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Manhattan Mexican Restaurants Celebrate Day of the Dead

By Mary Johnson | October 21, 2011 7:16am
 The staff at Ofrenda in the West Village will wear elaborate makeup as part of its Day of the Dead celebration.
The staff at Ofrenda in the West Village will wear elaborate makeup as part of its Day of the Dead celebration.
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MANHATTAN — The end of October is typically associated with the frightening festivities of Halloween, but for Manhattan's Mexican residents it's also time to honor Day of the Dead.

The traditional celebration extends from the last few days of October until Nov. 2. During that time, friends and family make vast amounts of food and gather around gravestones waiting for those they have lost to return to earth for just a few short hours.

“Nov. 2 is not about being scared or sad,” said Luis Arce Mota, the chef and partner at Ofrenda in the West Village. “You got to be happy because you’re going to spend time with the spirits.”

Ofrenda, which held its first Day of the Dead celebration last year, has created a special menu in honor of the occasion. The dishes will include a seafood medley and tacos with veal cheek, tongue and sweetbread.

The bartenders will also be whipping up a specialty cocktail called the Afterlife, said Mota, a native of Mazatlan in Mexico. A group of dancers will ward off evil spirits with a traditional performance, and on the final day of the celebration, Nov. 2, the entire staff will be painted to look like walking, talking Day of the Dead skeletons, Mota said.

“We’re going to eat. We’re going to drink,” Mota said, smiling. “We’re going to dance with the dead.”

At Pampano, a Richard Sandoval restaurant on East 49th Street near Third Avenue, Chef Lucero Martinez has concocted a five-course Day of the Dead menu, which costs $50 a person.

The menu features tamales, ceviche, chicken with mole sauce and fried plantains and pumpkin gelato.

“It’s pretty hardy,” said Martinez, originally from Mexico City. “You’re supposed to feed your dead relatives. You’re supposed to have them happy that day. That’s the whole inspiration.”

In addition to the food, the bartenders at Pampano have created a cocktail based around the marigold flower, a Day of the Dead signature, Martinez said. The drink is fittingly tequila based, with passion fruit, orange juice and flower petals added to give it a celebratory air.

On the Upper East Side, Maya, another Richard Sandoval restaurant, has put together a menu based entirely around tamales. The chefs will stuff them with wild mushrooms, chicken, sweet chipotle and pulled pork, among other ingredients.

The restaurant will also offer several cocktails crafted for the occasion, including the Medianoche, or midnight, and the Margarita del Diablo, or Devil’s Margarita.