Last Saturday, a college friend of mine and her partner invited me to a private menu tasting at their new upper west side eatery; Hey Mambo. From the same proprietor as Artie’s kosher delicatessen (2290 Broadway, between 82nd & 83rd). I arrived around 7:30pm, the warm orange glow from the light of the resturant facade stood out where once the disheveled Blue Donkey Bar once stood. This place is sexy, tailored and inviting. Often, details are overlooked, but one walk past the beautiful cow-hide covered bar stools and I knew that this would not be the case at Hey Mambo.
We sat, I was able to bring a guest, my fellow UrbaneNewYorker – ‘Doc’ accompanied me to this tasting. The wait staff was immediately attentive, making suggestions on the brand new menu; staters and cocktails. I ordered the Amsterdam, unamed after the avenue running just outside, a wickedly delicious mixture of blackberry, mint and Jack Daniels. The perfect cocktail for me, too many bartenders focus on the alcohol these days, but this is about taste and flavor. I can only describe it as easy to drink. Something delicious in your glass, but also helps to make your night more enjoyable/smooth. Sorry to get all romantic on a drink, but it was just that damn good. A must try, if you visit anytime soon. I have a feeling the cocktails will change with the season at Hey Mambo. By the way, the bartender is a Trini. Had to shoot that out. Also, the aged balsamic vinegar that came with the table focaccia bread – delicious!!!
The walls are covered in carefully considered orange and turquoise paint and dark stone tiles. The tables have a beautifully lacquered finish and the chairs hint slightly at the exotic. To the back of the restaurant I notice a huge glass wall of doors leading to what I can only assume to be at outdoor patio. The head chef stops by for a moment to say hello and when asked what is good on the menu, he proudly proclaims, “everything.” Just then the owner and my friend walked in and the night was really about to get started. By the way, just to say something about the ownership at Hey Mambo, he paid his head chef for 10 months before the restaurant even opened. It is rare to meet a savvy business person, who also has a good moral compass. Cheers to that!
Next we ordered pretty much every starter on the menu, for me it was the duck confit and baby octopus salad. Doc ordered the swordfish carpaccio with citrus fruit segments. My other friends, the shrimp cigarrar and goat cheese salad. All were superb, my only minor suggestion is the swordfish itself, doesn’t have enough inherent flavor to carry all of the beautiful flavors in that well composed and thought out dish. However, it’s a departure from tuna and hamachi, which to me shows a chef willing to try new things. My octopus was tender and flavorful. I’m a sucker for grilled octopus, I will order it every single time. The duck confit is succulent as meat cooked it its own fat should be and it is paired with the perfect green; frisée.
In perfect time, the main dishes begin to roll out. I ordered the braised beef short ribs with potato purée, tender and the sauce had such a depth of flavor as only slow cooking, aromatics and a bottle of red wine can produce. My table had pretty much every dish on the menu again. I sampled the pasta, salmon, baked pasta, but the star was a pan-seared diver sea scallop. It was served with a creamy polenta that brought out the natural sweetness of the scallop. I will go as far to say, it was one of the best dishes I have had all year and this is coming from someone who eats out quite a lot. This dish is a revelation.
Somewhere, in between this incredible meal, I slipped away with my friend for a tour. She took me past the open well appointed kitchen to the backyard space with its beautiful reclaimed wood pieces of furniture. Mentioning that they were in the process if getting heating lamps for early spring and late summer. And within those seasons, this is the place to dine at hey mambo. Downstairs, in an enormous prep kitchen. All the appliances were flown in from Italy and there is colorful Italian terrazzo tile everywhere. There is a wine and liquor vault and a private office for the owner. Again, spare no expense. I might also add, the bathrooms are covered in floor to ceiling marble, not tile but slabs of marble. Beautiful details.
As dinner progressed, it was a wonderful opportunity to talk and catch up personally and professionally with a group of people in my circle know as the ‘super friends’. We met while getting our undergraduate and masters degrees. We all have nicknames and it made my night retelling stories on how we met, how this one came to be known as Muffin, how I came to be know as ‘Bago, even Doc left with a new nickname and cracking jokes. The music playing was a perfect compliment to the cuisine and resturant name; Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, but when a Bob Marley vibe hit the sound system, the owner aka ‘Mr. Whistle’ of south beach fame, turned it up. And with that, what seemed like a short time, nearly four hours flew by as a medley of deserts was brought to the table. Tiramisu, creme brûlée and a warm chocolate tart – all delicious. I had the creme brûlée was dots of vanilla beans, like sweet desert caviar. Some delicious lattes, capacino and hey mambo’s own liqueur infused coffee and with that, ended a perfectly delicious night.