Cozy, funky and mellow are how I would describe Oficina Latina, a surprising Nolita bistro, whose outstanding food at affordable prices reflects the best of Latin American regional cuisine, as conceived by two hip Italians, Paolo Votano and Max Busato, and interpreted by Mexican chef, Abraham Trinidad. Max, also the restaurant’s interior designer, and a colorful figure in his own right, was much in evidence the night we were there, keeping the place humming and diners happy.
A casual hangout that recreates specialties from countries along the Pan American Highway, Oficina Latina also offers an unusually wide variety of spirits. As Beverage Director, co-owner Paolo is the curator of more than 100 tequilas, rums and mescals, the South American wine list and Latin American-inspired cocktails. We sampled a classic Pisco Sour with egg whites, which my colleague thought the best she’d tasted outside of Peru, and a peppery Avocado/Cilantro Margarita drink that tasted as good as it looked. ($15)
The eclectic interior design — with tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, and whitewashed wood – is an informal jumble, but the service is professional and the food well executed, beginning with delicious plantain chips to nibble on while contemplating the wide-ranging menu and enjoying a drink.
Invited to sample the chef’s Tasting Menu, we began with a classic Peruvian Ceviche: lime poached calamari and slices of scallops mixed with celery, cilantro and pineapple. ($10) The portion was ample, and pleasantly crunchy: the yin-yang mix of tart and a touch of sweet from the pineapple really worked for me.
Next came a Uruguayan dish that for many is a delicacy, Pan Roasted Fresh Sardines atop Mixed Greens. ($10) Those of my colleagues who love fresh sardines – and they were many –thought the dish was expertly done but after a couple of bites I discovered I’m not a fresh sardine person, which is okay. It left room for plenty of great food to come. An Argentinean white wine from Mendoza paired well with the sardines.
A Columbian dish, Abrebocas could be a meal in itself. It included fried blood sausage, chorizo and tiny, fried corn cakes (arepitas), served with a crema fresca dipping sauce. ($12) I enjoyed the mix of tastes and textures. The smoky chorizos were probably my favorite item on the plate. The blood sausage could have used a bit more seasoning.
My absolute favorite dish was the Jarrete de Cordero from Mexico, a meltingly soft Lamb Shank braised with vegetables and served with a sweet plantain puree. Amazing! ($23). I scraped the plate. A mellow Cabernet, also from the Mendoza region in Argentina, was a perfect choice to accompany the lamb.
We sampled two outstanding desserts: a sugary home made chocolate flan with fresh whipped cream; and an avocado flan, for those who enjoy their desserts more subtle and less sweet. I am a fanatic avocado lover and was happy to discover yet another way avocados can be deployed. At $ 7 each, these desserts, easily shared, are a bargain.
As a final treat, we were offered the restaurant’s signature “Passion and Love:” ($10) shots of rum served on a mirror with orange slices and “lines” of cinnamon, sugar and coffee – a Columbian specialty (for obvious reasons) which was fun, imaginative and the perfect parting shot before braving a cold night.
I was particularly grateful for the bossa nova style music that played all evening, providing a mellow mood while still allowing diners to chat. I wish every New York restaurant would do the same.
A $12 to $15 Brunch is served everyday from 11 to 3, and prix fix dinners are coming up for Valentine’s Day and Brazilian Carnival. I look forward to going back with friends, and sampling lots of other dishes on their fascinating, creative and affordable menu.
Photos by Eleanor FoaDienstag
Oficina Latina Restaurant
24 Prince Street