According to its press release, the mood and décor at Yerba Buena, which opens tonight, “takes its inspiration from old-time Havana.” There’s nothing over-the-top about it; the place thankfully does not look like a movie set. A small, bright white neon sign is planted in the restaurant’s window, and the room is breezy and dark. Diners can check in on the kitchen, which is separated from the dining room with a large glass window.
Yerba Buena’s chef is Lenis Gonzales, a former sous chef at Patria, the prototypical Nuevo Latino restaurant Douglas Rodriguez opened in 1994. Patria received three stars from the New York Times that year, and spawned a lot of imitators around the city. At Yerba Buena, Gonzales is cooking things like braised oxtail with picadillo peppers and rice ($22), and rabbit with oyster mushrooms and mote ($24).
As is the case with most new restaurants these days, the chef’s appointment at Yerba Buena is matched with a bartender with a stainless steel shaker, a plan, and a specialty drink menu. The bartender in this case is Artemio Vasquez, late of PDT and Pegu Club. Cocktails (all $12) are mercifully gimmick-free and classics. The “Dark ‘n Stormy” is strong and garnished with a meaty piece of candied ginger; Pisco Sours are true to recipe, with four basic ingredients.
Yerba Buena, 23 Avenue A. (212) 529-2919