Alex Stupak, the chef of Empellon Cocina in New York City, has made a brave move. He is going exactly where chefs before him (American born chefs in particular) were afraid to go. Delving head first into a cuisine previously left for the corner tacqueria (or taco shop), he's now well on his way to transforming the way we think about Mexican food in this country.
Once the pastry chef at illustrious restaurants like Clio, Alinea, and WD-50, his career took a hard left turn when he announced his plans to open a contemporary Mexican restaurant in the heart of New York City. His followers were shocked. Stupak not doing pastry?? What was this world coming to? Few believed he'd be able to pull it off (including myself). The news first came in whispers amongst the culinary underground, before it was finally put in print. Yes, Stupak really was leaving his post at WD-50, for good.
Stupak's goals and intentions were difficult to internalize let alone be made into reality. He wanted to be a key player in the progression of Mexican cuisine, without losing sight of the culture's deep food roots - they've been grounded firmly for centuries. He was aware of the difficulties that faced him and his kitchen.
In March of 2011, it happened. The restaurant opened to resounding applause and an appreciation for the food of Mexico that had never been seen in the city before. Chef Stupak and his talented staff had figured it out, and made it work. They realized that there was no way to create contemporary Mexican food without some changes - there had to be change. But those changes had to be made with respect for the foundation of the cuisine and the people that worked so hard to preserve it.
The restaurant boldly states that they "are dedicated to the myriad of fundamental techniques and applications that make Mexican cooking taste Mexican. But we are dedicated to using them with our own sensibility. Empellon's approach to cuisine is informed by authenticity but not limited by it."
To be brief, the food was beautiful, honest, and simple. The authentic flavors were there. We knew we were eating Mexican food, but was it in a different form than we had ever experienced before- even within the realms of American food. Our meal was delicious, satisfying, and inspiring. Stupak's renditions of classic Mexican dishes were genuine and true, but had twists and turns that we could never have expected.
Enormous tequila selection. The largest in New York we were later informed.
Semicircle shaped bar. Lively and energetic.
Housemade masa chips.
Scotch Egg: Chicken Chorizo, Masa, Tempura.
Shigoku Oysters: Sangrita, Salsa Bruja
Smoked Bluefish Rillette.
Roasted Carrots: Mole Poblano, Yogurt, Watercress.
Squid: Black Mole, Potatoes, Sour Orange Mayonaise.
Chilled Mayan Prawns: Lettuces, Salsa Verde Mousse, Crispy Masa Waves
Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche: Butternut Squash, Lemon Curd, Jalapeño
Cured Red Snapper Taco: Sesame, Habanera, Red Onion
Shortrib Pastrami Taco: Pickled Cabbage, Mustard Seed Salsa
Crispy Sweetbread Taco: Green Chorizo Gravy
Peekytoe Crab Cake Taco: Sea Urchin Guacamole
Passionfruit & Tequila.
Chocolate & Malt
City folk: make haste to Empellon Cocina, you will not be disappointed. Without a doubt, we'll be back again. Can't wait to see what Stupak has up his sleeve next...