First Taste: Cienega


Cienega’s cordera ron y caña: Caribbean rum and sugar-cane-glazed lamb chops with goat cheese-malanga mash and huacatay sauce.

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 Iove it when restaurateurs take an oddball space and make it spectacular, which is exactly what happened to the old Steam-Eat Café Bistro spot on New Rochelle’s Main Street. Coming fresh from successes at Fort Greene’s critic-pleasing Luz, husband-and-wife restaurateurs Pedro Muñoz and Vivian Torres have used their design background (they’re both architects) to make Cienega’s  long, skinny space stunning.

 

 Rough-hewn white granite tiles soar to high ceilings, while pendant lamps cluster against windows in almost star-like array. Cool murals define the entry and bar, while a minimal single horizontal line defines the dining area—its inset glass is part design motif and part window into a busy kitchen.

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And what a kitchen! Chef Jorge Adriazola is slinging some stunning flavors, like a saffron-scented seafood chowder, a riff on Peruvian chupe. Creamy and golden, but with a warming hint of chili, this is a sexy spin on zuppa de pesce. Also yummy are subtle ceviches, in which split-second acid exposure leaves the fish still slippery—we loved a pretty mixto (shrimp, octopus, rocoto, bay scallops, squid) lightly scented with ginger and orange. 

Cienega’s brazo gitano for dessert: crisp-cooked sponge cake with warm dulce de leche and berries.

 

The breakaway main was cordera ron y caña, listed as grilled Caribbean rum and sugar-cane-glazed lamb chops with goat cheese-malanga mash and huacatay sauce. Each meltingly tender, hot-seared chop almost tasted of wood fire, while its partnering malanga mash was an absolute revelation. This glutinous, taro-like tuber reminds us of every sweet, starchy root veg that we love, though the malanga adds an ineffable flavor that left us wanting more. One slight downer—though First Tastes are not critical reviews—is that perhaps the pasta in my fideos con mariscos could have been better toasted. But that’s really a quibble in an otherwise delicious meal.

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As may be had hoped, at Cienega, pan-Latin cocktails are tastefully poured. Look for Pisco sours, mojitos, caiparinhas, margaritas, and enticing specialties like the Vampirita: blood orange, Cointreau, lime, and ginger-infused tequila. We’ve become rather critical of the too-foamy or too-sugary versions elsewhere, but acid, smoke, and sugar strike a poised balance in Cienega’s margaritas. Lighter drinkers will be pleased with cooling sangrias with apples, oranges, wine and rum.

Desserts are also unmissable, and are served in small portions that feel tasteful and welcome. We loved a warm brazo Gitano—crisp-cooked sponge cake with dulce de leche and berries, but there were a wealth of other, equally attractive choices.

In short, go now—Cienega is totally on point.

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