Latin Fusion restaurants are common in New York and other major North American cities. While there are many traditional restaurants that focus on a particular country or region such as Peru or Oaxaca, the majority of Latin restaurants that go upscale are widely traveled. They pull dishes, cooking styles, and ingredients from so many different places in the region that as a result you are unable to tell exactly where the food and the chef is based or comes from.
Rayuela and Macondo, both owned and operated by the same pair of restaurateurs, are two of such fusion restaurants. Rayuela is the star and the more expensive of the two; so let’s start there. Translated, the Spanish word Rayuela, means hopscotch, which completely adheres to the notion I just mentioned in the first paragraph. The restaurant design is sleek and beautiful and compete with any of the city’s nicest looking. Set at the edge of the Lower East Side on Allen Street, Executive Chef Máximo Tejada’s menu is a sort of freestyle latino, which they proclaim. They re-envison Latin American classics from Peru, Mexico, the Caribbean, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, and beyond. “The basic structure of traditional dishes will be maintained, but the actual ingredients used may be unconventional and may come from several different countries,” they quote on their website.
I tend to find most Latin fusion restaurants boring. While trying to be from everywhere, they end up being from nowhere. However, in several visits, the Dominican chef has always been spot on. Everything I have eaten feels inspired and perfectly executed, as have the dishes of everyone else I have eaten with.
The list of ceviches is creative and not a single one remotely traditional, though as a small appetizer I couldn’t think of a better way to start a meal. I’ve tried Tuna con Sandia (tuna with watermelon-lemongrass sauce) and Huacinango con Soya (Red Snapper in ginger soy citrus with julienne carrots, cucumbers, and jalapeños) are palate pleasers that don’t overfill me, but prepare me for what’s to come. They also offer salads and more filling appetizers – Jalea, Mollejas con Yuca, Carica Tejada – that you could probably live on without a main course, but the lure of a decent ceviche is hard to pass on.
The Platos Fuertes are more grounded and there’s less of a geographical leap between ingredients. Cochinillo a la Plancha (pan roasted pork loin) has been superb on two occasions, one during restaurant week, and comes with a pleasant quinoa chaufa, something that seems so obvious but I’ve never seen served in Peru, with a soy tamarind sauce. Pato con Arepa – duck breast marinated in sugar cane with duck confit, spinach, asparagus, and guava sauce served over a yellow corn arepa – is as lovely as any Latin duck preparation as I have found. The churrasco, though not always on the menu, is served topped with a shrimp chimichurri, mixed mushrooms, and a fondue of purple Peruvian potatoes and has been my wife’s option on two consecutive meals.
One complaint I do have is the dessert options tend to all be heavier and cakier than I would prefer after such a wonderful meal. The Crema de Requeson - Spanish cheese custard with olive compote and basil mousse – is the one that stands out.
Shifting a around the corner to Macondo, the more casual, sister restaurant to Rayuela has more of a bar like atmosphere. Cocktails are a bigger deal here than Rayuela. They have the classics: Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Sangrias, and Pisco Sours, though their creations are rather unique. There’s Fresa+Pisco, which mixes Ocucaje Pisco with strawberries, jalapeños, kaffir lime, and lemongrass, as well as the Maiz+Aguardiente that combines Corn, Sage, Antioqueno, pineapple, Scorpion Mezcal, and lime. The beer selection is light (Presidente, Tecate, etc), though they are the only place I know that carries Xingu, a dark beer named after the isolated region in the Brazilian Amazon. Streetside, there’s a Brazilian juice bar, with fresh squeezed extracts that form the basis for many of their cocktails.
To pair with the drinks, tapas size contemporary Latin Street food from around the region is offered. The Chorishrimp is served in a small earthen bowl with only bits of Colombian Chorizo and a few small shrimp in a tomato chili sauce. There a few tostones to add a bit of a crunch. The three ceviches, fruitier than most, are small and uncomplicated but reasonably priced around $10. There are also Arepas, Rellenos, Tacos, decent sized Cocas (flat breads), fairly large Bocadillos and a few mid-size Raciones such as Carne con Yuca, Mofongo, and Chupe de Mariscos. Waitresses tend to push you to order multiple plates per person, though two or three should suffice for a pair.
165 Allen Street
Lower East Side
157 East Houston
Lower East Side
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.