Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Low Down New York City Entry #87 La Esquina

The demimonde of New York was abuzz. A buzz. A hidden restaurant had opened in a rundown basement, and the best thing was . . . you could not make reservations. You had to be known or know the right someone. Some publicist deserves a Oscar. Who wouldn't salivate to dine in a club that wouldn't have them as a member? To enter La Esquina, "The Corner," located a stone's throw from SoHo in Nolita (North of Little Italy), one passes through a guarded door, reading "Employees Only," leading to a walk through the busy kitchen and into an underground scene.

In due course, the phone number was publicized, and La Esquina now counterfeits its own image. Still, if it does not serve Mexican cuisine that is either distinguished or authentic, the basement is a blast. As has been described, here is Latin chic or, perhaps, sheik. We sat across from a tile rendition of a erotic pano, an image based on cloth drawn by Hispanic prisoners. The painfully loud music and shadowy bar captured the Downtown ethos as filtered through Veracruz. We ate in a dungeon of fantasy, whitewashed brick walls and faded arches. Even if conversation was a lost art, the crowds and servers were bubbling and merry, and the food promptly prepared.

We ordered Ceviche Tostados and Cochinita Pibil Tacos (pulled pork, shredded cabbage, picked onions, and jalapeno). The tostados were acidic and the tacos slightly dry, but we were flying too high to critique. As a main course I selected Camarones a la Plancha, Mayan shrimp with honey, lime glaze, over corn salad. I was well-pleased by the glaze and the large moist prawns. Perhaps the corn salad could have been further drained, but I was sucking down the ambiance. The spareribs and fried plantain sufficed without being evocative.

At $100 for three, La Esquina stands at some considerable distance from a corner taqueria. It merely plays one on TV. Mexican cuisine has not been one of the strengths of the New York ethnic dining scene; for that Los Angeles or Chicago is the ticket. La Esquina doesn't push far in that direction. Across the street from SoHo, La Esquina is environmental art. Yet, its rough charm is abundant, and when that is not sufficient, just imagine all of those suckers who couldn't have the pleasure.

La Esquina
106 Kenmare Street (at Lafayette Street)
Manhattan (Nolita)

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