On Friday power was restored to most of lower Manhattan. The very next day I had dinner with friends at La Esquina—the cafe had to close early due to shortages from the blackout, but the brasserie was open late—still going strong after 10 p.m. They had an abbreviated menu, and not enough of them to go around, and were short staffed. And yet the atmosphere was like a party: loud music, noisy conversations, plenty of alcohol. It was as if the entire neighborhood had come out to forget the past week.
The appetizers at La Esquina offer some worthy vegetarian options. Queso fundido ($12), gooey cheese melted in a small cast iron pan and covered in spicy candied pumpkin seeds, is worth the accolades it receives. Sweet, spicy, chewy, and salty, it's easily habit-forming—more so with the accompanying plantain chips.
It's a greasy-in-a-good-way dish, and almost overwhelming, which is why an order of the tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa roja alongside is fitting, almost virtuous accompaniment. The smooth and creamy guacamole was the perfect counterpoint to the queso, helping to soothe the palate and ease the salt overload. The salsa roja came in a large glass bottle bearing the La Esquina brand; it was thin and very heavy on tomato flavor, not so much on heat.
There were a nice selection of small tacos on the menu, but only one entree on my visit. Lucky for me it was a vegetarian one: chile relleno ($18). In this case the huge roasted pablano pepper was stuffed with manchego cheese and served on top of a deceptively deep bowl of quinoa in a tomato broth. It was rich, warm, and comforting, all the things you crave in times of distress.
La Esquina is a fitting place to ease out an anxious week like the last one. And after the blackout, the dark, intimate space felt like a turning point, a step on the road to normality—a vibe that continues in more mundane times as well. Soul-soothing, and vegetarian-friendly to boot.