River Styx is just one of the new wave of ambitious bars and restaurants opening in Greenpoint, and it is also the loveliest. Like an ocean liner’s elegant dining room, the restaurant is a multi-tiered space with charcoal walls, white accents, an open kitchen, and a handsome angled bar with a prow that points south. Chef Dennis Spina’s cuisine defies definition, a new American mash-up of everything he feels like cooking. That could be baby squid coated in hot sauce, plates of fried brown rice, or a funky dipping purée of fava beans with curry. But it is the glorious nachos that are really worth talking about.
Spina has flirted with Mexican flavors before. A swordfish torta that occasionally graces the menu at the Roebling Tea Room, where he also directs the menu, is a delicious dark horse, a hulking, multi-layered sandwich that could hold its own against any torta in the city. Even Don Pepe, the torta master of Sunset Park’s Puebla Mini Market, could learn something from the way Spina applies a thickened shmear of creamy black beans and speckles the charred swordfish filets with spice. Nachos have also appeared at Roebling, but at River Styx they have been revisited, re-shaped, and tweaked. They are nearly perfect.
They are also an architectural marvel, whether you order them in entrée- ($16) or appetizer-size ($8). The thick tortilla chips jut vertically like an iceberg, with sharp pockets of spicy chicken tinga that counter the creaminess of the luxurious silken cheese sauce. A thicket of crisp radish and long tufts of cilantro sprout from one side. Wedges of pickled jalapeño and coins of carrot en escabeche add a second layer of heat to the molten cheese. Does that ethereally smooth dairy start with a classic French bechamel? A cream-laden mornay strained repeatedly to remove every lump? Spina laughs. “It’s just American cheese, heavy cream, and Frank’s Red Hot.”