Last night, Aviva and I met up with Mr. and Mrs. E and their adorable baby girl for services and then dinner at the Dinosaur BBQ, at 131st and 12th Avenue in Harlem. I had been to Dinosaur BBQ a few months ago with Russell and Adam and had been talking it up as one of the best BBQ places on earth (plus it is one of the best deals in the city). So Aviva and I were both really excited about the evening, and not just for the giant sized chicken wings, but because we hadn't seen the E's for about 3 months and because we rarely get to go to Shabbat services.
We drove down to the Upper West Side, and after a challenging parking situation, we met the E's on the lower level of B' nai Jesherun (which is unintentionally humorously referred to by the congregants and the rabbi as BJ). I had been to this synagogue with my Dad and Peg when they visited last October and had not liked it so much, mostly due to the oboe, electronic keyboard and various other instruments that were accompanying the service. I love to sing and I almost always want to push worship in the direction of further musicality, but the instruments and atmosphere took it away from a service and made me feel like it was a performance. This time is was totally different, with a warm, almost excited atmosphere, with an incredibly diverse group of casually dressed, spiritually active Jews all singing and chanting joyously together. Mr. E had fought off he masses and held some choice seats for us, and the five of us (don't forget baby E) sat and sang and prayed together. It was extremely peaceful and pleasant and exactly what I needed.
After the service, we piled into the car and drove up to Harlem, to celebrate Shabbat in an orgy of barbequed meats. When we got there the place was ridiculously packed, it took me about 10 minutes just to get to the hostess's podium. Idiotically, I realized that despite having planned this for more than a month, none of us had made reservations. The girl in front of me was complaining that she had been waiting for almost 2 hours, and I immediately knew that there was no way we could wait that long. So I spent about 10 minutes sweet-talking the hostess and her boss, being polite and courteous despite the fact that they had lost our non-existent reservation.
We ended up waiting at the bar for just over half an hour, with all the waitresses ogling the baby, and just about the time Aviva (who at this point was rather intoxicated from her one beer) was going to start eating my forearm, we were seated. Once seated the food came fast and furious, with the first plate of giant garlic chipotle wings coming out within 5 minutes. We went through the wings like lawn mowers, and quickly ordered another plate of tango wango wings along with a full rack of ribs, two orders of fries, two mac n' cheeses and a brisket plate.
When the food came, there was no hesitation on anyones part, we all simply tore into the food with tremendous gusto, thoroughly enjoying both the fabulous food and the excellent company. Because we were all mentally prepared to eat giant portions and we were all so hungry by the time we got the food, all standard conventions went out the window ... I did not even realize I had a knife and fork until 3/4 of the way through the meal.
After the main course we split a piece of ice box chocolate pie, that everyone denied wanting but still vanished rather quickly. About halfway through dinner a live band had started playing at the bar, and we sat, chatted, digested and enjoyed the music for about 45 minutes before the weight of the meal hit us. Then everyone got tired rapid and we headed out, dropping the E's off on the Upper West Side and heading home, thorough stuffed and exhausted and happy. What a fabulous way to start shabbat.
Update: Apparently Aviva is not the only person who admires the ribs at the dinosaur BBQ.