There have been cafes in New York City that are starting to moonlight as full-time restaurants lately, some to great effects. I have yet to check out what Fair Weather Bushwick has been doing lately, and I regret that I didn’t get to try the dinner from the duo at Box Kite café before they moved to open Bruno Pizza. When I first stepped into El Rey, it was already packed despite the small size of the space. I was quoted an hour to hour and a half wait at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Well, my dining companion and I weren’t that hungry, so we just killed time at a new cocktail pub named Suffolk Arms nearby before we got there slightly before 8 p.m. I didn’t really know what to expect from this place; there is nothing that suggests it is a serious restaurant. Don’t let the appearance fool you; El Rey’s food will surprise you greatly for a very positive dining experience.
The menu at El Rey looks like what a skinny girl in yoga pants would eat every day, California-style, vegetable-focused (read: almost no meat). The food here, however, is anything but boring. I’m not a fan of greasy chicarrones in general, but I can’t to this day stop thinking about the vegan chicarrones with hot sauce, cashew crema, pickled plum and peanuts that the kitchen put together. It was a marvelous dish, with each ingredient working so harmoniously together. I was afraid that I might get stuffed just munching on the pieces. Shaved cauliflower with chickpea vinaigrette, white sesame and poached egg was also quite delicious. I try to get my intake of cauliflower whenever I can during weekdays (so I can feast on weekends), but I’ve never had the kind of clean flavor this dish offered.
Papas bravas were not some pedestrian potato dishes either, as I absolutely enjoyed the mix of potatoes with pickled pineapple hot sauce, scallions and cashew crema. While the menu is almost devoid of meat, there were some seafood-based dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed. Sardines tostada was fresh, and again worked well with the carrot top dressing, peppers and radishes to generate satisfyingly clean flavor. Octopus salad with “black bean” puree and tomatillos was just as good, with tender, juicy octopus that was seasoned just about right, i.e. no overseasoning that could’ve killed the texture. Even a slice of banana bread for dessert was a very delightful dish, although I wished I could’ve witnessed more ingenuity of the kitchen in the dessert section.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations and the tiny space is fully booked at all hours, so my suggestion is to come early or be prepared to wait at a bar nearby. There are some decent beer and wine selections that you can choose from. I recently learned that chef Gerardo Gonzalez who was helming the kitchen left to pursue other projects. I couldn’t tell whether the kitchen was running without him on the day I visited, but what a shame given how much satisfaction I drew from my dining experience. I wonder if the kitchen will be able to pick up where it left off once they pick a capable successor.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 100 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002
Telephone: (212) 260-3950