On a recent evening, a friend at the thumping, packed Salvation Taco—a new Mexican restaurant in the Pod 39 hotel—wondered if the nonlinear service we were experiencing might work as a model for chaos theory, at least at a TED talk. Waiters appeared at our table unpredictably, sometimes with things we’d ordered, and sometimes without.
Restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield are drawing crowds just like they do at the Spotted Pig, the Breslin, and the John Dory. Here, they drafted chef Roberto Santibañez to lend a hand, first offering drinks and snacks on the hotel’s rooftop over the summer, then settling in slowly to an all-day restaurant on the ground floor. The collaboration in the kitchen has led to dishes rooted in traditional Mexican cookery, but not really playing by its rules. A ceviche ($9) of striped bass is dressed in a smooth, green salsa, layered with airy chicharones, and garnished with delicate apple chips. Each bite is brightness and crunch, sweetness and light. So what’s a bit of chaos? When Bloomfield and Santibañez work together, the potential for delicious is high.
Like at Santibañez’s Fonda restaurants, fresh tortillas are pressed throughout the day, and the masa for this—a dough of dried corn cooked with lime—is delivered from Queens. The tortillas are sweet and small, fatter and softer than the commercial kind you’ll find in most of the city’s Mexican restaurants.
An ideal meal will involve a bunch of friends, drinks, and a lot of tacos ($3 to $5), because each one is just three or four bites. Start with blistered cauliflower florets and fried curry leaves on a dollop of gently curried crema, a delightful little taco with an Indian accent. Move along to nuggets of fried sweetbreads and chickpeas. There’s traditional pork al pastor, too, the meat stacked with pineapple on a vertical rotisserie and cooked until it’s sweet and mellow. A soft, yeasted naan sneaks onto the taco menu, too, topped with crisp lamb breast, minced pickled cucumbers, and yogurt.
This is casual drinking food, small plates to keep ordering until you’re full or ready to move on to the next place. If you decide to stay for dessert, there are excellent churros (three for $7), long and spindly, accompanied by a cup of hot, dark chocolate. Cocktails by Sam Anderson are the kind you’d put away on a properly relaxing vacation: horchata laced with coffee and rum in a ridiculous ceramic parrot full of crushed ice. A sort of old fashioned, made with bacanora, is garnished with the biggest citrus twist you’ve ever seen. It hangs from the glass like the tongue of a happy, panting dog.
The restaurant is decorated wildly; it’s ugly-charming with its green ceiling and tchotchke-filled walls. There are geometric rugs on tiled floors, neon couches, and a case of books collected and arranged by color. During the day, the space is very much a midtown hotel lounge, filled with travelers reading the paper and women in sweatpants and fleece-lined boots wheeling around their carry-on luggage. But in the evening, it’s loud with groups of friends eating and drinking (and shouting over what sounds like a Buddha Lounge compilation).
Then it has the feeling of a Bloomfield-Friedman joint, crowded with people nibbling designer chicken feet ($4) dusted with pasilla chiles and presented with a side of lime—a marvelous quandary of bone, meat, and skin. Fried pig ears ($7) are prepared the same way and are far less challenging, but the ears are like snowflakes, and no two are alike. Some end up soft as beignets at the Café du Monde, sweet and puffy, tender and hollow. Others are hard and chewy, sticking to your teeth like candy. There’s no knowing when you’ll see your waitress again, so order them if you get the chance.