400 percent jump. A waitress there says the restaurant's last day is June 24.
Following Bourdain's earlier instructions, I pulled up a chair at one of the charming tables covered in red-and-white checked tablecloths, sipped on a glass of smooth Tempranillo, and took in the old-fashioned atmosphere while the kitchen staff fired up the stove, so to speak.
Owner Calo is originally from a small coastal village in Galicia, Spain, so I steered toward the seafood items on the menu, with a few traditional tapas rounding things out.
First came the tapas: the boquerones, or vinegared anchovies, had a gentle acidity and were served with toothpicks and a basket of simple white bread. The fried croquetas followed, piping hot and filled with delicious bits of ham.
Then, finally, the main dish: a seafood paella, which the waitress had warned would require a wait. I didn't mind, using the time to observe my fellow patrons. Some watched baseball on TV, while others gathered around big tables with their families–everyone seemed to be enjoying what was clearly a dear and familiar place.
The paella was worth the wait, simple in flavor but rich with lobster, squid, fish, clams and shrimp, mixed with rice and cooked in black squid ink.
The restaurant was out of flan, but the strong coffee more than made up for the lack of dessert.
Yes, stop by Galicia to remember it–and Washington Heights–as they are now, because the future is sure to look very different.