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Where to Eat 2003

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Buenas Noches: The Noche mojito and mango mai tai.  

The Great Latino Explosion

“This place is Ricky Ricardo on steroids,” my arch fashionista friend declared after we’d made the twisting Sherpa’s trek up through the many levels of thronged bar nooks and pulsating samba bands that is David Emil’s kinetic new establishment Noche. Much of the food has that bulging steroid quality, too, particularly the terminally edible braised pork shank, a volcano of meat spewing lavalike streams of green mojo sauce made with garlic and oregano. Delicate eaters can take refuge in the multicultural blizzard of Peruvian seviches—we liked the salmon with passion fruit—and sweet corn tamales from Ecuador, although what I liked best was the simple chicken taco, stuffed with strips of charcoal-broiled chicken, deposits of fresh guacamole, and a tangy crumbling of manchego cheese.

Stephen Hanson follows a similarly glitzy formula at his newest party spot, Dos Caminos, where there are more than 150 varieties of tequila available at the bar, and the ceiling is hung with hollowed-out tree trunks, artfully carved to resemble the twinkling southwestern sky. If it’s artful Mexican cooking you want, travel up Park Avenue and around the corner to Salon Mexico, where you’ll find chef Alan Miguel Kaplan turning out strange fusion creations like baby quail covered in peanut-mole sauce, and plump empanadas stuffed with shredded shiitakes and Muscovy duck. If the dinginess of the small townhouse dining room gets you down, take comfort in the twelve varieties of margaritas on the menu, or the dizzying selection of fine sipping tequilas.

I don’t think I spotted any bleary tequila freaks at Alma, although there were plenty of dreamy expressions among the mob of wholesome Brooklynites crammed like anchovies onto the restaurant’s already famous roof deck. The chef, Gary Jacobson, labored at Zarela’s for years, so he knows his way around down-home dishes like chicken mole (braised to a tender soupiness), seared duck (touched with cinnamon), and chicken flautas (crispy, hot, and rolled tight as cigars). Even the guacamole is more or less anthropologically correct—it’s served in maza grinders made of volcano lava—so you can dream romantically of olden Mexico as you gaze out at the glittering cargo cranes of Red Hook.


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