When people ask if you want the good news or the bad news first, there’s really no right answer. Would you rather find out first that your dachshund went on a long vacation, or that your parents replaced it with a poodle? Where The Black Ant is concerned, we’ll start with the good news.
This upscale Mexican spot has been around in the East Village since 2014, and it’s still an enjoyable place to hang out. The servers are always friendly, and not in a way that makes you think they had a two-week boot camp on how to smile politely and fold napkins. They make conversation, pour big glasses of wine, and dance to the music coming from the speakers - which is played at that goldilocks volume where Shazam only takes a second to recognize a song, but you can still clearly hear your date’s response to your question about which wild animal they’d want most as a pet. If you only come here to drink the cocktails, which are mostly spicy and all great, then you’ll probably have a very good time. The problem is that this place isn’t a bar. It’s a restaurant, and the food just isn’t very good.
The tacos come on decent housemade tortillas, but you’ll be more eager to finish those than the stuff inside them. The few slices of pineapple in the pineapple tacos have had all the sweetness grilled out of them, and two bites in, you’ll be $14 poorer with a couple of half-eaten, bare tortillas left on your plate. The fish tacos have a lot more going on, with slaw and spicy aioli, but the swordfish ranges from being really fishy and barely breaded, to all breading and very little bland fish.
Things only go downhill as you move on to the larger dishes, which include a dry chicken breast, mushy octopus, and some duck dumplings with almost no duck. Most entrees go too heavy on salt, spice, and sauces, which overwhelm everything else on the plate. The one-note duck dumplings taste strictly like the chocolatey mole they’re doused in, and the octopus is salty enough to dry your mouth out for the rest of the night.
So that’s the bad news, but just as a reminder, there was good news too. The Black Ant is still a solid place for Happy Hour, or rounds of smoky jalapeno margaritas outside with a friend. If don’t enjoy those things, then there’s not much we can offer, besides our condolences for your dachshund.
This is pretty standard guacamole, although it’s a little too salty, and the thin chips break when they’re dipped. But if you come during Happy Hour and need a snack to balance out the margaritas, this isn’t a bad move.
This plate of grilled shrimp is kind of like when an actor puts in an impressive performance in an otherwise bad movie. Five blackened shrimp are served with a mixture of ingredients that add a nice balance of spice, acid, and crunch for texture. If you do find yourself here, order this.
We’ve eaten a lot of tacos, and we can’t remember any quite as boring as these. They’re filled with a few slices of pineapple that have had most of their flavor grilled out. After finishing the pineapple in your first few bites, you’re just left with bare tortillas and a bit of avocado puree.
If you’re OK with spending $15 for two fairly small tacos, then these are the ones you should get here. The shrimp are dusted with powdered grasshoppers, but they basically just taste like lightly fried shrimp. They’re served inside black tortillas made with squid ink, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to add any flavor.
We like the spicy aioli and slaw in these, but there’s a consistency problem - some tacos come out with a lot of swordfish, others have mostly just the breaded crust, and even the swordfish itself has varied from mild to very fishy, sometimes on the same plate.
There’s a lot going on in this dish, including beans, sausage, and avocado puree, but the octopus is mushy and the beans taste like they were seasoned with a salt shaker that was missing a top. Avoid.
The best part of this entree is the creamy sweet potatoes. But there are only about two spoonfuls, and they feel disconnected from the rest of the dish. The thicker parts of the roasted chicken breast are dry, and if you dip anything in the bitter mole, that’s the only flavor you’ll be able to taste.
We like duck, we like dumplings, and we like when servers pour jugs of dark mole on plates in front of us. Despite having all those things, this dish doesn’t work. The dumplings taste like over-fried wontons, and even if there was a decent amount of duck in them (there’s not), it would be masked by the totally overwhelming flavor of the mole.