Time to Step Up to the Plate For a Chic Latin-Asian Blend

082205 article moira Time to Step Up to the Plate For a Chic Latin Asian BlendIf you wander into Plate NYC during the day, you won’t find a restaurant; you’ll find a shop and a bar. The shop, on Elizabeth Street just below Houston, sells a small but broad range of goods, from women’s clothes, jewelry, knick-knacks for the house, chocolates and “collectibles” to wedding cakes and gowns to order. While you’re making up your mind what to buy, you can relax over one of the exotic house cocktails—a cactus margarita, perhaps, or a Raging Cubano made with rum and ginger beer, or a vanilla-banana-infused saketini. These slide down as innocently as a cocktail at Trader Vic’s—and no doubt act as a spur to many an impulse purchase, such as a skateboard upholstered in soft, gaily striped leather, or a silver bug pin the size of a sparrow.

After 5, the stuff gets packed away, the music’s turned up, the candles are lit, and lo and behold—a restaurant! Waiter! Another round of margaritas, and bring on the pupu platter!

Indeed, a pupu platter was a special the other night. I last had one of these at Trader Vic’s, where we crouched around flickering sterno like Boy Scouts on a jamboree. Instead of marshmallows on sticks, we turned skewers of beef and shrimp over the flames and got ever more befuddled on drinks that had names like Suffering Bastard and Black Widow.

Plate NYC delivers its pupu platter, appropriately, on a plate. It’s a sampling of some of the kitchens’ greatest hits, served with spicy peanut and mojito sauces: gulf shrimp in a crunchy coconut batter, skewers of lamb and chicken marinated with chipotle, brown sugar and onions, slices of juicy grilled skirt steak and pineapple-marinated baby back ribs. In the middle was a mound of sumptuous brown sticky coconut rice fried with vegetables.

At Trader Vic’s, we might have ordered deep-fried “cheese bings.” Instead, Plate NYC offers croquettes filled with Serrano ham and manchego and served with a roasted red pepper dipping sauce. Pleasantly salty and not at all greasy, they made for first-rate bar food.

Chef Ricardo Hernandez, formerly at Canteen, also mans the stoves at Soho Cantina, a Mexican restaurant on Prince Street. His food is a blend of Latin and Asian, and it’s full of personality and style. He divides the menu here into small plates, plates for sharing, main dishes and bowls.

A wonderful tuna carpaccio was a good start. It was spread out on a plate under a salad made of watercress and sliced nectarine, with a creamy sesame miso vinaigrette dressing piped around the side. The sweetness of the fresh nectarine, the peppery watercress and the salty vinaigrette provided a lovely foil for the tuna. Salmon tartare came with refreshingly crunchy lotus root and a maracuya (yellow passion fruit) vinaigrette that nicely cut the richness of the fish. A ceviche tasting one evening consisted of strips of tilapia in blood orange, shrimp with soy and scallops with grapefruit, all marinated in a base of jalapeño, red onion, cilantro and lime.

Mr. Hernandez has created an intriguing Asian-style paella, made with jasmine coconut rice, crispy bits of Chinese sausage, chicken, mussels, clams, shrimp and soy beans. It gets its golden color from annatto instead of saffron. It was very good. Less appetizing was the lobster mofongo with mashed plantains. The sour-sweet taste of a Caribbean spiced mojito sauce was interesting, but the dish as a whole fell a little too much on the sweet side for my taste. But I loved the grilled skirt steak, which arrived with a pink grapefruit and onion salad covered with herbs, and the lightly spicy rock shrimp tempura with a jalapeno-ginger ponzu.

To go with this food, there’s a choice of sakes and an international wine list that’s strong on Spanish reds. Plate NYC has a “cocktail stylist,” Christopher Baljag, who puts together concoctions with fresh fruit purées, flavored ice cubes and infused sakes. The most expensive cocktail on the menu is a Ruby Red, made with vodka and grapefruit juice. I asked if it was actually made with red grapefruits, since they went out of season in May. She brought over a cocktail that wasn’t pink at all, but seemed to have been made with regular grapefruit juice. Sixteen dollars—oh, well. For dessert, we had a chocolate plate that included a curious beggar’s pouch filled with white chocolate mousse and a marvelous dark melting chocolate brownie.

Plate NYC is a long, narrow restaurant, and it’s divided like Gaul into three parts. The front of the restaurant accommodates the store and the bar, the middle area houses the main dining room, and in the back there’s an enclosed garden patio under a tent-like roof of silver quilted padding hung with white Japanese lanterns. The dining room is all gray and wood tones, with a long, communal table dominating the center. An air duct wrapped in silver snakes around the ceiling, and a futuristic chandelier made with red glass bubbles dangles from it. Tables are set with aluminum chairs and banquettes that form low booths. By the bar are three blank screens with red lights on top, like X-ray screens in a doctor’s office. Six gorgeous young women sat at the communal table one night. In the back, there was a wedding party—dress and cake presumably provided by Plate NYC.

This restaurant is perfectly suited to its locale—a once predominantly Italian neighborhood that has undergone so many changes in the past several years, as the boutiques selling designer clothes and shoes have replaced most of the family butchers and pasta merchants. The buildings here are mercifully too small to allow the chain stores to invade. That leaves just enough room for a place like Plate NYC to set up shop and fit right in: It’s eccentric, chic and eminently likable.

If you wander into Plate NYC during the day, you won’t find a restaurant; you’ll find a shop and a bar. The shop, on Elizabeth Street just below Houston, sells a small but broad range of goods, from women’s clothes, jewelry, knick-knacks for the house, chocolates and “collectibles” to wedding cakes and gowns to order. While you’re making up your mind what to buy, you can relax over one of the exotic house cocktails—a cactus margarita, perhaps, or a Raging Cubano made with rum and ginger beer, or a vanilla-banana-infused saketini. These slide down as innocently as a cocktail at Trader Vic’s—and no doubt act as a spur to many an impulse purchase, such as a skateboard upholstered in soft, gaily striped leather, or a silver bug pin the size of a sparrow.

After 5, the stuff gets packed away, the music’s turned up, the candles are lit, and lo and behold—a restaurant! Waiter! Another round of margaritas, and bring on the pupu platter!

Indeed, a pupu platter was a special the other night. I last had one of these at Trader Vic’s, where we crouched around flickering sterno like Boy Scouts on a jamboree. Instead of marshmallows on sticks, we turned skewers of beef and shrimp over the flames and got ever more befuddled on drinks that had names like Suffering Bastard and Black Widow.

Plate NYC delivers its pupu platter, appropriately, on a plate. It’s a sampling of some of the kitchens’ greatest hits, served with spicy peanut and mojito sauces: gulf shrimp in a crunchy coconut batter, skewers of lamb and chicken marinated with chipotle, brown sugar and onions, slices of juicy grilled skirt steak and pineapple-marinated baby back ribs. In the middle was a mound of sumptuous brown sticky coconut rice fried with vegetables.

At Trader Vic’s, we might have ordered deep-fried “cheese bings.” Instead, Plate NYC offers croquettes filled with Serrano ham and manchego and served with a roasted red pepper dipping sauce. Pleasantly salty and not at all greasy, they made for first-rate bar food.

Chef Ricardo Hernandez, formerly at Canteen, also mans the stoves at Soho Cantina, a Mexican restaurant on Prince Street. His food is a blend of Latin and Asian, and it’s full of personality and style. He divides the menu here into small plates, plates for sharing, main dishes and bowls.

A wonderful tuna carpaccio was a good start. It was spread out on a plate under a salad made of watercress and sliced nectarine, with a creamy sesame miso vinaigrette dressing piped around the side. The sweetness of the fresh nectarine, the peppery watercress and the salty vinaigrette provided a lovely foil for the tuna. Salmon tartare came with refreshingly crunchy lotus root and a maracuya (yellow passion fruit) vinaigrette that nicely cut the richness of the fish. A ceviche tasting one evening consisted of strips of tilapia in blood orange, shrimp with soy and scallops with grapefruit, all marinated in a base of jalapeño, red onion, cilantro and lime.

Mr. Hernandez has created an intriguing Asian-style paella, made with jasmine coconut rice, crispy bits of Chinese sausage, chicken, mussels, clams, shrimp and soy beans. It gets its golden color from annatto instead of saffron. It was very good. Less appetizing was the lobster mofongo with mashed plantains. The sour-sweet taste of a Caribbean spiced mojito sauce was interesting, but the dish as a whole fell a little too much on the sweet side for my taste. But I loved the grilled skirt steak, which arrived with a pink grapefruit and onion salad covered with herbs, and the lightly spicy rock shrimp tempura with a jalapeno-ginger ponzu.

To go with this food, there’s a choice of sakes and an international wine list that’s strong on Spanish reds. Plate NYC has a “cocktail stylist,” Christopher Baljag, who puts together concoctions with fresh fruit purées, flavored ice cubes and infused sakes. The most expensive cocktail on the menu is a Ruby Red, made with vodka and grapefruit juice. I asked if it was actually made with red grapefruits, since they went out of season in May. She brought over a cocktail that wasn’t pink at all, but seemed to have been made with regular grapefruit juice. Sixteen dollars—oh, well. For dessert, we had a chocolate plate that included a curious beggar’s pouch filled with white chocolate mousse and a marvelous dark melting chocolate brownie.

Plate NYC is a long, narrow restaurant, and it’s divided like Gaul into three parts. The front of the restaurant accommodates the store and the bar, the middle area houses the main dining room, and in the back there’s an enclosed garden patio under a tent-like roof of silver quilted padding hung with white Japanese lanterns. The dining room is all gray and wood tones, with a long, communal table dominating the center. An air duct wrapped in silver snakes around the ceiling, and a futuristic chandelier made with red glass bubbles dangles from it. Tables are set with aluminum chairs and banquettes that form low booths. By the bar are three blank screens with red lights on top, like X-ray screens in a doctor’s office. Six gorgeous young women sat at the communal table one night. In the back, there was a wedding party—dress and cake presumably provided by Plate NYC.

This restaurant is perfectly suited to its locale—a once predominantly Italian neighborhood that has undergone so many changes in the past several years, as the boutiques selling designer clothes and shoes have replaced most of the family butchers and pasta merchants. The buildings here are mercifully too small to allow the chain stores to invade. That leaves just enough room for a place like Plate NYC to set up shop and fit right in: It’s eccentric, chic and eminently likable.