Jungle Fever in the Concrete Jungle
A tropical oasis at Gitano Garden of Love
Location: Gitano Garden of Love - 76 Varick Street, entrance on Grand St, New York 10013
As the sun started to set along the Manhattan horizon on a Mid-September evening, a cool breeze began to kick in indicating that Summer was coming to a near end. I parked my car directly across the street from the restaurant I had plans to dine in and filled the meter for an hour. Being blessed to snag the parking spot that I did on a Tuesday evening in SoHo Manhattan was like finding a unicorn; unheard of. As I made my way to the front entrance of Gitano Garden of Love, the pop-up restaurant along Varick Street, I stood in line with my mask on awaiting to get my temperature checked (Thanks, COVID) and to be escorted to table 205 to meet my friend who was already waiting for me.
Ambiance: I've got jungle fever, she's got jungle fever, we've got jungle fever. I do not know if you know the song “Jungle Fever” by Stevie Wonder, but Gitano gave me all the jungle fever vibes. From the coconut palm trees that surround the perimeter of the restaurant enclosing the wood pergola dining decks all the way down to the menu options and the bar that sits amidst more palm trees. The restaurant even has a reflecting pond and a meditation labyrinth that you can schedule meditation sessions that really sets the mood. Everything was like a tropical garden oasis perched in the middle of New York City and I was here for it. The foot traffic throughout the restaurant was steady but not overcrowded as there was more than enough space to social distance while people eat, grab a drink, or relax on the deck. Even if you do not go to the restaurant to eat, the atmosphere alone makes this establishment a prime spot to hang out with friends. Be prepared to take pictures and show out with whomever you dine with because the ambiance provides the perfect backdrop. I also suggest making a reservation at this establishment.
Service: While all the servers wore masks the menu was contactless, so my friend and I downloaded the restaurant’s menu from our phone’s QR code and ordered and paid for our entrees through the app. The waiter that tended to us was friendly and answered all our questions about the dinner options, ensuring to let us know what specials they had for the evening for dinner and dessert.
Food: The food at Gitano is a modern Mexican fare with seasonal local ingredients that are cooked in a wood burning oven and open fire grill. I ordered the grilled chicken pastor, and my friend chose the fish in a banana leaf and we both had a ginger beer. Since the chicken was on skewers, I thought that the portion size would be small, but it was more than enough and very filling. The presentation of the food fit the theme with fresh ingredients atop the chicken and pineapple chunks at the end of each skewer served on top of a leaf on top of a charcuterie board. The food was good, not the best chicken on a skewer I have ever had but it was satisfactory. The ginger beer was also a nice complement to the dish.
Price: $$$$. I paid $46 for my meal along with a Ginger Beer and I had no appetizer or dessert. Make sure you plan for this restaurant because it will add up in the end, even without additional dishes.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 for food and 5 out of 5 for ambiance.