Much of ABC Cocina’s charm, like big sister ABC Kitchen, is the spectacular ambiance. Dark wood ceilings and pops of bright colors around the dining room give this not-quite-latin, not-quite-mexican restaurant, a darker, more sensual feel than the clean whites of ABC Kitchen (which I still believe is one of the best looking dining rooms in the city). The montage of chandeliers–silver wired, white lights, big and small, all modern–contrast to the neutrality of the exposed wood beams and classic bistro chairs. Packs of hand-laid seashells don over-looked spaces on the wall, offering more natural texture. The same nature-meets-modern-design cleanliness still dominates in the new space.
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a commitment to fresh, organic and local ingredients, with which he is more inventive than most. Everything I’ve ever had at ABC Kitchen has been intelligent, satisfying, so I couldn’t wait to try ABC Cocina.
It’s almost 11 on a Thursday and we enter in, expecting that the kitchen continues service until 11:30PM (per google). I’d scoped the scene around 8PM, but retreated as the bar was packed.
From the look on the maître d’s face, I kind of wonder if they’re still serving. His verbiage is shaky and conflicting. “I think our kitchen has closed,” the maître d’ says, “but I can offer you cocktail service at the bar.”
“Oh, well it says online that you guys continue service until 11:30, so you may want to look into that.”
“Did you go to the Pipa website?” He asks, “Because this is different.”
No, I didn’t go to the Pipa website (the former restaurant who previously occupied the space–though Pipa was likewise chandelier-draped, it was not part of the Jean-Georges family). “I googled ABC Cocina, and google published your hours of service through 11:30.”
“Well, we may still be serving. You can sit down at the bar and ask your server.”
“Are you still in service or not?” I ask.
He hesitated. They were either still in service and he didn’t want us to sit, or they had stopped service and he was afraid to say so–whatever it was, I felt like I had to do the talking for him. It’s the responsibility of the maître d’ to orient guests, and this includes things like knowing when the restaurant is or is not in service. It’s up to the maître d’ to enforce the hours of service (as they control who enters the restaurant and sits down), not the wait staff. The man at ABC Concina’s front door lacked command of the space, which came off as unwelcoming.
We sit down. I perch at a chair in the window and Nico approaches the-still-full bar, but a server is by my side in an instant. Nico asks about dinner. The server says they’re still in service, for five more minutes.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
He reassures me that he’ll take care of us as he shows us to the high top table (thankfully there is no food service in the window), and presents us with cocktail lists. The server is friendly and hospitable. We order quickly:
Mezcal Margarita, Mango Essence and Guajillo (Montelobas, Salt Rim) (Nico)
Sparkling Rose & Rhubarb (Bedell Rose, Rhubarb Juice) (me)
(Table Snacks) Spring Pea Gaucamole with Warm Crunchy Tortillas
(Light & Bright) Grilled Tuna Sashimi “Pimeton”
(Masa & Tortillas) Crispy Fish Tacos, Aioli and Cabbage-Chili Pickle (Mine)
Chipotle Chicken Tacos, Grilled Jalapeno Salsa (Nico)
About this time, our server introduced us to the closing server, who was prompt but distant. Back service was on point with beverage refills and clearing.
The guacamole was inventive and fresh without tasting radically different than your standard guacamole–it was lighter, a cool compliment to the flaring spice on the tuna sashimi, which arrived at the same time.
We are fine with coursing, and the tacos (2 per order, the first server appropriately mentioned), were intended as entrees, but we wanted them out at the same time. I don’t eat chicken. Our server prompted us to start eating as the tortillas would dismantle should we wait too long. So I shared one of my tacos with Nico. The aioli was heavy at the bottle, the fried fish warm in contrast to the room-temp cabbage, sliced apple and shredded basil. The flavors were delicious, the temperature contrast not so great.
Nico said that the chicken tacos were the best tacos he’s ever had.
When presented with the dessert menus, I asked if the Salted Caramel “Impossible” Flan was a Latin play on ABC Kitchen’s signature Salted Caramel Sundae but the server “doesn’t know anything about ABC Kitchen.” Um. Ok. He proceeded to explain, instead, how flan is made. We declined dessert.
It’s a brand new restaurant, an impressive space. The food presentation, especially for our starters, was phenomenal, photogenic, and everything tasted great. The verdict on their hours of service remains inconclusive and, had we not sat down and eaten so well, my first impression would be as uncertain as their maître d’.