From the minute you walk into Macao, it is very easy to forget that you’re in the middle of Tribeca. The dim lights, the authentic décor, and the mysterious atmosphere throw you into an opium den on the exotic island, once used as a decadent pit-stop for traders, after which the restaurant is named. Coincidentally, this opium den has great cocktails and wonderful food, so the decadence has definitely persisted, though it might be very low on actual Opium.
The cocktails, like the food, may be a little pricey for people on a budget ($14-$15), but they are clearly meticulously concocted to match the place’s theme; we tried the Hong Kong – a pink, Tequila based cocktail with Ruby Port, lemon juice and Pandan Leaf syrup (A Thai plant often used in desserts) – which was delicate and not to Tequila-y, and definitely showed how much thought was invested in the drink menu. Other drinks include ingredients like coconut puree, Thai basil, and sassafras syrup, and they are all served aesthetically but without too many embellishments (totally grown-ups’ cocktails). But then again, it should not come as a huge surprise – the creative team behind the cocktail selection is the one that’s responsible for West Village’s Employees Only, which is known for their stylish, sophisticated drinks.
Because of Macao’s careful adherence to the broader theme, they go great with the food – which is defined, like the island it originated from, as a Portuguese-Asian cuisine. Don’t dare skipping the appetizers to save room for the main course (if anything, go for the other way around) – almost everything was incredibly delicious. The charred octopus, which was served on beans and olives, was soft and flavorful (slightly too salty, but it happens), and avoided the common chewiness hurdle; the soft-shell crab, a seasonal dish served fried with a fried artichoke, might seem a little intimidating at first (you are supposed to eat the entire thing; no cracking necessary) but it was made to perfection and not too oily; and the dry-fried boneless pork ribs, although some were slightly too chewy, had a rich sauce to them – a nice Thai twist of the common barbecue sauce. Note that vegetarians might find it a little difficult to find dishes in Macao, but we would have been perfectly fine with three or four orders of the mega indulgent mushroom and truffle Croquettes.
If you made your way with some room for a main course, you are in for a treat: the strip steak, which might not be the most intuitive choice in an “exotic” kitchen, was absolutely divine. It’s served either sliced or whole, with salt-flakes, and a simple yet suitable side of smoked pimenton mashed potatoes (which a big name for paprika) and watercress salad, but it was cooked which such artistry that really there was nothing else needed. The cod fish was also extremely well cooked, tender and plump, but without the soy sauce it was served with it wasn’t as flavorful. On the other hand, it is a light main, so if you went through the entire appetizer list it might be a smarter choice.
One cool aspect of Macao is what hides underneath it. Physically, that is. In accordance to the opium-den vibe, there is a semi-hidden lounge in Macao’s basement. The door that leads to it seems like a service door, but when the restaurant “closes” around midnight, the lower-level bar opens. A late-night bar menu stays active and includes some of the appetizers – like the simple yet always yummy pork and chicken dumplings – and the subversive atmosphere, enhanced by the bold art on the walls, definitely adds to the place’s charm. Like the upper level, the lounge is decorated with original items from the Far East and the Caribbean, wooden panels, and dim lights. Generally, you can make a full-night experience out of Macao, but only a night experience: the place opens at 5pm and never open for lunch. But hey, what else can you expect of an underground opium den in Macao?
Macao Trading Co.
311 Church St. between Walker and Lispenard
A, C, E, N, R to Canal St.; 1 to Franklin St.
Sun-Wed: 5pm to 11pm dinner; 11pm-3:30am late night dinner
Thur-Sat: 5pm-12am dinner; 12am-3:30am late night dinner
Bar: 5pm-4am 7 days a week.