2013 has been a good year for hyped restaurant openings. We've already thrown our stamp of approval Carbone and Lafayette's way, and the hits just keep on coming. ABC Cocina is Jean-George's second spot inside ABC Carpet and Home, and picks right where ABC Kitchen left off.
Like its predecessor/older brother who they share space with on the ground floor, ABC Cocina focuses on seasonal ingredients, lots of vegetables and a reasonably priced attack of small plates. Only this time, Jean-George and head chef Dan Kluger go with a Latin theme. They continue to impress on the "restaurant inside a home good store" tip. The precise attention to detail of each and every design element makes these ABC restaurants an interior design freak's wet dream. They have my wife completely hooked. I'm not sure what she likes more, the food or all the little knick-knacks on the table. From mini flower arrangements to neon salt shakers to the dishware she'd buy out from under her empanada if it was for sale. Oh wait, it is. Genius. ABC definitely knows how to push all the right buttons, that's for sure.
It took us a minute to figure out how to get into ABC Cocina. We failed miserably at the reservation thing. Open Table never had any reservations and each time we called the phone number, we were greeted with an annoying recorded message we now know by heart. "Hello and welcome to ABC Cocina's reservation office...yada yada inspired by global artisans and local purveyors...yada yada please hold." Once a real human picked up, three cycles later, they never had anything available for us anyway. Truth is, ABC Cocina should be treated as a walk-in spot. Tables turn quickly and there's plenty of hang space to wait. We went during prime time without a reservation and were eating within a half hour. Thank God, because watching everyone around us eat at the bar was torture. Everything looked so damn good.
ABC Cocina isn't re-inventing the wheel or doing anything particularly different, but what they are doing is serving up Latin inspired eats as well as anyone in this city right now. We bitch a lot in this space about the unfortunate epidemic of the overpriced taco. Well, someone finally figured out how to sell us a $6.50 taco that we're not mad at. For the first time, it was the complete opposite experience too. The tacos at Cocina are amazing, particularly the Crispy Fish Taco. And tacos are just the tip of the iceberg, as the menu is loaded with hot action for your mouth. Don't sleep on the Arroz con Pollo or the "impossible" flan for dessert. More on all that below.
With another hit on their hands, we're ready for the inevitable tasting menu only ABC restaurant on the exclusive top floor of ABC Carpet and Home. A secret elevator, a private roof cabana, monkeys and a menu of finger food that can be eaten off crazy lighting fixtures instead of actual dishware. You're welcome for the idea, Jean-Georges.
Peas are popular on the ABC Cocina menu, and they make their way into a light, crisp take on guacamole that's a must order. It'll get the meal off on the right foot.
A common trend amongst dishes we loved at ABC Cocina is the use of textures to make things stand out. What would have been a standard fluke sashimi appetizer here is brought to life by crunchy rice and an incredible green chili, which packs some fire. If you candle some heat, definitely order it.
One of their most popular small plates, it's safe to say that anything at ABC Cocina that contains chili oil is going to be delicious, and these shrimp fit into that category.
Probably our least favorite dish we tried, although that says a lot because we really liked the empanada. It was just a little dry and had a bit too much crispy dough. We still happily took them down, but we'd advise venturing to other areas on the menu.
One of our favorite fish tacos in NYC. These big, crispy fish tacos are worth every cent of their $6.50 price tag. Everything about them is perfect, from the crisp layer of fry around the fish to the insanely tasty pickle cabbage slaw to the homemade corn tortillas. We'll be coming back for these non-stop.
Again, a $7 taco usually makes us angry, not happy. Not the case at ABC Cocina. We loved these massive short rib tacos. The meat was all kinds of moist and loaded with flavor and the habanero relish and a combination of crispy and pickled onions on top sealed the deal. Do it.
Sliced beef served on a sizzling skillet drenched in chimichurri sauce. Steakcooked rare was not exactly what we were expecting with the whole "burnt ends" billing (we eat way too much BBQ), but it proved delicious none-the-less.
As you've probably been able to conclude, everything at ABC Cocina is really damn good. However, if you leave without trying this chicken and rice dish, you will have failed dinner. Don't do that. The arroz con pollo is ridiculous; a steamy, moist bowl of warm rice with a mixture of crispy chicken skin mixed in with chunks of meat. Doesn't sound all that appetizing on paper, but trust us. You don't want to miss this one.
ABC Cocina's take on flan has been the focus of much attention in the short time since opening. A salty, sweet take on the Mexican dessert will send you home happy. Vanilla and caramel flavors in a custard that cuts like a mousse. Next level flan, clearly possible.