36th ave between 32nd and 33rd Street
You know, I am one of those eaters who likes a sweet pea flan as much as a Jack in the Box taco in the right circumstances. I appreciate food from both sides of the tracks, if you will, as long as someone has loved it just a little before it has been dropped on the plate that I eat it from. But I tell you this-- if someone has loved the food a lot, even if it has other flaws.... well then, I am forever in their thrall.
This is the case with the new Aces. Three sets of my friends had directed me here by the time I finally made it in. A bitterly cold Saturday night found me sitting at the bar, alone, and waiting a bit too long to be greeted and offered a drink. (who does a girl have to fuck around here to get a drink?!??!!) But the waitress in me could see that it was just a case of too many customers and one too few waiter types. Truthfully, it was all I could do not to just get up and help them with the room, but I refrained and was glad I did, because it now means that I get to go back and be "the nice lady who tips well" instead of "the impatient lady who had to jump in and waitress because she could not wait for that cocktail."
So, indeed my bartender did arrive, and graciously offered me a drink. I chose a glass of wine, something I realize now was not a mistake, but not my strongest decision. I should have had one of his cocktails. His meaning the bartender/owner, Miguel. The reason being is that he is a damn good bartender, and in a city this big we fall into a false sense of complacency thinking that surely most bartenders are good, but let me tell you straight-- they are NOT. A truly good bartender is almost too good to be true, and you should shower your money and affections on the few who come along. Subsequent visits have brought many Mojitos, and although I have strong feelings about making a bartender use so much fresh mint in the dead of winter, (out of season!!!!) I can get over them for this mojito. He loves that sucker like nobody's business, and you the lucky drinker are thus rewarded. Not only that, but his old fashioneds are damn good too. A drinker's paradise.
That night I ate an app of Risotto-- with Huitlacoche!!!! In Astoria. Dude, huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn in Mexico and is deeeelicious. It is also curiously not present at most restaurants save high end fussy in Manhattan. What a treat to have it here. Creamy risotto-- not too wet, not too dry, with mushrooms and that black funk. Oh yeah. I finished, happily, and slid off my barstool into the night.
In other visits, I have had the clams, cooked in a white wine, butter and chorizo broth that we loved so much we upended the bowl and drank it, (good thing we have no shame) and this fun take on the french frisee et lardons salad, this one with long leaves of Romaine lettuce, poached egg, lardons and a crema fresca dressing. Springy and bright, that salad, plus the added bonus is that after you have broken the egg and it has oozed all over the lettuce, you can use the leaves as a shovel and scoop up the bits of everything else with your hands. It seems uncouth, but truly it is genius. A late night dinner brought the butternut squash soup, a tad salty but good, a gorgeously marbled Ribeye with a rosemary scented jus and some potato puree, and a crusted skate wing with a little too much balsamic redux on the plate but plenty of love nonetheless. And, I would like to mention, I believe that the skate was only $15 and the ribeye $20. That is a steal no matter how you look at it.
So, go see these guys. Take a night off from dining in the glossy halls of manhattan and do a little business in your neighborhood. The drinks are well mixed, the food is simple and well prepared and there is love going on your plate and in your glass. You can get the best, most expensive ingredients in the world and the hottest customers and the best press, but at the end of the day, it is only the guys who truly care about feeding you that make the difference. Go go go to Aces!
Aces: 36th ave between 32nd and 33rd Street
Open 7 days a week for dinner only
Cash only for now.
Pros: food is excellent and off the beaten path. Fresh, well thought out menu with stuff you want to eat. Reasonable prices, large portions, GREAT bartender, owned and operated by people who truly care.
Cons; service can be a bit slow-- kitchen could tighten time between courses. This should improve over time.