NYC: Contemporary Mexican Eatery The Black Ant Opens in East Village

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Twitter: @AndreaGompf

It seems like every week a new Mexican restaurant is putting down roots in the NYC concrete. Last week, it was The Black Ant, the latest venture from the team behind Ofrenda. Naming your restaurant after a bug might seem confusing to some, but Mexico’s millennia-long tradition of culinary insect treats has been enjoying a comeback in foodie circles.

The Black Ant describes itself as a contemporary Mexican cocina de autor, meaning all of its recipes will originate from its chef duo Mario Hernandez (La Esquina) and Ovidio Amaya, who mix influences from the regional cuisine of Oaxaca with Nuevo Latino style.

According to a press release, their signature dishes will include:

Black Ant Guacamole – Avocado, orange, pasilla, grilled scallions, chicatana salt, and corn tortillas.
Pata de Mula y Cerdo – Blood clams, pied de cochon, bruja-pitona salsa, and chicharron dust
Huarache de Nopal – Grilled cactus pad, black mission figs, asadero cheese, piloncillo chilhuacle marmalade
Tacos de Cocochas – Cod cheeks, Baja-style mango slaw, guacamaya salsa, and garlic aioli
Tacos Enchapulinados – Shrimp chapulin crust, tabiche aioli, avocado, micro carrot salad
Enchiladas de Conejo – Braised rabbit and chilacayote ragout enchilada, guajillo adobo, pickled carrots and onions, and aƱejo cheese
Costilla en Chichilo – Short ribs, chichilo negro, chochoyotes, asparagus, amaranth salad.

The titular ants, dehydrated and imported from Mexico, will also figure in a few select dishes.

I didn’t get to try any of the above at their opening last Wednesday, which seemed designed more to pack the narrow restaurant with a fresa fashion crowd than to really showcase the food. When I arrived at 8pm, eager to sample the promised “cocktails and tempting bites,” the place was already a full-blown scene. A red carpet covered a few squares of sidewalk outside, and people far more groomed and high-heeled than I took turns posing dourly in front of a step-and-repeat.

Inside, the restaurant was stuffed way beyond its seating capacity. People lucky enough to nab tables were brought drinks and small bites by the wait staff, while the rest of us clamored for drinks at the bar like it was last call on a Saturday night. It took three attempts — over the course of 45 minutes — to finally get one of the bites that emerged infrequently (and on tiny trays) from the kitchen. The waiter never said what it was, but from what I could tell it was a gordita filled with a gloppy mixture of pork and black beans that was almost impossible to eat standing up without spilling it everywhere.

On the plus side, the margaritas were strong and the music was good. At the back of the room, in front of a pretty sweet painting of a giant spider, I caught members of NYC-based son jarocho band Jarana Beat performing crowd pleaser Latin covers as an opening act for Bostitch of Nortec Collective. The boys from Los Master Plus were also in town, and dropped in to hang and sample some of the hibiscus mezcalitos.

Unfortunately, none of us made it long enough to actually catch Bostitch’s set — after a couple of hours, more than a couple margaritas, and only one tiny gordita to soak up all the tequila, it was time to decamp for someplace I could actually get a meal.

Which is how I found myself up the street stuffing my face with fried chicken at Blue Ribbon. Guess I’ll have to try The Black Ant’s menu some other time.

The Black Ant
60 Second Ave
East Village
New York