Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arcane - Caribbean Flavors in Alphabet City

Arcane - 111 Avenue C, New York NY 10009
L Train to 1st Avenue or 6 train to Astor Place

Having just come back from our Caribbean vacation to the Windward Islands, I was so happy to be invited to a tasting at Arcane, a French Caribbean restaurant in the East Village.  I had a feeling that it'd be a good experience, as past reviews have been favorable and also because the East Village usually goes hand in hand with authentic, ethnic eats.

Although a far walk from the subway, the experience at Arcane is worth the schlep on many levels.  The inside is sexy with lush wood furnishings, including a solid wood bar "sourced from a Ming Dynasty era temple."  The seating is comfortable and casual, fit for small and large parties alike.  I especially liked the native artwork and photography displayed on the walls, as well as the fun (not menacing) voodoo doll collection hand sewn by Christine, one of Arcane's co-owners.

The menu is inventive and versatile, pleasing virtually anyone - but mainly seafood and meat lovers.  It was hard to choose between the enticing options and we were helped with our selections by one of the nice owners.  Our hefty feast consisted of the following dishes, each one of which we really loved.  Although it ended up being too much food, I was glad to try it all.

Appetizers - We tried three apps, which filled our bellies quickly but they were all fabulous starters that I wholeheartedly recommend.  Our app trio included codfish fritters with a slightly spicy cilantro sauce, guacamole with bacalao and grilled calamari.  Out of those, the calamari was the clear stand-out with its smoky seasoning and wonderful char flavor.  I usually don't love grilled calamari as much as fried, as it has the tendency to be fishy or tough but not this one, it was absolutely perfect. 

My close second favorite was the guacamole with bacalao, as it was a very creative combination and the hint of fish was most pleasant in the avocado, providing a smoked, salty bite.  The dish came with a side of fried plantain chips, which served as a nice bed for this interesting dip.

Entrees - Since we got a generous seafood sampling with our apps, we decided on meat entrees.  I ordered their signature, Colobo de Porc, a traditional French-Caribbean pork curry stew and Dan went for the grilled pork chop.  Both were excellent - I loved how the pork in my dish fell apart and each bite had a slightly spicy taste, influenced by the curry sauce.  The side of white rice was a good accompaniment that soaked up the extra curry sauce.

Dan's pork chop was also cooked to perfection with gorgeous grill marks.  I loved how juicy it was and the flavor of the meat was intense - you could tell they used good quality pork (maybe organic).  The tomato salsa condiment was great too, providing freshness and acidity.

Sides - We didn't really need sides with all this food but they sounded so good that we ordered two - the Christophine Gratin and the Banana Gratin.  Both were comforting and decadent with melted Swiss cheese binding their contents together.

I prefered the banana gratin--the bananas were plantains rather, and diluted the richness of the cheese.  The Christophine Gratin, while more unusual, made of a vegetable pear that's popular in the Caribbean, had a mushy consistency and was a bit salty for me.

Dessert - Again, I'm not sure how we managed to get not one but two desserts, choosing a coconut flan and banana flambe.  While the coconut flan was light and palate cleansing with a beautiful starfish fruit and berry compote on top, the banana flambee had more personality.  The bananas were intensely flavored with rum and their warmth was nicely juxtaposed with a scoop of the best rum raisin ice cream I've ever had.  This dessert is a clear winner and I highly recommend it.

Drinks - Arcane has a rich offering of specialty cocktails and many of them incorporate rum, my favorite spirit.  I tried the Lulu, which was a mixture of coconut rum, banana liquor, pineapple juice, orange juice and lime juice.  I'd suggest it to anyone with a sweet tooth--it was refreshing, fruity with a slight kick at the end.  Yum!

Service and Cost:
The service at Arcane was wonderful - our waitress was friendly and hospitable without being pushy.  We also met one of the owners who was welcoming, and as I mentioned earlier, he helped us choose a representative selection of dishes.  I observed the staff when a couple of regulars walked in, and they seemed like close family or friends, the sentiment was that warm.

Costs are excellent, especially given the originality and creativity of the menu.

Appetizers: $5-$10
Entrees: $15-$21
Sides: $4-$5

Arcane also boasts a $19.95 dinner prix-fixe and a $9.95 daily special (except Thursday and Friday).  Sundays offer good value too with a $9.95 brunch, which includes a brunch entree, coffee, OJ and a morning cocktail.

3 Mmmms

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