The Insatiable Palate Review #24: Empellón Cocina (East Village, New York)

No Tacos, No Tortilla Chips. Just Delightful Mexican Cuisine 

At the end of my meal at Empellón Cocina, I began to realize that Chef Alex Stupak’s immersion circulators and the liquid nitrogen tanks truly had a function in making the food taste delicious. Tacos and tortilla chips are delicious, but these creations are not available at Chef Stupak’s second restaurant. Empellón literally means “to push.” The philosophy at Cocina is to embrace the Mexican system of cooking and inspire creativity through modern techniques and cuisine.

I became frightened when I had my first bite of guacamole with pistachios and masa crisps. It wasn’t about the quality of the dip. The guacamole was delicious, the crunchy texture of pistachios was pleasant, and the fresh avocados were refreshing. I really started to panic because I feared that the rest of the meal would remain mundane, not providing the “push” I had anticipated before the meal. My fear was short-lived. The nine other courses of the dinner felt like a dream.

Roasted Carrots with Mole Poblano, Yogurt and Watercress

Empellón Cocina is definitely making vegetables fun again (I say this often). The roasted carrots provide a wonderful savory and hearty bite which I assume is supplemented by the mole rubbed throughout the bowl. The best has yet to come.

Gordita with Smoked Plantain, Chorizo and Egg Yolk

The gordita with smoked plantains and the shrimp with crispy masa (pictured at the top of the page) arrived approximately at the same time. I instantaneously gravitated towards to gordita because I knew that there was an egg yolk, waiting to be cracked open. The masa on the gordita is fried, but the yolk stays warm and runny. It’s the best of both worlds. The plantains and chorizo respectively add subtly sweet and smoky elements which are very pleasant.

The shrimp with crispy masa and sea urchin mousse has to be one of the wonderful surprises of the night. There are pictures of Chef Stupak weaving the masa dough through copper pipes and then applying sea urchin mousse to the finished masa wave. I geeked out when I saw these pictures for the first time. This sort of craftsmanship is so admirable because I’d never have the patience to execute anything like this.

Melted Tetilla Cheese with Lobster, Tomate Frito and Kol

I have no idea what a Yucatan style white sauce is, but it’s definitely cheesy goodness. Although I don’t understand how/where the lobster was incorporated into the dish, I don’t need any explanations. It’s delicious as it is. The melted teltilla cheese arrives with a warm plate of tortillas. It’s worth the messy trouble (the $19 price tag is negotiable).

The Empellón team also brought our table some crispy tongue sopes during the course of the meal to make us feel even more self conscious about our bodies. I guess they know the ways into our hearts.

Maine Diver Scallops, English Peas and Chilaquiles Verdes

The main diver scallops here are vibrant and aromatic. It’s buttery, but not heavy. The chilaquiles verdes bring out the freshness of the scallops. The peas also balance the creamy flavors on the plate.

Squid with Potatoes, Chorizo Mayonnaise and Black Mole

It’s a privilege to have the braised octopus at Perla and then the squid at Cocina a week later. The work on the immersion circulator allows the calamari to go on a warm delicious bath, creating a soft and tender texture.  The black sauce (which I swore was squid ink) is actually black mole. The savory sauce has a subtly musky taste which pairs well with the components on the dish. The chilhuacle negro peppers and the 29 other ingredients in that sauce must be made with lots of love.

Arroz Con Leche with Rompope (eggnog), Guava, & Cream Cheese

We also can’t leave without having dessert, right? The motto is “we have to do it for the blog.” Our decision paid off because the arroz con leche was a remarkable winner. It’s velvety from the addition of the cream cheese, but it doesn’t have the pungent tang. The eggnog provides a delightfully sweet, but not sugary finish.

The chocolate cake is also a great choice if you’re only comfortable with ordering desserts that you can properly pronounce. A spoonful of cake and a dollop of refreshingly cold masa ice cream will keep you fascinated throughout the entire night.

Empellón Cocina deserves so much more praise for its ability to use modern techniques to create tasty dishes. It shouldn’t just receive recognition because it’s good Mexican-inspired cuisine. It should deserve more praise because the food is absolutely delicious.

Hungry eaters, run to Empellón Cocina, bring lots of friends, and share everything on the menu. This experience is magical.

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