"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Monday, January 3, 2011

Toloache - December 26, 2010

I thought Mexican was dead; Mexican was dead as long as New York was concerned. I have long stopped trying to find a reasonable answer as to the dearth of authentic restaurants of certain cuisines – be it Italian, Peruvian or Mexican – despite the prominent immigrant population. Generally, there exists a correlation between influx of immigrants and the development of that particular type of cuisine in the receiving nation: For example, there was a flood of Italian immigrants to Argentina around the turn of the twentieth century; therefore, there are many good Italian restaurants in Argentina. However, this rule of thumb seems to have failed in New York. Where do Mexican people in New York eat? Admittedly, there are only less than a quarter million Mexican immigrants in the New York area, but they still have to eat, do they not? Finally finding a new Mexican restaurant worth trying, of all the 365 days in a year, I had to venture out on the day when New York stood still in the blizzard. My stomach really rules.

Sopa de Tortilla – tomato & guajillo soup, crispy tortilla, Chihuahua cheese, avocado

I was less than excited by the generic tomato soup. Even the spiciness and the fried sticks of tortilla failed to make the soup more interesting on the palate. For tortilla soup, I prefer the simple chicken soup variety, especially the Yucatan chicken soup.

Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas - manchego cheese, corn, black truffle, huitlacoche salsa

Described as Mexican “pizza,” the corn tortilla version of quesadilla was baked until crispy, topped with melted cheese and paper-thin slices of, presumably, the black truffle. The manchego cheese dominated the tiny quesadilla; the black truffle and huitlacoche, if they were present, were there only in spirit, and they provided only a visual contrast against the creamy yellow of the cheese and tortilla but nothing against the taste.

Tacos de Hongos y Nopales – maitake & huitlacoche mushrooms, cactus, queso fresco

My blizzard night started to look better with the first selection of taco. The corn tortilla was light and flavorful, which contained chunks of crunchy cactus and aromatic maitake (one of my favorite mushrooms). The queso fresco was salty and creamy, which harmonized the mushrooms, cactus, tomato and the tortilla.

Tacos de Camaron - garlic-chipotle shrimp, hearts of palm slaw, tamarind salsa

However, the second round of tacos was the deciding factor: These incredible shrimp tacos made me a believer in their tacos. The shrimps were cut into large chunks and grilled to perfect succulence. The hearts of palm slaw not only enlivened the tacos with its dainty sourness in conjunction with the faintly sweet tamarind salsa, but it also gave the tacos a twist in texture – a gentle bite to the chunky shrimps. It was prodigious to trap such multitude of flavors and textures in such a small circle of corn tortilla.

Avocado Fries

Toloache did a noble job: The avocados were thickly cut and evenly dusted with very fine bread crumbs and evenly crispy from one tip to the other. The sweet dipping sauce, a complete mismatch, was suspiciously similar to the Worcestershire sauce, although I would have placed my bet on tamarind since it was a Mexican restaurant. This dish failed to persuade my firm conviction that avocados are invariably better off raw than cooked: The heat destroys the green herbal flavor of the avocado and it also turns the creaminess of the luscious flesh into a starchy mash.

Berenjena Adobada - adobo marinated Japanese eggplant, lentils, sweet plantains, achiote-habanero salsa

A bold study of the sweet and spicy: The tender eggplants were simultaneously sour from the adobo marinade and the salsa and sweet from the plantains, while the gradually intensifying heat from the habenero promoted the diner to desire another serving of the sweet and sour to quench the heat – however, only to be entrapped in the sweet-sour-spicy spiral until all traces of the dish were eliminated. The lentils, although only playing a side role, were also expertly cooked to retain its nutty texture.

Churros - Mexican cinnamon dusted; cajeta and chocolate dipping sauces

The weak paleness of the churros was unconvincing; my skepticism was soon confirmed by my first bit into the mushy dough saturated with frying oil, which, if it were a steak, I would have called “rare.” The temperature in frying these Mexican doughnuts must have been too low; thus the dough had soaked up the oil without gaining any flavor. Despite the word, “cinnamon” on the description, the churros were blanco in color and taste. The accompanying lukewarm pot of runny dark brown liquid could have been anything but chocolate, while the serviceable cajeta (caramel) was thoroughly wasted on this plate of misery.

Pastel de Chocolate - Warm Mexican chocolate cake – dulce de leche ice cream

Quetzalcoatl might have blessed the Mayans with a gift of chocolate, but he certainly must have walked past Toloache. The chocolate cake was barely warm and barely chocolate despite its deep color bordering on black. The color of the dulce de leche ice cream was as light as a poorly made tea with milk and just about as exciting. This sorry rendition of dulce de leche ice cream would not be allowed to pass the custom into the land of dulce de leche – a.k.a. Argentina – where Persicco (the very best heladeria in Argentina; do not waste your daily calorie intake elsewhere) devotes an entire section on dulce de leche concoctions – dulce de leche casero (homemade), dulce de leche with meringue, dulce de leche with chocolate chips, dulce de leche with almonds, etc.

Address:  251 W 50th Street, New York, NY 10019
Phone:  (212) 581-1818

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