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Casabe Bistro Latino—Laidback, Upscale America Latina

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It was what I wanted from an Upper East Side evening. An estate-like space with a sweeping staircase; succulent, not overly exotic cuisine perfectly paired with wines; VIP treatment at a leisurely pace. Tailored, elderly women squawked meaninglessly at the table behind us. From inside the floor to ceiling front window, we watched limos amble and trendily dressed girls strut by.

At brand new Casabe Bistro Latino, Chef Ricardo Cardona has created a meander of a menu through several Spanish-speaking countries, a refreshingly approachable yet refined array of pan-Latin flavors. Select whatever feels right; it’s all delicious.

The general manager and our host for the evening, Richard, is the always-smiling face of Casabe. He regaled us with his traumatic tale of arriving in the States a Frenchman knowing nothing of wine; he’s since closed his knowledge gap and talks amorously about his favorite varieties. In fact, he practically drowned us in his informed and thoughtful pairings throughout our tasting.

As I mentioned, there are no items un-recommended, but here’s where my date and I started: two taquitos, supple mini tacos of chicken fricassee and crispy fish filet with chipotle sauce, and tuna presented three ways (tirado, tartar, and ceviche).

To me, the tirado is only subtly different than the tartar aside from its drizzle of creamy-spicy sauce; the ceviche stands out with its tropical juiciness. The fish centric dishes paired well with a semi-sweet, effervescent, and vanilla-scented St. Michelle’s Riesling of Pfalz, Germany.

Empanadas here wear an arepa-like corn shell, dressed up on the inside with warm, savory fillings like caper and olive chicken and goat cheese with eggplant. We switched to the Argentinean Urban Uco Torrontes, which smells deceptively flowery and has a simple and oaky taste.

My darling of the evening was the Batata Gnocchi; sautéed rock shrimp, lobster, peas, and yucca dumplings bathe in a sublime butter and piquilla pepper sauce. My date turned his affections on the Cordero, tender lamb chops atop a mountain of whipped potatoes and fragrant four-bean and vegetable succotash. Accompanied by another from Urban Uco vineyards, an earthy Mendoza Malbec, our main course was a pleasant symphony of flavors and textures.

We mostly stuck to wine, but Casabe’s siren of a bartender also served us up tiny “Coco New York” cocktails: Godiva white chocolate liqueur, Ciroc Coco, and cream de cacao. The rest of the specialty cocktail list is equally tantalizing and inventive, so end your evening on a sweet note with one of those and by sharing potent desserts. We sampled sweet plantain bread pudding and chipotle-bourbon flourless chocolate cake, both decadent and memorable. Dessert wine lovers take note of two varieties of Moscatel Malaga, a deliciously sweet wine that’s more nectar than syrup.

Purposefully engaging, Casabe is posh without pretentiousness; the menu of mostly small plates is meant to encourage guests to share and interact. Surprisingly affordable for all its chicness, I’ll be back for more ceviche, empanadas, and to try the Cazuelitas (“little pots”) section of the menu—savory items like shrimp and chorizo or queso fundido with crabmeat. So far, Casabe’s been quiet-ish on weekdays. But it likely won’t be long til you’ll need a reservation at the 120-seat space—especially to enjoy live music on Thursdays in the lofted mojito lounge.

Casabe Bistro Latino
208 East 58th Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
212-750-7766
www.casabeny.com

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