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Miranda

Miranda offers a marriage of Mexican and Italian food.

 

A block north of Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg,
old women sit in lawn chairs along the sidewalk, fanning themselves
with the crossword puzzle. Kids play catch in the middle of the street.
A cyclist stops to high-five a friend through the large open window of
a restaurant.

It’s a new spot, open only since December, but already it seems to belong to the old neighborhood. It’s called Miranda. Inside, the tables are set with dishtowel napkins and grandmother china.

Most nights, the co-owner, Mauricio
Miranda, greets you at the door. And if he’s not there to greet you,
you might want to come back another night. That’s how much difference
his presence makes. The other co-owner is Miranda’s fiancée, Sasha Rodriguez, who is the chef. She and Miranda met at Verbena, a defunct Italian restaurant near Gramercy Park. He was a server and she was a line cook. Together, at Miranda, they make a perfect marriage of Mexican and Italian food.

It’s interesting to see how naturally the ingredients of those two
cuisines can be wedded. Instead of risotto, there’s Mexican rice, as
wonderfully glutinous but flavored with tomato and cumin.

These combinations completely transform familiar dishes. You order
the garganelli, and out comes a dish that looks like baked ziti. It’s
every bit as fulfilling but a hundred times better. What makes the
difference is tangy chunks of longaniza sausage.

Or take the arancini. You expect it to be made with ground veal or
beef, but instead it’s studded with spheres of chorizo and served over
a garlicky tomato fonduta.

Eat a few of these dishes and you begin to realize how close the
connection between Italian and Mexican cuisine really is. Sometimes,
there’s only one ingredient of separation.

The food here is neighborhood food, comfort food, every-night food –
but with a twist. A perfect example is the chicken soup. It gets a
spicy kick of habanero chili and a nudge of lime. The pork tenderloin
feels almost pleasingly wintry, except for the mole verde sauce, which
is really a bright taste of summer. A special of fluke, baked in
parchment paper, is a delicate fillet balanced on a sticky mound of
Mexican rice, julienned zucchini and a beet leaf that tastes
unmistakably of the earth.

When Mauricio stops by the table, he is usually brimming with
excitement. Sometimes, he’s showing off a bottle from his interesting
collection of wines, many from small or organic producers. (I liked the
Torrontes 2006 and the Alentex rosé.)

Sometimes, he’s proudly presenting his small mounds of hibiscus
leaves – jamaica (ha-MIKE-uh) – from his grandmother’s garden in
southern Mexico. It appears in a drink called Kika – a blend of homemade jamaica syrup, port and prosecco that looks and tastes like a fizzy Kool-Aid cocktail.

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