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A middle-age couple is here to celebrate some special day, just the two of them. It's a quiet, dignified affair, until the restaurant turns up Kool & the Gang to dancefloor volume, the lights flick on and off, and the whole dining room begins to clap to the beat. Tamy Rofe brings out a dense slice of tres leches cake covered in frosting and leads the crowd, dancing in her heels. Who are those people? Who cares! For a few moments, every stranger in this little Soho restaurant is grinning ear to ear, cheering.
58 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012
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Rofe and her husband, Felipe Donnelly, launched a weekly supper club in their Tribeca home a couple of years ago. Although Donnelly worked in advertising, not kitchens, the pair found enough success for the Department of Health to take notice—and ask them to close shop. At their new restaurant, Cómodo, they're going legit.
The menu reflects Donnelly's multicultural upbringing in Spain, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. To start, there are excellent little sliders ($11) made with pão de queijo (Brazilian-style cheese buns), a well-seasoned lamb sausage, and a side of chipotle-flavored dipping sauce. The buns have crisp shells and wonderful insides like cheesy dumplings, with the tooth-sticking smack of mochi. A raw kale salad ($9) garnished with fried kale is austere in comparison, tossed lightly in an avocado-based dressing, dusted all over with smoked chile powder.
The strongest dishes at Cómodo are what you'd eat at home on a good night: a lovely bit of braised pork with garlicky greens, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes ($24), plated simply. A big heap of pasta dressed in a gorgeously creamy Bolognese ($24), dotted with soft poblano peppers. For dessert, there's smoked ice cream ($11) on a thick, crumbly cookie that is sweetly reminiscent of the roasted marshmallows you must blow out before you eat. Although the bitter Parmesan crisp that accompanies this seems out of place, the food at Cómodo mostly comforts.
At 6:30 in the evening, waitstaff in the small, square dining room are lighting candles. It is quiet enough to hear a server snapping the leaves off flowers and putting them in water. But an hour later, and the dining room is full of guests speaking English, Spanish, Portuguese. Women with loose side braids and architectural jewelry greet one another with tight hugs and kisses. Men sit by the open window, watching women pass on MacDougal Street. The middle tables are often pushed together to accommodate a large, happy, noisy group that will get up to walk around or swap seats, just like a dinner party at home. Rofe chats with guests and opens bottles of wine, and Donnelly can be seen in the kitchen with a bandanna across his forehead, hustling.
Cómodo charms, but it stumbles, too. Dishes tend to repeat ingredients, like a young painter who has discovered a new color, still working through his fresh, almost pathological love. Donnelly seems particularly drawn to smoky ingredients like smoked chiles, but especially to smoked mozzarella, which appears cubed on a bed of quinoa and vegetables ($17), lacing a too-thick spring roll, thinly filled with hibiscus ($11), and accompanying a duck breast ($28). These repetitions of inessential, nonseasonal ingredients can lend dinner at Cómodo a rough, work-in-progress feel, but with heavy, Soho prices.
Techniques, such as frying, could also use a touch of finesse. Hot churros ($11) came with a delicious chocolate milk for dipping, but they were still raw inside, oozing unpleasantly with batter. On one evening, my party left them untouched on the plate. Our server, who had seemed to genuinely care, didn't bother to ask why as she cleared the churros away.
If we're lucky, Cómodo will figure out how to keep things personal but expand its repertoire. To refine technique and polish service. Of course, these things can take time. Meanwhile, a meal gives us a glimpse at New York's post-supper-club culture, the aftermath of a trend that blew up a few years ago. Look around and it's clear that something special can happen when amateurs follow their hearts into the world of professional restaurants—and it's not just the dancing.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.
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