“HOLA” is the humongous kitchen-art greeting on one wall of Two Sevens Eatery & Catina, the latest entry from the folks at Fenwick Hospitality in a Princeton restaurant market swiftly being dominated by its wide-ranging family that includes Agricola, Cargot and Dinky Bar. And the cheerful welcome defines its spirit.
Two Sevens is a Latin-leaning spot, a place where a table of diners orders as they would if sitting at a sushi bar: You take a look at the concise paper menu of snacks and street fare, small plates and sides, salads and a short-stack list of entrees, check off what you want, then hand it back to your server. Meanwhile, there are cocktails to be sipped (think: Cinnamon Sour, with a powerful punch of cinnamon syrup countering pisco, lime and the froth of whipped egg white, or Make Me Better, which isn’t the name of a Free People slip dress, but a layered-look mix of reposada tequila, ancho reyes, ginger and a floater of mezcal), a tequila-heavy list of spirits to consider and crisply edited lists of wines and beers.
Speaking of crisp, as we spear elements of the jicama salad that’s brightened with thin slices of watermelon radish and a sprightly lime vinaigrette, I’m thinking Two Sevens is doing pretty well this early in its life. Though the cilantro billed on the menu to be part of this toss is missing, and I’m missing its musty-funky charm, our server is on point and the atmosphere lively even on this weekday night.
The open kitchen offers lots to look at and would entertain even if the fried oyster tacos weren’t a smash hit: Cosseted in a house-made taco shell and dappled with tart-creamy lime crema, they’re envigorated by a squirt of lime wedges dusted in feisty ground chile pepper.
We’re also loving the citrusy ceviche that’s a cunning combo of thick, white-flesh fishes and segments of grapefruit and orange crowned with a flourish of greenery: cilantro, avocado, strips of scallion.
Octopus tostada weighs in a rung lower on the satisfaction scale, what with its domineering tomato-heavy Veracruzana salsa tamping down the flavor of the fish.
Braised chicken, a smidgen over sauced, is set upon the pert griddle cakes of cornmeal called arepas, all of which are sprayed with shredded queso.
Pupusas, another South American griddle cake, typically are stuffed with their accessories, not topped with them. Though the menu even reads “stuffed masa cakes,” a spray of fermented cabbage slaw is set atop a pair of pupusas—as is a misdirected crumble of queso. Someone didn’t check this plate as it left the kitchen to see that the queso meant for the arepa dish was applied incorrectly to the cabbage-and-corn plate.
But the grilled snapper, a full-plate entree, was flawless, the meat of the fish juicy and bright, and the char from the fire providing a wicked-fun crunch. Speaking of crunch, the watermelon radish kind of ‘slaw was an on-target plate partner.
Want to say hola to dessert? There’s a flan overwhelmed by a too-sweet topper and Popsicles flavored with horchata, coconut or chocolate. Skip the flan, but hope the folks here realize that spearing Popsicle sticks in the narrow-bottomed glass makes them hard to remove and actually eat. The intention might have been playful, but the reality isn’t fun for diners, as good as the icy pops might be.
I was wondering how to get in and out of a table whose legs are placed square in its corners in a way that makes navigation challenging. It was the first thing a friend who went to Two Sevens a couple days after I did asked me: “What’s with the imprisonment tables?” I’m not sure I’d describe them as such, but it was a curious discomfort, I’ll admit.
That said, Two Sevens’ square tables already are being filled by hip Princetonians (which isn’t the oxymoronic phrase it might seem) and its menus of food and drink as welcome as that huge HOLA on the wall.
Two Sevens Eatery & Cantina, 277 Witherspoon Street in Princeton. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 609-921-2779; twosevensrestaurant.com.