Fun and innovative takes on some classic Mexican dishes
New York has an abundance of summertime hotspots. From Fire Island to The Hamptons, there is no shortage of places to go to kick back and put your feet in the sand while soaking up the sun. And this past summer, Governor’s Island has entered in to this category of places to go. And helping put Governor’s Island on the NYC map is a new restaurant and waterfront beach club, Gitano Island. Gitano Island is a modern Mexican restaurant that created an entire space that brings the tropics of Tulum to Governor’s Island. Aside from being just minutes away from the ferry stop, Gitano Island features a 27,000 square foot space that is decked out with sand and tropical plants to help transport each guest to a beautiful beach. With Gitano Island, there is no need to travel hours by car to get to Surf Lodge anymore. And aside from being a gorgeous venue overlooking the New York City skyline, Gitano Island also has some incredibly delicious food and drinks that you can enjoy during your time here. And we had the amazing opportunity to try out some of their offerings and experience Gitano Island for ourselves.
We first started off with some drinks and landed on the Summer Love and the Bird of Paradise. The Summer Love is made with Santa Teresa 1796 Rum, a watermelon raspberry juice, and finished with a splash of lime juice. When we got this drink, you immediately notice the beautiful soft red hue to the drink that looks exactly like the juicy flesh of the watermelon. With the first sip, you can’t help but notice how light and refreshing this drink is making it the perfect order on a hot, sunny day. The drink has a very forward melon flavor to it which finishes with a slight tartness from the raspberry. The addition of lime juice helps open up the flavors of the watermelon and raspberry while also adding a little bit of freshness to the drink. We could have easily had several more of the Summer Love and not gotten tired of it especially with it being so light, refreshing, and fruity.
We then tried the Bird of Paradise which was made with Sipsmith Gin, El Tersoro Reposado, coconut, vanilla, passionfruit, and a splash of lime juice. When we got this drink, the creamy vanilla look to it immediately reminded us of a pina colada. And when we took the first sip, the flavors also reminded us of a pina colada but with some needed improvements. The coconut flavors come out immediately with hints of vanilla dispersed throughout your palate. The passionfruit adds a bit of tartness as well which helps balance out the punches of sweetness in the drink. The biggest improvement that this drink had from a traditional pina colada was that it was very lightweight and airy instead of having that overt creaminess and heavy weight that a pina colada has.
After drinks, we wanted to sample some of the appetizers on the menu and decided on the Watermelon Salad and the Chipotle Albondigas. The watermelon salad is made with fresh watermelon, heirloom tomato, fresno, and tajin on top. The presentation was playful and the first thing you notice where the watermelon and tomatoes were plated on top of a watermelon rind, making this dish a fun photo opportunity. The watermelon was so fresh and juicy and each bite led to an explosion of flavor and sweetness that you could only dream of with fresh watermelon. The heirloom tomato adds an acidic sweetness to the dish which balances out the fruity sweetness from the watermelon. And if you’re someone who knows how amazing tajin goes on watermelon, this dish is the one for you. The tajin adds a moderate amount of spice that helps balance out the sweetness of the watermelon while simultaneously reinvigorating your palate. The watermelon salad is the perfect light bite that you would want during a hot summer day.
The Chipotle Albondigas were next and they were made with five bison meatballs and topped with queso fresco, tomato, and chipotle. The meatballs itself were so tender and juicy which meant that the bison was cooked perfectly. Additionally, the bison meat itself was treated so well where there weren’t any gamey notes or toughness to the meat which is a very common trait when eating bison. But because the meat was so tender, you could really get all the savoriness from the dish which made it very enjoyable. And when you sop the meatball up in the sauce, you get a wonderful warmth and heat added due to the chipotle in it. This dish is definitely something we would take the ferry back just to have because this dish is not something you find very often, especially with how well it is prepared.
For our main course we tried the Grilled Shrimp. The shrimp was paired with purple cabbage, avocado, blood orange, chipotle mayo, and topped with sliced radishes. With our first bite, we immediately loved how plump and juicy the shrimp was. Each bite burst with the natural sweetness from the shrimp. The char on the shrimp added a nice smokiness to the dish which married well with the sweetness and the spice from the chipotle mayo. And the mayo was one of our favorite components of the dish where it has a sleek and creamy texture to it and added a moderate amount of heat where it didn’t overwhelm the shrimp. The avocado cream adds to the creaminess but the fatty taste of the avocado helps break up some of the heat in the chipotle mayo. Lastly, pairing it with the radish and cabbage adds a nice crunchy texture to the dish as well.
And to round out our meal, we opted for the churros for dessert. The churros were paired with some unique takes on the traditional dipping sauces that you would typically find having both a chocolate jalapeno dip and a smoked agave mezcal. Both takes on it incorporate some very classic Mexican flavors and ingredients which was very much appreciated. The churros itself were delightfully crisp on the outside while still maintaining a pillowy interior that almost melts in your mouth. The chocolate jalapeno dip had the decadence of a chocolate sauce but with a hint of heat that helps to activate your palate. The smoked agave caramel was very interesting to try and had that pure agave flavor come out with each dip. The agave had a hint of smokiness to it and the addition of the caramel balanced it out with that gooey sweetness. Both sauces were delicious and innovative where we haven’t seen dipping sauces like these made for churros before.
Our lasting notes on Gitano Island is that it is well worth the trip to Governor’s Island. This little slice of paradise is the perfect spot to kick back and enjoy a meal or can even be the spot to go out to. Gitano Island is open 7 days a week from both brunch and dinner. Gitano Island also has a dance floor where guests can party the night away under a giant disco ball that is suspended over the water.