Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 08 July 2014
Jean-Georges’ Latin Fare Easy as ABC Cocina

ABC Cocina
A Restaurant Review
38 East 19th Street near Park Avenue, Flatiron District
Getting There: 6 to 23rd Street; 4,5,6,L,N,Q,R to 14th Street-Union Square

Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s opening of ABC Cocina adjacent to the perpetually phenomenal ABC Kitchen was one of 2013′s most widely lauded openings. And with good reason considering the Chef’s ability to take a style of cuisine, hone and perfect it, and make it entirely his own. ABC Cocina does just that with a Latin inspired diverse menu meant mostly for sharing. The sheer size and spectrum of the dishes being served dictate that guests can return time and time again and always have an unconventional, ingredient heavy plate to sample.

Where ABC Kitchen is nicely white, bright and well lit, the Cocina, feels slightly more industrial from its metallic blink-and-you-might-miss-it exterior to it’s old off-colored exposed brick walls inside, fit for hosting a cavernous beer hall. The space is brightened up a bit by an array of different chandeliers that you might actually find for sale in the ABC Carpet and Home store, which shares space with both restaurants just steps away. But the reformed Pipa space is actually quite comfortable despite a perpetually busy dinner scene from the spacious bar to the never overly cramped dining room, where tables and chairs surround an open kitchen setup.

With a menu comprised of seven different sections and as many as nine different choices within each, options are seemingly endless here. That said, there are a few staples to add to your must try list. We begin with a small silver serving dish coated in golden orange oil, where five sizable “Shrimp with Sizzling Garlic and Chili Oil” ($16) rest. The fiery flakes coat the otherwise saturated shrimp topped with some green garnish and a lemon squeeze. The resulting flavor is deliciously garlicky with enough spicy oil draping each tender shrimp to satisfy fire-seekers. The other widely praised dish is Chef Vongerichten’s “Crispy Fish Tacos,” served at a bloated price of $18 for just two. Fresh homemade tortillas envelope thick cuts of flounder served either crispy or griddled and layered with a creamy aioli spread. The key ingredient here is the topping of pickled cabbage and slices of red chili which add some tangy spice and a nice temperature contrast to the piping hot overstuffed fish. Despite their sticker price, the tacos are substantial and are among the best we’ve tasted in Manhattan-proper, but for our money, still fall a notch below the largely unheralded gold standard out in Williamsburg.

Though the restaurant has received a fair amount of esteem for their savory “Arroz con Pollo with Crackling” ($25), the “Roasted Maine Lobster Rice” ($22/$39) was the meal’s true revelation during our experience. The half portion size was entirely sufficient with the delectable fresh lobster meat taking a back seat to ABC Cocina’s insanely delicious bed of piping hot, moist rice. The serving of red claw meat and it’s shelled tail sit atop the salt-filled seasoned rice which is never sticky and compliments the shellfish brilliantly. You won’t go wrong with either dish, but make sure that the ‘Rice’ portion of the menu makes its way to your table. The grilled “Asparagus” ($14) was probably the weakest portion of our order, again on the pricier side for what it was- a few charred stalks served with some pickled onion, greens for garnish and a smattering of marcona almonds. But even here, it was hard to take umbrage considering the combination of flavors working together admirably to lift an otherwise ordinary side dish to perfectly competent status.

Though Kitchen and Cocina translate to the same fundamental word, the folks behind the ABC restaurants have established clear and distinctive concepts behind each. Cocina’s Latin-inspired menu is rife with a flurry of different dining options and just about everything brought out tableside has a unique touch of farm-to-table style, branded by a celebrity chef’s masterful touch.  Though it might be a bit difficult to stomach ponying up $16 for five shrimp or $18 for two fish tacos, the dishes here are sufficiently sized and are overwhelmingly flavorful.  Like its sister ABC Kitchen, the fare at ABC Cocina is so uniquely special that you’re willing to dart through the inside of a carpet and home store just to eat there. And you’ll need a reservation for the privilege to do so.

Rundown of the Meal

Golden & Crispy
Shrimp with Sizzling Garlic and Chili Oil ($16)*

Masa & Tortillas
Crispy Fish Tacos, Aioli, and Cabbage-Chili Pickle ($16)*

Grilled & Roasted
Asparagus, Pickled Onions, Marcona Almonds ($14)

Roasted Maine Lobster Rice, Fresh Basil ($22/$39)*

*Meal Highlight

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