March 29, 2012
Doug says: In the past week I visited Macondo three times.
Logan says: I really wanted to go all the way on this one. I'll be eagerly waiting to see if Junior Marino can overhaul Macondo's cocktail program to push things over the top.
Boy are we glad we stumbled across this place. Named after the fictional town at the center of Latin literary giant Gabriel Garcia MarquezÕs One Hundred Years of Solitude, Macondo is fantastical in that it seems almost too good to be true, especially in comparison to the lackluster Latin cuisine found on the Lower East Side (Barriochino, Los Feliz, etc.) or the ÒelevatedÓ stuff youÕll find in Greater Manhattan. Just when we were ready to throw in the towel and start trekking out to Queens to get our Latin food fix, we found this excellent cantina.
Head Chef Maximo Tejada, of Rayuela fame, decided to tackle Latin comida de la calle, or street food, with Macondo, his second opening, and weÕre glad he did. Simply put, MacondoÕs food is attractive, affordable, and it tastes f*cking good. Since discovering this gem a week ago, ODA has collectively visited this place more times than weÕd care to share, and weÕve eaten pretty much everything on the menu. The play here is to go during the excellent empanada happy hour (daily opening-7PM), have a seat at the bar and chat up the friendly bartenders while stuffing your face with any/all of the $2 empanadas (just donÕt talk while chewing!) and chasing those little pillows of glory with MacondoÕs excellent Pisco Sour or their very passable Caipirinha, Mojito or house sangria (HH all $6). Empanada fillings span vegetarian to seafood to lamb, and each perfectly-fried crescent comes out in a different color with a different shade of dipping sauce. TejadaÕs presentation is here in spades, and the level of his plating belies the humble price of these tapas. Take a look at this complimentary mushroom croquette we enjoyed on our first visit. Mouth watering yet? Among the empanadas our favorite is probably the pulpo (if you donÕt like octopus you need to grow some huevos, muchacho), while other highlights of the menu include the tender carne con yuca (skirt steak atop yuca fries, $15Ðorder rare, trust us), DougÕs beloved arroz con pollo ($12) and the decadent bocadillo Cubano (Cuban Sandwich, $7), made of ham and roasted pork and smothered in Swiss cheese with a side of yuca fries. I was a big fan of the $8 Jalea ÒPeruvian seafood tempuraÓ, and Doug attests that the arepas are solid as well. To make things easier, just order whatever you want off TejadaÕs menuÐitÕs all good. We donÕt know what other reviewers (boo!) are smoking, but theyÕre wrong on this oneÐMacondoÕs food menu is solid as nails. TejadaÕs estilo libre Latino may not be entirely authentic, but this is one of the cases where a truly talented chefÕs ÒreimaginingÓ of a cuisinal concept can actually improve upon its origins. This cantinaÕs menu is a smorgasbord of Latin fare, but for our somewhat edified gringo palettes, at least, Tejada does them all admirably.
Unfortunately, Macondo suffers from what we have recently come to call ÒPost Office SyndromeÓ. Though MacondoÕs food is stellar, we couldnÕt see ourselves lingering long after weÕre full, and the reason is that the bar program isnÕt inspiring enough to put this place over the top. To be fair, of course, Macondo is just as much, if not more, restaurant than bar, and the lines between those two are inherently foggy in this line of business. But MacondoÕs ambitious line of bebidas (cocktails, all $11/GLS, $30/Carafe) let us down. Some of these sound excellent, but each one missed in some way. The Fresa + Pisco (Ocujaje pisco, strawberries, jalapenos, lemongrass, kafir lime leaves) sounds like the best thing since sliced bread, and it wouldÕve been if thereÕd been more heatÐeven after multiple orders and asking for the barkeep to make it spicier, it just wasnÕt there. The Pera + Mamajuana (Hispanola Mamajuana rum, Bosh pear, ginger, lime, vanilla syrup) was delicious but disjointed (too much ginger, not enough pear), and the Lulo + Mezcal (Lulo, Scorpion mezcal, dÕ Ariti, agave nectar, lime, grapefruit bitters, rosemary rim) looked and sounded amazing but was sadly bland, especially with the word ÒscorpionÓ in it. After trying pretty much everything on the list (yes, weÕre bad, we know it), we left unimpressed with the cocktails. And keep in mind, we really wanted to like the drinks because we love MacondoÕs food so much. Besides cocktails, Macondo offers a small but aggressively priced wine list, with authentic Porron to be had straight down the hatch directly from the glass pitcher (I still donÕt understand what this is all about, but itÕs awesome), and draft beer is unfortunately absent, though the short but eclectic bottle list comes in at $5 for all offerings, a deal in this city where you can pay $10+ easily for a 12 oz. bottle of beer. Seriously, bar directors?
Macondo is a great spot for light bites or a proper dinner, and TejadaÕs menu outshines spades of more hyped and pricier tapas joints across town. With more oomph from the cocktail program, this hip, attractive and satisfying cantina could be a grand slam, but as it stands, weÕre waiting with the bases loaded.
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