Though February in New York can be a debilitating month, rife with chilling windstorms and the occasional 12-inch-thick pounding of snow, it’s the ideal time to head to Miami for a weekend getaway. For those of us that don’t have this luxury, however, Yerba Buena of the West Village offers an excellent alternative for Havana Nights enthusiasts.
Less than two years after the opening of the Lower East Side flagship, Yerba Buena Perry St. has invigorated the elegant intimacy of its predecessor, attracting a trendy clientele seeking a lively dining experience brought to you by chef partner Julian Medina and restaurateur Christopher Gilman. The Mediterranean Revival decor transports patrons to 1950′s Cuba where black-and-white checkered floor tiling, iron-accented globe light fixtures, and dark, wooden furnishings set the mood for retro chic Havana clubbing.
While the marble-top, hand-crafted “cockteleria clasica” bar warrants a $12 drink before dinner, good luck finding a spot. When wait-listed for a table on a Saturday night, if you can find a vacant seat and hunt down a server for a helping of the made-to-order house guacamole, loitering at the bar doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Many of the drinks feature their namesake herb, yerba buena, a Latin mint displayed in abundance over the counter-top to enhance the atmosphere with its fresh, aromatic scent.
From the kitchen comes an innovative combination of Peruvian, Cuban, Argentinian, Mexican and Spanish fare, a self-proclaimed ‘cocina latina’. While the menu features both shareable tapas and elaborate second courses, the unique ceviche section features four citrus-marinated seafood and meat options, including the “Tiradito” flounder, served with aji amarillo, sweet potato, red onions, cilantro and maiz cancha ($13). The “Tacos de Pescado” are stuffed with Baja-style tilapia and chipotle-mango slaw and served four to a plate ($13), while the “Arepas” are stacked with coffee glazed pork belly and cabbage slaw, served slider-style on traditional Latin American cornbread ($13). Sides like the “Watermelon Fries” ($6) and “Espinaca” ($6) served with dried figs are other notable accompaniments to the meal. The star of the more substantial “Para la Mesa” entrees is the Grilled Black Cod served with fennel, yerba mate, consomme and dill chimichurri ($28), though at more than double the price as the appetizers, a group sampling of the ceviches and the “Botanas” small plates is the cheaper and more sociable option for a group outing. Don’t hesitate to consult General Manager Fabian Huerfano for a briefing of the restaurant’s regional wine list, and a pairing tailored to your food choices and palette preferences.
Whether you’re looking for a late-night venue, first date ambiance or group-friendly setting, Yerba Buena’s fun crowd and dynamic atmosphere makes for a transporting culinary experience. Try it on Mondays from 5-6pm for their 4-course food and wine pairing, then return for the weekend ready for an exhilarating evening reminiscent of Havana Nights.