La Cabra in East Village

La Cabra is a Denmark-based coffee shop that recently opened a NYC outpost in the East Village. It has all the credentials of a proper coffee shop – a commitment to sourcing the best beans, refining its roasting technique to maximize the beans, being mindful of the seasonality of the beans, etc. But what really brings me back repeatedly to La Cabra are the baked goods. I always look inside the display case, intending on buying just one pastry to bring back home, but then I end up buying two or three. The pastries are that good. There is a very minimalist Nordic aspect to them. They’re not cute sweet buns with smiley faces or beautiful cakes with meticulously pipetted icing. They’re straightforward in their visual presentation but there are subtle layers to the flavors and textures that make them very memorable. La Cabra is a coffeeshop first and foremost, but in my opinion, it is one of the best bakeries in New York City.

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It’s a Meal in a Box – Box Kite in East Village

Box Kite is a coffee shop by day, and a serious-minded dinner destination by night. It’s as random as it sounds, but don’t let the makeshift set-up fool. The food here is highbrow and experimental, and impressively executed in a tiny prep area.

You could easily miss this place, mistaking it for a small neighborhood wine bar or not even seeing it at all. But people are eating real food in this tiny restaurant, and from Thursday to Saturday there are two seatings at 7 and 10 pm for a 10-course tasting menu. We dropped by on a Tuesday night, and we managed to get seated without a reservation. The fact that Box Kite is obscured by a coffee shop store front means it keeps a low profile, at least for the moment, so tables are still easy to come by.

The menu changes often, depending on the whims of the well-trained chefs (formerly of Roberta’s, Acme and Empellon Cocina). We decided to start with an order of the olives, and to try the scallops, the steak and the octopus. A little bit of Mediterranean surf-and-turf for the night. I’m not big on olives, but the ones served at Box Kite were warm, plump and deliciously salty. The slight hints of citrus and fennel brought a new, bright dimension to a classic starter.

box kite - warm olives
warm olives with citrus and fennel

The scallop was undisputably excellent. This isn’t the conventional, safe, seared on the outside version that most restaurants serve. There’s a clean flavor to these scallops, in which the light, foamy qualities of their saltwater surroundings are remarkably preserved. The sweetness and depth of the green tomato marmalade was a nice complement to the briney, airy flavor profiles of the dish. Each ingredient was thoughtfully incorporated to make a very favorable impression.

box kite - scallops
scallops with whey dashi, basil-seed, zucchini

The presentation of the octopus was quite dramatic–the large octopus tendril itself was shrouded beneath a forest of black radish slices, which seemed to be a visual representation of tentacles. A dark pool of jet-black squid ink mayonnaise only enhanced the foreboding effect. The flavors lived up to the visual effect–the octopus was thick and meaty, and the mayo provided a salt-water unctuousness that was filling and satisfying. The small herbed potatoes and the crisp flavors of the radish helped the dish maintain a balance so that it didn’t swerve into the overly rich and robust territory.

box kite - octopus
octopus with nero mayo, potato confit, black radish

The flat iron steak was prepared in a more familiar way–the meat was cooked medium rare, rendering it juicy and tender. The mustard greens provided a nice, sharp pop that complemented the thick and concentrated jus sauce. The onions also brightened up the dish, although they weren’t as prominent in the dish as I would expect.

box kite - steak
flat iron steak with onions and mustard greens

We ended the meal with the thai iced tea panna cotta, which tasted like an orange sorbet. The flavors were pretty mellow, although once in awhile there were pieces of intense marmalade that grabbed your attention. The nuttiness of the crunchy marcona almonds was a nice textural touch, although overall the dessert didn’t make quite as big of a splash as the three savory dishes.

box kite - thai iced tea panna cota
thai iced tea panna cotta

I was impressed by my meal, and even more blown away by the fact that it was prepared in such tight quarters. I guess with enough talent you can make it work under any conditions. The size certainly limits the scale with which the restaurant can serve customers, but it looks like the staff is quite content with the current operations.They want to make food their own way without being slaves to a profit-churning machine. I guess I respect that–sort of like how the Craigslist founder doesn’t want to monetize his business, he just wants to keep people happy with free missed encounters posts. But if more and more people hear about Box Kite, then it might have to confront these issues head on.

Box Kite Cafe
115 St. Marks Place (between 1st and Ave A)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 574-8201