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  • The first Sunday of the month at Astor Row Café is Paella and Flamenco night. $25 for all the paella you can eat and sangria you can drink. The sangria goes faster and there's more of it for your buck since Manny takes his paella en serio. That stuff takes more than a minute to cook.

    He's got an open flame with the rice cooking slow, sending tempting, saffron-scented aromas down Lenox Avenue. The first batch was served at a little after 6. The next won't be spooned up until after 8. Folks are hungry, and there's an iffy hierarchy of who gets served when. Everyone seems to get a hearty plate though, and the pan goes fast.

    Manny's unfazed by how long it takes, how much he sweats, what goes into creating this cauldron of spicy salty savory. He talks to everyone who waits, all who watch him stir the rice patiently. 'Ta nada. He poured and sanded the concrete floors of the cafe. He fashioned the bar from salvaged wood from an upstate barn. He steams the milk himself for each latte, cuts each slice of jamon and pan de platanos. He reconciles the books, opens and locks the doors, teaches his son to wash the dishes, still looks at Rosa, his wife, with respect and longing as they log long days behind the counter that he built with his hands.

    He's a sophisticated guy, Manny. Schooled in the kitchens and vineyards of Italy, far from home in DR. He's made something where there was nothing. Hard work is duro, pero no es difícil.
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