FOOD: A World of Beer at La Cerveceria

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Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ve probably ordered a cerveza in your day. So you’d be right to assume that a place with a name like ‘La Cerveceria would specialize in wide selection (over 80) of this brewed beverage. But you’d be wrong to assume that beer is all they offer to tickle the tastebuds.

Tucked on the main drag of Second Avenue in the East Village, ‘La Cerveceria’s walls are aptly lined with American and international beer bottles, peering through protective plexi-glass. Monochromatic newsprinted wallpaper provides the backdrop to a sleek black banquet and close-quartered tables.

While the name may be misleading, this three month-old intimately lit beer bar also serves up an impressive and thoughtful menu of Peruvian-slanted Latin cuisine. My meal was enticingly enhanced by a delightfully complex pint of Allagash Curieux golden amber ale aged in Bourbon oak barrels. Set to chill in an ice bucket as any fine wine, er beer, should, the nutty notes of whisky prepared my palate for a savory spread. Though it may appear to be a standard Latin-fusion “tapas” menu, this place proves you cannot judge a book by its cover. The complexity of my elegant ale was echoed in these dishes created by chef de cuisine Harris Mayer-Selinger.

The buttery braised short-rib causa was expertly tender, shredding into morsels on four smooth potato puree pillows flecked with bitter bits of chocolatey cacao beans. Also pleasantly supple was the parilla hangar steak, cut into rare-red medallions bathed in that oh-so-Argentinean garlicky chimichurri sauce. Alongside is a “risotto” style quinoa studded with petite peas, that was not as soft or creamy as one would imagine, but a bit firm. This “al dente” cooked quinoa made a repeat appearance as a generously-sized cold appetizer salad tossed with tangy goat cheese, sliced crunchy almonds and shriveled sweet currants (though the menu reads raisins). The effort can be applauded but the dish as a whole remains lack luster.

Yet nary another misstep was made. All four ceviches – that Peruvian lime-marinated fish specialty – were excellent, though the stand-out was the “Mexican-style” mixing calamari and shrimp in a kicking salsa picante. More Mexican influence was found in the lobster and shrimp guacamole with long peels of perfectly crisp fried plantain chips, though you may be using them more to fish for the finely diced seafood. Echo the fried fare with crunchy dough empanadas encapsulating pine nut-studded savory ground beef or the cheesy variety, featuring the uncharacteristic Pecorino which packed a satisfyingly salty bite.

The seafood truly shined with the surprising shrimp “anticucho” skewers, plump and grilled to a juicy tenderness as they lay upon equally plump and juicy charred sweet pineapple cubes. The only thing that could upstage these were the fantastic fish tacos. A mountainous heap of sautéed (thankfully not batter-fried) white fish pieces so simply assembled with roasted peppers, sharp onion and tart lime was cradled by a supremely soft taco tortilla and colored with a generous green zig zag of avocado sauce. Each taco (four to an order) was nestled in its own cubby along a sleek silver holder, beckoning the praise it deserves.

These positive parts are effortlessly reflected, and amplified, to comprise the whole that is ‘La Cerveceria – a place where the wide world of Latin cuisine is meticulously reigned in with pointed plates that simultaneously encompass culinary complexity and home-cooking comfort. And, of course, darn good cerveza.

La Cerveceria
65 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003