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Gitano's guest chefs bring a taste of Tulum to SoHo's Garden of Love

The 24,000-square-foot Varick Street restaurant features tacos and ceviche crafted by acclaimed chefs like Mads Refslund, Mike Bagale, Daniela Soto-Innes and more.

Chef Mike Bagale's wild shrimp ceviche and short

Chef Mike Bagale's wild shrimp ceviche and short rib pibil tacos were on the menu at Gitano Garden of Love in June. Photo Credit: Teddy Wolff

Gitano brought a bit of Tulum, Mexico, to SoHo last year with its wildly popular outdoor restaurant, and this summer it's taking guests on a culinary trip around the world.

The Gitano Chef Series launched in June at the 24,000-square-foot Gitano Garden of Love on Varick Street, an outdoor venue known last summer as the Gitano Jungle Garden. The menu features additions from culinary pioneers Mike Bagale, of Chicago’s Alinea; Jose Luis Hinostroza, head chef and partner of Arca Tulum; Mads Refslund, co-founder of two-Michelin-starred Noma in Copenhagen and creative consulting chef at large for Gitano; Blaine Wetzel, of the Willows Inn in Washington; and Cosme’s Daniela Soto-Innes.

Each chef has concocted a signature ceviche and taco, which will be added to the menu during their respective times. The series helps Gitano bring some of the most diverse and international offerings to New York and takes guests on a flavorful tour of the globe, all in the heart of SoHo.

“Food is the heart and soul of the restaurant, and we wanted to bring an exciting, elevated and innovative approach to our menu this season,” says founder James Gardner, who first opened the eatery in the Yucatán Peninsula and whose Manhattan holdings also includes the year-round Gitano Jungle Room in the James Hotel. ”We gathered a group of our friends who happen to be incredible chefs and who, like us, are passionate about Mexico, Yucatán cuisine, and cooking with fire and ice.”

Last month, Bagale’s menu additions — Wild Shrimp Ceviche with huitlacoche and leche de tigre and Short Rib Pibil Tacos served on housemade tortillas and topped with banana habanero sauce — were met with great acclaim. Following the Alinea chef’s act is Hinostroza, a native of southern California, and Danish wunderkind Refslund. As of Wednesday, Gitano’s menu now includes Hinostroza’s Sea Urchin Ceviche and Prawn Tacos and Refslund’s Green Coconut Ceviche and Farmed Duck Egg Tacos, dishes that will be available through August 14.

“The Chef Series is a very creative way to bring a piece of Tulum to the middle of Manhattan,” Hinostroza says. His restaurant, Arca, is Gitano’s neighbor on the Mexican coast, and their menus follow similar themes of Caribbean-Mexican cuisine, “so it was a natural fit.” The sea urchin ceviche and prawn tacos are the chef’s signature offerings at Arca, but he’s excited to use the different ingredients and products available in the city. The collaboration “just made sense to me,” he says. “I wanted New York to have a taste of my food.”

Refslund has played a large role in curating the New York outposts’ menus from the offset, as the creative consulting chef. But the Chef Series represents a new opportunity for the Nordic culinary master. “James and I were chatting about unique ideas for the summer, and this seemed like a great way to incorporate more of the culinary scene to Gitano,” he says. “I liked the idea of the concept and connecting with the other chefs, building new friendships and getting inspired. We thought it was perfect — five ceviches and five tacos from five chefs.”

Although his own cooking and style are quite different from Gitano’s, Refslund says he’s always been very inspired by Yucatán and Mexican food. “I love the flavors, freshness and simplicity of Mexican cuisine,” he says, “and being able to experiment with this cuisine has been exciting.” The chef’s green coconut ceviche was born out of his many memories of eating coconut in Tulum, so “I wanted to share that flavor with New York,” he says. “I also love the way that you eat eggs in Mexico — they are very popular in tacos in the morning — and that inspired me to do a farmed duck egg taco for the menu at Gitano.” 

From August 15 to the end of the summer, culinary couple Wetzel and Soto-Innes will add their own ceviches and tacos to the menu. Their creations have yet to be announced but are sure to incorporate Wetzel’s experimental, farm fresh flavors and Soto-Innes’s modern take on Mexican classics.

“We love the juxtaposition of the discipline of a Michelin-starred chef and our pared back, rustic approach to cooking,” Gardner says. “We are so proud of this collaboration."

IF YOU GO: The Gitano Garden of Love is located at 76 Varick St. in SoHo. It's open for lunch from noon to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday; dinner daily from 5 p.m.; and brunch from noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. Click here to make a reservation or call 212-201-9119.

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