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Most passive-aggressive restaurant review ever


Staff member
Restaurant Review: Javelina in Gramercy Park


I like Texans. I love their food and their music and their boots. I admire their ability to tame landscapes that are hostile to human life. I respect how quick they are to stick up for their state and its culture. In fact, I may be slightly afraid of Texans. I have no desire to mess with them. I can read the bumper stickers.

Reviewing Javelina, which bills itself as “New York’s first authentic Tex-Mex restaurant,” may have presented me with an unusual conflict of interest. My interest in telling the truth about this establishment could come into conflict with my interest in not having my butt kicked by angry Texans. What if something I didn’t like at Javelina turned out to be the very thing that Texans most love about authentic Tex-Mex? It may get in the way of my earnest desire for my next trip to Texas to be a safe and peaceful one. Lucky for me, I have only good things to say about Javelina.

Javelina, near Union Square, is a godsend for anybody who loves to eat before 6 p.m. or after 9:30 p.m.; since opening two months ago, the restaurant has been talked up so much in the press that those are usually the only reservation times available, even if you book a week or two ahead. You may worry that at those hours the dining room would be depressingly quiet, but that’s not the case. Javelina’s 58 seats always seem to be taken by large groups of people shouting with youthful animation. It always sounds as if somebody were telling a woman at the far end of the table that he had just found $1,000 under the menu, and the woman were shouting back that Ryan Gosling had just texted and he’s coming to the restaurant in, like, five minutes!

How anybody gets drunk enough to act this way is one of several fun Javelina mysteries to keep you entertained. Fresh or frozen, the margaritas have a slight chemical taste that I was thankful for because it tended to keep my own alcohol intake to near-Mormon levels. I also stayed alert and sober when faced with the Tijuana Manhattan, made with tequila in the place of whiskey and served in a rocks glass with no ice at all, even though it was the temperature of a freshly killed snake. While bartenders elsewhere have become insufferable bores on the subjects of ice and proper shaking techniques, the ones at Javelina are refreshingly free of such pretension. Even the water is sometimes served at room temperature.

One night, the bar made me a Paloma in a pint glass, while a woman at my table got her Paloma in a much smaller glass. Everybody knows women drink less than men, so we appreciated the thoughtfulness. To avoid making her self-conscious, I suppose, the restaurant even charged us both the same amount, $13.

At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for. “You didn’t order brisket?” the server asked, keeping up the playful spirit.

One of Javelina’s calling cards, queso, is usually suggested by the servers when taking orders. Occasionally this Tex-Mex cheese fondue is served hot, but more often it arrives lukewarm, which prevents trips to the emergency room. The cooler temperature offers the added benefit of allowing a latex-like film to congeal on top, which provides an interesting contrast in texture with the liquefied cheese below.

Queso is short for chile con queso, so named for the hot peppers that are stirred into the melted cheese. Javelina’s traditional yellow queso is supposed to be flavored with serranos, while a white version is said to come with both jalapeños and roasted poblanos. But spicy food can be hard for many people to digest, so I am relieved to report that both colors are quite bland.

A premium queso called the Bob Armstrong does have some flavor: It tastes like ground beef, which in fact it contains, along with guacamole and chopped tomatoes. The menu said that another loaded queso, the Mag Mud, was supplemented with black beans. I didn’t see them, so I probed the cheese with tortilla chips, digging way down to the bottom. Black beans shouldn’t be easy to lose in a bowl of white cheese. Where were they? About five minutes later, a server placed a bowl of beans on the table. “This is supposed to go with the queso,” he said. Mystery solved!

The chef is Richard Caruso, and his menu looks unmanageably long, but fortunately only a few items on it are worth getting. Puffy tacos, a San Antonio specialty, come out well, with bits of pork shoulder and other taco toppings piled into a deep-fried corn tortilla, crisp outside and soft in the middle. The steak enchiladas are good, too, with a mouthwatering sour-cream sauce all around them. The cilantro-cream gravy around mahi-mahi is comfortingly thick and rich, and the fajitas are just what you’d expect them to be, with one difference: The flour tortillas are outstanding.

Every time I went to Javelina, in fact, those flour tortillas were the best thing on the table. Tender, yielding, pressed in the kitchen and freshly browned on a comal, they are both thicker and lighter than the kind most places use as packing tape to seal up burritos. They are so good that if you happen to accidentally order the tacos filled with pale, cold brisket that tastes more like boiled pork than beef, you can simply tear off chunks of the tortilla and eat them on their own.

Corn tortillas are used in the enchiladas de Tejas, and they really made me appreciate how good the other tortillas are, because these are as stiff as a new pair of jeans. They were filled with equally sturdy melted cheese and blanketed with a chile sauce that would make a wonderful way for Mexican cooking teachers to show students what happens when you try to toast dried chiles and end up burning them instead.

There is no dessert menu, so every table is supposed to get a plate of sopaipillas, on the house. I got mine once out of three visits, just the right ratio to bring a tremor of anticipation to the end of the meal.

The best news of all, for anybody who hates waiting around to settle the tab: There is no need to ask for the check. It is dropped without warning as soon as the last dirty plate has been cleared, and sometimes even earlier.

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room


TRIBE Member
My real good friends works at a certain Oyster place in Toronto. They got a pretty impressive passive-aggressive review. For the #1 spot at that. In NOW magazine.