• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
Eater called it “One of NYC’s Most Relevant New Restaurants“. The New York Times gave it three stars the very day I went. Chef Enrique Olvera has what’s considered Mexico’s best restaurant and just guest-judged an episode of “Top Chef: Boston” filmed there. This chef is hot, and you know he knows it the moment you walk in the doors of Cosme to find a bar crowded with people not there to eat but just to be. The decor is mostly black, punctuated by little pots of succulents and a direct beam of light on every table strong enough to make professional photographers and hardcore Instagrammers alike swoon. The tables are spaced so widely that you get the idea the restaurant’s more concerned about your comfort than making an extra buck–although maybe that’s why they do charge an extra buck (or ten) for everything–and I can’t remember ever hearing the conversations of anyone around us even though the electronic-tinged soundtrack wasn’t overbearing at all. It’s borderline clubby, the kind of restaurant a non-New-Yorker thinks all New York restaurants are like, but it never felt pretentious nor snooty. And the food? Well, it was tiny and very expensive, but that sure didn’t stop us from eating a lot of it.
Most things we tried sort of tasted the same in that they were like, “Here’s something with onions and cilantro and avocado! And here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado! And now here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado and did we also mention onions and cilantro?” But those are the flavors I most associate with Mexico, for one, and for two, who cares when the food is so good? The first thing I tried was the mussel tostada, and I don’t care a lick about mussels in my regular, non-Enrique-Olvera life, but these were plump and tender atop a tortilla crisp and coated in that creamy chipotle mayo given even more of a kick by the sliced peppers. The hamachi, so humbly presented, was actually deep layers of sour and umami with fish sauce, bold black lime, and fermented chilis. Acids were everywhere, lemons and grapefruits and tomatoes and pineapples. One of the stunners of the night was the cobia al pastor, served with a gloopy pineapple puree that I had a notion to scoop right out of the bowl with my finger, and fresh warm tortillas for making tacos. A review I read said that the tortillas were almost flavorless to provide a blank canvas for the proteins, but my group entirely disagreed and thought that the things the chef was doing with corn were his best things.
Unfortunately, we had to fight for those tortillas. Even though we were a table of six and were ordering all but four dishes off the entire dinner and dessert menus combined, our cobia came with two tortillas. Our plate of hamachi came with five pieces. The one dessert we didn’t order never showed up at the table for us to try with a wink from the chef like it would have in the NYC restaurants with the best front of house service. I’m not really complaining about the service–our server came back to talk with me about our bottle of Riesling from the Finger Lakes that I was really enjoying–but it seems like some communication must have been lost between the server and the chef along the way. Or maybe the chef really couldn’t spare one more piece of hamachi for us.
But back to the food. While most dishes did have similar intense, punchy flavors, there were two that tasted like nothing else on the menu: the burrata and the enfrijoladas. The burrata was so light, with herbs that tasted so green and fresh it was like the cheese and all had just been dug up from the garden. The enfrijoladas, which were kind of like enchiladas but with a bean sauce that reminded me of a mole in color and texture, had this hoja santa herb in it that imparted an anise flavor I didn’t find on the other plates. I would order both of these again for sure, along with: the sepia, where thick strands of the cuttlefish acted like noodles; the octopus cocktail, where someone who loves pickled red onions as much as I do was in heaven; the eggplant tamal with its wildly acidic topping; the posole, where rich ingredients met bright broth to make for one of the most complete dishes; the cobia, the hamachi, and of course that mussels tostada.
Up for debate is the duck carnitas, which was a hefty $58 for the amount of meat you’d find in a measly four tacos but had the most beautifully rendered fatty skin over succulent dark meat. We had to add the really, really excellent hot sauce from the chicharron and some salt flakes to the duck to make it perfect, and you can obviously get great duck for a tenth of the price all over the city, but if you’re already at Cosme and spending $19 on half of a stuffed avocado, just get the duck.
Not up for debate are the desserts, which ranged from very good to I’m-never-going-to-stop-thinking-about-this. Pastry chef Jesus Perea has worked everywhere from Chef Olvera’s acclaimed restaurant in Mexico, Pujol, to Del Posto under Brooks Headley to Le Bernardin to too many of the very best restaurants in NYC to name. The brioche smothered in ricotta was almost savory at first bite and didn’t seem very special, but then suddenly the smear of fresh peanut butter took over and made it this incredibly craveable thing. The sweet potatoes in the flan gave it natural sweetness, and coffee syrup somehow didn’t overpower the potato flavor, making this a great choice for someone who likes a simple, not-sugary dessert. The lemon cake was this entire bowl of citrusy brightness, all kinds of lip-puckering in different textures. The cinnamon cake was spicy to the point that it overpowered the cream cheese ice cream, which really needed to be eaten alone to appreciate it, and appreciate it I did. The tender carrot was nixtamalized, which is apparently the same process used to make corn into hominy. (That is, it makes it softer and more delicious.) Despite the interesting preparation, though, it didn’t have enough “pop” for some of our group, which we attributed to a lack of acid in the bowl. The chocolate ganache was a table favorite, on the other hand, with its perfect sphere of beet sorbet that made it look like a delicious spaceship. The mezcal lent the chocolate this almost funky flavor, like it had gone a little sour, but we somehow wanted to keep eating it; I’m guessing it’s the kind of dessert that you either absolutely love like we did or think is semi-disgusting. (And borderline disgusting is some of the most exciting food, right?) The star of the night, though, was this beautiful cracked husk meringue with corn mousse seeping from it. All of the reviews will tell you that this is the dessert to get, and they are correct. This will probably become the dish Cosme’s known for with its naturally sweet corn whip and meringue that immediately sticks in your teeth like wet cotton candy and then melts away just as quickly. I’ll never forget you, husk meringue, no matter how fleeting you were.
So is this the most relevant food in NYC right now? Well, in a way. It cemented my love of Mexican food and reminded me that the best flavors are often the simplest: a well-placed fresh herb or a slice of pickled red onion can so easily bring a dish to new levels. And the great news is that those things can be found all over the city in hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints where a taco costs two dollars instead of twenty. (Two of my favorites right now are Tacos El Bronco in Sunset Park, introduced to me by my friend Kim, and The Original California Tacqueria, introduced to the same friend and me one Friday night when we were drunk and wandering Cobble Hill.) But you’re probably not going to get chipotle mussels there, nor noodles of smoked sepia, nor that corn meringue. Cosme is the Mexican flavors you love in ways you never imagined.
I’m in Houston, Texas, with my boyfriend at the moment and am astounded by how much Mexican food these people have access to. I know we’re lucky in NYC to have a little bit of everything, but I’m suddenly feeling very deprived with only one taco joint on my block back in Brooklyn. Here, there are family-owned Mexican places next to huge Mexican chain restaurants next to slightly different versions of the huge Mexican chain restaurants. Driving across the Katy Freeway, my mouth waters right and left at all of the neon signs. So I was here for less than 24 hours when I started searching Yelp for the best Mexican food in Houston and found Chavez Mexican Cafe.
We started off with a big bowl of corn chips with two homemade salsas, one spicy and one sweet, and then ordered everything on the menu. j/k, the menu is gigantic, but we ordered enough food that our server told us there were plenty of take-home boxes in the back. And here I thought my appetite would be appropriate in Texas, where everything’s supposedly bigger.
This melted cheese with chorizo, mushrooms, onions, and poblano peppers was set on fire before our eyes and served with flour and corn tortillas. The cheese was super chewy and dripping with all of the oils and juices from the meat and vegetables. Wrapped up like a little gift in a tortilla, it was the kind of savory guilty pleasure bite that made me unable to stop eating more of it.
With sauteed shrimp, all of the creamy and crunchy toppings you can think of, and those floppy corn tortillas. The lemon cream sauce made these nice and bright, and our server brought us an extra bean soup because we were sharing them. The service here was very friendly and attentive in general, but I really noticed this one little extra.
Apparently whole deep-fried stuffed avocados exist elsewhere, but I’d never heard of them until I saw the menu for Chavez Mexican Cafe. I got mine stuffed with beef and cheese because one of the reviews I read said that it doesn’t even make sense how tender the beef is here. I expected the big chunks of meat inside to be chewy despite that review just based on their size, but they really were fork-tender and a nice contrast to the creamy avocado and its crispy coating. A chicken enchilada, rice, and refried beans rounded out the plate, and all of them were flavorful in ways that made them compete with the avocado to be the stand-out element of the dish. The rice and beans were so good I’d make a meal of them alone.
I persuaded Jack to order this grilled chicken breast covered with sauteed shrimp, Mexican crema, and chipotle just so I could try it. We usually eat low-carb, and I was excited that such a great unbreaded entree option existed, but I also really needed to try that deep-fried avocado. The chicken was pounded thin to make it sort of like a meaty flatbread, and the sauce that I expected to be overly rich was actually acidic and light.
Margaritas are $2.49 during happy hour, which happens to last all day Monday to Wednesday. And they’re only $4.99 regularly, so, you know, get them every day.
Chavez Mexican Cafe is a really, really unassuming place, as you can see from the decor. We loved the booths along the side walls that felt very private, but apparently the place gets crazy on weekend nights, and for good reason. Every bit of food we had here was fresh, clearly made with love, and bursting with unexpected flavor. Chef Chavez came out of the kitchen to tell us about leaving his well-paying former job behind to work hard doing what he’s passionate about, which is making Mexican food that just tastes great. He says he feels a little bad that the other Mexican restaurants around him sometimes sit empty when there’s a line out the door at his . . . but not that bad.
Having eaten a whole suckling pig at Chef April Bloomfield’s The Breslin a couple of years ago, I was excited to see what she could do with one of my comfort foods: tacos. What made Salvation Taco even more appealing to me is that it’s on 39th Street, just south of my boyfriend’s apartment, in this part of the Murray Hill neighborhood that’s mostly filled with highrises and Irish pubs meant to attract the after-work crowd.
(It was ridiculously dark in the restaurant, so please excuse my heavily-lightened pictures.)
I’ve secretly loved the totally-Americanized horchatas I’ve had with pounds of sugar and cinnamon mixed in, but this one tasted much more grown up with the coffee and spice-ful Fernet. You’d, uh, never know it by the vessel it was served in, though. It should be noted that my friend Kim‘s drink came in a totally normal glass, so I’m 100% sure they were trying to shame me for ordering a frozen drink at 6 p.m.
The textures of the pork belly and pineapple were so similar that I couldn’t tell which I was picking up in the near-dark of the restaurant, but I did love the pork-fruit combination and the spicy finish. This was the sort of thing I think of when I think of Chef Bloomfield: perfect meats and a flavor punch. I just needed something crunchy thrown in.
From left to right: Moroccan lamb on naan, al pastor, skirt steak with pecan and chipotle, roasted cauliflower with curried crema, fried striped bass with Mayan mayo.
They were all flavorful and delicious, but the fish taco was the major standout, and I say this as someone who is almost 100% against the idea of fish mucking up my tacos. The mayo was just the right amount of spicy, and there was just enough citrus, and the fish was breaded just enough to give it some crunch without masking the flavor, and those pickled onions were the perfect accompaniment. On my next visit, I’d order five of these. And nothing else.
If I’m being honest, the burnt sugar ice cream was terrible. Truly, truly bitter and inedible. My perfectly classy dining partner and I were practically wiping it off of our tongues with napkins. BUT. When eaten with the pumpkin ice cream, it became like a caramelized sugar crust to a pumpkin creme brulee. I understand why they sell them as a set; they just need to come with a warning.
Salvation Taco fits into the neighborhood perfectly. It’s using excellent ingredients prepared properly for the well-fed business type, but it also has ping-pong, a trendy lounge area, and plenty of pretty tourists stopping by from the attached hotel, Pod 39. It was loud and crowded, but that’s what I expect from a restaurant trying to pass itself off as a cheap taco joint. The only problem for me–and for everyone else, from what I’ve read–is that this isn’t actually a cheap taco joint. The tacos are incredibly small; two bites, and they’re finished. I ate only three because I am a lady, but you can bet I went home after this $50 meal and ordered some questionable-meat tacos from the local Chinese/Mexican place for a fifth of the price. They didn’t compare to that fish taco, though.
I have basically a nonstop craving for the Quesadilla Enorme from Baby Bo’s Cantina in Murray Hill. There’s always a crazy wait to get into the place, so discovering that they deliver to my boyfriend’s apartment is the best/worst thing to happen to my midsection in a long time.
The Quesadilla Enorme is a giant tortilla splayed out and covered in cheese, potatoes, a dark rich BBQ sauce, and your choice of protein, covered with another tortilla, grilled until the edges get perfectly crisp, topped with dollops of guacamole, creamy chipotle sauce, jalapenos, and sour cream, and served with chips and salsa OMG.
I always order the pork version, but I’m preeeeeetty sure the kitchen staff had something else on their minds last time I got it: