I’ve only heard great things about this Nuevo Latino restaurant, interestingly enough hidden on an insignificant block in the Lower East side, and after tonight’s meal I can understand why. Its food is inventive, enlivening, and filled with flavor, its ambiance cool, collected, and modern; the plentiful drink options are vibrant and eclectic; and the service, from what I could tell, is seamless. Its uniqueness is best represented in the first sight upon entering the space: a young sprawling tree bursting through the roof of the first floor. With all of these attractive qualities, I was surprised to see Rayuela practically empty until about 8pm, but I can understand that its swank and spunk feel make it more of an appeal to the younger, more adventurous nocturnal crowd.
Crowd or no crowd, I sincerely enjoyed every dish at Rayuela, because each contained an element of bright and invigorating flavors so quintessential in Latin America cuisine, and so representative of Latin American culture.
Before diving into the dishes we ordered, I have to give special praise to Rayuela’s complimentary serving of bread. I’ve always said a restaurant is only as good as its bread. While this usually doesn’t apply to Latin American spots, which typically serve tortilla chips (or nothing) to curb the appetite, I was ecstatic to learn that it applied to Rayuela. And it wasn’t enough that they served bread; they served the most delicious, moist, dense and cheesy breads I’ve ever had…served hot out of the oven. This little nugget of dough accompanied by chilled sweet cream olive butter is worth being sold as an appetizer on its own. Or even a main! I’d go back just to have another.
For our actual appetizers, we actually didn’t order any ceviche, and they had quite a variety. Instead, we shared the special: spicy guacamole mixed with tomatoes, crab, and shrimp, which couldn’t have been more simultaneously light and luscious. The chips were even worthy of praise – crispy, salty, and light, they were a perfect side to the rich and creamy avocado dip.
We then split two refreshing, tasty ensaladas: Cangrejo con Esparrago with jumbo lump crab meat, white asparagus, spinach, tomatoes and bacon in a grapefruit ginger vinaigrette, and the Pera Peral with spice and rioja wine infused pear, watercress, la peral cheese, toasted walnuts and a guindilla-agave vinaigrette. Both were light, citrusy, and flavorful, and I was particularly and pleasantly surprised by the generous portion of crab in such a dainty salad. Another wonderful and easily sharable appetizer was the Jalea: a mix of tempura seafood with mango-aji amarillo aioli, served with red onions and yucca fries. While I would have appreciated a larger share of my favorite part, the yucca fries, the meaty pile of delicately fried seafood in the center of the plate was a fair distraction.
For my main course, I ordered perfectly: grilled chilean seabass with a delicious sweet corn mash and a chorizo-salsa verde salad. The seabass was perfectly velvety, buttery and flakey; it practically melted in my mouth.
I couldn’t resist ordering the arepas con queso as a side dish, and I am glad! Dense, subtly sweet, and creamy, they were a delicious partner for the light fish. Also notable was the Asian style Paella, or paella de coco with lemongrass, coconutmilk, shrimp, calamari, scallops, octopus, manila clams and peas, which basically looked like a fiesta on a plate. The grilled beef tenderloin was also well liked by all. Essentially, every dish was an inventive mix of contrasting yet complimentary flavors that brought me straight back to warm nights in Brazil (though I’ve only experienced a few). Party on a plate (above)
The dessert list was not as enticing as the main menu, but considering my sweet tooth I couldn’t resist. Most delicious was the Chocolate Cortazar, a white, bittersweet and milk chocolate mousse, with mate ice cream and both chocolate and macadamia sauce. Desserts rarely surprise me with new flavors, but this particular one brought to life an unfamiliar, yet delicious sweetness – similar to honey but with more of a nutty flavor, which I assume was the “mate.” The overall dish was scrumptious and deceptively light after a load of savory food. The other desserts we ordered were, while beautifully plated, not too exciting as they didn’t involve ice cream or chocolate…and close friends know about my passion for those two things.Despite the scarce amount of appealing dessert choices, and an overly sweet and practically fruitless sangria, I had a great experience for Rayuela and would be back there again in a heartbeat. Whether just to have an inventive cocktail and a tasty appetizer, or to have a fun night with a group of friends, Rayuela is an awesome choice in a fun area – a posh restaurant positioned perfectly before a night out in the not so posh Lower East Side.
Location: 165 allen street between rivington & stanton