Cielo is the Spanish word for sky. And though blue neon enhances the day-glo graffiti that lines Cielo’s walls, and the same neon blue shines from beneath the ledge of the bar, the fluorescent hue doesn’t evoke the same flattering tone of a blue sky. The staff couldn’t be sunnier, and some heavenly power may bestow you with happy hour prices all night at the bar—expertly mixed $5 fresh-lime margaritas and caipirinhas. But still, a more fitting name for this welcoming Nuevo Latin joint would be Ajo, the Spanish word for garlic. An odiferous mist of rich, roasted garlic hangs over the sidewalk abutting its Myrtle Avenue storefront, promising big flavors, even though the four flatscreens over the bar showing close-captioned sports might suggest otherwise.
The flavors are big indeed, and garlic is the prevailing one. A trio of sweet, sautéed plantain strips are wrapped around the garlic-infused shrimp with a super-garlicky sauce drizzled around their mostly empty plate; you get a single slice of toast to sop it all up ($12). The small portions and spare, stylized plating don’t really jive with the giant televisions. Perhaps you’d be better off with a jibarito, an $11 Puerto Rican sandwich filled with beef or chicken and plantains—it might be easier to eat without taking your eyes off the game. The garlicky papas rellenos ($8) make a tasty and more practical bar snack. Though they’re advertised as being stuffed with duck, ours lacked any big, juicy pieces of meat and would’ve benefited from a crispier crust. One of the house specialties is a tiny take on the chile relleno. Instead of big stuffed peppers, Cielo’s calamari relleno ($12) involves three little squid bodies, seared and stuffed with garlickly chorizo on a block of black rice, colored by squid ink. An order of white rice and pink beans ($5)—which are also super-garlickly—help to fill out the small bites.
I left Cielo feeling as though I hadn’t overeaten or overimbibed—though it would be easy to push yourself over the edge with that solid happy hour deal—so when I awoke at 4am, stomach seizing, upper body burning from sternum to spine, I was pretty sure I’d been food-poisoned or was about to endure the most horrific hangover of my entire life. I took two Tums and prayed to see the morning sun. When I awoke, feeling miraculously fine, my husband told me, “I didn’t want to insult you last night, but you came home smelling more garlicky than a person has ever smelled.” Be warned, friends and garlic-lovers: if you’re hitting Cielo, take some antacids before bedtime and be prepared to air out your jacket.