It’s hard to get a table at any hot opening in this city, but we’re not holding our breath for it to get any easier at ABC Cocina any time soon. The restaurant made its entrance late last week as the Latin alter ego to sibling ABC Kitchen, located just across the haute housewares store, and if the older place from Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Kluger is any indication, Cocina will continue to be a reservations-required hard-even-to-nab-a-bar-seat restaurant long after it’s done basking in its debut spotlight.
If you go early and bring an aggressive friend, though, you’ll eventually be able to work your way to the front of the well-heeled crowd and nab a pair of bar seats, either along the street-facing window or at the bar itself, which is illuminated with the twinkling lights of artistic and expensive chandeliers (for sale, we learned, along with all of the other fixtures — some reminiscent of starbursts, another just a curious looking glowing egg — throughout the cavernous restaurant).
Vongerichten is famous for incorporating Asian influences into his menus, but dishes here show influence from across the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, and tacos filled with sautéed mushrooms or crispy fish share space with chicken-stuffed empanadas, jamon iberico, chorizo, and rice dishes evocative of common paella combinations. The menu is divided into six sections — table snacks, light & bright, golden & crispy, masa & tortillas, woodburning grill, and rice — that are all built for sharing, and two people can get away with ordering something from every section without overdoing it. Like ABC Kitchen, dishes are fresh and seasonal, and the staff likes to trumpet the kitchen’s obsession with local ingredients (a focus that even extends to the back bar) and the Greenmarket.
A popular bar snack — we saw just about every party order this dish — the spring pea guacamole mixes chunky mashed avocado, brightened by lime, with sweet, bulbous spring peas and sunflower seeds. It’s served with thick, freshly fried chips and warm, crispy tortillas.
Exemplary of Kluger’s light, fresh touch, the raw fluke comes splashed with zippy green chili dressing and gets some nice texture from crunchy rice.
On the dessert list, “impossible” flan is a silky version of the Mexican classic, its sugar tempered by salted caramel.
Wine, beer, and cocktails follow the lead of the menu and embrace the Latin rhythm: by-the-glass selections hail mostly from Spain and Argentina, imports like Modelo and Presidente supplement a local draft list, and one section of the beachy cocktail menu comprises variations on the margarita. Those embracing the sherry trend will find selections to play with here, and, delightfully, cider-drinkers will, too. The sangrias, made with either passion fruit and sauvignon blanc or hibiscus and malbec, are good for groups.
The basil jalapeño margarita adds a mild, tingly heat to the fresh, tart classic; the basil-salt rim gives each sip an herbal boost.
We don’t often see banana in drinks that aren’t smoothies, which makes the rhubarb-banana daiquiri here stand out. Bartenders muddle banana and add fresh-pressed rhubarb juice and rum before straining it into a coupe. Equal parts tart and sweet (but not cloyingly so), we suspect we could pound enough of these to get in trouble, especially on a warm late-spring day.
The spicy note of rye whiskey adds a subtle bite to the Rye Tai, which is rounded out by an almond-flavored orgeat infusion.