Thursday, May 5, 2011

The "Push" is on at Empellon Mexican Restaurant

If looking for some different, some fabulous New York City restaurant to celebrate Cinco de Mayo -- the day when Mexican soldiers defeated Napoleon’s French forces, then look no further.  Celebrated Iron Chef Alex Stupak’s new Mexican restaurant Empellon restaurant sticks it the eye of the French yet again.  Here, Chef Alex shows traditional French haute cuisine to the door.

Empellon is surely the place to celebrate Mexican culinary culture. It’s a place to eat – to dine – to enjoy real food; the cultural cuisine of elegant Mexico vs. the tasteless ubiquitous, margarita and cheese-bombed Kraft-inspired version of what passes for Mexican.

Empellon – which means push – is different. 
Likewise, Chef Alex is an inveterate contrarian.
The result is that customers are pushed or rather gently seduced with a come-hither menu that lures the diner to experiment. 

Flavors and tastes are more often than not unfamiliar, defying food description.  “It’s smoky, it’s spicy.  It's hot. It’s a combination of sweet and refreshingly citrusy. Or roasted.” Or just “mmmm.” Or “wow.” 

The delightful joy of eating at Empellon is discovery.  Pure and simple and exhilarating and delicious. And affordable.

Chef Alex Stupak

Chef Alex takes pains to claim he is not an artist.  However, he practically defines art!  He shares a passion. And his work  -- or art -- is constantly changing and evolving. 
If fine art patrons can’t stop looking at that Andy Warhol, Empellon patrons can hardly be blamed for seeing and tasting nuance in every dish.
When asked if he is recreating a cultural heritage cuisine or taking the inspiration and re-crafting the recipes, he thoughtfully stops to consider.  While Alex has done his share of solid research in Mexico, studying and inculcating the local food style – particularly in Oaxaca, there is no denying he can’t suppress his creativity. Chef says he is inspired by the impressive variety of plants and spices and the endless combinations found in Mexican cultural cuisine.

Perhaps Chef Alex is looking to put some distance between his first foray as an acclaimed pastry chef to the savory side of the restaurant.  His pedigree is impressive: Iron Chef, WD-50, Alinea’s wunderkind and master of the manipulated.
Some questioned his move away from desserts and his opening a restaurant with Mexican food.  His standard response is that he likes Mexican food.  While that may be true enough, it’s evident that his artistic DNA is boundless. 
One meal will have anyone asking, “Who cares?” 
This food is amazing! 
The food ingredients are sourced from local greenmarkets, especially Union Square. For the unique, Mexican-grown ingredients, including the variety of nearly 20 chiles he needs and the plantains that don’t grow in the local NY climate Chef Alex has developed regional relationships there in order to get the best and freshest for the restaurant. 

The large living room-sized dining room is up front and a smaller dining room in the rear.  

The lighting is low and candles set off the dark wood tables.

One wall of the main room is white-washed brick and the bar runs the length of the other side, backed by a Diego Rivera-like mural that is ablaze with red-hot chile colors.  

The spirit of the Mexican painter’s labor murals could almost be said to inspire the servers and staff when observing their steely energy and crisp focused customer attention. 

The restaurant is a family-run business.  Alex’s wife, Lauren Resler, of Babbo fame, is the pastry chef here.  Her brother, Matthew is the beverage manager and bartender. 
Matthew has curated a drink offering that is nothing short of astounding.
With nearly 25 Mezcals, Empellon has more than any other bar in New York. And with names like Ilegal and Scorpion, the agave-based drinks are an illicit-sounding yet completely legit drinking adventure, setting the explorer back a mere $8 to $26.
There are also more than 35 different Tequilas, including Blanco, Resposado, Anejo and Ultra Premium and Infused, priced from $7 to $75.
There are plenty of beers with Modelo Especial and Negro Modelo on tap, along with six other brews. Beers run $5 to $9.
Por Que No?! Coctele
The Cocteles were an explosion of flavor.  
The kick of the Por Que No? is one of the most popular with its silver/cilantro/Serrano/pineapple blend.  Wow!

The comprehensive wine list includes vintages from all the top wine producing areas.  What is intriguing and thoughtful here, as explained by the super-professional, uber-knowledgeable and gorgeous assistant manager, Rose Thompson, is that the list is arranged by attributes.

Rose Thompson, Empellon

So if the traditional European two-step of white with fish and red with meat leaves a lingering question of what to order with Mexican fare, it’s all been tied up with a bow here.  For example, Red can be Light & Fruit Driven or Rustic & Earthy or Bold & Velvety. Whites are Crisp & Bright or Rich & Full.
Rose said the restaurant chose to pair the wine by its fruit or spice rather than match it to the food by the protein.

The dinner menu can start with a rich, creamy, flavorful and chunky guacamole. 
But no tomatoes or citrus.  It is prepared with smoke cashew and arbol chile.  It comes with limes on the side and two salsas – that can go with everything. The Salsa Veracruz is roasted tomato olive and caper that is a blend of salty and smoky.  

There are plenty of appetizers to choose from. 
That’s the problem. They are all too tempting. 
Who can resist Antojitos – which means craving?!

The taco dinner comes with three per order.  The Lamb Barbacoa is cooked all day, melts in the mouth and served with Salsa Borracha and one of the most popular.  
Lamb Barbacoa with Salsa Borracha

Beer Braised Tongue with Potatoes & Arbol Chile Salsa 

The Beer Braised Tongue with potatoes and Arbol Chile Salsa is a surprise treat—smooth and best eaten with the accompanying onions- that will have people talking!  

The Fish Tempura taco with cabbage and lime mayonnaise is startling for it’s blend of flavors  - the Dogfish Tempura was served on a bed of layered radish, cilantro and sauce for a burst of flavor.

Dogfish Tempura with Cabbage & Lime Mayonaise

Seared Scallop over Peeky Toe Crab
The Seared Scallop over plantains and peeky toe crab with shredded taco- like potato sticks is a fantastic blend of textures and tastes. 

The desserts are a sweet confection and just as difficult to decide what to order. 
Recommended are the Bunuelos with Cafeta and Warm Honey and the irresistible Chocolate Flan with Masa-Cocoa Streusel and Cinnamon Ice Cream.

Bunuelos with Cafeta & Warm Honey

Chocolate Flan with Masa-Cocoa Streusel & Cinnamon Ice Cream

The flavor-packed dessert creations are on the same page as the Empellon savory menu offerings.  Zing! Without a punch.  The afterglow hits just the right note of fresh and flavorful. Chocolate is velvety, the cinnamon sparks and the streusel is served like graham cracker crumbs. 
The Bunuelos are like sparkly pillows made all the more heavenly with warm caramel sauce…

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in style.  Go to Empellon for the special Prix Fixed Menu: four courses and open bar. Seatings are 6 ($70) and 8:30 pm. ($85). Chef Alex will keep the integrity of the menu for the celebration.
Return again and again for the variety and excitement of the delicious food waiting to be discovered at Chef Alex’s powerful and compelling Empellon.  Hey, no pushing! There's plenty of delicious food for everybody!

Empellon serves Lunch, Dinner, and Brunch. 
The restaurant is open 5pm to 2 am.
230 West 4th Street at 10th St. near 7th Avenue South
New York, NY

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