Marcus and I had a brunch date last weekend at Empellón Cocina (thanks to a gratuitous recommendation from Alice!) in the East Village. It was probably one of the hottest days we've had this summer, so we trekked through the pounding heat to finally make it there.
Empellón means "to push" in Spanish, and it is the creation of Chef Alex Stupak, whose Mexican cuisine at Empellón Cocina acknowledges the "fine line between taking a cuisine in a new direction and stripping it of its soul." The kitchen at Empellón Cocina is "dedicated to the myriad of fundamental techniques and applications that make Mexican cooking taste Mexican," where its approach is "informed by authenticity but not limited by it."
Chef Stupak graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, where shortly after, he went to work at Chicago's Tru as a tournant. Two years later, he became a sous chef at The Federalist in Boston (in the state where he had grown up). Shortly after, he left to pursue an opportunity at another restaurant in Boston, Clio, whereto he had previously had an externship during his time at CIA, to become the restaurant's first pastry chef. He became Boston's "Best Pastry Chef" in 2003, and a couple years later, Chef Grant Achatz asked him to become a pastry chef at Alinea in Chicago, at which time hadn't been opened yet. After his time at Alinea, Chef Stupak went to work for Chef Wylie Dufresne at New York City's wd~50 in 2007.
The next "logical progression" that Chef Stupak had for himself was "to push" (just like his restaurant brand's name) in "a new direction by answering a simple question, "What do you love to eat the most?" The answer to this question sent the chef "working to create the restaurant he was dreaming of rather than the one he was groomed for" the next four years in New York City. In March 2010, Empellón Taqueria opened, and Empellón Cocina opened a year later.
I began our brunch with a glass of the zona rosa -- a mixture of tequila, rosé, and another ingredient that escapes me now. It was a bit strong at first -- tequila can really do that to a drink, hehe -- but after a while of sipping it during the course of our meal, it was quite refreshing. It is the perfect pitchered concoction to share with friends whilst catching up over brunch.
To start, Marcus and I decided to sample three of the salsas from the restaurant's selection of seven different kinds. The red was the tomatillo-chipotle, the green was the salsa verde, and the white/cream was the smoked cashew. The salsas were served alongside masa crisps (i.e., made from hominy flour), which are a little thinner and crispier than a tortilla chip. Our favorites were the tomatillo-chipotle (a spicy, thick structure) and the smoked cashew (a smoky and creamy nuttiness), and the masa crisps went so deliciously with them -- the perfect dipping vessel for these flavorful salsas. Now, these are certainly worth getting for the table!
For my main course, I went with the slow-poached eggs with toasted challah and green chorizo gravy. Slow-poached eggs and challah bread are both some of my favorite brunch foods, so I thought this would be the way to go for me. But, however much I loved the challah, the slow-poached eggs weren't as poached-like as I had wanted, and the green chorizo gravy had a spice/herb of which I wasn't too fond. Otherwise, if it hadn't been for my own personal taste profile, this is a well-crafted Mexican version of egg-in-the-hole.
Marcus had the buttermilk-masa pancakes with smoked-maple syrup and mole poblano butter, which he easily claimed to be the best pancakes he has ever had. The texture was the best part of these pancakes -- they were thick and substantial yet somehow light and fluffy without being too airy (as many fluffy pancakes can be). The smoky syrup combined with the punchy butter made these pancakes stand out even more. So if you're a pancake lover, you need to give these a try!
For dessert, I couldn't help but order some churros with champurrado (i.e., chocolate-based atole -- a warm and thick Mexican drink). Piping hot and well deep-fried, the churros went great with the chocolate atole -- the perfect amount of bittersweetness to end a savory brunch.
Findings: Overall, we had a lovely time at Empellón Cocina. While I didn't fall in love with the slow-poached eggs (I blame my novice palate when it comes to authentic Mexican food), Marcus and I undoubtedly fell in love with the buttermilk-masa pancakes (so fluffy and delicious) as well as the salsas we had tried. Chef Alex Stupak definitely has some wonderful things cooking up for brunch here, especially if you're looking for interesting twists on the usual American brunch items with some authentic Mexican flair mixed in. I'm curious to check out this spot for dinner as I'm sure it'll be able to showcase Chef Stupak's other culinary talents in the realm of Mexican cuisine. Either way, I need to try the guacamole with pistachios and masa chips (the combination sounds so great) next time I'm there -- anyone care to join me? :)
Price point: $3 for each salsa, $13 for each main course, $10 for a glass of zona rosa, $5 for the side, $10 for dessert.
--July 7, 2012
105 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003