As most New Yorkers know it’s next to impossible to find decent Mexican food outside of California or of course Mexico itself. And historically Mexican cuisine—at least in the States—has mostly been relegated to the ubiquitous taco and carnitas and bad Tex-Mex, or—if you come to San Francisco—you can find the holy grail of burritos. Yes, this can be delicious, but it's not regional Mexican cooking. I’m delighted to say that contemporary Mexican cuisine has started to be taken a lot more seriously across the country, particularly in major food cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. There was a great write-up in the New York Times titled ‘Modern Mexican’ Steps into the Spotlight. The examples are numerous and include the likes of Californios and Cala in SF and one I did not know about until recently—Cosme in the Flatiron District in NYC.
Stuffed avocado "vuelve a la vida" - photo by James Stolich
On a recent trip to “el gran apple” I had the good fortune of connecting with my Instagram colleague—and prolific eater and critic--@elgranpete over a most enjoyable lunch at the aforementioned Cosme. Located at 35 East 21st Street, just steps from the Union Square Green Farmer’s Market, the restaurant is quintessentially modern with a very chic vibe. The industrial space is well appointed with soft pendant lighting, wooden tables and a very comfortable bar with an extensive collection of mezcal.
Chef and owner Enrique Olvera (owner of the very successful Pujol in Mexico City) opened Cosme three years ago after extensive research into the city’s dining scene. He and chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes offer guests a highly curated, modern take on regional Mexican cuisine, using mostly local ingredients from the Hudson Valley. Start off with the stuffed avocado and seafood "vuelve a la vida" a very unusual dish to find in the states. A perfectly ripe avocado is filled with a combination of raw striped bass, fluke, scallops, and octopus and seasoned with a sauce of ketchup, Valentina hot sauce, Serrano peppers, horseradish and cilantro. Another unusual and exceptional dish is the uni tostada with bone marrow salsa, avocado, and cucumber. The egg sope with chorizo, refried black beans, and a barely poached egg is also an excellent appetizer for sharing. The green sauce is comprised of tomatillos, white onion, garlic, scallions, cilantro, epazote and cumin and balances out the richness of the masa. Other favorites include the classic chilaquiles divorciados (shredded chicken with a red and green sauce with house made chips and a poached egg) and the duck enmoladas (mole rojo, crème fraiche). In the latter the mole is made with pasilla, tomatoes, garlic, onion, herbs, aromatic spices, nuts, prunes, raisins, chocolate and a bit of clove and cinnamon, all adding up to a very complex and rich flavor profile.
Egg sope with chorizo, refried black beans, and a barely poached egg - photo by James Stolich
All of the dishes are rooted in tradition and are delectable. If you are feeling adventurous—and hungry—order the enfrijolada, a lovely sopa of pureed black beans with garlic, onion, epazote, avocado leaf, and pasilla. Beneath the black beans and hidden under an "hoja santa" or holy leaf are several house made Cosme tortillas. The dish is finished off with ricotta and queso fresco. Finally, if sharing, the lamb barbacoa is an absolute must-order. Soto-Innes marinates the shoulder in a rub of guajillo adobo and slowly braises the meat until very tender and succulent. The dish is served with shishito peppers, quelites (a type of leafy Mexican green) and three unique salsas.
Enfrijolada con hoja santa - photo by James Stolich
For dessert, the kitchen offers a very respectable rendition of churros and Mexican hot chocolate, but the dish that speaks to the creativity and high level of Cosme is the famous cornhusk meringue with corn mouse. The husks are baked and ground up into a powder to form a meringue. A mouse made from corn kernels, sugar, salt, and cream makes up the middle of this fascinating dessert, a beautiful homage to Mexican corn and tradition. Cosme is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner and brunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.
Corn husk meringue - photo by James Stolich
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com