Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finally, the perfect Mexican cantina: Cabrito

I am always in search of good Mexican food in New York. For a great foodie town like NYC, it's actually rare and hard to find. I tend to prefer the more laid back cantina type of places versus the glamorous more expensive sit down places like Rosa Mexicano. I am a fan of the taco stand upstairs at La Esquina especially late nights and lunch after shopping in Soho. There are also two excellent places in the Hamptons believe it or not: La Fondita in Amagansett and the Hideaway in Montauk.

So it was with a lot of anticipation that I stepped into Cabrito for dinner with a few friends. It's a newish Mexican restaurant in the West Village, at 50 Carmine Street right next to Market Table and marked by a pink goat sitting atop the front door. The owner is Zac Pelaccio of Fatty Crab fame and chef David Schuttenberg is also from the Fatty Crab family. No surprisingly, they get the whole "street vendor" feel of the place right, just like at Fatty Crab. The place is not that big, maybe 20 tables tops plus an area in the back that has 2 high tables with bar stool type seating. We chose to eat at the long bar, where they stock 40 types of tequila. I started out with a Partida which they recommended as a good sipping tequila and it was indeed quite smooth. The bartender whose name was Drew decided to kick us off with a round of tequila shots (Sauza Hornito) and we subsequently ordered a few jalapeno margaritas to go with our meals. Strong cocktail menu and mixologists overall....a good start.

The meal was equally enjoyable. We chose jalapeno rellenos to start and it was quite a fiery but tasty way to jolt awake my appetite. Then we moved onto the rajas con crema which frankly sounded a bit gross but tasted so rich, creamy and delicious that we were won over. By now we were 2 margaritas (and 1 sipping tequila for me) into the evening and chatting with the bartender about his Sapporo drinking marathon experience (long story). We tried 3 types of tacos: lengua (beef tongue), pork belly and al-carbon (steak). The portions were just satisfyingly right and while all were excellent, I thought the lengua was the winner. For entrees we shared the house-made chorizo huaraches, the red chili short ribs and the namesake dish cabrito, a baby goat roasted with some spices and garlic. My favorite dish of the whole evening was the chorizo huaraches: a large open faced tortilla piled high with tasty chorizo sausages and lettuce and sour cream. Simple and filling. I liked the cabrito and was surprised by how tender it was but agreed with my foodie friend GF that the flavor was too mild, not enough spices or kick. The short ribs were swimming in a delicious red sauce and served in a bowl as a result. Loved the tenderness of the meat and the rich taste of the sauce but there was too much bone for my taste. I had to use a magnifying glass to find the meat.

Overall, I really liked Cabrito. The services was nice and friendly, the bartenders were skilled and yet entertaining (unlike the super serious/cocky bartenders at Milk & Honey type places like Tailor and Death & Co) and the food really hit the right mark. The whole rock and roll vibe and neighborhoody atmosphere was spot on and matched the food and drinks perfectly. I am ready to go back and taste the other 39 types of tequila.

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