food 07.9.07

Rayuela

You're going to be reading about the new pan-Latino restaurant Rayuela, 165 Allen [Stanton/Rivington] 212.253.8840, over the next few weeks. Most reports will mention the design of the place, which is a triumph of fresh-faced contemporary ideas, both borrowed and new. They'll note the olive tree reaching up from the ground floor bar area, through to the second floor, which is the restaurant proper. And much will be made of the cocktails such as Coming Up Roses — all bright lights and lollipops — with its rose water, rose petals, lime, Champagne and raspberry-flavored rum.

But if they don't point out that the restaurant has ambitions well beyond its workmanlike abilities, you're reading puff. This kitchen is unable to put their mise en place in its place, incapable of corralling the marauding pack of ingredients that elbows its way into each dish. If, say, you're the lobster in the lobster ceviche, you don't stand a chance against grilled pineapple, jalapeno, coconut water and Uruguayan caviar. The combinations are inelegant, overwrought, sometimes both. And while we can all agree that ceviches demand acid, so do car batteries. There should be a way to tell the difference.

Sweetbreads, our young waiter blithely assures us, can't otherwise be found in NY and must be ordered. Wrong on both counts. The wonderfully rich offal is unctuous enough without adding sweetness, which makes the quince/Champagne vinaigrette a bad idea.

It isn't only unfortunate combos that mar the proceedings; sometimes, promised ingredients are missing in action. The Manchego empanada would have been improved by dialing down the oil and the addition of Manchego. You waiter may suggest a crab guacamole "to get things started." As guacamole, it's fine. But the house might want to a) include some actual crab and b) consider the bad aftertaste of a $17 charge for same.

Some of the food is passably good: the churrasco is properly tender and the monkfish is allowed to speak for itself. But the beef and the monkfish (entrees average $26) are in a small minority. The biggest tell is what the kitchen sends out as paella. A grim, desiccated wasteland of overcooked fish, even the father and son in Cormac McCarthy's The Road might toss this mess aside. No restaurant that truly loved seafood would do this to the crustaceans and mollusks, which were, after all, victims, not conspirators in the felony.

And we've never been in a restaurant before where the waiter is not allowed to take a wine order — the sommelier must be consulted even if you know what you want. It doesn't matter that the sommelier may be busy for ten or fifteen minutes at other tables while you wait for permission to order your $38 bottle of Catena Chardonnay. It's an amateurish idea.

You could enjoy Rayuela by soaking up a few cocktails and feasting your eyes on the design. Once the food appears, however, it's all downhill.

Jott
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