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I'm a young professional living in Astoria (formerly of Williamsburg, the UES and Murray Hill - I move a lot!). I'm always looking for something fun to do or the best place to grab a drink and dinner at an affordable price around the city. Have a suggestion? Email me at Laura AT 89thandbroke DOT com.

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Keep the Entrees Coming at Esperanto

Earlier this month, Caryn and I were invited out to try a restaurant in the East Village, Esperanto, over on Avenue C and we brought our friend Tim along.  Esperanto serves Latin American type food and has a casual and comfortable vibe.  To kick off dinner, we started with some cocktails.  I went with a passion fruit margarita, which isn’t typically on the menu, but I was served it instead since the restaurant was out of guava juice.  As someone who is a margarita fan, I enjoyed this twist.

We kicked the night off with some bread and olive oil, and the bread was infused with hot pepper flakes. This olive oil was delicious and I was excited when I learned that this olive oil was available for sale for only $7 – makes a nice little gift (wow, I’ve turned into my mother). I loved this olive oil and found it’s also good for cooking with – substitute it for regular olive oil when doing a simple pasta dish with veggies.z

The staff was friendly, so we asked for their recommendations on entrees and appetizers.  To start, we had the ceviche de la casa, beef empanadas and crab meat in a banana leaf. Our opinions all varied on the appetizers.

The ceviche de la casa was made with snapper, pepper, onion, corn, cilantro, lime juice and spices and was priced at $7.  I’m not very familiar with ceviche; I’ve only had it once at a Yelp event.  I don’t remember the Yelp ceviche being overly citrus-ey, but I felt like with this ceviche, I might as well just drink lime juice straight. Tim and I liked it a lot and found it to be incredibly refreshing. This was the first ceviche I had and i was very pleased. While I couldn’t make a meal out of it, splitting it as an appetizer was nice.

The empanadas ($7) were filled with beef which was great, since I find a lot of other places to leave a ton of filling out.  I enjoyed them and would definitely order again.  Who doesn’t like meat stuffed in dough (except maybe Caryn)? I do in theory, but am not a fan yet of empanadas. Maybe I just want more flavor in there, because the plain meat and dough alone doesn’t do much for me.

Crab meat stuffed in banana leaf

Crab meat stuffed in banana leaf

And then on to this banana leaf stuffed with crab meat ($7.50).  I had no idea how to eat this.  It came out as a green loaf, with the meat stuffed inside. At first I made Tim cut it into thirds, but when that wasn’t working, we realized we had to open it up to get what was inside. I found the crab to be good, but just found the presentation to be a little strange. I understand that by cooking the crab meat in the leaf, it probably absorbed some of the banana flavor, but I would have rather just had the meat in the bowl versus unwrapping the dish as if it were a present. Agreed, this was a little weird. I was really looking forward to it since crab is my favorite shellfish, but I felt it underwhelmed a tad. However, it’s possible that I was an outlier because I saw a bunch of tables ordering the appetizer, so clearly it’s very popular.

While the appetizers weren’t very remarkable, I found my entree to be excellent.  I ordered crab Moqueca Bahiana.  I’m sure an explanation of the dish is needed so this was crab cooked in a pot with coconut milk, dende oil, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cashews and served with rice and farofa ($17.50).  This was absolutely phenomenal.  I was really stressing out that I wouldn’t like it, but it was delicious – very flavorful.  I found myself eating it straight from the pot, rather than mixing it with the rice. I will warn that it is a little rich, so it may be best to split this entree and get something a little lighter to share with someone. Oh my God, did I love this. It was like mixing curry and Latin food together in a delicious rich and creamy dish. We all highly recommend this dish next time you visit Esperanto.

Caryn got the salmon, but since I really don’t like salmon ($15.50), I decided to pass on trying this dish. Tim and I really liked this as well. Our waiter suggested the salmon because it was prepared a bit differently than other places and it did have a wonderful flavor. I’d definitely get it again.

To wrap up the entrees, we suggested that Tim get the carne asada ($16.50).  The servers said this was one of their best dishes, so we looked forward to trying the grilled marinated skirt steak with guacomole and a chimayo salsa.  I found the steak to be good,  but nothing outstanding and I wouldn’t call it the best dish – those honors went to the meal that I ate.  I felt like I could easily make this dish at home if I just asked my roommate to fire up our grill, toss on a steak and add some guac to the top. Agreed, the seafood dishes were better.

Dessert wrapped up with a passion fruit mousse. This was very refreshing and a nice way to cleanse your palate after a flavorful meal. If you think you’re too full after dinner, trust me, you can still squeeze this in. As Laura said, it’s very refreshing and the light and creamy texture paired with the sweetness of passion fruit makes it an ideal dessert.

Esperanto really tries to make dining affordable with dozens of specials.  Mondays have a $19.99 price fixed menu with half price bottles of wines- and the most expensive bottle of wine is $32 so it’s not like your breaking the bank.  The restaurant is also offering lunch now, with service from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm every Friday.  Starting in April days service will increase to Wednesday – Friday and Monday – Friday in May. Guests can chose from a $10.99 prix fixe lunch special (salad or soup with an entree) as well as the regular menu.  Also, Esperanto offers an affordable brunch for $9.99 – this includes an entree, coffee and your choice of a Mimosa, Bloody Mary, juice, or screwdriver.  Might be a great alternative if the Sunburnt Cow is too crowded.

I really like the effort Esperanto is putting into their menu prices to make dining affordable for all New Yorkers.  I would try it again, but I’m not sure how many of the dishes we had I would order again.  If anything, I’d skip the appetizers and just come in for my little Moqueca Bahiana and dessert.

The Basics
Name: Esperanto
Location: 145 Ave C, between 9th and 10th
Who to bring: Friends
Price: $$ Very reasonable and love the specials
Overall: 3.5 stars.  Like it, but wish more of the dishes were a hit.

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