New York’s Own Chef Alex Ureña Returns and
Makes A Home at Rayuela With His Free-Style Latino Cuisine
With Influences from Latino Cultures Worldwide, Diners Traverse a Menu with Global Flair
New York, NY, March 27, 2013
, a six-year culinary presence in the Lower East Side (165 Allen Street NYC, www.rayuelanyc.com
, 212-253-8840) is seeing a culinary resurgence at the hands of newly appointed Executive Chef Alex Ureña
. With experience in kitchens all over the world including France, Spain, New York, and The Bahamas, Chef Ureña brings his eclectic background and diverse flavor profiles to Rayuela to carry on the restaurant’s tradition of creating “Freestyle Latino” food. When visiting, diners will experience a vivid array of Latino flavors on each and every plate, jumping from flavor to flavor and country to country with each bite. In essence, each forkful resembles a game of Rayuela, or hopscotch, with one's taste buds.
Most recently Ureña held the top Executive Chef position at Mesa Grill
in The Atlantis, The Bahamas. His early career included tenures at several top NYC restaurants including River Café, JoJo,
. Wanting to expand his culinary knowledge, Ureña traveled to Europe in the late 90’s, holding positions at Michelin-Starred El Bulli
in Spain and Michelin-Starred Le Clos de Cimes
in France. One of his most impactful experiences while working overseas was cooking alongside famed Spanish chef Martin Berasategui
at his namesake restaurant.
It was here that Ureña made a strong connection with Spanish cookery. When returning to the USA in 2000 Ureña took on the position of Chef de Cuisine and helped open Blue Hill
where they garnered “Two Stars” from the New York Times,
and the next year would go on to open Marseille
(Mediterranean cuisine) where he garnered another “Two Star” review. However, Ureña yearned to cook the cuisine he so came to love while in Europe, so in 2006 he ventured out on his own, opening his namesake restaurant Ureña
, later becoming Pamplona
in 2007. It was here where Chef Ureña would earn yet another “Two Star” review from The New York Times
, this time as the only chef on the ticket, with critic Frank Bruni using words like “revelatory,” “enchanted,” and “dynamite” to describe his food.
Now at Rayuela, Ureña is returning to his Latino roots to bring his culture, the flavors from his youth and experience from cooking in European kitchens, to the plates of the Lower East Side. His dishes bring bold regional flavors from the cuisines of Latin America, creating dishes inspired by ingredients and cooking traditions of his native Dominican Republic as well as those from Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Cuba (just to mention a few).
“Rayuela is a rare gem offering brilliantly diverse and flavorful Latino cuisine and I intend to incorporate many of my family recipes and culinary techniques that I have learned from around the world and implement them here,” explained Ureña. “This restaurant has always been about passion,” explains owner Hector Sanz
. “We have really put our heart and soul into Rayuela and when I met Alex and tried his food, I could taste the passion and feel the soul. The marriage between Chef Alex and the energy that Rayuela exuberates is a match made in heaven.”
Since coming to Rayuela, Chef Ureña has infused his style into all facets of the menu and some signature dishes have come to light. Top aperitivos include the Conejo de la Abuela,
a dish that pays homage to Chef Ureña’s grandmother and her amazing dry rub marinade used in the Dominican Republic to make goat stew. Chef Ureña uses that secret dry marinade on the rabbit and then lovingly slow braises the meat until tender, adding shiitake mushrooms, caramelized crisp apples, and creamy Manchego grits. Next up is Panza al Fuego Lento,
pork belly slow cooked and crisped to perfection, “moros y cristianos” forbidden rice, with bacon and a crispy orange marmalade for a sweet and tangy kick. Gambas y Chorizo
, a surf and turf of sorts, combines poached shrimp with sweet onions, red peppers, traditional bomba rice, and smoky chorizo broth, reminiscent of Chef Ureña’s time in Spain.
Ceviches are a “must” and include Verde Vieira,
delicate sea scallops with an array of colorful accompaniments such as sliced tomatillo, radishes, onions and cilantro dressed with a bright tomatillo sauce and just a hint of earthy white truffle oil; Lenguado y Piña,
fluke marinated in citrus passion fruit with grilled pineapple, red onion, scallions and mint which adds a wonderful cooling balance to its bright and bold counterparts;
and a vegetarian Vegetal Crudo
ceviche that shines with roasted yellow beets, chayote, red and green grapes bursting with sweetness, red onion, avocado, and a tangy jalapeño-chayote sauce. A ceviche tasting is available with the diner’s choice of three ceviches for $35 or all five selections for $55.
The Platos Fuertes, or main courses, offer bold Latino flair and include Langosta Estilo Libre,
succulent butter poached lobster over a yuca cake with tasty vanilla infused mango and yellow pepper relish, served with poblano sauce; Churrasco Rayuela
takes the menu to Argentina where Rib-Eye & Chimichurri is the national dish – a mouth-watering grilled rib-eye with Brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms on top of a classic chimichurri sauce and a touch of truffle oil; and Arroz Negro con Mariscos,
a staple in the Spanish-speaking Americas, where seafood, rice and spices are combined to make an unforgettable everyday dish. Calasparra rice, widely used for paella, is infused with squid ink and sofrito, then topped with bountiful amounts of shrimp, bay scallops and cuddle fish and finished off with citrus, olive oil, and clam foam.
The cocktail menu is carefully curated by Amaury Robayo and Gonzalo Marin with oversight by Chef Ureña to ensure pairings are all palate pleasing. In addition to sangrias and classics like the Pisco Sour and Caipirinha, the restaurant has created signature cocktails, using the spirit base as the cocktail title. The ‘Vodka’
cocktail combines Pear Grey Goose, Luxardo Maraschino liquor, sage leaves and anjou pear for a sweet yet earthy drink, the ‘Tequila’
combines flor de Jamaica, Aperol and yuzu for a libation with a kick, and the ‘Mezcal’
features Scorpion Mezcal, Combier Triple Sec, carrot, pineapple and aji Amarillo reduction, with lime juice and a unique Serrano ham rim. Those wanting to dine at the bar can choose items from the tapas menu, all $12 and under.
Rayuela’s interior carries on the “hopscotch” theme, mimicking the rectangular pattern of the game’s court throughout the décor of the space. Upon entering, diners are greeted with dim candlelight and a massive olive tree that grows through the center of the dining room, reaching its branches all the way to the second floor. Upstairs, earthy green chairs and banquettes accent the aged wood floors and a small terrace offers a respite for diners in the warmer months. The upstairs space has a remote bar and can accommodate 90 guests for a sit down dinner or up to 160 guests for a standing cocktail party, making it the perfect private event destination.
Rayuela is operated by Hector Sanz of Quimeria Restaurant Group, the team behind other popular NYC eateries Barraca, Macondo, and the soon to open Melibea. Rayuela is open for dinner Monday – Thursday 5:30pm – 11pm, Friday and Saturday from 5:30pm – 12am, and Sunday 5pm – 10pm. Saturday and Sunday brunch 11am – 4pm.