It’s rare that I find myself in Harlem, much less way up in Washington Heights. My business typically takes me to Manhattan, my pleasure to Brooklyn, and the rest tends to fall somewhere in between. Winding up the hills and under the bridges uptown, falling into step with the sweet scent of incense and the bustling warmth in the air reminded me of a brusquer Tangier. I made my way up to the Heights, where I had a date with a cocktail at Marcha, a charming new Brazilian tapas and cocktail bar.
The atmosphere is too cool for school, part chic nightclub-inspired with glowing neon tiles embedded into the bar and part relaxed, bright eatery, with peppy banana-yellow chairs and steel accents creating an intimate, excited place. And before you go reaching for your G&T (ahem, before I go reaching for my G&T) remember, there’s a killer cocktail list. I started with the Caipirinha, the minimalist Brazilian answer to the mojito, with raw sugar cane cachaça liqueur, lime, rum. Marcha puts their own twist on it by adding tangy cashew juice, a zippy flavor that added to the bright flavors of the lime zest.
We went through their cocktail list with ease- many were riffs off classic cocktails, which we found were more reliable than some of their original creations. The slender mojito was jazzed up with elderflower liqueur, and a frothy pisco with egg white, passionfruit juice, and a dried rosebud went down with a creamy, effervescent flavor. Some of the drinks- the Jack Tea, for example, with Jack Daniels and a curious mix of black tea, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and ginger, were strangely flat in flavor despite their flavorful ingredients. The drink was offered hot or cold, the former may be preferential.
With cold drinks in hand, we worked our way down a good portion of the menu, starting with an order of classic calamari. This iteration was perfectly crispy and erred toward the thin side, making for deliciously poppable rings rendered even better with the addition of smoky paprika sauce.
My dining companion tried the mushrooms in a lemon-cilantro sauce. Mushrooms, as you know, are my kryptonite, so I did not partake. She found them flavorful and tender, but almost sharply acidic and not as creamy as she expected them to be.
From there, we moved on to two of Marcha’s flatbread cocas, the first with crab meat, goat cheese, tomatoes, and jalapenos. The flatbread base was generously topped with tender shredded crab tossed with melted goat cheese, almost like crab dip on crispy crackers. The tomatoes detracted from the richness of the dish, though, and watered down the creamy base. I would have liked more than one jalapeno per piece, as the flatbread needed a little more of a spicy kick.
Our second flatbread was similar- flank steak, goat cheese, tomatoes, cabbage, and jalapeno. This was delicious in flavor, as the meat was flavorful enough to stand on its own, but had some issues in conception. The tender slices were the unfortunate downfall of the flatbread, as one bite sent the toppings slipping off the back. While smaller chunks of steak wouldn’t have as much of a visual impact, it would certainly make it easier to eat.
We finished up the meal with two more tapas, starting with albondingas, little pork and veal meatballs with tomatoes and cilantro, and a sumptuous red wine and demi-glace sauce. These were fantastic, as I found myself munching on them the more I drank. The sauce, though, almost outshone the meatballs, and was perfect to dip with the extra bread.
These croquetas were the last savory of the evening, with chicken, green plantains, and a chili aioli. A classic snack, and surprisingly heavy on the plantains, which I much appreciated. Not much to report here- just a great, solid finger food.
We finished up our meal with two desserts, a glass of port, and an espresso. The desserts were fantastic and made in-house. Our first, a clever yucca caviar pudding with strawberry sauce, served in a martini glass. This was a very neat take on rice pudding, the starchy flavors and creaminess still very much intact, with nice chunks of yucca. The dessert was well-balanced and didn’t rely on the strawberry sauce to provide an overload of sugar.
Our last dessert was a compact version of tres leches cake, rolled up into a neat roll with a condensed milk sauce in between. Fluffy, and again, deftly made without too much sugar. The perfect ending to our meal. Marcha has some work to do before it rises to the level of Richard Sandoval or Nixtamal’s deftness of spicy treats and drinks, but it offers a solid libation foundation upon which its plates can shine. It is obvious that they excel at elixir, but don’t discount their varied menu. Thanks again to the PR team and staff at Marcha for having us- our meal and drinks were comped, and we had a wonderful time and appreciated the great service.