Friday, October 11, 2013

A Hidden Gem: Cafe Condesa

TL;DR: ★★★★★

Despite the inattentive staff, the simply awesome food and romantic-yet-cozy atmosphere makes this place a five-star gem in the West Village.

Food: ★★★★★
Ambiance: ★★★★★
Staff: ★★★★☆

Price: $$
Number of visits: 1

Inside Cafe Condesa
10th St. & 7th Ave.

I checked another item off my list of must-try restaurants this past weekend when I went to Cafe Condesa to celebrate two of my friends' birthdays (happy birthday, Jen and Clara :D). This super cute Mexican-American fusion(-ish) restaurant exceeded my expectations — and they were pretty high to begin with!

We came here on a Saturday evening, with a reservation for 6:30 p.m, which, evidently, was not necessary as the restaurant was next to completely empty. We were obviously seated right away, but as we were dining, more and more people trickled in, and by the time we left, around 7:45 or 8, the place was full — something to keep in mind if you plan on visiting.

Although their modest and sort of rundown sign may make you think otherwise, the interior and setup inside is so incredibly cute and well-done that it'll give you some reassurance that this isn't a not-so-sanitary, sketchy food joint but rather a legit restaurant/cafe. I loved the simple decor (especially the interesting painting of a little girl with the word "PUTA" — Spanish for whore — painted in red) and elegant lights, and the ambiance, dimly lit with candles and several single bulbs hanging from the ceiling (?), gave the entire venue a romantic and homey vibe.

The decor is nothing to rave about compared to the food, though. Off their just-the-right-size menu*, I ordered the pan-seared scallops, and oh my goodness, every bite was fantastic. The scallops were cooked to perfection: very juicy, succulent and just firm enough.

To accompany the scallops, there were two rows of poblano pepper sauce and parsnip (I think) puree vertically lined up in the middle and a cauliflower and brussels sprouts stir fry to complete the dish. The pepper sauce was surprisingly spicy (but not quite up to par with the devil's concoction at Mamoun's or The Halal Guys), which obviously added a great kick to my palette; the parsnip was very creamy; and the vegetables were flavorful but mild enough to cool down the spice from the pepper sauce between bites.

Pan-seared scallops

As you can see (regardless of the shitty lighting), even the presentation of the dish was beautiful. This entree was amazing!

I got to taste my friends' orders too, and I also highly recommend them. The salmon was just as juicy and flavorful as the scallops, and the hanger steak, with the guacamole-like topping, was also delicious.

The prices are another great thing to note about this place. Although a little above my usual budget for dinner (cause I'm cheap), the dishes here are certainly affordable for what they are. For example, scallop entrees for dinner are usually at least $24, right? Sometimes even over $30, yes? Well, these were only $17.75.  Same with the salmon — usually around $22, at least, but here, it was $18.50. Definitely a plus.

The only slightly disappointing about this place was the neglectful and inattentive service. I think I had to ask for a refill on my water at least two or three times, and the staff wasn't particularly polite or nice either. It also took an unusually long time for, well, everything — food, water and check (cash only, BTW) — despite the fact that we were one of only two tables when we first got there.

But, as I said, none of that mattered because the awesome food and ambiance made up for everything. Cafe Condesa also has a great brunch menu*, so I'll definitely be returning for that. 

*Note: Cafe Condesa's menu on their website is outdated (from 2010), so for an accurate version, check out Menupages, linked above.

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