South-of-the-border cuisine goes upscale with a batch of new haute Mexican eateries just in time for Cinco de Mayo
- Last Updated: 1:45 PM, May 4, 2012
- Posted: 10:37 PM, May 3, 2012
If you stop by Alex Stupak’s exciting new East Village Mexican restaurant, Empellón Cocina, don’t try to order a taco. There aren’t any on the menu.
Fine, you say. How about a burrito? (Nope.) A quesadilla? (Sorry.) A plate of nachos? (Afraid not.)
What Stupak can offer you instead is a plate of chicken meatballs, probably the last dish you’d order in a Mexican restaurant. But we advise you to give it a shot — these marble-size orbs of poultry on a bed of masa polenta have all the spice and flavor of the dishes you’d expect from our sun-baked neighbor.
Nothing that comes out of the kitchen at Empellón Cocina ascribes to a “tacos-and-nachos” ethos. The Shigoku oysters are accompanied by shellfish flan and fava beans. Rabbit is stuffed with shiitake mushrooms.
The closest you’ll get to typical Mexican eats is pistachio-studded guacamole with masa crisps.
“The question is, can you take an ingredient that isn’t Mexican but prepare it in a Mexican way?” Stupak asks. “I would argue, yes, and it yields Mexican cooking.”
New York is currently experiencing a new wave of upscale Mexican restaurants — some wildly creative, some with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients, others intent on delivering a hip scene.
“People are getting [much] more educated” about Mexican cuisine, says Roberto Santibañez, author of “Truly Mexican” and the chef of Park Slope’s 3-year-old Fonda restaurant, which expanded a few months ago to the East Village.
While Santibañez is willing to put tacos and enchiladas on the menu at Fonda, he also invites his customers to sample less-Americanized Mexican specialties: chicken cooked and served in a banana leaf; ancho pepper stuffed with ground chicken, olives, raisins and capers; and skate wing with jalapeño escabeche (pickled jalapeño peppers).
At new Chinatown eatery Pulqueria, a largely unadorned entrance leads down a darkened flight of stairs to a dimly lit restaurant guarded by statuesque — and unquestionably hot — hostesses.
There are decent tilapia and cactus tacos on the menu, but also more adventurous options, including tuetano (roasted bone marrow) and tostada de pata (tostada with pickled pigs feet).
And across the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn’s DUMBO, Sam Richman, who worked in the kitchen at the city’s great culinary temple, Jean Georges, recently opened the Mexican restaurant Gran Eléctrica.
“We’re as seasonal as possible, as responsibly sourced as possible and as local as possible,” says Tamer Hamawi, one of the owners of the 5-week-old restaurant, who scored his first success with Colonie and is opening yet another Mexican restaurant in DUMBO in the coming months.