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A Summer Welcome: Harlem Rooftop Picnic

I once read that there are more than 50 words for “snow” in one of the Eskimo languages.  And while I like to think I have 50 of my own, they all happen to be vulgar and unfit for print.  Summer however, yields a far more polite but just as numerous vocabulary for the type of weather we’re having.  There’s “beach weather”, that almost-too-hot sting of a cloudless day that can only be balanced by jumping in an almost-too-cold ocean.  “Patio weather”, when the mosquitoes haven’t quite decided to attack yet and the light breeze won’t threaten to blow out your grill flame.  “Window-shopping-with-ice-cream-in-hand weather”, “people-watching weather”, “brunch-with-unlimited-mimosas weather”.  It wasn’t until I moved here to NYC that I found a new one to add: “Rooftop Weather”.


With NYC’s streets crammed with bodegas, irate cab drivers, and parks too full of pasty bodies attempting to achieve that slightly seared look, those lucky enough to have access to a rooftop clamber up.  Be it the European models at the Top of the Standard, the pseudo-hipsters at the rooftop pools in Williamsburg, or in our budget-conscious case, a Spartan rooftop all the way up in Harlem.

An accessible rooftop in your apartment is sometimes almost as good as having a large living room and the moment Rooftop Weather hit, my friend Angel and company decided we should baptize it the right way and hold a feast.

The fishmonger insisted the fish be smiling for the picture

The fishmonger insisted the fish be smiling for the picture

The absence of a grill, sizeable kitchen, and the need for food other than cold cuts meant the menu had to remain light.  A quick trip to the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market yielded a monstrous (at least by cramped NY kitchen standards) striped bass and a couple of good sized Bluefish and Branzini.  The plan was to cook the three varieties in the three styles I’ve grown up with: Chinese-Filipino, Arabic, and the semi-Italian flavors I saw on Food Network.

Kiwano Melon: tasted like a cross between cucumbers and tomatoes

Kiwano Melon: tasted like a cross between cucumbers and tomatoes


Yes…I realize that a majority of my posts as of late have favored our finned friends.  It seems like I’ve cut back on my meat consumption recently and well…let’s see where this goes yes?  Back to the food: a last minute decision to pick four other ingredients at random just to see what my friend Callie and I could make produced: Sardines, Japanese 7-Spice Powder, Fennel, and this alien-looking Kiwano Melon, the results of which weren’t exactly the prettiest though it was certainly tasty.  Angel on the other hand had mussels to make a curry with.


The “experimental” dish that tasted better than it looked: sauteed fennel, sardines, topped with a sweetened Kiwano Melon dressing

Curried Mussels

Curried Mussels

The next 2 hours of cooking were actually the easiest I’ve had and in retrospect, choosing light, unfussy ingredients were definitely the way to go.  The Branzini were wrapped in parchment paper and covered in lemon juice, whole sprigs of parsley, and a generous pour of olive oil.  The Bluefish was lightly dredged in flour, fried to a satisfying golden brown, and smothered in a tomato-yogurt sauce with a bit of dill.  And for the most dramatic, the bass was piled with ginger, massaged with some oil and premium Jasmine tea leaves, and wrapped tightly with wet banana leaves.




Tea-steamed Bass & Fried Bluefish with Tomato-Yogurt Sauce

I was never one for picnics; all that grass, bugs, and dirt.  But on that rooftop surrounded by friends old and new eating with nothing but simple food and bare hands, I realized that this is yet another reason I seem to seek out the concrete jungles of the world.  And as the lull set into the conversation and the sun began to set, I began to forget all 50 profanity-laced words I had for winter one by one.  And so the summer of rooftops, food, and friends began.

View from the top

View from the top

Filed under: All Posts, Break Bread, Snack, Wander

About the Author

Posted by

Paolo Española is a wandering diner in search of a good meal and an ever-elusive identity. He started this blog during a soul-crushing stint as an Accountant and later co-founded Hidden Apron, his side project that’s dabbled in everything from private catering, hosting pop-up dinners, podcasting, and everywhere in between. He is a contributing author to the best-selling cookbook, “The New Filipino Kitchen” and believes that food is a universal language that can solve the world's most challenging problems, help people believe in their own potential, create communities to shared stories, and realize that in Breaking Bread, we Break Boundaries.


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