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

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crema - January 29, 2011

A problem that has been ruminated, chewed over and cogitated in my mind – a real food for thought – is this: What is an haute cuisine in terms of Mexican food? Haute cuisine is as much a matter of the ingredients as well as the techniques. For French, it is obvious as the guideposts are clearly marked: Foie gras, truffle, Michelin stars (not that I agree with them, but) and the Le Cordon Bleu. But when it comes to Mexican food, I not only lack the knowledge, but also my Virgil, to navigate through a rather unfamiliar territory. Physically locked in a city devoid of good Mexican restaurants – low or high – with minor exceptions, my food for thought seems to have ample time to be thoroughly ruminated indeed. Nonetheless, if no haute cuisine, at least I can try nuevo Mexican fares to see what Mexican chefs can do in this island of bad avocados and dirty snow.

Flan de Huitlacoche – Black Mexican truffle savory flan, grilled Portobello mushroom, goat cheese, chile paste

A word of caution: The adjective, “black,” was not modifying the truffle, but the flan, as the entire flan was deeply black. As I burrowed into the dish, I was betrayed by a dark heaviness descending slowly into my stomach ungracefully and ungraciously. The flan was a nondescript otherwise, relieved occasionally by the presence of few grilled Portobello slices.

Pastel Azteca – Multilayered tortilla “casserole” with shredded chicken, beans, fresh corn, three cheeses, salsa roja, hoja santa drizzled with truffle oil

An interesting Mexican interpretation of “chicken pot pie,” the corn tortilla acted as the pie crust, in which was stuffed mildly flavored shredded chicken and beans. This chicken pot pie’s Mexican cousin was baked in a small square ramkin until the thick layer of cheese was melted and browned. The fact that the shredded chicken remained moist and tender was not a wonder, given such a heavy protection. While the dish displayed an inventive use of the corn tortilla – an idea which I just may borrow, the layering of flavors was surprisingly single-dimensional and can be called “homey” without any blessings. However, the fresh corn in the salsa roja spiced up the dish by its compound of sweet and juicy corn against hot chile. Although the menu mentioned “truffle oil,” either it did not make it into my plate or the flavor had expired in the bottle a very long time ago.

Tostada de Avestruz – Seared fillet of ostrich tostadas with black beans, goat cheese, guava-chile glaze

Ostrich is a relatively bland meat. The mild goat cheese and the even milder black beans failed to lift up the flavor of the tenderly seared ostrich. The guava-chile jam was singularly sweet without any tanginess to puncture the static progression from mild, milder to mildest.

Taquitos de Chilorio - Slow-cooked pork mini tacos chile ancho, jalapeño vinegar, chipotle cilantro drizzle and crema

Perched coquettishly askew against a bowl of bi-color sauce, the skewered miniature bundles hid pork that was juicy and spiced, but not spicy, in light and crunchy shells. This was the type of food that you would call “guilty pleasures,” which your mother (or personal trainer) would forbid you to eat, but your fingers would have a great time sliding those rolled taquitos off the skewer into the tropically colored sauces then to the sinful creama. The play of herbs, spice and cream would send you back immediately to another taquito.

Callo de Hacha con Chile Morita y Mango - Dry scallops pan seared in chile morita, sweet corn cake, avocado mousse, mango pico de gallo, chipotle aioli

The word, “dry,” caught my attention: The only “dry” scallops I had known were the Chinese “dried” scallops, which were good for congee and soups. With this association in mind, I was intrigued to try the Mexican dry scallops. However, the mysterious dry scallops turned out to be nothing but the most common scallops. These disappointingly normal sea creatures were not even adequately fresh, as it was already relentlessly exuding the brininess of the sea. On the other hand, the dais of sweet corn softened the brines out of the scallops somewhat by its sweet gentility in the mouth. The mayonnaise – a.k.a. aioli – also tried to help the scallops apologetically, although it should have saved the trouble and tried to find what happened to its own chipotle. As for the avocado mousse, I suspect it had never left the kitchen.

Tacos de Carne Asada – Adobo-marinated grilled skirt steak, black beans served in corn tortillas

These simple yet hearty tacos were thoroughly satisfying in every way of the messy, juicy and meaty grilled skirt steak and the creamy beans, scooped up in and slopping away from the corn tortillas. The refreshing salsa and the smoky chili oil both wonderfully complemented the flavor of the meat. Another order, perhaps?

Pastel de Tres Leches – Sponge cake soaked in three milks, mango syrup, dulce de leche ice cream

As the name indicates, the sponge cake was soaked in the tradition of evaporated milk, cream and regular milk; however, one of the milks was in a sherbet form, to be pour over the dos leches cake to make tres. Typically packed in with the milk protein, milk fat and, no doubt, enough sugar to ruin any low-carb diet for months, the usual tres leches cake is a heavy affair, not to be ordered carelessly or casually. However, Crema’s rendition – I suppose they should know how to handle cream since it is their name sake – was rich but not clogging, creamy yet smooth and sweet yet not sugary. I wonder if the freezer-hard dulce de leche ice cream would have made it into a pastel de quatro leches.

Address:  111 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011
Phone:  (212) 691-4477

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