Haven is a Place on Earth

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

      On a recent Monday night, the frigid air on East 51st Street made the roaring fireplace of Haven’s inviting anteroom a welcome sight. Actually closer in size and character to a dining room than a waiting room, it proved to be the first in a quartet of softly lit, red-tinged spaces—each of which offered its own relaxing vibe. “This is a home away from home,” explains owner Jorge Peguero, of his new restaurant and lounge, where I’m tempted to take up residence. “It’s the eclectic townhouse of a world traveler,” continues his partner Bershan Shaw as she points out the statues from Bali, the Italian art and the trinkets from Hong Kong that punctuate this imaginary abode.

    The pair boasts a diverse background spanning the arts—he in music, she in acting and writing—as well as within the New York restaurant and nightclub scene, where both have gained extensive experience.The result is a penchant for creative collaboration that is apparent in the decorative and culinary themes of their first proprietary venture, which has been open since late September.

    Passing through the wood-paneled lower level bar, the least eye-catching of the four spaces, we’re given our pick of upstairs tables in what amounts to a balconied loft, and we take our candlelit seats against the exposed brick wall.The global tapas menu consists of small plates from across the map, but my friend Ariel and I start with the overpriced cocktail list, a Manhattan staple that is hard to avoid.We skip the biblical, gin-based Jezebel ($14), and the literary, vodka-infused Lolita ($13), and opt instead for the recognizable.

    My slender, $14 mojito is heavy on the mint and lime, and offers a pleasing touch of sweetness at the end. Ariel’s similarly priced red wine sangria suffers from an excess of ice, but deft cube excavation on her part lets the bobbing citrus pieces come out of hiding and enhance the flavor.

    Next, we were on to more solid offerings, and after eager suggestions from our waitress, clad in a short red dress and fishnet stockings, we finally decided on meat, fish and fowl. From Japan emerged the delightfully crispy yellow-fin tuna spring rolls ($15), which, with an amusing display of five individual soybeans and a spicy protein paste of edamame puree, let the raw, sushi grade tuna strut its stuff.

    Our second plate featured buttery crustaceans from the New England coast in a creamy lobster risotto.The nuttiness of the wild mushrooms contrasted nicely with the richness of the truffle oil and shaved, melted Parmigiano-Reggiano, though for $23 it was a pricey six bites. Eventually we made it to the bordello sliders ($18), a trio of steak, salmon and duck mini-burgers that came with a side of cornichons, providing a salty interlude between bites.While the tiny cut of flank steak all but eluded my taste buds, the succulent salmon was delicious with a topping of savory lobster meat. The clear winner was the duck, which disintegrated in my mouth and left a lingering taste of opulence.

    After our miniature meal, which Ariel identified as “more of a bite than dinner,” I wandered solo up the last few stairs to a leathery cigar lounge. Though smoking indoors has been banned in New York City since 2003, I could picture stogies, black ties and brandies interspersed with the stately armchairs and Victorian couches. But it could just as easily act the part of a cozy reading room, which the full bookshelf and numerous table lamps would help make possible.

    A piece of warm apple pie ($7) was waiting patiently on the table when I returned, though it lacked the promised dollop of whipped cream. Nevertheless, its thick, cinnamon-laced insides, doughy crust and topping of fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, made it a success.

    When we’d dutifully scraped the last bits of fruit off the plate, the Latin horns and African beats of Nigerian-born Fela Kuti retook our senses via the vibrating speakers, though another night might have featured the classic vocals of Parisian singer Edith Piaf, creating what Peguero described as Haven’s “organic mix of music and food.” While I’m told that the later hours on a Friday or Saturday bring Haven’s party face to the fore—complete with expensive bottles of bubbly—I expect that the feel of its homey eclecticism remains.Without it, this establishment’s distinctive taste would surely fade.

    > Haven

    244 E. 51st St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.), 212-906-9066.

    The dining room at Haven.