Pinche Bueno


Cantina by Cascabel | 1542 2nd Ave. (Bet. 80th & 81st Sts.) | 212.717.7800 | www.cascabelcantina.com | | | |

SOMETIMES BAD THINGS HAPPEN to good people, and in the city of New York, the same could be said for restaurants. Recent example, the closing of the excellent and brand-spanking new Mahjong Dumplings. They served great dumplings—with thinner wrappers and fresher, more exotic fillings—but they did it in a neighborhood, Yorkville, whose famously un-”foodie” denizens have settled for rote, generic, and homogenous dumplings of their favorite, middling Chinese restaurants. (Most Chinese restaurants in this neighborhood are trying so hard to broadly appeal to the lowest common denominator, that they also offer Japanase, Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese dishes, pretty much insuring that all of their dishes suffered from a greater lack of authenticity. Sadly, most neighborhood diners are none the wiser.)

The owners of the late Mahjong, though, have indeed found great success with their original resto, Cascabel—having to at first move from the small Mahjong space where they originated to a much bigger space on the corner—opening their second location on the Upper West Side in just a matter of days. They have now applying a coastal, seafood spin to their winning Mexican preparations and recipes at Cantina by Cascabel, just opened in the old Mahjong Dumpling space.


Cantina by Cascabel

Cantina by Cascabel

Cantina by Cascabel


The Cantina menu runs the gamut, from salads like a corn bread panzanella (with black bean and serrano ham vinaigrette), to hot dishes like grilled whole “Veracruz” red snapper (with “crispy” garlic, caperberries, and golden raisins), with an assortment of grilled apps, sandwiches, and sides along the way. Also, not available on the menu at older brother Cascabel, frozen margaritas. I order their bold, bright, and thirst-quenching blood orange version.


Blood Orange Margarita, Cantina by Cascabel

Blood Orange Margarita, Cantina by Cascabel


Many items stood out on the menu, rife with thoroughly realized dishes offering combinations of appealing and appetizing flavors not readily available in any neighborhood, much less Yorkville. For my starter, I took me awhile to finally choose my pincho (grilled snack on a stick) item…;


Cantina by Cascabel, Menu

….I was more in the mood for the chicken liver, but since Cantina is primarily a seafood place, I opted for the octopus.


Pinchos (Octopus), Cantina by Cascabel

Pinchos (Octopus), Cantina by Cascabel

Pinchos (Octopus), Cantina by Cascabel

Pinchos (Octopus), Cantina by Cascabel

Pinchos (Octopus), Cantina by Cascabel


First off, the presentation was fun; I’ve always been a fan of food interactivity. I grilled each piece of octopus to my preferred heat and char, and bit into sumptuous mouthfuls of tender yet still firm tentacles with clean, aquatic notes, accented by the brightness of lemon, hints of the olive oil’s inherent aromatics, the salinity of the sea salt, and finishing with edges of crispy, smoky char.

After this promising start, I was now looking forward to really diving into the menu. Up next, a delicacy I haven’t been able to enjoy in a long time—and never before in Yorkville, to the best of my knowledge—razor clams, here done in a roasted garlic-chili oil.


Razor Clams, Cantina by Cascabel

Razor Clams, Cantina by Cascabel

Razor Clams, Cantina by Cascabel

Razor Clams, Cantina by Cascabel

Razor Clams, Cantina by Cascabel


Usally with seafood, the bigger it is, the less concentrated—by scale—its flavors are. Not so with these razor clams, whose smooth, toothsome yet nicely creamy texture and deep, briny properties were deftly complimented by the kicky heat of the chili and sweetness of the caramelized garlic flavor in the oil. A squeeze of the grilled lemon wedge for nice, clean finishes.

The octopus and razor clams dishes were generous; yet, I was having so much fun eating those two courses that even after, I decided I wasn’t done. For my next plate, I would order the curiosity known as the Señoran Dog of the sandwich menu, which consists of a bacon-wrapped beef hot dog with pinto bean, tomato, jalapeño, avocado, onion, queso frescabolillo roll. It is not only a mouthful to describe….


Hot Dog, Cantina by Cascabel

Hot Dog, Cantina by Cascabel

Hot Dog, Cantina by Cascabel

Hot Dog, Cantina by Cascabel

Hot Dog, Cantina by Cascabel


Don’t be fooled by its appearance, this delicious hot dog is not nearly as heavy or dense as it looks. The roll is surprisingly soft and airy on the inside, with enough of a crispy exterior to support the melange of ingredients and flavors in it and on it. The seasoned rich beef and smoky crispy bacon were nicely assisted by the bevy of condiments that didn’t overwhelm or overpower them or each other, instead, making for spirited play in my mouth with its collections of texture, temperatures, and tastes.

Of course, after completing the hot dog, I was full. And yet, somehow, the convivial and friendly staff convinced me to try one of their dessert specials. And although intrigued by the thought of coconut ice cream, or a hot, crispy churro served with a chocolate dipping sauce, I was sold on the special for it’s complete uniqueness (uniquity?!).

It was an avocado popsicle. Certainly PHUDE-worthy in idea alone, I ordered it, and thoroughly enjoyed how the fruit—yes, avocado’s a fruit!—and it’s naturally rich and fatty content lent well to it’s uncommon, creamy, frozen form. The addition of a little agave gave it a very natural sweetness, and I fully enjoyed it on its own merits as well as a clever and winning specialty idea.

As people were walking by—this day being Cantina’s official opening—and grabbing takeout menus from the very sweet and pretty Monica, one woman with stroller stopped and asked me if my the food was good. I told her that it was, very much so, and then offered her a section of my dessert. She asked what it was, and I told her, avocado popsicle, I gave her a little spoonful.

She wasn’t a fan, but then quickly admitted that she was a fan of avocados to begin with! So why in the Hades would she want to try an avocado popsicle?! Cantina, run by very good people, serves very good food and very good things should happen for them. Alas, hopefully they’ll continue converting the local Yorkvillians—whose tastebuds have, for the most part over the last 20 years or so, been bored into submission—into more educated and adventurous diners, to their own reward.

It’s because of people like “Stroller Woman” that Yorkville can’t have nice(r) things—and more of them. So thank you, Cantina by Cascabel, and am now looking that much more forward to the opening of The Seahorse Tavern restaurant on 85th that’ll be serving up New England-style fried, fresh seafood goodies, chowders, and even steamers in just a couple of weeks! Good things indeed…!


Avocado Popsicle, Cantina by Cascabel

Bun Apple Tea!

.kac.


Cantina by Cascabel on Urbanspoon


Cantina by Cascabel | 1542 2nd Ave. (Bet. 80th & 81st Sts.) | 212.717.7800 | www.cascabelcantina.com | | | |



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