Fellow Value Buccaneers,
The search through the murky culinary ocean that is New York has led me to drop anchor (temporarily that is). I’ve dug my toes into the silky sands of Esperanto. It’s no paradise, but it’s definitely a pleasant surprise. The restaurant mixes Brazilian, Peruvian, and Caribbean cuisines to create what I would consider a “flirtatious menu”. It’s the type of menu on which every dish is intelligently put together in a way that causes your pallet to salivate, but doesn’t shepherd customers to a single dish.
In every restaurant, however, there’s a specific path to squeezing the true goodness out of the experience – some dishes are overpriced and others simply badly executed. Here’s the Esperanto path:
Firstly, dinner there on Mondays is a must. Bottles of wine are half price (I recommend the LAN Rioja 2006 which is priced at 17 on Mondays; an excellent strong-flavored Spanish red) and the restaurant isn’t packed like other days during the week. On weekends (Friday through Sunday) the restaurant becomes incredibly packed and I would suggest making a reservation. However, avoid nights like this, the kitchen is small and easily collapses, causing a fluctuation in the serving time and the overall consistency of the food. Service is generally good, but on nights like these where the restaurant is gasping for air to stay afloat service goes out the window. Not to mention that the specials always run out by 9PM. Stick to Mondays, you’ll thank me later.
Next, the appetizers; the plantain crusted goat cheese balls over sautéed leek are very tasty ($8) – I was looking for a little more sweetness from the plantains to work with the goat cheese to really elevate the dish (and balance the leek’s acidity), but it’s still well executed. The Bolihnos de Peixe ($6) (cod and potato fritters) have a delicious crispy crust and velvety inside. My only issue however, is the use of the parsley on the inside of the ball, while a unique twist, is on the heavy side – give me less parsley and let me taste the lovely cod!
While moving on to the entrées, don’t ignore the sides! They are appetizers in themselves, and are a great value ($3-4). The Fried Yucca and the Pao de Queijo (Brazilian-style bread baked with cheese on the inside) are both out of this universe, these are musts.
The fish are the stars of this entrée round up. The Crispy Whole Snapper is my personal favorite (and priced at $16.50 is a steal!). The fish is crispy on the outside, succulent and juicy on the outside and has a very good size; just make sure you watch out for the spines! The Grilled Salmon ($16) is unique. The distinct grill marks on the salmon give it a smoky flavor, but still remains juicy. The spiced mango salsa and wilted spinach it is served with are both tasty (the spinach can be a little garlicky), but they are more than open to mixing up the sides.
Like any good navigator you must avoid the rocks and icebergs that will sink you, here they are:
Avoid the steaks for entrées. The meat is fatty and makes the beef chewy – even the most delicious chimichurri or chimayo salsa won’t save a chewy piece of beef. The Ceviche de la Casa has good flavor, but not enough fish (mostly onions and chips) – steer clear. Lastly, the staple Brazilian dish of the restaurant, the Feijoada (a bean, pork, and chorizo stew) is flavorsome, but at $16 is one of the pricier menu items. My suggestion is to use the Feijoada as a side in place of rice and beans.
Ending this journey, you can leave a 2 appetizer, 1 bottle of wine, 2 extra sides, and 2 entrée dinner paying about $32.50 per person (given you really want that much food)! As you stroll out of Esperanto with a full belly, ringing taste buds, and a wallet virtually intact, you won’t have a choice but wear a smile.
Esperanto is located at 145 Avenue C, New York, NY.