"After Movida closed, I was just nursing my wounds; I didn't want to do the club thing," Swamy says. "I've always had a passion for Latin culture and cuisine and have traveled extensively to South America, Spain and the Caribbean. I really enjoy the food and ambience."
Now, while Swamy has done his best to re-create that sort of atmosphere, no one at Cantina is reinventing the wheel by offering standard Latin-inspired fare in a small, deliberately dilapidated space downtown. And yet few can doubt the restaurant will be packed with hungry hipsters, eager for empanadas and sweet churros, booking birthday dinners at the big family table in the private room.
On the other side of Houston Street, Richard Friedberg opened his latest venture, Allen & Delancey, last week on the corner of the same name. He happened upon the space after a friend bought a condo upstairs. He says: "She called me up and said, 'Dick, I have a problem. They are opening a Quiznos below me and I'm going to have four-legged friends with long tails running around.'"
Friedberg came to her rescue, buying the space and enlisting a top-name toque, Neil Ferguson, who was formerly cooking at Gordon Ramsay's The London, to command the kitchen. Ferguson's menu includes sophisticated fare such as sea scallops with celery root and caramelized bone marrow with caviar. And if it sounds too high-brow for a neighborhood still home to bars boasting $2 PBR, Friedberg is not concerned. "If you combine the right atmosphere and the right price points, people will come," he insists. "It's that simple."