Friday, March 16, 2012

Bits and Morsels

Empellon guacamole & salsa.

by Erin Frankel

New Mexican Eats. Empellon Cocina. Former WD-50 pastry chef Alex Stupak has done it again with his second Empellon outpost, Empellon Cocina.

Not surprisingly, Stupak mixes favorite staples with exotic ingredients in producing a superior version of Mexican cuisine. Start with the fresh and perfectly spicy guacamole with pistachios and mesa crisps. This was, by far, the lightest and most flavorful guacamole I've had in a long time. Complement this with a selection of the restaurant's signature salsas like the smoked cashew and the hot and spicy salsa borracha.
Empellon margarita. Empellon salsas.
Then, move onto the vegetables. I suggest trying the avocado with spicy grains, and sunchokes drizzled with a hazelnut dressing. The Tortilla section houses my favorite dish on the menu, a creamy melted tetilla cheese embedded with lobster tomate frito, finished with a yucatan-style white sauce called kol.

The fish. Knowing my inclination for scallops, I decided to go with Empellon Cocina's version, which are spruced up with a dicing of Huitlacoche Rutabaga and sweet Masa Polenta. As for the meat, the tender Wagyu skirt steak accompanied with black beans and infused with an aromatic salsa roja is a good choice.

You'll feel stuffed at this point, but then again there's always room for dessert. Go for the deliciously savory vanilla Marquesote sprinkled with bits of orange and a piloncillo & cafe con leche ice cream.
Empellon avocado dish.
Empellon Wagyu skirt steak.
Empellon scallops.
Empellon tetilla cheese with lobster tomate frito.
A New Fusion. The Toucan & The Lion. The New York City restaurant scene is always full of surprises, especially over the years with so many fusions of cuisines and culinary tactics. We've seen it all. Asian-French, Mexican-Italian, Farm-to-table-Southern, the Korean taco. And now, for the first time, the "Astropub." Something owners Craig Dagata and Tabitha Tan call a Gastropub with an Asian bent.

For example, the beef short rib tacos are seasoned with a Southeast Asian aromatic dried curry, queso fresco, and pickled shallot. Chef Justin Fertitta also adds some new East Asian dishes to the time-honored gastropub menu, all prepared with fresh, seasonal produce and light, robust flavors; a perfect example being blood orange and green mango salad with radishes and baby carrots, seasoned with chili, thai basil, and tangy blood orange vin.

Chef Fertitta also refines and reinvents gastropub classics with some Mediterranean influences, like the hearty farro risotto with fall flavors of squash, goat cheese, and yuzu pumpkin seeds, and patatas bravas with a smoked chili aioli and purple sweet potatoes.
Toucan Crimson cocktail. Toucan La Isla cocktail.
The Toucan & The Lion places a strong emphasis on specialty cocktails with seasonal ingredients and exotic Southeast Asian elements that are created in-house with self-rendered vermouths, shrubs and fresh juices. I downed the sweet Crimson and Clover, a concoction of tequila, lime, fresh muddled raspberries, and green peppercorn simple syrup AND the refreshing La Isla, a mixture of Genmaicha infused rum, Velvet Falernum, and fresh coconut water.

The decor is appropriate too; the small, cozy, casual space invites a sense of calm in its contemporary modernist design. From the floors, which are finished with an environmentally sustainable Austrian volcano oak from Mafi, to the timeless in-house terrariums and herbariums disguised as feature lights, to the stools from Aalva Aalto's Artek, Melbourne-based architect Brandon Hng successfully creates a complete sensory British East Indies experience.
Toucan farro risotto.
Toucan mango salad.
Toucan patatas bravas.
Toucan short ribs tacos.
A reason to get out of bed. Brunch at Jeffrey's Grocery. Gabe Stulman's retro '50s-style food shop/restaurant in the West Village is my new go-to spot. Start with the East & West Coast Oysters, a specialty here. The West, from British Columbia, are small and kusshi and have a sweet, crisp, and clean flavor. The East, from Peters Point, Maine, engender mild earth tones and have a more complex, sweeter kick.

Next, indulge in some of the restaurant's savory seasonal American fare like the mushroom and cheddar toast, a nice tender poached egg and fresh parsley on top of a perfectly crispy grilled cheddar cheese and mushroom sandwich. Or, try the juicy, tender lobster roll with smoked bacon bits and spicy mayo stuffed inside a hot New-England-style bun.
Jeffrey's Grocery oysters on the half shell.
Jeffrey's Grocery lobster roll.
Jeffrey's Grocery's mushroom & cheddar toast.