Saturday, March 29, 2008


the next time you find yourself wandering the lower east side, hungry and/or thirsting for a creative cocktail, pop over to rayuela, the pricey but fantastic latin joint on allen between stanton and rivington. rayuela self-describes as responsible for the
first-of-its kind Estilo Libre Latino (Freestyle Latino) cuisine, which respects yet redefines contemporary Latin American and Spanish cuisines. While the basic structure of the traditional dishes will be maintained, the actual ingredients may be unconventional and may come from over a dozen Latin American countries including Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, as well as Spain.
i don't know what that means, but i understand YUM YUM YUM. one of our favorite uncles recently treated us to a latin feast while we were slummin' it down on the LES, and we invite you to come along for the ride (but don't touch anything. we're hungry too).

the cocktail list at rayuela is a little confusing, in a good way. their innovative approach includes ingredients as unexpected (and sometimes scary) as sage leaves and anjou pear (in the vodka drink) and lemon thyme (in the gin). we asked the bartender for his personal favorites (as we tend to do), and wound up with the vodka and sherry cocktails. the sherry cocktail (the bright red one in the foreground below) was a bit more potent and acidic than i expected, and it went down fine - one of those drinks that makes you say after every sip, "this is really interesting!" the vodka cocktail (the yellowish white glass behind the sherry cocktail) was smooth and spectacularly well balanced.

and now, i present to you: the unexpectedly incredible yucca flour buns that they bring you at the beginning of the meal: becca had been to rayuela once before, and warned me about these little melt-in-your-mouth taste rockets. she said, "they come with butter, but they don't need it." she was right, of course, but who am i to turn down high quality butter on anything? they were delicious on their own - fluffy but chewy, with a hint of cheesy flavor - but nothing short of orgasmic with a gentle schmear of fresh, creamy butter on top.

if venezuelans are the happiest people in the world, i think i know why: venezuelan arepas:
rayuela's version comes sweet and crispy with a plop of goat cheese and a drizzle of pesto, and tastes like a cheesy, corny dream.

no tour of amazing aperitivos would be complete without a mention of the tuna rellena: shrimp, crab, and avocado wrapped in sliced tuna served with cucumbers in a soy vinaigrette. we were so excited for this dish that we dived right in and were halfway done when i remembered to stop and snap a picture. but, i think you'll get the idea:drooling yet? i don't want to overwhelm you, so i'll just leave off with the paella de coco. according to the fine folks downtown, their paella contains "valencia rice infused with lemongrass, coconut milk and ginger, served with shrimp, calamari, scallops, octopus, manila clams and peas. served with langoustines and ginger oil." it's a bit more work than the other dishes - you get to dig the meat out of the shells for most of these mollusks and crustaceans - but it's more than worth it.

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