My friend Jonathan owes his happiness to a light bulb. The dark gloom of February and March put him into such a funk that only the restorative power of a 20-minute session underneath a halogen light therapy lamp can fool his body into believing that the sun is actually shining. Jonathan’s made-to-order, $325 bulbs might be pricey, but they keep his seasonal affective disorder at bay, and as he says, they are still cheaper than a trip to Florida. For those for whom a bit of metaphorical sun will do the trick just as well, there is an even more convenient option: Ideya, a pan-Latin bistro on the edge of Soho, with its whitewashed brick walls and accents in shades of lime green and neon blue. Samba pulsates through speakers by the door and around the sleek, minimalist bar. A drinks menu, replete with tropical fruit concoctions, might as well come with its own umbrella. If there’s any place that might make you forget the season, Ideya is it.
Unfortunately, despite a few brave exceptions, Ideya’s power to perk up your taste buds is more disappointing than its sun-drenched Latin vibe. Take one of Ideya’s special appetizers, its seafood tacos (pictured above right, taquitos de mariscos, $9), billed on the menu as crispy flour tortillas filled with mixed seafood.
While the bias-cut, architectural presentation wins points, the filling is oddly tasteless, more filler than shrimp or salmon, which are the only identifiable ingredients. The best thing about the dish is the pool of red, arbol chile sauce which provides some needed heat and flavor, but only if spooned liberally over the tacos.
The tomato and mango soup ($7) is much better — a warm and savory paean to the out-of-season tomato, enlivened with a kick of coriander (cilantro) oil. Overall, this dish works better, but misses out on greatness because the pureed mango flavors remain bashfully in the background.
Main courses, some of which show glimpses of brilliant cooking, suffer from a surfeit of ingredients. Sometimes less is indeed more. A case in point is the unseasonably named salmon otoño (Autumn Salmon, $19), a tottering tower of aggressively seasoned fish, kale and a cloying little boulder of apple-pear chutney.
Despite the fact that the kitchen knows how to cook a fillet of salmon to order, too many ingredients and an overcomplicated spice crust bog down the dish as a whole.
The Cuban pork chop ($20), very decent on its own, also suffers from a clutter of accompaniments: an orange and tomato salad, black beans baked and spiked with rum and honey, and a very dry, crumbly triangle of jalapeño cornbread. And no matter what your server suggests, the chop does not need a side of the gluey cilantro-fueled mashed yucca ($5) — a dish that sounds more flavorful (and less sticky) than it actually is.
Still, there is a lot to love at Ideya, especially if you stick to the bar’s imaginative drinks, which include the expected mojitos and margaritas (the mojitos, while excellent, do not quite live up to the menu’s billing as “best in Nueva York”) and the unexpected (ginger margaritas, guanabana batidos with rum). All work well with the restaurant’s chilled-out vibe and help ease you into the music as you nibble on the free — and wonderful — fried plantains. Sure, Ideya’s main menu may be ho-hum, but the cheery little bistro’s drinks offer the best-concentrated dose of solar magic in town. No light bulbs required.
Ideya Latin Bistro
349 W. Broadway
(between Broome and Grand streets)