6 at Spring St.; J, Z at Bowery
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It starts when a friend implores you to eat downstairs at La Esquina, the subterranean brasserie branch of Derek Sanders and James Gersten's Mexican axis of Kenmare Street. The food’s cheaper and probably better at the walk-in-only cafe around the corner from the restaurant’s entrance—a door disguised by a taqueria counter and a sign that reads “Employees Only”—but there’s a certain category of New Yorker who thrives on having what others don’t. A reservationist will ask you if you’ve “dined with us before,” and in general, it takes knowing someone in the industry, smooth talking, or (velvet-rope flashback) looking good and confident at the door, to waltz in at prime time.
The reward is dining in a Mexican dungeon as styled for a Vogue shoot, complete with metalwork, distressed stone walls, and water dripping on the back of your neck (though the owners can probably thank the air conditioner for the added atmospherics). Making up the grinning crowd at secluded booths and in private cells (?): a healthy mix of models, cougars, and maybe John Mayer picking on Vuelve a la Vida, fresh tuna and shelfish ceviche, with roasted tomatoes, and chipotle chilis; pretty little tacos with perfect accompaniments (grilled steak and charred onions, veal tongue with avocado cream); blistered green beans; or a plate of beautifully charred shrimp. If the food sounds light, you’re right; it’s playing to the delicious crowd.Recommended Dishes
Ensalada mixta, $10; quesadilla de huitlacoche, $11; tacos, $10