ABC Cocina – Reviewed
Who would have thought one of the best places to eat right now is tucked inside a furniture and home store? But that’s exactly the case ever since ABC Carpet & Home first teamed up with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Kluger to open ABC Kitchen. Over three years later and it’s nearly as hard to get a reservation at this seasonal and local American spot, tucked inside the 19th street side of the store.
This September, ABC Carpet & Home closed its other restaurant, a long-running, Spanish tapas joint called Pipa, located on the 18th street side, and just recently relaunched it as ABC Cocina. Jean-Georges just keeps surprising us. After all, he is a French-born chef, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping him from dabbling in cuisines from all over the world, including Southeast Asian, Japanese, and American, and so successfully at that. This time, his inspiration is Latin American, with a definitively seasonal and local take, of course. And he’s once again recruited the talented Dan Kluger to oversee the kitchen, alongside chef de cuisine, Ian Coogan. Just what do you get when you combine Kluger’s seasonal sensibility with Latin American flavors? Spring Pea Empanadas and Green Chili Yogurt, Sauteed Mushroom Tacos with Kale & Lime, and Maitake Mushrooms with Goat Cheese & Fresno Pepper Vinaigrette. First, how about a Basil Jalapeno Margarita to get the evening started? It’s rimmed in basil salt and it’s off the hook.
It’s not easy to come up with something innovative these days, but they’ve done just that at ABC Cocina. Take the Spring Pea Guacamole, for example. No one’s denying the simple pleasures of guacamole, but it’s a pretty straightforward Mexican dip. At least, it was until ABC Cocina added fresh-from-the-farm peas and chiles into the mix, then paved it with sunflower seeds – an addictive, velvety vegetal twist on this Mexican staple. Even your run-of-the-mill bowl of olives is taken to an exciting level, marinated with olive oil, mint and poblano chiles, and served warm with a wonderfully fresh mint pesto that you’ll want to put on everything. The Salmon is smartly marinated in Mezcal, and crowned with a tangy Cucumber-Yogurt Relish that’s reminiscent of Greek Tzatziki along with crispy Potato Flakes. Whatever you do, order an appetizer of Raw, Shaved Fluke. What arrives at the table are silky petals of fluke, bathed in a spunky green chili dressing, and showered with crunchy rice for a boost of texture — an exquisite balancing act of delicate fish with a chile kick and dose of crunch.
In fact, chiles seem to be the muse behind many of the dishes on the menu at ABC Cocina and just about everything has some sort of a kick. If you have a predilection for heat, you’ll go crazy for the pearly White Florida Shrimp basking in an “Agua Diablo,” creatively paired with Marcona Almonds and sweet chunks of banana to offset a bit of chile heat. The Chipotle Chicken Tacos dabbed with a Grilled Jalapeno Salsa are equally as feisty and flavorful, and so is the homemade and incredibly juicy Chorizo Sausage. But some of my favorite things on the menu are the simplest, two of which are located under Wood-Burning Grill on the menu. The result is beautifully charred Asparagus, accented with Pickled Spring Onions, Marcona Almonds and a handful of Fresh Herbs. Another is the Maitake Mushrooms, tinged with the smoke of the grill, and married to Goat Cheese and a Fresno Pepper Vinaigrette with just enough heat to keep things interesting. The Sugar Snap Pea Salad isn’t grilled, but it’s terrific, dressed in a citrus dressing, dosed with freshly cracked pepper, and drizzled with Housemade Sour Cream.
Many of the desserts have a refreshingly tropical twist, like a zippy Passion Fruit Sundae and an Almond Cake, flavored with Blood Orange, and sided by a Sour Cherry Sorbet on Meringue pedestal. I don’t even like white chocolate, but I’ll happily make an exception for the Caramelized White Chocolate Rice Pudding topped with Rhubarb Compote, created by pastry chef, Melody Lee, who also oversees the dessert station next door at ABC Kitchen. Perhaps my favorite of all is a Homemade Chocolate and Coconut Popsicle that they’d be wise to package and sell by the box this summer. If you’re thinking ABC Cocina sounds like a special occasion kind of spot, think again. Dinner for two with cocktails was very affordable at just $120. I can’t wait to go back and take another stab at the menu, and yes, it lives up to the hype.