Friday, January 11, 2008

Restaurant: Esperanto

Dinner at Esperanto is all about two things, the vibe and the food. Service and tight quarters are not concerns of the owners, who focus more on a funky hip vibe that you can only find down in alphabet city. Cramming as many tables as possible, and as few waiters as possible, may seem like a big negative, but once you sit down and listen to the (very) often live Latin music and take a few sips of the Kiwirinha (Kiwi Caipirinha) or Mojito you won't want to leave any time soon. Kitchy, old world looking Latin "artifacts" adorn the walls, and everyone around you seems to be laughing and smiling and pretty damn attractive. Even better, during the summer they have sidewalk seating so you can enjoy the sun and sip on some delicious drinks and feel for a second like you might be in Latin America.

The food is described as pan-Latin fusion, but really leans heavily on Brazilian influences. Having eaten at Esperanto often, I have had the luck of trying a lot of different dishes. Make sure you don't fill up on the delicious bread and spicy chili and pepper corn laced oil, although it is hard to resist. The crab in banana leaf starter with plantain chips is delicious, with plenty of lump crab, and spices like cumin to accentuate the sweetness of the crab. Plantain crusted goat cheese with cilantro pesto is a nice take on on ingredient not as common to Latin cuisine. The rich goat cheese is cut well by the plantain breading, and the salad and pesto that comes with it. Other favorites include the grilled calamari salad that is light, tasty and a good size portion. The ceviche, while delicious, is not a standout. I've tried the tuna and the snapper, and while both taste good, they are usually either too strongly flavored, or have too much coconut milk to really get the fish flavor.

Entrees include some standards like a Latin spiced pork chop and a shell steak with chimichurri, but where Esperanto excels is with it's fish and more traditional dishes. The chicken is strongly flavored with coriander and quite a bit spicy, while the grilled tuna also has an unexpected kick that is offset by the pairing of collard greens with an orange mojo sauce. This is a theme carried on throughout most of the dishes, pairing a little bit of flavorful heat, with a side dish or sauce that balances it out and doesn't overwhelm the meat or fish. A personal favorite of mine is the Feijoada, which is described on the menu as the national dish of Brazil. Although simply a pork stew with beans it has amazing depth in flavor, and comes with collard greens and farofa. Farofa is not a common ingredient outside of Brazil, and it a flavorful grainy mixture that you add into the stew to your liking to thicken it and add some smokiness. I always try not to use it all, but by the end of the meal I can't help myself. Plus, by that time I'm usually on my third disturbingly strong mojito and my decision making abilities are a little impaired.

Desserts are ok, but nothing out of this world. The coconut flan is very refreshing at the end of the meal, with a nice syrup poured over top. The passion fruit mousse is also delicious, but generally it's not worth ordering an individual dessert for everyone since portion are so big.

Too Cool for Brazil

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[url=]fEsFJeYkMlwIhuMvB[/url] - BMVKpTrfWuBkox -