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“You ready for your grilled cheese?” Angelo Sosa teases, leaning over the gleaming chefs’ table anchoring Añejo Tribeca’s generous kitchen. The room is teeming with thick olfactory delights: billowing mole, garlic and fragrant chilis. Sosa blushes after a beat of silence: “No, I’m just kidding.”
Bravo loyalists remember Sosa well. He was a contender on the network’s foodie juggernaut “Top Chef” in 2010 and made a lasting impression on both viewers and judges. Fiercely competitive with a slightly swollen sense of assurance (e.g., in the first episode, he compared his focus to that of a ninja), Sosa was memorable for both his skill set (he trained under Jean-Georges Vongerichten) and for his idiosyncrasies. He’d zip around the kitchen at an almost cartoonish pace and was teased for his penchant for tight clothes and hair gel. But reality-TV-caricature aside, Sosa has been lauded as one of the most passionate and talented chefs in the history of the show. (He was that season’s frontrunner until he narrowly lost the title in the finale.) He’s rolling out his latest eatery, Añejo Tribeca, today.
But he was buzz-y in New York’s culinary circles well before Bravo-lebrity hit. He had been behind Xie Xie (“thank you” in Mandarin), a quirky Asian-style sandwich shop much beloved by the Midtown lunch rush for its Asian lobster rolls (slathered in Japanese Kewpie mayo and crispy shallots), wine-filled juice boxes and vaguely George Jetson–meets–“Lost in Translation” interiors (it looked like the kind of place that’d be adjacent to a thumping karaoke bar in Tokyo). He was a chef and a partner there and earned a Michelin star before it closed in October 2010.
Sosa then had his “Top Chef” run, afterward opening Social Eatz, another Asian-fusion spot, this one a tinge more American than the last (it served burgers). It closed early last year. In 2012, he branched out into Mexican fare, opening the original Añejo in Hell’s Kitchen. Though it was touted as a spot that focused on the booze (Añejo means “aged” in Spanish, referring to a grade of tequila), diners came back for the imaginative small plates that soaked up the margaritas. It got rave reviews and is considered a gem of the neighborhood by most West Siders. His latest spot is another addition to the Añejo brand.
Añejo Tribeca takes up the southeast corner of Church and Walker (formerly occupied by Bread Tribeca). The space is airy and sun-soaked with loft-style windows outstretched over both street-side walls. The walls, as almost all of the surfaces, are a dark reclaimed wood unadorned except for the occasional folksy, Mexican-themed mural. The decor is unfussy and clean, apart from the cutesy, paint-splattered chairs and a few dainty chandeliers dangling from the room’s soaring ceiling. Expectedly, it has a look similar to the original outpost, though Añejo Tribeca is significantly larger (“cramped” and “noisy” were among the few complaints of the Hell’s Kitchen spot), with 120 seats spanning two floors.
“Isn’t this location incredible?” Sosa says, bellied up to the bar on a recent steamy afternoon. “It has characteristics of opulence, but it’s also very humble. The high ceilings, the chandeliers bring that high-end charm, but then we have the rusticity of the reclaimed wood,” he says, dragging his hand over the bar. “I love that dichotomy.” They found the space per the recommendation of one of their regulars, who happens to live a few blocks away. “He’s very selfish,” Sosa quips.
The food is, deliberately, a bit more haute than the uptown eatery (it is Tribeca, after all). Sosa recruited his former executive sous chef, a tatted-up, scraggly heartthrob named Jonas Offenbach, to man the Tribeca kitchen as chef de cuisine. “We really wanted to harness his talents,” Sosa says of Offenbach. “Harness and hone his talents and elevate the food. We’re just trying to show our flexibility.”
The favorites (the short rib tacos, the variations on guacamole, etc.) from uptown remain untouched, but they’ve added a new lineup of tasty dishes. “We’re making squash sexy,” Sosa cracks of the summer salad — grilled squash spiked with a piquin zucchini puree and sprinkled with cortija cheese, pickled ramps and charred corn — a newbie on the menu. Other standouts include a delicate Montauk fluke crudo in a pool of mint cucumber jalapeño broth, with Mexican gherkins speckling the plate. But it’s a plate of sweetbreads that has Sosa particularly excited. “It’s just ridiculous,” he says of the dish — crispy veal sweetbreads fried in a chicharrón crust and served with a pickled jalapeño aioli. “The chicharrón, the fried pigskin, is what gives you that crackle in your mouth,” he says. “Vegans just love it.”
301 Church Street, New York
Hours: Weekdays, 5 p.m. to midnight; Weekends, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Downstairs at Añejo Tribeca, behind a pane of glass, sit three massive barrels of tequila. The trio — filled with Milagro Tequila, Herradura Tequila and Ilegal Mezcal — are part of the restaurant’s new barrel program. The barrels will be stored in a vaulted space for diners to see. The concept is to have various celebrities (no doubt chef Angelo Sosa will call in a favor or two from his fellow “Top Chef” alums) coming in throughout the next year to sign the barrels. At the restaurant’s one-year anniversary bash, they will be auctioned off for charity. “It will develop more nuances, more characteristics while it ages in there,” says Jaime Salas, brand ambassador for Milagro Tequila. “One of the benefits of the barrel’s oak is it brings on flavors like nuttiness, some caramel, some chocolates and toffee. The spices will build during the duration in the barrel.”
For those who can’t wait a whole year for a shot, the bar’s current offerings will satisfy. Here’s the restaurant’s must-have:
THE MEXICAN FIRING SQUAD
A standout of the restaurant’s cocktail program — focused heavily on tequila, of course — this pink-hued concoction is smooth and agave-forward in flavor.
2 oz. Milagro Silver
0.75 oz. grenadine
0.75 oz. lime juice
2 dashes of mole bitters
Chili salt bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add Milagro Silver, grenadine, lime juice and mole bitters. Cover and shake until mixed and chilled. Press the rim of the tumbler into the chili smoked sea salt and strain the margarita into the glass.