Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 17 October 2012
CLOSED: The Toucan and the Lion: A Restaurant Review

CLOSED: The Toucan and the Lion
342 East 6th Street, near First Avenue, East Village
Getting There: 6 to Astor Place

(This restaurant has since CLOSED)

The bright egg shell white exterior of The Toucan and the Lion is perhaps the only noticeable aspect of a space that quietly sits out on a block littered with other hole in the wall type restaurants. But behind the massive wooden front door with a subtle placard displaying the place’s moniker, sits a vibrant, energetic eatery with imaginative fare that is reasonably priced. And a place that gives us yet another reason, as if we needed any, to head toward the East Village.

It’s been dubbed a successful fusing of Asian inspired food with a gastropub atmosphere, and while the pairing may sound odd at first, the eclectic menu and eye opening pairings infused conceptually from the owner, a Singapore native, are often delicious. The busy bar area is bright and well lit on this weekend evening, with notable specials casually written on a nearby chalkboard, which has become an acceptable norm. Online reservations are currently unavailable so you’ll have to settle for leaving a voice message and hoping that your requested timeslot is vacant. With enough notice, we successfully procured our table and were seated almost immediately.

Inside, the main dining area is relatively small, but is lively and bustling. The casual, quaint environment around us exudes a much sought after comfort level that seems to come naturally to The Toucan and the Lion. If you’ve taken any time to peruse the menu, you’ve noticed that while it’s not necessarily vast, there fails to be a shortage of interesting sounding combinations. With an extensive menu change rumored to be forthcoming, we are left excited to learn about what’s coming next to the assortment of dishes.

We changed our minds several times before agreeing to a smattering of shared plates. Unfortunately the much bandied about “Scotch Eggs” ($12), a recommendation from our server, failed to make the final cut. Instead we opened with the “Burrata” ($14), a creative display of fresh soft mozzarella cheese laid delicately on a bed of thick creamy peanut, kalamansi paste. The decorative fresh basil pesto dollops smeared alongside proved integral for lapping each forkful of the imaginative dish. The “Duck Confit Mofongo” ($15) however, was the real winner. A perfectly picturesque fried egg sat yolk up in our deep square bowl above a hash of sorts combining Chinese sausage with a crispy taro root. The salsa verde base pulled all of the distinctive flavors together admirably as our table vied for the final spoonful of delectable green goodness before hitting the base of the now empty dish.

With our first courses out the of the way and being careful not to over order, we opted to share The Toucan and the Lion’s “Burger” ($17) as our main course. And in retrospect, it was as distinctive as any that we’ve had in recent memory based solely on the cashew nut butter spread liberally atop the freshly ground meat patty. The peppery strips of applewood smoked bacon coupled with the bao style hamburger bun again brought a collaboration of familiar flavors together in a unique and tasty way. And the alternative of deliciously deep fried pickles to French fries was a welcome addition to the plate.

The formula to create a successful restaurant in New York City seems to be changing constantly. Today it seems, the more informal and relaxed the space, the more buzzworthy the spot seems to be. The Toucan and the Lion is not necessarily different in that regard, but it’s a place that simply doesn’t need a fancy ambiance to serve up their brand of distinctive cuisine. And the fact that a party of two can taste a variety of their dishes and still wind up completely satiated for under $100 in Manhattan’s East Village is perhaps the most satisfying commodity of all.  But the burger is still pretty great.

Rundown of the Meal

Duck Confit Mofongo* ($15), Burrata ($14)

Burger* ($17)

Kale Slaw ($7)

*Meal Highlight

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