Casabe Bistro Latino
ADDRESS: 208 E 58 St.
PHONE: (212) 750-7766
LOCATION HISTORY: Previously Nino’s 208
OPENED FOR DINNER: October 19, 2010
Manager: Richard Huguenot
Sous Chef Lenis Gonzalez
BACKGROUND: Known primarily by his first name, which lends itself to Nino’s family of popular Italian restaurants, Selimaj makes his first venture into Latin American cuisine with Casabe Bistro Latino, marking a new partnership with notable Latin chef Ricardo Cardona. His career started upon his arrival to New York City as a young boy, whereupon he took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant on East 58th, the same street he returns to with this new concept. After working his way up the ladder and opening the first Nino’s on First Avenue, he has developed expertise as a seasoned restaurateur, his portfolio now boasts such successes as Nino’s Positano, Osso Buco, 208 and Nino’s Tuscany.
CONCEPT: A Latin Bistro, Casabe (pronounced ca-sah-beh) is named for a traditional yucca-based bread commonly eaten in Colombia, the Caribbean,South America. and the Dominican Republic. The restaurant will use the bread as a base for many of its signature dishes, and the menu as a whole will emphasize refined Latin American comforts. Rather than focusing on any one geographic lens, the menu will blend the flavors and traditions of all Latin American countries with modern and unique presentations. Ambiance will be lively, with salsa music, a Mojito lounge on the second floor, and live entertainment one night a week.
This Spanish, Caribbean and South American Menu features Nouveau Latin cuisine with dishes like Churrascos, Ceviches, Arepas, Paella and Tacos. The Mojito Bar Lounge offers live latin music and a selection of specialty drinks
CONSULTING CHEF: Ricardo Cardona
BACKGROUND: Chef Ricardo Cardona is a self-trained chef with over twenty five years experience in creating cutting edge Nuevo Latino cuisine. He is most well known for his use of unique ingredients that dig deep into the heart of the Latin culture while making surprising, unexpected choices that are delivered with gourmet flair. Chef Cardona has helmed such popular restaurants as New York’s Hudson Terrace, Mama Juana NY, Sofrito, 809, Tabaco y Ron and Sazon, as well as his own recent project, Gabbana. His cuisine regularly serves such luminaries as singer Marc Anthony and wife, Jennifer Lopez; the members of the New York Yankees baseball team and New York Knicks basketball team; actor Andy Garcia; boxer Oscar de la Hoya; designer Oscar de la Renta; singer Julio Iglesias; and guests at the Premo Nuestro Awards, among many others.
PRICE POINT: Under $25
SIGNATURE DISHES: Cazuelita de Bacalao Guizado with Sweet Plantain Fufu, Salmon con Casabe (Casabe crusted salmon), Free Form Chipotle Ravioli with Rioja Braised Short Ribs, Arroz con Pollo.
WINES AND COCKTAILS: The wine list will focus on American, South American, and Spanish bottles at an affordable price point; cocktails will be designed by Mamjuana mixologist Roger Gonzeles, whose focus will be on balancing the sweetness of tropical Latin fruits with traditional South American spirits and wines. A Mojito bar on the second floor will feature a Mojito bar inspired by seasonal flavors.
AVAILABILITY FOR PRIVATE PARTIES: The second floor will be available for private events, as well as off- and in-premise catering.
TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY: Both will be available
HOURS: Lunch 11:45 AM – 3PM 7 days a week; Dinner 5 – 12PM Monday through Thursday, 5PM – 1AM Friday through Saturday, and 5 – 10PM on Sunday. Brunch will be introduced shortly after opening.
TOTAL CAPACITY: 70 seats downstairs, and another 50 on the 2nd floor, including seats at the Mojito bar.
CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED: All major Credit Cards
It’s no surprise that, in an effort to unite the myriad flavors of South America and the Caribbean, chef Ricardo Cardona and owner Nino Selimaj chose cassava as their fugue—an ingredient to come back to over and over again, to reveal its multifaceted permutations, and even inspire the very name of their first joint venture: Casabe Bistro Latino. After all, it’s the cornerstone of nary every Latin comfort food—an under-glorified ingredient due its star turn in the increasingly chic world of Nuevo Latino flavors. Named for the traditional yucca-based breads commonly eaten in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, Casabe is Cardona and Selimaj’s ode to refined Latin comforts and traditions—a lively spot where the food and the music exude a festive environment worth coming back to.
Housed in the same space that once held Nino’s 208, Casabe is very proudly the sum of its esteemed parts. A prominent fixture of the Manhattan restaurant scene, owner Nino Selimaj humbly started his career as a dishwasher in a small eatery on East 58th Street—it’s the same street he fatefully finds himself returning to today, after developing a successful portfolio of much-cherished Italian gems like Nino’s Positano, Osso Buco, and Nino’s Tuscany. Assisting him with his first foray into Latin American cuisine is Chef Ricardo Cardona (Sazon, Sofrito, Mama Juana NY), whose twenty-five years of experience developing Manhattan’s Nuevo Latino scene have led him to this, his latest venture. Together, the duo bring their personality into each aspect of the restaurant’s execution, from food to ambiance to décor.
The bi-level interior by Nick Grande offers an elegant bistro feel with a Latino flair, the space features a vibrant color palette with green and yellow hues, a tiled floor, and chic banquettes. Overall, the atmosphere can be best described as “modern with a tropical kiss.” There is a wonderful working fireplace, an elevated level by the window with a view of passersby and comfortable booths and tables.
It only takes a few steps into the restaurant to understand you’re in for a fun ride: from the salsa and bossa nova overhead to the warm Latin reception, the tone is set for an evening filled with sabor. Open your appetite with an artfully concocted drink at the Mojito bar upstairs—the Coco New York (Ciroc coco, Godiva white and crème de cacao) or the Yerbabuena (Red Peach Bacardi, Strawberry-kumquat puree, mint and lime) have proven to be early favorites. Then make your way towards the main dining room—where the show really begins.
The menu revolves around refined Latin comforts, incorporating the diverse flavors of Latin America: the Caribbean, Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Mexico all play major roles. Riffing off dishes that he’s custom created for the likes of Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, the Yankees, and Oscar de la Renta, Cardona bridges authentic flavors with a modern sensibility.
Start with an upscale twist on tacquitos, or veer towards the Argentinean inspired empanadas, with fusion flavors like pork and sweet plantain or eggplant and goat cheese. Cuban Tamales get a similar haute treatment as the Tamalito con Langosta, served here with a lobster enchilado filling and topped with garlic and lime crema, sweet pepper, sofrito, and truffle oil. Call it umami or dub it delicioso—it’s a must-try no matter the language.
Equally successful are the Arepas, or sweet corn cakes, which bridge distinct Colombian and Jewish flavors (surprising to many, the two do overlap in many communities) when topped with smoked salmon, goat cheese, caramelized onions and fresh caper berries. And for its grand appearance towards the start of the meal, cassava makes a thick, sweet crust for the Camarones en Yuca: tall, towering tails of wrapped-up shrimp set atop a smooth passionfruit chili sauce.
Ceviches carry a singular ability to drive away the winter woes, especially with the tropical fruit flavors they incorporate. Tuna, for instance, gets “cooked” up in a Chipotle Pineapple Mojo, while Salmon is marinated in Aguachile, a reduction made with boiled serranos and jalapenos. Shrimp ceviche is made Ecuadorian style, with spicy fire roasted tomatoes and a shout of orange. Across the board, Cardona says, traditional flavors are “New Yorkified”—a process that both tames down excessive heat and plays up the sophistication quotient.
Cazuelitas are the perfect foray into the kitchen’s most substantial flavors—in Latin tradition, the cast iron skillets are both the cooking and serving vessel. Here, they’re filled with Filet Mignon cooked with red wine and cabrales, a strong Spanish blue cheese, or more casually, crab and spinach queso fundido, to be scooped up with an array of homemade malanga, yuca and plantain chips.
But of course, it’s the entrees that drive home the joy and comfort of good Latin cooking. Bistec Latino, a beef paillard topped with balsamic and onion escabeche, will strike any Spanish speaker as reminiscent of home—kicked up a notch. With its accompaniments of sweet plantains, avocado, rice and beans, it’s the perfect example of Latin food done right. Salmon gets encrusted in yuca—and served atop a yuca manchego mash. With a dash of Coconut Creole sauce to invigorate familiar flavors, it’s a surprise twist to keep returning to. Perhaps the chef’s favorite dish, Cordero, yields a criss-crossed quartet of Frenched lamb chops, perfectly seared and served atop a colorful bean stew: a balance of indulgence and comfort.
A word to the wise: Save room for dessert. Turning savory ingredients into sweet superstars is a talent of the Casabe kitchen, where plantains become spongy bread pudding with caramelized chunks of freshly braised fruit, all topped with vanilla ice cream and a syrupy plantain sauce. It’s not unlike the more familiar banana variety—a pleasant surprise that makes sense, after all. Traditionalists may prefer the chocolate molten cake, enhanced here with cajeta—a condensed milk syrup—and chipotle. And for its final chorus, close the meal with just a little more cassava—this time in its sweet, ground form, so much more commonly known as tapioca. A Pina Colada inspired treat, the pearls are layered with fresh pineapple and shaved coconut like a bubble-based martini.
Casabe Bistro Latino is located at 208 E 58 Street in Midtown East, and is open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5PM to 11PM, Friday and Saturday from 5PM to 12AM, and Sunday from 5PM to 10PM. Casabe is also open on weekdays for lunch from 12PM to 3PM. Brunch will launch in December. For reservations, please call (212) 750-7766 or visit www.casabeny.com
Copyright 2010 By PunchIn International. All Rights Reserved.