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On a desolate stretch of Ninth Avenue, Oovina garners a lot of attention. The cobalt neon framing the restaurant's glass facade showcases a thatch of white-washed ivy garland that festoons the ceiling, creating an impression much more impactful than the square footage of the tiny restaurant itself. But what Oovina lacks in subtlety, it strives to make up for in flavor. In many cases it succeeds, with its Guatemalan-inspired tapas menu from chef Giovanni Morales of the beloved Market Cafe.
Oovina derives its name from a complicated flowchart of oenophilic references and phonetic Spanish, and the menu follows suit. Cooked simply, the food is aggressively seasoned, perhaps to a fault, but never apologetically...and never with gluten. Gnocchi are crafted from cassava, corn and rice are prominent in Latin cuisine, so the concession (which will appeal to many) does not seem forced. Garlic and chilis prevail, with many dishes cooked in wine to complement the diverse list of global varietals. Standouts include sauteed artichokes in a pungent kale pesto and bountifully messy pulled chicken tacos, but the best dish of the night came from Morales' aunt's recipe: a fruity roasted plantain, stuffed with a sweet cinnamon black bean puree in a syrupy rum caramel.