Midnight Snack: Fondue and Its Ilk in the East Village
Chances are high that if you're in any semblance of a relationship (real or imaginary), the days ahead are going to be filled with some combination of hand-holding, adoring stares, and breathless whispers. A guy or gal is bound to get hungry after so much endless romance, and one of the sexiest ways to refuel is fondue—or the Swiss art of shared cheese-dipping—and its many cultural counterparts. With a reputation for late nights and a number of different cuisines represented in the 'hood, the East Village offers a convincing argument for getting cheesy with the apple of your eye.
To wit, the pimento cheese dip ($11) at Peels is a dish that would surely get Paula Deen in trouble with her handlers. Modestly browned and speckled with chives, the ramekin of broiled sharp cheddar and cream cheeses ups the spice ante with a pinch of cayenne pepper that rounds out the zesty pimentos that form the plate's foundation. While not silky smooth, what it lacks in lustful texture it more than makes up for in taste. The toasted hunks of rosemary olive oil bread retain a lovely springiness behind such generous char, and in contrast to the dip's richness the whole affair exceeds its Depression-era beginnings. To cut through that palate bomb, the almond rickey ($5) offers a refreshing twist on the tart original, with nut syrup balancing out a barrage of fresh citrus.
At the Mercadito flagship on Avenue B, a seat at the L-shaped bar puts you in front of Mesh, the shaggy-haired bartender who generously doles out cocktails curated by local beverage consultancy Tippling Bros. Continue the festivities with an order of queso fundido ($13.50), broiled chihuahua and oaxaca cheeses that stretch with the cartoon elasticity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pizza. You can have your bubbling cauldron of queso topped with mushrooms or crumbles of soft, intensely-spiced chorizo. An accompanying tomatillo salsa adds acidity, and the mixture gets spooned into soft, miniature corn tortillas warm from the oven.
With its primarily French wine list, bordello red glow and Gothic decor, The Bourgeois Pig is a tony feather in parent company DeRossi Global's shimmering boa, which also includes neighborhood gems Mayahuel and Death & Co. Settling into one of the plush loveseats or throne-like chairs is decadent enough, but the interesting selection of fondues are a draw on their own. A heady, silky concoction, the rarebit fondue ($24) comes spiked with Maredsous 8, a yeasty dubbel Belgian beer and another weapon in many a brewer's arsenal, grains of paradise, which lends an understated peppery zing. The accompanying platter of snacks and dipping foods is worth the price of admission alone: toast points, pretzels, herbed potatoes, cornichons and pickled vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots and cauliflower. The beer's sweetness mellows out the cheese's sharper notes, and the burner lapping away beneath ensures that the fondue stays a pleasingly molten consistency.
When temperatures drop, nothing beats bundling up with your special someone and taking the plunge into a night of dairy-laden sensuality.