As honorary captain of America’s Olympic shopping team, I’ve been keeping an eye on the proliferation of fancy restaurants in chic retail venues. So far, I’d managed to avoid the twin temptation, but when a friend suggested an early dinner at Chicama the same week ABC Carpet and Home was posting SALE 75% OFF signs, I hit the ATM and packed the credit cards. The combination was too good to miss. Having allowed time for browsing, I navigated the bustling main floor as soon as I arrived, fingering the fine linens, hyperventilating over the Fabergé, and noting ruefully a cousin of the “bargain” lantern I’d hauled home from a Paris flea market at almost the same price. By the time I’d peeked at the florist’s, it was time for dinner. Although there’s a street-side entrance, I entered the hacienda-inspired Chicama from the store. My friend and I noted that some of the decor items in the restaurant were also on sale at ABC. We also noted the ever increasing decibel level and the omnipresence of young size twos and the men who chased them to the packed bar. They were clearly there for the scene. We were ready for the food.
Mojitos ($9) reduced our size-12 self-consciousness enough for us to order. Getting straight to the point, we homed in on mains: a chifa lenguado ($32) and a churrasco ($25). My fried flounder was a crunchy whole fish in a puddle of sweet and sour in which the honey overpowered the intricacies of the soy-ginger-scallion mix. But the churrasco was a delight, thick slices of pinkly tender steak atop an Andes of papas fritas with a slurry of chimichurri for slathering or dipping. Shopping hours were over by the time we left, so we waddled through the bar and around the corner for a drink under quieter circumstances.
Having noted that Pipa, Chicama’s sister restaurant, was a calmer haven, it was there that I returned for a Sunday brunch-and-browse before the sale signs came down. Artfully draped with an international array of textiles and festooned with lanterns, Pipa is a tapas bar that purveys nibbles large and small, yin to Chicama’s yang. Patient parents with babies in strollers, patrons with unwieldy packages, and dazed veterans of Saturday night in search of a piquantly potent Bloody Mary ($9) make this more like a neighborhood haunt than a place to recuperate before heading back into the fray. The small plates offer something for all. The hearty caldo gallego ($8) is a more refined take on the traditional Galician soup than you’ll find at El Faro, a shallow but deeply satisfying bowl filled with a puree of white beans flavored with shards of smoked pig. The chicken livers were perfectly seared, but their insistent flavor combined with the heat of the peppercorns to overpower the delicate greens that were served with them ($17). The only thing wrong with the vegetarian mashed eggplant—served with sweet red pepper, sweated onions, and goat-cheese toast ($9)—was that we wished there was more of it. Then there was the duck coca—thick slices of smoked breast meat on a flatbread topped with spinach and caramelized onion and finished with a cube of melting foie gras ($13).
It was enough to tempt us to settle in for one more and forget shopping altogether. Instead we pondered our size 12s and left.