September 8, 2008 | Insatiable Critic

Yerba Buena Lures Downtowners Up and Uptowners Down

Yerba Beuna’s ensalada is a luscious gathering sprinkled with citrus vinaigrette. Photo: Steven Richter.
Yerba Beuna’s ensalada is a luscious gathering sprinkled with citrus vinaigrette. Photo: Steven Richter.

      The spiffing up of Avenue A takes a giant leap with the uptown manners and ambition of Yerba Buena. Just hatched, kitchen quickly grooving, it’s already winning regulars. I’ll brave the street’s remnants of grunge for serious cocktails by a professional barman, grown-up impresarios determined to please, and reasonably priced, fabulous Latino food by partner Julian Medina, whose cooking I loved at Toloache. Partner Giovanny Campos has some well seasoned and nicely flirtatious help up front and can be heard hissing and coaching the rookies.  

 
A tipsy toast to the house’s first-rate Pisco sour. Photo: Steven Richter

      I’m a pisco-sour fan and often strike out with amateur bartenders, but I recommend this outsize version in a soup-bowl-size goblet with its froth of organic egg white ($11) by Artemio Vasquez, the house mixologist. Minty yerba leaves stepped for a few hours in Chilean pisco is the secret  (I read it in Shaken and Stirred in the Times on Sunday).

      The unabashedly lumpy guacamole ($9) is good enough (my own foolproof recipe calls for onions), the house-made chips are fantastic (though too salty), and we love the picada - a collection the table can share of yucca croquetas, tostones, pork rinds, and chorizo chunks to dip in a spicy sauce. Most everything is fried…how can you not love it?

 
The good-looking crew isn’t spoiled yet by a stylish crush.  Photo: Steven Richter

      Except for cornmeal-crusted calamari and sweet plantains overwhelmed by sticky, sweet tamarind, our fussy foursome would be thumbs-up all night if thumbs weren’t so busy abetting the enthusiastic eating. Ensalada of jícama, avocado, tomato, and orange in a tangy citrus vinaigrette dosed with yerba buena. Baja-style grouper tacos with jícama-cabbage-and-chipotle slaw, messy to eat but delicious. Savory seafood fideua baked with small macaroni. Malbec beef short ribs with hand-cut shoestring fries. It’s all delicious, though decidedly salty. And tonight’s special parrillada, a sensational mixed grill with rib eye, chorizo, short ribs, and chimichurri that all of us are sharing ought to be upgraded to the menu.  Next time I’ll want to taste the pulled suckling pig in an orange sauce with rocoto peppers. (It’s a rare meal for me these days without pig but now I’ve proven I can do it.)

 
The kitchen sends out marvelous seafood fideua with mini macaroni and chorizo aioli. Photo: Steven Richter.

      I’m not a churros hound, but the three fanatics I travel with are dipping them first in melted chocolate, then dulce de leche salsa and devouring them. Our friend, a spirits writer, is thrilled to see Alcyone on the wine list, a Uruguayan dessert wine she loves. “It tastes like s’mores,” she says offering a dark and syrupy sip to each of us.

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