Eat

Bugging Out in the East Village at The Black Ant

Ants, crickets and worm reinvent upscale Mexican cuisine.

Story by Lora Wiley - lora@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by PDW Photography and Prince Rumi Video by PDW Photography

The Black Ant Guacamole from Citizen Brooklyn on Vimeo.

Most East Village upscale restaurants employ an army of people to keep the bugs out of their establishments, this one actually invites them into their kitchen. At The Black Ant (http://blackantnyc.com/) located on second avenue in the East Village, the team behind Ofrenda (Hyperlink: http://ofrendanyc.com/) has put together inventive, ambitious, creative kitchen and bar menus with insects as the star players. No piñatas or fiesta colors here. The darkly elegant, beautifully designed space has a sexy mysterious vibe that immediately conveys you are in for a serious culinary experience.

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

Upon meeting low key Chef Mario Gonzalez, one is reminded of a favorite uncle more than a virtuoso of Mexican cuisine. As we entered the kitchen, a huge smile broke his face as she showed off a bowl of large worms nesting in a bed of salt to infuse it with their flavor. “Smell” he said, offering up the bowl. Reluctantly I sniffed and was pleasantly surprised with the fresh, almost cucumber like flavor. Also displayed on the kitchen counter was a bowl full of crickets (served on a tortilla with cheese and salsa.) In another vessel, the famous black ants (called “Chicatanas”) looked very unassuming. Chef Gonzalez makes a spice mix out of them by grinding them in the food processor and adding salt, sugar and Mexican chilis. These ants are harvested twice a year, soaked in salt water, roasted in a special clay tray to dry them out and then preserved in the freezer.

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

While watching the Chef make his famous Black Ant guac. I learned two things:

#1 When he threw sliced jalepeños into the bowl with onions and tomatoes, he beat the peppers a bit to release their oils before adding the next ingredient.

#2 He also added some slices of peeled orange to brighten up the flavor.

In addition to the ants, I also loved the way he finished the dish, by piling corn nuts on top and adding a sprig of baby basil.

Chef Mario Gonzalez, Partner, The Black Ant Photo © PDW Photography

Chef Mario Gonzalez, Partner, The Black Ant
Photo © PDW Photography

Eating insects is common in places like Mexico. Chef Gonzalez tasted his first cricket at age 8. Presently, he returns to Mexico several times a year traveling to remote mountain villages to cook with local abuelitas learning their recipes. He then adapts them for the restaurant. Makes sense to go back to the source as he himself learned to cook by spending time with his Grandmother in her kitchen as a little boy.

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

I guess all this is easier to digest when you have such a skilled and hottie mixologist, Jorge Guzman (who also happens to be an owner of the restaurant) tempting you with spicy, exotic libations. The drink menu consists of flavorful and interesting concoctions with names like La Bestia and The Devil in Oaxaca. So what if some of them are coated with ant and worm dust? After the first delicious sip, even the most staunch bugphobics would order another round.

Jorge Guzman, Owner, The Black Ant Photo © PDW Photography

Jorge Guzman, Owner, The Black Ant
Photo © PDW Photography

At Jorge’s suggestions, we opted for the house special, the Yum Kaax, a blend of fresh corn juice and wild Mexican herbs served in a glass dusted with the spiced ant salt. It was divine. Truly a drink of the Mayan Gods.

Special mention to Cesar, the seasoned bartender whose humor, energy and charisma left us completely entertained. Hanging with Cesar is alone worth the trip to the restaurant.

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

There are plenty of non insect dish options at The Black Ant including cod cheeks and goat. Just reading the menu is like an adventure to an exotic place. If you are looking for a unique culinary experience with obscure dishes and great atmosphere, crawl over to The Black Ant.

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © PDW Photography

Photo © Prince Rumi

Photo © Prince Rumi

Photo © Prince Rumi

Photo © Prince Rumi

The Black Ant
60 Second Avenue (Between 3rd & 4th Streets)
New York, NY 10003
212-598-0300

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