The Black Ant
A LocalBozo.com Restaurant Review
60 Second Avenue between 3rd Street and Fourth Street, East Village
Getting There: 6 to Astor Place; F to Second Avenue
Despite the restaurant’s appropriate name considering the crawly creatures that inhabit much of the black meets white layout inside the place, The Black Ant isn’t a moniker that would seemingly inspire a fickle New York City dining crowd to venture out for a meal. But by avoiding the newly opened East Village spot you’d be discounting the rave reviews that have swarmed the authentic Mexican restaurant in the two brief months since they’ve been open. The sister of under-the-radar West Village haunt Ofrenda is serving up some of the most inspired modernized Mexican fare city-wide with an array creative dishes wherein no ingredient is wasted or goes unrecognized.
The black faded awning sits comfortably on Second Avenue as if the small restaurant has been in business there for years. Just a few steps behind the four outdoor tables, the space opens up to a contemporary twelve seat L-shaped bar which is constantly buzzing and a long leather banquette with cocktail tables, providing ample room for imbibing and enjoying some of the place’s lighter fare. Black tiles inscribed with elaborate white ant images surround much of the main space which culminates with a massive cartoonishly colorful art piece that towers over the back of the dining room. Fortunately, the decor and dimly lit ambiance result in a fairly casual and utterly comfortable setting- where the menu is the real standout.
You’ll find fairly some fairly standard Mexican options on the relatively extensive dinner menu- except that nothing at The Black Ant is standard at all. Salads are rife with brilliantly inventive ingredients, mole dishes are prepared with tender morsels of suckling pig and even the restaurant’s dumplings are overstuffed with hunks of duck meat as opposed to more traditional fillings. It’s these unconventional risks that pay off in perpetuity at The Black Ant- where even their “Smoky Jalapeno Margarita” ($12) infuses a touch of orange liqueur and agave with a smoky salt laden rim to yield a sweet and fiery cocktail blend.
“Alegria De Camarones” ($13)
Passing on the “Black Ant Guacamole” ($13; and purported to be excellent with similar hints of orange), we immediately dig into the “Alegria De Camarones” ($13), an exceptional and tastefully plated bed of fresh soft-shelled shrimp, served with the head and shell (meant to be eaten) over an array of seasonal vegetables. Three dollops of avocado cream richly mesh with each tender pluck of savory and flavorfully charred shrimp and the tang of tuxtita vinaigrette brings out the best of the crunchy slices of radish and squash atop the field of greens beneath them.
“Tacos Enchapulinados” ($14) & “Tacos de Cocochas” ($13)
Speaking of shrimp- lets get into the “Tacos Enchapulinados” ($14). Each homemade tortilla envelopes one bulbous piece of shrimp that’s been swarmed in a grasshopper crust. Let that sink in for a moment. Though the tacos are served two per order ($7 per), damn are they exquisite. A subtly sweet slaw joins more of the aforementioned avocado cream in each wrapped up delicacy but the smattering of flavors from savory to crunchy to spicy to the hot and cold contrast in temperature- it’s all happening with each bite and it’s amongst the most distinctively delicious tacos we’ve tasted in recent memory. And not to be outdone, the “Tacos De Cocochas” ($13) were perhaps even better. The mango slaw and creamy garlic aioli complimented the smooth buttery slices of warm fish- in this case, cod cheeks. From the soft fish to the intricacy of the purposeful ingredients here, these tacos are perhaps the finest of the grilled variety in all of Manhattan and are certainly a must try during your visit.
The fact that we barely touched the menu at The Black Ant and still hold the place in such high regard has us yearning for a return trip already. Every bite of food that we tasted was worthy of recommendation, the cocktails were delicious and the service was quite strong. Perhaps the Spanish translation ‘Hormigas Negro‘ would make a visit to the restaurant more enticing for some- considering that normally, we’re among the first to shrug off and shoo away these dark six legged creatures. But when it comes to the City’s finest new Mexican restaurant, we embrace The Black Ant with open arms.
Rundown of the Meal
Entradas – For The Antgirls
Alegria De Camarones ($13)*
Tacos De Cocochas ($13)*
Tacos Enchapulinados ($14)*