SALON HECHO: This Cantina Knows a Good Cocktail
Nearing its first anniversary, the Mexican cocktail bar offshoot of the successful Hecho en Dumbo restaurant, Salon Hecho, brings the good cocktail to lower Manhattan. Owner Ethan Smith and his wife Monica Ramos (who is from Mexico) are married to Mexican authenticity, which is illustrated in the rapid boom of their once tiny taco shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It became too tasty for its own good and had to relocate three years later in 2010 to the grander space it now fits in the East Village. They soon felt the food needed a bar counterpart and thus, Salon Hecho was born this October.
Nestled next to its sister on Bowery, Smith and his chef-partner Danny Mena created the classic throwback feeling of a Mexican cantina. Smith said he wanted a sophisticated but relaxed social atmosphere, which he achieved with mixing speakeasy low light and leather booths with rustic wooden domino tables and chairs. The walls are emblazoned with eye candy by young Mexican artists and Mexican bands are showcased nightly - Mexican pride to its fullest.
Smith can also be proud of the cocktails ($11-14) he has thoughtfully concocted. He doesn't see the bother in pressing fresh juice in-house, or allowing avocado leaves and poblano chiles to infuse their mezcals and tequilas in old medicine glass "Botica" bottles. This patience and care radiates with each vibrant drink, which is something I greatly appreciate. (I'm tired of bartenders rolling their eyes when I ask for my Margarita with fresh lime juice, as if the pains of squeezing citrus are unbearably daunting. Heaven forbid I should prefer the real deal to Rose's lime syrup.)
If your are into smoke and spice, you must try Smith's favorite the "Tres Vidas" (the smokey mezcal is a bit too prominent for my taste.) Muddled with spicy smoked chile meco and bell pepper, and balanced with a hint of lime and agave, it definitely makes a piquant impression on the tongue, but was certainly not my favorite.
True standouts were the "Pantera Rosa" and the "Magarita Tamarindo." The "pink panther" was an expert balance of serrano chile house-infused Herradura blanco tequila, the spice mellowed by the tartness of fresh grapefruit juice and a touch of sweet St. Germain liquer, the latter further offset by a salted rim. Each flavor enhanced the other in a layered tasting effect that expanded along the palate with each subsequent sip. So too was the classic blanco magarita jazzed up with the simplicity of house-made tamarind juice (instead of lime) and a rim lined with spiced "chile piquin" powder, its power giving each chug a memorable kick.
Elegance is found in the "Esmeralda," perfectly mellow with flavors that reveal themselves like a blooming flower. Herbaceous basil is elevated by the smokey mezcal into which it is muddled, cool cucumber blending into the background of botanical gin. Rounded out with a pour of lime juice, every element is showcased and enhanced by its complementing ingredients.
Not such a hit was the "Flor Morada," a blend of vodka with hibiscous flower tea, Combier, and lime juice which oddly tasted like an uninteresting vodka-cranberry. For the sweeter palate, go for "El Pasito." Fresh pineapple pieces and cucumber equally emanate through the Hacienda Sotol Plata (agave-originating spirit like tequila) with which they are shaken and strained.
To kick it old school, I thoroughly enjoyed the pure simplicity of "Tequila con Sangrita" and the "Michelada" ($6). The former allows you to sip a neat Reposado alongside a spicy red Bloody Mary mix-like sangrita. Whether you alternate between the two on your tongue or take each in its purest solo shot, the combination is incredible. By the same token, the clean refreshing finish of the icy Modelo beer and lime juice Michelada can not be taken for granted, the salted rim a salivating reminder to savor every gulp.
|Tequila con Sangrita|
As Smith said in his effort to recreate a cantina as an alternative the the typical New York bar, "It is a social setting where friends can gather together comfortably and wile away the evening over fine agave-based cocktails and spirits." To that I can say, a fine job you did.
Salón Hecho - 356 Bowery - NY, NY 10012 - 212.937.4245
All photos by Rebecca Kritzer