After Ten Years, Rediscovering Esperanto

December is Flamenco month at Esperanto!  Every Thursday of the month, holidays aside, Esperanto will be hosting special Flamenco nights from 8-10:30pm.  Enjoy as musicians, like Alfonso Cid from the band Gazpacho Andalu, perform into the evening.  Allow yourself to be transported to the sultry pleasures of Spain as dancer Isabel Del Dia shows off her moves.

Esperanto’s regular Latin inspired menu and cocktails will be available.  The restaurant is located at 145 Avenue C in New York’s East Village.  Don’t forget your dancing shoes!

Imagine the success necessary for a quirky Brazilian-inspired eatery to stay in business for an entire decade. It would be insurmountable for most, but for Stephan Gerville-Reache, Dimitri Vlahakis and Latin mainstay, Esperanto, it’s reality—and for anyone who’s been watching, their tenth anniversary shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Their success is due, in large part, to the extraordinary talent and passion that led to Esperanto’s creation. Gerville-Reache and Vlahakis’s were coming off of a major success at their first joint venture, a popular bar called Baraza in the East Village (which only recently closed), when they realized their ability to create a dynamic atmosphere would pair perfectly with their mutual love for great food and intrigue for Latin culture. Having lived in Brazil and traveled extensively around Latin America, Gerville-Reache had an impeccably high standard for Latin cuisine that he knew he could draw from, while Vlahakis’s business savvy (he’s now co-owner of both Motorino locations) could ensure the stability of the operation.

Just as Esperanto was a hit from the start, an experience there begins even before arrival. The walk may be a few avenues long, but it provides some of the rarest, most unexpected sights the city can offer—two protected parks (one with Bette Midler’s name on it) that feature century-old willows, densely packed and draping over smatterings of art installations. It’s the perfect set-up for a dining experience that’s so transportative—by the time you leave, you’ll never guess you’re still in Manhattan.

Esperanto’s décor quickly establishes it as a little oasis, a break from the norm. Chicly evoking botiquins, beachside watering holes that serve as essential meeting spots in Brazilian culture, Esperanto’s tropical blue-toned walls and terracotta tiled floors serve as the perfect backdrop for a eclectic arrangement of shabby-chic accoutrements. A hand-painted sign offering drink specials hangs with rickety flair above the red backlit bar, and outdoor tables get an extra punch of sunshine from floral, Carmen Miranda-like tablecloths. It’s a singular blend of kitsch and shab that’s more and more fabulous as it continues to age.

No restaurant would survive ten years without standout menu offerings, and Gerville-Reache’s expectations are executed accordingly. Chayote salad is a refreshing and crisp appetizer—piled high like an onion loaf that reveals something all together tastier and healthier. Spaghetti thin strands of chayote, chunks of avocado, hearts of palm, and supremed orange segments are downright unusual and addicting, dressed in homemade lime dressing. Plantain crusted goat cheese puts a spin on ingredients that are usually kept separate, served with cilantro-cashew pesto and a creamy salad of sautéed leeks, while tuna ceviche gets a non-traditional punch of unexpected (yet perfectly balanced) flavors from coconut milk and ginger. For a pop of authentic Brazilian cuisine, diners can enjoy the bolinhos de peixe, little balls of fried codfish, potato and cilantro that can be dunked into chipotle mayo or Esperanto’s homemade hot sauce.

Entrees may look like standard Latin fare, but each bears its own special twist. A pork dish of Lomito de cerdo, which Gerville-Reache and Vlahakis call the restaurant’s most epicurean-driven entrée, is served in a passion fruit sauce with nutmeg and orange zest-infused sweet potato mash. Here, as in many of Esperanto’s signature dishes, a sophisticated play on sweetness and acidity sets the dish apart in an original, but decidedly approachable fashion. Crispy whole snapper is executed masterfully, with the perfect crunch giving way to tender, flaky, sweet meat inside. Seasoned simply and served with a drizzle of lime, it’s a dish that any lover of Latin food will appreciate for its authenticity.

Generous side dishes give diners plenty of room to experience more regional fare, including yucca fritta that benefits from a punch of garlic and spice. Like at any true Latin restaurant, rice comes in various forms: with cilantro or coconut, plain and buttery, or topped with beans. And if more carbs are still to be had, pao de queijo, or Brazilian cheese bread, yields a perfectly chewy texture in each bite that shouldn’t be missed.

Subtle twists define dessert as much as they do the entrees. Molten chocolate cake tastes superior to other varieties, and it’s due to a clever addition of Kahlua and orange zest. Flambéed bananas are somewhat misnamed, getting their signature flavor from a quick addition of cognac that’s never burned off, thereby preserving the purity of all the flavors. Coconut Flan, cooked perfectly to melt coolly on the tongue, bears toasted flakes of fresh coconut and a smooth caramel topping that’ll convert even the strongest haters of the custard classic. Choosing between the bunch is a challenge in itself.

At the end of the day, Esperanto has succeeded, and continues to succeed, because of its well-rounded approach to dining where entertainment figures in with just as heavy a hand. It’s with that in mind that Gerville-Reache and Vlahakis have carefully curated a program of nightly live music—from Samba singers to Afro Latin bands to a dynamically talented pair of female mariachis—to add yet another cultural element to the overall Esperanto experience.

Esperanto is located at 145 Avenue C, in New York’s East Village, and is open for dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5:30-midnight and Friday-Saturday from 5:30-1:00 AM. Lunch is available Wed-Friday from 12:00 – 3:00, and brunch is served on weekends from 11:00-4:00 PM. Expect news for a 10th Anniversary Celebration in the upcoming weeks! For more information on private parties and reservations, please call 212-505-6559 or visit Esperanto online at http://www.esperantony.com/.


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