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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Birthday Bash: Crossing Two More Places Off My List

It's official.  I'm entering my mid-20s.  I am a quarter century old and that scares me a bit, but that just means I had to make my celebration memorable.  My birthday may be Monday, but that's not a great night to celebrate, so I had my party last night.  Before the shindig actually got started, I went with a few friends to dinner at Cienfuegos.  If you've been keeping up with the blog, you've read my praises of Death and Co. and Mayahuel.  Three weeks ago, the good folks behind these two establishments opened Cienfuegos and I've been drooling ever since.  While Mayahuel is Mexican themed, Cienfuegos is all about Cuba, from the food to the rum based drinks to the lack of strong AC.

Everything we had was amazing:
  • Chickpea and Chorizo hash with a crispy poached egg (this was my favorite)
  • The cumin lamb chop special with soaked orange segments and avocado
  • Beef Empanadas with some sort of vinegar scallion sauce
  • Vegetable Empanadas with guacamole (surprisingly, I liked these better than the beef)
  • Crab Croquettes with guava
  • Drunken shrimp over sweet plantain mash
  • Sloppy Joe sliders (made with pulled pork)
  • Sandwich sampler (included a sloppy joe slider, a cuban sandwich, and a turkey/ham/strawberry sandwich)
  • Flan - some of the best I've had.  It was thicker than usual, making it like a combination of flan and my absolute favorite dessert, creme brulee)
  • Tres Leches - The cake was a little dry, but it was topped with some amazing meringe that made up for it
But don't think the food is the only reason to check out Cienfuegos.  First of all, it's just a cool place.  Walk to the back of Carteles cuban sandwich shop and up some stairs (be sure to watch out for the air ducts) to the hidden restaurant.  The green ceilings, pink walls, and pin-tuck benches whisked me away to Havana.  Just like their predecessors, the mixologists at Cienfuegos know their stuff.  The drink menu is an homage to rum.  There was so much to choose from and we were a little overwhelmed by all the options.  All drinks can be ordered by the glass or as a punch for multiple people.  We ordered a four person Anchor Punch, which had apricot, guava, and spicy ginger.  We also ordered a three person Rosa Verde, which had watermelon, pink peppercorn, and arugula - a wild card in my opinion.  Dave was super impressed because this cocktail was made with a Nicaraguan rum that he hasn't been able to get his  hands on since his travels in Central America.  Both punches were delicious and the tureens they came in were pretty serious, leaving me with a buzz to match.  I'll be going back.  Consider this list item crossed off.

After dinner, it was time for the party to get started so we headed to one of my favorite bars, Madam Geneva.  I suppose secret places were the theme of the evening because you have to walk through the Double Crown restaurant and push through a wall to get to the bar.  Gin is the name of the game at Madam Geneva's, but they have a stocked bar for non-gin lovers.  Their specialty is the selection of housemade jams.  The jams rotate regularly and reflect what's in season.  Last night, there was a pineapple and vanilla bean, apricot and spice, and rhubarb.  You tell the bartender which jam you like and whether you prefer vodka or gin.  They'll return with your poison of choice in a tumbler with a spoon of jam perched on top so you may mix your drink to your liking.  The pineapple/vanilla was the favorite of the evening.

Once it started to get hot and crowded, we headed across the street to Bowery Electric, which was packed so our hot/crowded problem was not really alleviated.  We lasted long enough to have a drink or two and take some pictures in the photo booth before we decided it was time for a more relaxed atmosphere.  Onto Pulino's which was conveniently about two blocks away.

If you've been reading any of the big food blogs lately, you'll have heard about Pulino's, the hot new pizzeria/bar by the guy behind Pravda, Pastis, Morandi, Minetta Tavern, Balthazar, and Schiller's.  The reviews spurred heat from the restaurant community, so I had to check it out for myself.  From the moment you walk in, it's evident you're dealing with the Schiller's crew.  Same black and white floors, lighting, and liquor bottles used as wallpaper.  Since it was 2 AM by this point, we figured we were entitled to another feeding and ordered two pizzas.  The first had mushrooms and pancetta, the second was topped with meatballs.  Both tasty, though I much preferred the former.  Loved the sauce and cheese, but the crust could have been a tad crispier and the meatballs could have used a little more spice.  Definitely not my favorite pizza in NYC, but it was a great place to relax after the crowded, sweaty bars that dominated the majority of the evening.  The best part was easily the bathroom.  Separate doors for men and women, but as Matt and I learned when we walked into our respective WCs at the same time, they led to the same big bathroom.  It was highly confusing.  Thankfully, I did not have to stand next to a boy at a urinal because there are two more doors, and this time, the signs indicating gender assignments didn't lie.
Birthday party officially deemed a success.

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