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Verde Kitchen & Cocktails review

Pato a la Plancha, or seared duck breast,

Pato a la Plancha, or seared duck breast, is served with duck confit enchiladas, roasted Brussels sprouts, shaved onion, crema, and salsa pasilla at Verde Kitchen and Cocktails in Bay Shore. Credit: Heather Walsh

It starts with a good Margarita, and goes up from there.

Verde Kitchen & Cocktails reaches the top tier of Mexican restaurants for fine imbibing, lively food, absence of cliches and considerable style. The two dining areas merit and mirror their youthful crowds.

The first section includes high tables and bar chairs; the second, a live greenhouse, with more traditional seating. They're unified by a stretch of exposed brick, repurposed wood, some antique touches and an attentive, committed staff. The result is handsome in its own way, with casual dining that's as carefully prepared as haute.

After an initial drink, sample the guacamole trio: a familiar one, with onion, tomato and lime; another spurred by roasted poblano peppers and pomegranate seeds; and, best of all, the pescado version, with smoked fluke and shrimp, each served with superior, oversize chips. Those chips will get some action digging into the fine queso fundido, too, a savory number with herbaceous, spicy chorizo verde.

Aguachile, a refreshing Mexican variation on ceviche, here stars local fluke. Follow it with one or more of the "Mexico City street tacos." The taco with roasted pork shoulder, pork belly, cumin and coriander is excellent. The fish taco, with lightly battered fluke, cabbage, avocado and crema, is a mellower choice.

Verde's bigger plates are full-flavored and seasoned like the kitchen means it. Try the terrific pozole verde, a stew that takes in pork shoulder and pork belly, hominy, cabbage, lime, avocado and house-made chicharron, or crisp pork rind, to be crumbled and mixed in. You'll get through the chills of any winter storm, even if you're in one of the draftier parts of the place.

Just as tasty is the puerco al pastor, or guajillo chile-marinated pork chop, sent out with hominy, onion, pineapple, pieces of tortilla and salsa verde. The ample pato a la plancha is composed of meaty seared duck breast, a duck-confit enchilada and burnt-orange salsa. Jicama and radish brighten the dish.

Sunday brunch wakes you up with sweet-corn pancakes, masa biscuits with chorizo gravy, roasted pork with chipotle pepper puree, fried eggs with chorizo, and chilaquiles with sunny-side up eggs, corn chips, salsa verde and queso fresco.

The house's desserts include bread pudding made with warm churros, finished with caramel crème anglaise and chocolate sauce; rice pudding with candied orange and mezcal-soaked raisins; and a banana split with fried plantains and coconut ice cream. All good. Or down the mezcal-fueled drink dubbed "Ernesto 9."

It ends good and better, too.

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