Even those of us churls who haven’t been absolutely amorous with Danny Bowien’s aggressive, audacious cast of affable accept to accept that the San Francisco chef has a allowance for imbuing his restaurants with a absurd affair spirit. Afore Mission Chinese was shuttered by burghal authorities for a account of infractions (too abounding mice actuality the capital one), the curve alfresco the broken-down allowance spread, famously, bottomward the block. At Bowien’s latest Orchard Artery venture, Mission Cantina, the curve aren’t as long, but affairs are you’ll appointment an agog scrum of eaters by the door, cat-and-mouse for tables to clear. Like the added Mission space, this one is busy with blithe cultural artifacts (piñatas, aerial hand-cut squares of paper). The music is infectiously loud; the lighting has a kaleidoscopic, aerial affection to it; and the tables are nudged abutting together, like in a accepted nightclub.
But clashing the Mission operation bottomward the artery (which may reopen in a altered location), Bowien’s new, Mexican-themed enactment has a auspicious air of abidingness about it. The allowance occupies a arresting bend amplitude on Stanton and Orchard and actualization tall, athletic bottle windows on two sides. The avant-garde kitchen is aboveground, and partially covered with glass, so you can watch cooks brand out their yellow-corn masa tacos the way you’d watch a DJ circuit records. Clashing the settled, intricate assize of Sichuan cuisine, the casual, taco-heavy card seems to accommodate itself added artlessly to the affectionate of ample nose-to-tail abstracts Bowien and his cooks specialize in, and about aggregate on it looks like it ability be absolutely acceptable to eat.
Like at Mission Chinese, the bowl that sets the accent for the affairs is a simple bowl of craven wings. Instead of actuality austere into abeyance with a one-note blast of tingly hot pepper, however, these wings are tossed in an affected mix of cumin and cinnamon, amid added spices, and dripped with a well-balanced aggregate of crema, appealing housemade chile vinegar, and cotija cheese. You can adore them with bowls of beginning guacamole (to be biconcave with crimper squares of chicharrónes, or crinkly, lobster-colored shrimp chips) and a alternative of cooling, alluringly composed ceviches, which the kitchen ability accomplish with shrimp and butterfish; squares of chill burn spritzed with lime, attic milk, and apricot roe; or fat, spicy-sweet scallops folded, in archetypal Bowien fashion, with blooming olives and a aerial chopping of raw beef heart.
Beef hearts don’t accomplish an actualization on Mission Cantina’s absorbing taco agenda (I counted 14), although beef argot does (with an absorbing topping of pickled tomatoes and absurd peanuts), and so does beef blah (paired, beneath interestingly, with shrimp). Neither of these combinations was absolutely as acknowledged as the lamb shoulder, which is aperitive with smoked prunes, or the skate addition I ordered one evening, encased in tempura concoction and commutual with bendable slices of avocado. Not surprisingly, however, the best acknowledged dishes of all at this bouncy enactment tend to be the large, party-size platters, in accurate the lamb ribs (steamed by the arbor in assistant leaves), and Bowien’s absurd chicken, which is encrusted in a agilely brittle batter, drizzled with chile alkali and spoonfuls of honey, and served with a assemblage of hot tortillas on the side.
Contra, which additionally opened backward aftermost year, on a almost untraveled amplitude of Orchard Street, looks at aboriginal like an advertisement for every annoyingly adored commonsensical dining trend that has swept through the New York restaurant apple in the accomplished decade or so. The signage out avant-garde is so baby that you ability airing by the characterless storefront already or alert afore you amount out that there’s a restaurant inside. The attenuated railroad dining amplitude actualization a baby table hewn from a bent log and a continued aqua-green banquette that looks (and feels) like commodity you’d sit on while agriculture pigeons in the park. The walls are (mostly) red brick; the floors are caked with accurate in the chic, nouveau-bunker style; and the alone dining advantage (save for the à la carte bar menu) is a lean, runically labeled tasting card served by waiters antic intricately black sleeve tattoos.
Unlike added adored tasting airheaded about town, however, this one costs a almost bashful $55. Your five-course banquet ability accommodate a appetizing risotto fabricated with aureate berries, uni, and beginning clams, and a block of seared monkfish, which the adolescent chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske finish, not unpleasantly, with a anemic smoked-fish chrism and a compression of delicate genmaicha tea. My apathetic “slow roasted” pork collar appeared not to accept been broiled enough, but my $.25 of buzz craven leg were added or beneath perfect, and if the aide offers you a aftertaste of the abode pigeon (honey-colored, like Peking duck, and with the barb still attached) you should adjustment it on the spot. The desserts are beneath arresting, as a rule, although I’m blessed to address that the one complete with yogurt sorbet and gianduja crémeux works absolutely able-bodied already you abolish the anhydrous beet chips from its top.
Mission Cantina172 Orchard St., at Stanton St.; 212-254-2233; missioncantinanyc.com Hours: Daily apex to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Prices: Appetizers, $5 to $11; tacos and ample plates, $5.50 to $32.50. Ideal Meal: Craven wings, abode ceviches, lamb with smoked clip and/or skate-wing tacos, absurd craven (to share). Note: The restaurant serves a Super Burrito to go, with an absorbing best of fillings. Scratchpad: One brilliant for the tacos and addition brilliant for aggregate abroad on the robust, compulsively comestible menu.
Contra138 Orchard St., nr. Rivington St.; 212-466-4633; contranyc.com Hours: Banquet Tuesday through Friday 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday until midnight. Prices: Tasting menu, $55. Ideal Meal: Pay appropriate absorption to the banty dishes, like craven and buzz pigeon. Note: The ambrosia cheese plate, from Saxelby Cheesemongers about the corner, is able-bodied account the added $8 investment. Scratchpad: One brilliant for the avant-garde affable techniques and addition for all-embracing value.
*This commodity appears in the February 24, 2014 affair of New York Magazine.
Related: Danny Bowien on Going Full Burrito at Mission Cantina
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