As if they didn’t already know it, Brooklyn Heights residents
Neil Sloane and Carolina Rivera began to understand this fall
what good neighbors are - and that they are here in Brooklyn.
The engaged couple had planned for eight months to hold their wedding reception at Fort Hamilton, the U.S. Army base in Bay Ridge, at the 100-year-old reception facility called the Community Club.
But in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the fort became off-limits to civilians - including Carolina, Neil and all of their wedding guests. The couple had just one month to find a new location for their wedding reception.
Moving the date was out of the question as the invitations had been sent out and both bride and groom had guests flying in from out of town, explained Carolina. Delaying further would have meant having a reception during the holiday season.
Other Brooklyn facilities were extraordinarily expensive or unavailable. The reception forecast looked bleak until the frazzled couple talked to Kino partner Reem Al-Zahawi at Kino Restaurant in DUMBO.
"Up until Sept. 11, everything was about the wedding," said Neil, who is managing editor of The Brooklyn Papers. "But then our thoughts were focused on the horror. It was like everything stopped.
"About a week later, we realized that there was going to be no way to still hold our wedding reception on a military base. And we weren’t complaining," he added, "we knew the importance of what the men and women stationed at the base were prepared to do, and we were just counting our blessings that we did not personally know anyone who died in the tragedy. But, of course, we had already mailed out the invites."
"We had dined at Kino before and loved it," said Carolina, "but our initial guest count was 80 to 90 and we thought Kino would exceed our tight budget. We also weren’t sure whether it would be big enough. But after our numbers dropped - in the wake of the World Trade Center attack - we only had 50 guests and Kino could accommodate that easily.
"Reem said you have to have your wedding reception here," said Carolina. "We can’t let this thing stop us. She was very enthusiastic about doing it. She said we have to have as many celebrations and good things happening now as we can. I was crying as she said it. I was so touched by that."
Neil recalled how enthusiastic and persistent Al-Zahawi was at their first meeting.
"She made us feel like it was very special, also, because we had wanted to have our entire wedding, from ceremony to reception, basically in our own Brooklyn neighborhood," he recalled. "The church where we were married that afternoon [Assumption Church on Cranberry Street] was just a couple of blocks from our home and Kino is really just a five-minute walk."
"We were all crying [at that first meeting]," said Al-Zahawi. "It turned out to be one of the best parties we’ve ever thrown here. They were just such a great couple and it was stupid to let this tragedy get in the way. So we did whatever we could to accommodate them and make the reception the best it could be."
Al-Zahawi and her partner at the 1 Main St. eatery, Karim Raoul, agreed to match the affordable package the couple had been offered at Fort Hamilton. Kino hosted a reception for 49 guests on the second level of the restaurant that has a view of the twinkling lights of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyline.
"When Fort Hamilton fell apart, Reem stepped in and took it upon herself to make sure we had our wedding without compromise," Neil said. "Every one of our guests raved about the quality and portion of the food and the outstanding service - and also the outstanding view."
The cocktail hour was filled with warm passed h’ors deouvres such as mini quiches, teriyaki chicken on skewers and spring rolls as well as a cheese station and a crudite station.
The wedding guests enjoyed vegetable puree soup or mixed green salad with pine nuts and parmesan cheese as a first course, a second course choice of steak au poivre or 12-spice chicken over mashed chickpeas with vegetables followed by Kino’s award-winning hazelnut creme brulee or chocolate mousse both made on the premises.
The guests also enjoyed a wedding cake with lemon curd filling from Just Cakes by Paulette Martin, an independent pastry chef who was referred by one of the chocolatiers at Jacques Torres’ DUMBO chocolate factory. Each guest had a box of two milk chocolate passion-fruit-filled hearts from Jacques Torres waiting at their place setting.
Al-Zahawi’s waitstaff provided top-notch, flawless service for the guests, according to Neil, while Al-Zahawi herself doubled as an unflappable, gracious hostess and banquet manager.
"We honestly feel they went above and beyond to make sure our wedding reception was perfect," said Neil. "We expected less because they worked out such a great deal with us, but they just worked so hard to make sure that everything was special for us and really seemed to care that that was the case."
And so, on Oct. 20, a wedding tinged by the sorrowful events of Sept. 11, was turned into a love-filled, fall evening with friends and family.
"We would recommend anyone have their reception there," Neil said. "The place looked beautiful, and like I already said, Reem was especially dedicated to making everything perfect for us - as if it was her own affair."
©2001 Community News Group
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