Perched atop the new Emily Hotel (formerly the Ace), Selva, Fulton Market’s newest rooftop bar, which opens tomorrow, June 10, takes inspiration, according to its founders, from the energy of Mexico at night to bring to life a rotating menu with a take on a few of this country’s favorite casual bites and spirits.
“Selva” means “jungle” in Spanish, but the sleek 2,800 square-foot space with its modern marble, leather, and metal decor might seem more reminiscent of a retreat in a concrete selva than in a tropical one. A 1,600 square-foot patio connected to the main dining room offers views of downtown and sunsets. A separate downstairs space that is intended to reflect the energy of Mexico by day is scheduled to open next month.
In the kitchen, though, corn reigns supreme, following the Mexican saying, “Sin maíz, no hay país” (“there is no country without corn”). “The true backbone of our entire program is our masa,” says Billy Caruso (Rye Deli + Drink), the restaurant’s senior director of food and beverage. This, he believes, is what sets Selva apart.
Not all tortillas are made equal, and different types of corn add different flavors and textures to dishes. Chef Matt Danko (Grace) marvels at the malleability and versatility of corn as an ingredient and takes this principle seriously. He has set his sights on creating the perfect tortilla for each plate.
Take, for example, the crispy and chewy, lightly fried tortilla that forms a base for the tuna tostada, which is topped with chipotle aioli, root salad, and orange. The masa incorporates two different types of corn to play off the flavors of the sashimi-grade fish and other ingredients to form the perfect marriage of acid, sweet, and earthy flavors.
Aside from technique and know-how, a good tortilla also demands high-quality ingredients. The team at Selva sources corn from socially conscious vendors like Masienda, a collective that partners with farmers. They’re also looking into growing their own. “We’re growing Oaxacan green corn and Zuni Blue corn,” says Caruso. “We have this amazing rooftop garden, and we thought about what to plant, and it just made sense to try and plant corn. We think it will do well, and we are so excited to use it this fall.”
The attention to flavor is apparent throughout the menu. The four taco options include duck carnitas with smoked, pickled onions and habanero; buffalo chicken with garlic and cotija cheese; and lamb barbacoa with onion and cilantro. A vegan option, a take on tinga, replaces meat with four kinds of mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, oyster, and cremini) swaddled in a delicate, smoky sauce. And the light, crispy, freshly-made chips arrive at the table accompanied by an array of salsas: guacamole, another made with chile piquín, and a third that uses cape berries to add a unique sweetness to the roasted chilis.
There are a few tortilla-less options, notably a homemade chicharrón, served with melted cheese, and jícama with lime and chile piquín.
Selva’s bar follows another Mexican saying: “Para todo mal mezcal, y para todo bien también” (loosely translated as “mezcal in the bad times and mezcal in the good times”). In addition to mezcal, beverage director Cristiana DeLucca (The Office at The Aviary, Maple & Ash, The Drawing Room) highlights other artisanal Mexican spirits like tequila and Michoacan’s rum-like charanda to create fun drinks that complement the food offerings. “We want to offer spirits from all over Mexico, not just the normal suspects made from agave,” she says. “The purpose of this is to build out an eclectic cocktail program that appeals to any guest.”
The beverage menu includes the Batanga, a take on the popular Charro Negro, a drink made with tequila, Mexican Coca-Cola, lime, and a salted rim; and the Smoke Show, made with small-batch mezcal, strawberry syrup, artichoke bitters, and lemon. A carefully curated wine and beer list will also be available.
“The core of Mexican food is the people that create it, the history in cooking techniques and family traditions,” Caruso says. “We can never recreate that, but we can say ‘thank you’ by honoring their traditional techniques.”