Cosme

35 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 913-9659 cosmenyc.com

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Zagat’s? You don’t need no stinking Zagat’s. Cause I got the skinny right here. And while it’s true, the hype definitely runs high on this place, Cosme still manages to put the “can” in gourmand-worthy Mexican cuisine.

The setting is more trendy than dressy, but tastefully done in a timeless way. My only gripe is that the barstools are so high you practically have to do a Fosbury Flop to get on top of them. Service was pretty darn bueno as well, although you can tell they have a tinge of New York tude at the host stand. Granted after one or two El Ninjas, their gin and mezcal cocktail, you hardly notice and are mostly worried about falling from the dizzying heights of your barstool.

At the table, things are more or less tapas-style with a twist, the first of which was the uni tostada with bone marrow. And yes it’s as good as it sounds. In fact, if God was a tostada, he would probably be this one.

Another excellent starter is the crispy octopus served over a bed of hazelnut mole and accented with pickled potatoes and watercress. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but just about as close as you can get.

Our vegetarian option of the night, the mushroom and squash barbacoa, was also good, but not quite at the same level as everything else, tasting more or less like a solid market veggie taco when all was said and done.

And as the main event, we had to go with the storied Duck Carnitas (pictured), which as the name implies is done like a giant pork roast with moisty goodness seeping out of every corner. Then, they top it with onions and radishes and serve it up with soft tacos and salsa verde. Sadly, as good as it was, I’m not sure it’s quite worth its steep price tag, though. And while I can appreciate the inventive twist of treating duck like pork, I’ve actually seen it a lot lately and done even better at places like Cask & Larder in Orlando. Whereas this one was in dire need of the hot sauce before giving it my stamp of approval.

For dessert we forwent the other “must get” meringue and opted for the manchego cheesecake served crumbled up in a bowl over a pineapple drizzle, topped with popcorn. Not the exclamation point I was hoping for, I gotta say. And that’s true about Cosme on the whole. As hard as this place is to get into, and as hyped as it has been, I have to concur with Yelp on this one and say that 3.5 stars is pretty spot on. But since I don’t do halves, as we know, it comes down to which way am I rounding… up or down? Well, they don’t call me ferocious for the nothin’…

3 teeth

El Parador Café

325 E 34th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 679-6812elparadorcafe.com

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I have a warm and fuzzy place in my heart for El Parador. Not just because it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Nor because I had my engagement party here. And not just because my best friend had their rehearsal dinner there either. Not even  because they have some seriously kick-ass margaritas- but mostly because of that last one. These are not just your boring old citrus based margaritas, however, we’re talkin’ frozen tamarind margaritas. And the crazy thing is, I’m not even a frozen margarita kinda guy. I’m rocks/salt all the way! Well, not all the way, I suppose, since I dig on these, but you get my point, they’re good enough to make you a convert.

The other thing I love about this place is the service. It’s always extremely warm and friendly and the owner is almost always there, making sure you’re happy and taken care of, which is key. But at the end of the day, we all know these are “nice-to-haves” and that the only thing that truly matters are the foodstuffs. Well, The Inn (English translation for El Parador) has no problema in that department either. But I don’t recommend going here for your typical cheap Mexican fix. First, because Parador is anything but cheap. And second, because Parador is a bit more of a class act, serving up a mean mole, a succulent ceviche and a plentiful paella. In fact, most everything falls somewhere between good and excellent and the misses are scarce.

Due to its age, it is a touch old-school to be fair, but old-school in an authentic, charming way. Granted some might find the cuisine to be a touch dated compared to the likes of more inventive places such as The Black Ant, ABC Cocina and Cosme, but there’s also something to be said for respecting tradition. Tradition! Tradition! (To be sung like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof).

So head on over to El Parador and pay your respects to a culinary trailblazer. You owe to yourself. And, should you need a great place to throw a party, I do highly recommend the private room downstairs.

4 teeth

The Black Ant

60 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 598-0300blackantnyc.com

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for restaurants named after colorful animals. The Purple Pig in Chicago, Yellow Dog Eats in Orlando, The Golden Goat in Eze, France… And there are many more where those came from- Well, now you add yet another to the list, The Black Ant, and while black is technically not a “color,” (it’s a value) if you can find it in a box of Crayolas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a color.

The place is very cozy and charming inside, playing to its name with a gigantic ant mural and ant wallpaper. And the service is rather jubilant (note the clever use of an adjective containing the word “ant” within it- two points for me!), a noteworthy plus to the dining experience, because it becomes infectious and it’s almost impossible to have a bad time here because of it. Well, because of that or the margaritas. And actually just the smoky jalapeno margarita, which was spicy and smoky as one might expect. The blood orange variety is actually a bit of a miss if you ask me. Much better ones to be had at ABC Cocina in the city or Truck in Bedford, NY.

As for the guac, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find better, or as interesting, made so by loading it with goodies like chipotle, black ant salt, quesillo and garbanzos done in a way that is very reminiscent of corn nuts, all waging a textural tango on your tongue, between creamy and crunchy.

The fries are also done with a cultural flair, foregoing the potatoes in lieu of cactus. Now I can’t exactly say I’ve had a plethora of cactus fries in my life to compare these with, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this is probably the most joy a cactus has ever given someone since peyote.

For a taco, I definitely recommend the enchapulinados (fried shrimp). But again, Black Ant doesn’t seem to do anything the easy way, so instead of coconut or panko these shrimp are crusted with grasshoppers. No, not the cocktail. The insect. Accompanied with habanero, garlic aioli and cabbage slaw, all lovingly dolloped on a homemade tortilla. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it is quite good.

As for my entrée, this was the biggest let down of the night, other than the blood orange margarita. I followed the recommendation of the waitress who suggested the buñuelos de pato, which are essentially fried wontons filled with duck, smothered in mole and cotija cheese, served up with a kumquat salad. It’s not bad I suppose, but after her two previous fried recommendations I started to get a little fried on fried things. And I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t recommend that short rib looker above or the stunning fish dish you’ll find on their website. I can only assume she just has a thing for fried foods, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility that she was trying to kill me.

Well, I would’ve thought that had she not followed it up with the best recommendation of the night, the Piña Loca for dessert. It’s a warm cake and ice cream served over a caramelized pineapple pancake and all I can say is muy bien!

Definitely a worthwhile visit and I look forward to returning with wifey. But when I do, I’m skipping the duck.

3 teeth