Borderless Latin fare from Jean Georges is served inside a home goods store, because apparently that’s a thing.
There’s a joke in the gltizy western territory that I hail from (read: Los Angeles) that to pitch an idea for a show or a movie successfully, the concept must be presented as "X famous Hollywood flick meets completely unrelated Y famous Hollywood flick."
Ready? Think "Modern Family" meets "X-Men." Imagine "Sex and the City" meets "Two and a Half Men." "Grey’s Anatomy" meets "Out of Africa." Boom. You’ve got a production.
ABC Cocina can be conceptualized a lot like that. Imagine if "The Little Mermaid" met "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Now imagine that the entire movie was set in a restaurant inside ABC Carpet and Home in New York. Boom. You’ve got ABC Cocina.
If that somehow doesn’t sum up the experience entirely, I’ll elaborate a little more.
ABC Cocina is Jean-Georges’ tribute to Latin-inspired cooking from around the world, all awkwardly forced to sit next to each other in a restaurant decorated with mystical bubbles of light, seashells, and jellyfish prints on the walls. It’s a dark, loud, hip castle that takes its cue from influences far and wide, and while the lengthy list of dishes can sometimes feel ad hoc and might not contribute anything to the understanding or appreciation of Latin cuisine, a meal at ABC Cocina is still pretty hot.
Almost every table chooses to begin their onslaught of small plates with the sweet pea guacamole, a fabulously verdant creation topped with fresh peas, pea leaves, and sunflower seeds for an added crunch. Warm, toasted tortilla chips are on the side to scoop heaping mounds of the creamy "mock-amole" spread because this is simply what every 20-something woman wants to do on a Girls’ Night Out.
The menu is divided into further categories that don’t make any particular sense, but choosing one from each can help a table of two craft a meal that doesn’t feel redundant. Although Light & Bright sounds like the theme of some college frat party, it is one of the more successful and popular groups from which to order. The mezcal cured salmon was like a smoky, seafood-focused interpretation of a green bean casserole, paired with a bountiful, thick cucumber yogurt relish and crispy potato flakes.
From the Golden & Crispy crew, the peekytoe crab and corn fritters are less successful, unfortunately overpowered by a strong chipotle mayo, and in comparison to the rich, spicy shrimp with sizzling garlic and chili oil, are far inferior.
Because this is a restaurant about Latin food, after all, tacos feature heavily under the Masa & Tortillas header, and surprisingly, some are actually quite good. The crispy fish tacos are served with a striking cabbage-chile pickle slaw, and are topped with a few threads of chopped mint for a seriously bewitching bite that is simultaneously herbal and spicy, all while highlighting the flaky fish itself. Our waiter also advertised the savory glazed short rib tacos and homemade chorizo sausage, though with over 45 items on the menu, it’s impossible to enjoy everything in one sitting. Luckily, ABC Cocina is the type of fun, vibrant restaurant with casual, friendly service that makes each guest want to come back with a few friends or a date.
We finally managed to end our meal in the Grilled & Roasted category with the grilled beef tenderloin sitting on a bright, salty chimichurri sauce. Although the meat was cooked perfectly pink and medium rare, the cuts were irregular and inconsistent across all 5 pieces, which itself was also a very strange number to serve a table of two.
Ultimately, while the food at ABC Cocina might not break any boundaries or win any awards, the entire experience is of such high quality that it becomes an instantly enjoyable restaurant for a fun, lighthearted dinner with a little bit of sex appeal.
It’s just like I said, "The Little Mermaid" meets "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Or something like that. You get the picture.