Being a writer for The Sun (for almost four years now) has its many perks, one of which is first-hand access to new and upcoming restaurants in town. This past Sunday, I visited Bickering Twins during its soft opening hours that were held in anticipation of its grand opening on May 1, and I’m here to give you the many reasons for checking out this cool, hidden gem located in the basement of 114 N Cayuga St., where Bandwagon Brewery used to be.
Owners and identical twins, Corey and Kevin Adelman, had both been in the restaurant scene for quite a while before officially opening Bickering Twins. You may have heard about the “pop-up” dinners at Carriage House Cafe in the past, and the twins are the ones behind the scenes of such events, through which they have been testing out their concept of creative Latin American-inspired food before an official launch. According to their website, Kevin became obsessed with Latin cuisine spending time abroad in Bolivia. Thus, the twins hope to “[reflect] their love of cooking and their desire to bring the flavors and ingredients of Latin America to Ithaca.”
Upon walking into the restaurant, I was quickly directed to sit at the bar as I was a single guest. Being at the bar not only gave me the opportunity to converse with the wait staff, but also allowed me to appreciate the interior of the restaurant. The interior was cozy and filled with brightly colored decor, such as Mexican folk art paintings. Since this was a soft opening, customers had to purchase tickets in advance for a spot at the restaurant to avoid overloading the kitchen, and the space was quite crowded with almost all the tables filled, when I arrived at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night.
The waiter quickly explained that everything on the food menu is available to order, and apologized when he informed me that the alcoholic drinks menu wasn’t yet available as the restaurant was still waiting for its alcohol-serving permit. The lack of alcoholic beverage availability was negligible to me as I was already surprised that they had neither run out of food nor had limited menu items during their soft opening. However, based on what I’ve seen so far on the beverage menu, I will definitely return for their cocktail menu, which features multiple styles of Moscow mules and original cocktails. I opted for a Jamaica agua fresca ($3), a house-made hibiscus tea, from their non-alcoholic menu. The tea was tart and unsweetened, which I liked as I feel that the addition of sugar often interferes with the original flavor of the tea.
From empanadas, tacos and ceviche to salsa and guacamole, the food menu offered a variety of unique and classic items that one would expect from a Latin American restaurant. It had just the right amount of choices — not too many, but enough to try once and come back for more. The menu also had several vegetarian options that can be made vegan upon request, such as the mushroom and herb tacos or the potato and spinach empanadas. Eager to try a little bit of everything, I ordered the taco platter ($16), which consists of three tacos of your choice (within the $3.75 range) and two sides of your choice, with $0.75 extra for specialty tacos such as shaved steak and shrimp. The platter is a brilliant idea for those who’d like to sample the menu. The portion size of the platter was quite large for me, as I would likely share the platter with someone else in the future, but it may be appropriate for a hungry person with a large appetite.
For my platter, I ordered homemade chorizo, chicken tinga and mushroom and herb tacos with smashed plantains and rice on the side. The chorizo (crumbled Mexican pork sausage) was fragrant and did not have an overwhelming amount of spices, but it was slightly dry on the palate. I added some rice and smashed plantains to the tacos, and the dryness was gone. The chicken tinga taco — composed of braised chicken, stewed tomatoes, chipotle peppers, avocado and queso fresco — had a refreshing mouthfeel with the inclusion of avocado and stewed tomatoes, and the mushroom and herb taco was bursting with earthy flavors. Already equipped with a full belly of tacos after the platter, I got guacamole and chips to go as I feel that a great way to differentiate between Latin American restaurants is through their guac. The twins’ house-made guac was fresh, hearty and light on the herbs in order to highlight the slightly salted flavor of the chips with which it was paired.
Overall, the service at Bickering Twins was attentive and quick, but I never felt rushed. Even during its soft opening when many mishaps can occur, the staff were friendly and made sure that every customer was satisfied with the food and service. I’m glad that Bickering Twins has found its permanent home in Ithaca and is just a short bus ride and walk from our campus. I encourage you all to check out this hidden gem after its full menu release and before it gets too busy down at the basement once they launch their catering services in July.
Serves: Latin American-inspired cuisine
Vibe: upscale Viva Taqueria