Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tales from the Kripta

My junior high Spanish didn't school me on "rayuela," the word for hopscotch. But it's in my vocabulary permanently after a visit to Rayuela, the Lower East Side restaurant that skips between different Latin cuisines to present an intriguing and delicious menu. Rayeula has attracted savvy celebs like Chris Noth, Mo Rocca, Amy Winehouse and sexy Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, who celebrated a birthday there.

The restaurant is modern yet warm, done in pale woods, accented by candles in alcoves that recall a hopscotch pattern and a live olive tree imported from California that stretches toward a second story skylight.

Chef Maximo Tejada, who worked with Nuevo Latino padrino Douglas Rodriguez, calls his cooking "estilo libre" because its a modern, freestyle cuisine completely inspired by Latin styles of cooking and ingredients. We visited the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain and South America with dishes such as a silky ceviche with guanabana and lychee; guacamole spiked with crab, carica (Brazilian papaya) stuffed with duck confit and crab-stuffed piquillo peppers in a tantalizing cilantro allioli.

Oh, and I loved Coming up Roses, a subtle cocktail with rose nectar, lime and champagne created by mixologist Junior Merino. But I really got a kick out of a rare bottle of cava that sommelier and co-ower Hector Sanz pulled out of his stash. Kripta Gran Reserva, created by winemaker Agusti Torello, comes in a stunning amphora-shaped bottle. Sanz assures me that the wine inside the handmade bottle is equally amazing, perhaps the best cava ever created.

You don't have to worry about this wine ever losing its cachet; the only U.S. store I could find with any inventory has just four bottles. I did find a source though for Torello's high-end cava vinegar, made from the same grapes as his famous wines, but sour grapes just aren't quite the same thing.


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