Caribbean restaurant Ariapita opens in Brooklyn
Chef and restaurateur Osei Blackett breaks the mainstream narrative of Caribbean cuisine – dominated by Jamaican classics like jerk chicken or beef patties – with a focus on home-cooked dishes from his native Trinidad and Tobago. With dishes like curries and bhaji (green leaves in coconut milk) as well as ingredients like coconut, cumin and cassava that reflect West African, Indian and indigenous influences in the cuisine, Ariapita opens its doors at 1197 Flatbush Avenue, near Avenue D, in Flatbush, Brooklyn on Friday, November 18.
“You won’t find a jolt here,” Blackett says. “Caribbean food is so much more than that.” While Jamaican Americans more than double Trinbagonian Americans in New York, the latter community has carved out a niche with cuisine that culminates in the two-island nation’s colonial and migratory history: head to Trinciti, Ali’s Trinbago Roti Shop and Trinidad Golden Place in the Caribbean enclaves. of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Flatbush in Brooklyn, as well as Richmond Hill and Ozone Park in Queens.
Now, inside the turquoise walls of Ariapita, Negril’s former village cook prepares his own interpretations of the Trinbagonian food of his childhood. In his version of crab and dumplings, which his family used to cook with whole blue crabs, he simmers chunks of crabmeat in a curry paste of cumin, garlic, thyme and ginger , and add Caribbean-style dumplings without the stuffing. He kneads a dough of flour, coconut milk and water into a disc and cuts it into four to mop up the curry.
For his fish stew, a highlight of his family’s Friday night dinners, he marinates a whole fish—yellowtail snapper, red snapper, or branzino—in a traditional green seasoning of culantro, garlic, ginger, and thyme; dredge it in flour; fry it; and finishes it with a sweet and tangy sauce of okra, carrots, tomatoes, ketchup and coconut milk.
The restaurant’s bar, or D’ Rum Shop, is also inspired by its Trinbagonian home cooking. It turns mango chow, typically a summertime snack of firm, half-ripened slices of spicy mango, into a sweet and spicy cocktail with Scotch caps and white rum.
Ariapita is Blackett’s second restaurant after his 2010 launch of Picky Eaters — which has since expanded to two Flatbush locations — with a focus on Caribbean street foods like gyros and wings. But he wanted to reminisce about his childhood experiences of hand-shredded coconut and making mauby drinks from mauby tree bark, infused with cinnamon and cloves.
His memories include a party on the main strip of Ariapita Avenue in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. At Blackett’s Ariapita, the 22-seat dining space (with eight additional seats at the bar) will transform into an open dance floor with DJs spinning soca, dancehall and hip-hop on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. at 0 a.m. It plans to offer free late-night snacks on Fridays starting in December.
Hours of operation are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of Cooking with Granny YouTube and a series of workshops spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @kitchenWGranny.