20. August 2008 Lower East Side, South American, Spanish 0

165 Allen Street between Rivington and Stanton
$103 each for a group of 8, with 3 bottles of wine and tip

As soon as we walked up the steps to sit at our 8-person table, I thought Rayuela had promise. It was a bit too dark to read the menu without holding it up against the lamps, but the lighting made for a very intimate ambiance. We had a reservation and didn’t have to wait to be seated and except to remind the sommelier to bring out our third bottle of wine before our desserts came, service was pretty attentive.

But what about the food? Rayuela bills itself as a Freestyle Latino which “respects yet redefines contemporary Latin American and Spanish cuisines”. It stays loyal to that all throughout their extensive menu but what’s missing was the warmth of home-cooking I’ve always loved about those cuisines.

I probably ordered the best ceviche in the group: Siete Potencies or lobster, shrimp, scallop, crab, clams, mussels and octopus in a green tomatillo sauce. The crab and shrimp ceviche in lychee and guanabana citrus sauce was too sweet for me. Did I already mention that all the ceviches came in martini glasses? I could have done without that style.

I liked my steamed white asparagus with crabmeat, spinach, onions and roasted almonds just fine tossed in a lemon vinaigrette, as well as my octopus and chorizo served with paprika, tomato and olives, which lead me to think that sometimes you should just stay safe rather than sorry. I feel like the more traditional dishes just about made it and the more experimental lacked a coherent bind. Two of us split the duck breast marinated in sugar cane and it didn’t work with the pan-seared foie gras. The arepa was like a hurried addition to make it more Latin. Another person did good damage to her tenderloin, but left all the mushrooms untouched. The Ecuadorian seafood stew, I heard, wasn’t worth the $24 price.

At least the unlisted Malbec bottle the sommelier offered us for under $60 kept the group happy enough to fork over their hundred dollars. Nice try, Rayuela, but I think I’m okay with arroz con pollo that’s not $22.

Related post/s:
Crave Ceviche Bar has some expensive selections but better
Chef Alex Ureña learned his lesson and reopened as Pamplona