With 12 nights in NYC, there were plenty of opportunities to visit the celebrated restaurants of venerated chefs, doing a significant amount of damage to the credit card along the way. I decided it was easier (and cheaper) to eat locally in the East Village. In part 2, we eat at a couple of restaurants less than a few blocks from our apartment. Read part 1 of Eating The Village here.
The Black Ant – no corn chips were harmed
I learned of Black Ant whilst reading a review of Local 92. The reviewer was dismayed to learn that Black Ant served food with ‘bugs’ in it. Another reviewer was outraged that complimentary tortilla chips and salsa was not available upon arrival. Undaunted by these crimes against civilised dining, we visited Black Ant early on a Wednesday evening and got one of the last tables in this busy, upscale venue. Black Ant offers Mexican cuisine made with contemporary techniques and presentation and, the menu is spectacular. Despite every reviewer raving about the guacamole, it sounded pretty much like my own so we opted for the Tacos Enchapulinados and a Jitomate y Chilacayote salad. A Smoky Jalapeño Margarita and a Mayan God Remedy cocktail with tequila, agave, pineapple and ginger whetted our appetite for things to come. The shrimp in the tacos were crusted in a grasshopper (chapulin) dust. Ahh…. the famous ‘bugs’. Sure there were some ingredients that may seem unusual to gringos such as huitlacoche (corn smut), flying black ant (chicatana) salt and even a dish with stir fried grasshoppers but the reality is that these ingredients are more authentic than grated yellow cheese or chilli con carne, or complimentary salsa. The prawns were plump, juicy and crunchy with a tangy tabiche pepper aioli and micro herbs on soft wheat tortillas. A salad with fresh, pickled and dried tomatoes with a floral garnish, requeson cheese and chili ash was light and refreshing and so pretty.
My main of Enchilada de Conejo was a rabbit ragout with an adobo sauce and anejo cheese in a corn tortilla. The spicy sauce overwhelmed the delicate flavour of the bunny and I’d also suggest that a milder flavoured wheat tortilla would have been a better match. It was enjoyable but not altogether favourable in its flavour partnerships. Nopal or, cactus fries were more successful with an incredibly crunchy coating whilst still remaining juicy inside. These are something that would be unlikely to be on Australian menus and have been on my ‘must try’ food list for quite some time. They use the skinned, fleshy cactus pads of the Prickly Pear. By their very nature, the cactus has a neutral flavour but with the highly seasoned coating and creamy dipping sauce, it was the perfect combination and meant I couldn’t stop eating them one after another.
The combination of innovative menu, efficient service and vibrant atmosphere meant that on the whole, the evening was enjoyable and one to re-visit and talk about over a number of days. I wouldn’t say every meal came with a side of insects and their use is subtle but that’s what makes exploring the menu so enjoyable.
2 entrees + 2 mains + 1 side + 2 cocktails + tax & tip for around $120
The Black Ant
60 2nd Ave
New York NY 10003
DBGB Kitchen Bar – the best value prix fixe in Manhattan?
There are plenty of big name chefs in NYC. Some you would know well, others you may not have heard of. Swelligant restaurants all trying to lure you in to partake of stunning meals at stunning prices. Chef Daniel Boulud has 10 restaurants in his burgeoning empire including his eponymous 2 Michelin star restaurant ‘Daniel’. He may be busy but he’s still on top of things and realises that not everyone wants or can spend $220 on a 7 course meal (+$130 for wine). His restaurants, cafes and bars have something for everyone including the 3 course, $40 prix fixe dinner at DBGBs. Even better value is Friday lunch with the same 3 courses for only $27.
To quote the website, DBGB is ‘French Brasserie meets American Tavern.’ The tongue in cheek name references the famed 1970’s/80’s punk and new wave club CBGBs that was located only a few doors down. The dining rooms are elegant linen and tableware in a semi industrial fitout. Mirrored walls with specials and upcoming events written onto them are a nod to the same practice in France. There’s a large ala carte menu on offer but as if the prix fixe menu was not value enough, you also have a few choices for each course. This is certainly more than you would expect from a prix fixe in France. Selections include classic Pate Campagnard with the requisite accompaniment of cornichons, Cavatelli pasta with duck confit and a generous ‘The Frenchie Burger’ with confit pork belly and creamy Morbier cheese on a brioche bun. The Frenchie is a bit of a signature item, appearing from time to time in different incarnations on various menus within the Boulud empire. It’s good. How can you go wrong with that combo? Dessert is suitably playful with sundaes and modern takes on old classics as well as a very French offering of a cheese plate. Because, you can never have enough cheese in one sitting.
Absolutely no complaints about any of these dishes and all served as efficiently and discreetly as you’d expect of any high-end fine diner. I just can’t get over what good value this meal was in terms of choice, quality, innovation and price. The Frenchie alone costs $21 on the ala carte menu. You absolutely must take an afternoon off work or sightseeing and book a table for Friday lunch.
2 entrees + 2 mains + 2 dessert + tax & tip for around $65
New York NY 10003