12 E 22nd St, 212-353-0500
Reservations a must
Dinner Hours: Mon-Thu 5-11pm, Fr-Sat 5pm-Midnight, Sun 5-10pm
Price Range: $17-$36, Dinner: $32-$54
Maybe it was the sub-zero temperatures or my way of erasing painful memories of inedible fettuccini alfredo and a passing driver yelling “Rocco sucks” out his window. Whatever the reason, I booked a table at Caviar & Banana, the new Brazilian behemoth filling the “void” created by Rocco DiSpirito’s colossal failure on 22nd Street. Imagine my disappointment when I showed up to find the host had my reservation wrong. Unfazed, I took a later slot and waited in the leather and basket weave lounge. The restaurant’s vast interior, with its sea glass columns, white tile bar, and colorful piñata-textured banquettes, conjures colorful visions of Ricky Ricardo and Carmen Miranda.
For being only a quarter full, the place was quite noisy, though the wait staff managed helpful tips about the dishes, which, despite the restaurant’s overblown appearance, were surprisingly delectable. The Big Ravioli ($15) was delicate and managed to strike the right chord with a little white truffle oil. The Brazilian crispy pizzas were the best deals and offered some adventurous choices, the zinger being the “Lagoa” ($16), sautéed lobster and shrimp on a mozzarella smothered pie with cilantro and warm cashews making it a sharp and pungent delight. There seemed to be some confusion with the waiters as to the order of dishes and I suddenly found myself with several at the same time, but I couldn’t complain once I smelled the Moquecas ($21), a red coconut stew filled with excruciatingly moist and buttery monkfish with an occasional heart of palm providing a pleasingly bitter counterpoint. Alas, as is typical of many restaurants, the desserts should keep their day jobs. The chef’s pretentiously detailed Crepe Passion ($9) seemed uninspired and had an overwhelming passion fruit coulis; the Juanita Banana ($8), which could’ve been a warm explosion, was a cold, lackluster crumble.
Taking in the neighborhood after dinner, it struck me that Caviar & Banana is the kind of “hip” new spot to which local financiers might take clients and younger girlfriends, as it has the bounciness of the younger set without the mess. While the food is definitely worth return trips, the restaurant itself feels manufactured, not unlike sampling the exoticism of Brazil from the safety of a Club Med.