photo credit: Sandy Noto
Cabra has everything going for it. Trendy neighborhood, fantastic rooftop patio, the same chef from Girl & the Goat - this restaurant could sell small plates out of a dumpster and still be booked six months out. It’s like that classmate in high school who was somehow friendly, attractive, and got a 34 on their ACT. If you always found that classmate’s charmed life slightly irritating, you might find the hype surrounding Cabra a little annoying, too. But the hype is warranted: this is a fun spot with undeniably delicious food, and the sooner you decide to take a trip through the hype machine, the sooner you’ll be having a great meal.
This restaurant is beautiful and, like any child of Beyonce and Jay Z, destined to be popular and successful from the moment it arrived on this earth. The only unappealing thing about Cabra is that it’s filled with trend-seeking tourists staying at The Hoxton hotel. But as soon as you start eating the food, you completely forget that someone’s Away luggage rolled over your foot on the elevator ride up here.
If you’ve been to any of the “Goat” restaurants, you know the food can be pretty heavy. The ceviches and tiraditos on Cabra’s Peruvian-inspired menu make eating here feel lighter, but still across-the-board flavorful. A tiradito of raw tuna tastes complex thanks to a serrano cilantro sauce. Gooseberries and toasted quinoa sit on top of the duck ceviche, giving it texture and sweetness. Most of the non-seafood dishes manage to feel light, too, including the tender beef heart skewer with a tasty huacatay, a minty and bright cream sauce. All the small plates fit seamlessly into the breezy, summery atmosphere, the same way your old classmate always managed to wear the perfect thing to Picture Day. The fried pork shank (chicharron del puerco) is heavier than everything else, but it’s one of the best pork dishes we’ve ever had, and worth a case of the meat sweats.
While Cabra is certainly likable, it isn’t perfect, and there’s plenty to be justifiably annoyed by. Unless you’re sitting in the outdoor section, this place is extremely loud. If you’re dining anywhere near the bar, you can count on it feeling who-the-hell-is-standing-right-behind-me crowded. And like a lot of small-plates restaurants, it’s impossible to gauge how much to order so everyone gets enough to eat, and the bill can easily get out of hand. (Something we’re sure Blue Ivy never needs to worry about.)
Whenever the Girl & the Goat team opens a new restaurant, it runs the risk of becoming primarily a tourist lightning rod. Cabra could get away with just being flashy and mediocre - after all, it’s got a former Top Chef winner behind the scenes and a prime location in an upscale, trendy hotel. But instead, this restaurant chooses to deliver on flavorful and interesting food. So you might as well get on board, reserve a seat on the patio, and scroll through that too-perfect classmate’s Facebook posts while waiting for your table.
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Cabra’s menu centers around raw seafood (particularly ceviche and tiraditos). If you’re having trouble choosing, the classic ceviche is a good place to start. It’s made with bass sitting in leche de tigre and comes with golden raisins and slices of sweet potato.
This is the sole non-seafood ceviche, and we really like ordering it to mix things up. The medium-rare duck comes with about 96 ingredients (pickled mango, gooseberries, salsa criolla, pickled cucumber, vinaigrette, crispy quinoa) that, like the ’85 Bears, work together perfectly.
Like a Rubik’s Cube, this dish is simple-looking but complex. The raw tuna is topped with a flavorful serrano cilantro sauce, and the addition of passion fruit and jicama gives it some crunch and sweetness.
Aji Verde & Queso Fresco Dip
This dip is light and fluffy, like whipped cream cheese. We love the spice coming from the aji verde, and the quinoa crackers and quinoa sourdough make for very tasty queso transport devices.
Salmon Huancaina Dip
Another very tasty cheese dip, this one is salmon tartare on top of a huancaina sauce (which is basically spicy cheese), served with duck fat crackers and sweet potato chips that we’d happily eat on their own.
Chicharron Del Puerco
This is one of the best pork dishes we’ve ever had. The pork shank has crispy skin and tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. It’s served with sweet potato flatbread, an assortment of pickles, vinaigrette, and mayo for building little sandwiches. It is absolutely delicious, and if you eat the whole thing, plan on taking some time off work the next day to recover.
Beef Heart Anticucho
There are three kinds of anticuchos (skewers) and you should make sure to order at least one while you’re here. Our favorite is the beef heart, which is the most tender preparation of heart we’ve ever had. Another good choice is the chicken thigh, which comes with a delicious peanut chimichurri sauce.
Choclo is a grain similar to corn, but the kernels are larger and starchier. Cabra lightly tops it with cheese and lime, making it similar to elotes. Ask for a cup of the huancaina to pour on top, and prepare for your genius combination to earn you a job offer to work in the kitchen.
Are these cooked nicely with a flaky crust and well-seasoned fillings? Sure. Is it worth spending $14 on two empanadas when there are other more interesting things on the menu? Not really. But if you really want to, get the ones filled with goat.
Shrimp Tacu Tacu
This is another one of the larger plates, and it’s very good. The perfectly cooked shrimp are in a flavorful tamarind and tomato sauce, and we’re big fans of the pigeon pea rice cake’s crispy bits.