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« Recipe: 3-Minute Cheese Enchiladas | Main | Heaven is... »
Monday
May182009

Dinner at La Esquina, 5/12/09

  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Atmosphere: small, table/booth seating, bustling yet conducive to conversation
  • Attire: smart-casual, trendy
  • Ideal for: 1x1/small group dining (upstairs), see-and-be-seen, trendy
  • Must try: Hamburgeusa de La Esquina
  • Price: appetizers, most under $16; Entrees, all under $22
  • Reservations: Via phone
  • Phone: (646) 613-7100
  • Website: http://www.esquinanyc.com/
  • Location: 114 Kenmare St., (at Lafayette St)

There are, without a doubt, a handful of restaurants in Manhattan that intimidate me. I’m not speaking of the Per Se’s or Daniel’s; I’m referring to eateries that, if compared to a person, would likely resemble Angelina Jolie, or Jordan Catalano from “My So Called Life.” You know the type: Mysterious, intriguing, slightly charming, cooler-than-thou, popular, and sexy; yet cold at the same time.

“We’re going to La Esquina and then heading to The Box,” name-dropped the blonde British socialite. “Don’t you just think it’s a FAH-bulous restaurant?” She boasted, while simultaneously giving me the head-to-toe/toe-to-head “once over.”

Although this conversation took place almost a year ago (and I’m only giving you a sliver of what transpired), any desire I had to dine at this “FAH-bulous restaurant” was instantly squashed. Call me stubborn and/or jaded, but I tend to avoid a person/place/thing if it’s guaranteed to remind me of someone/something heinous from my past. This may explain: Why I don’t correspond with certain ex-boyfriends, or the lightning-fast-speed at which I got the hell out of the town where I attended college (I’m still haunted/disturbed by how many times I was approached to “accept Christ in to my life.”)
So you can imagine how taken aback I was when Emily suggested grabbing dinner at La Esquina. “Isn’t that the same place we tried getting reservations…For your past two birthdays?” Of course I knew the answer, but I was hoping that Emily would pick up on the “context clues” that came from the negative tone in my voice. “Yep,” she said, “But we’re here. In Soho. Literally a block away from La Esquina. And just two seconds ago you said you were starving!” She was right: I was starving and we were disgustingly close to the restaurant. Plus, how could I say no to a friend who wanted nothing more than to eat her last dinner with me prior to a 10-day (and Mexican-food free) Parisian rendezvous? And off we went…

From the outside, La Esquina looks to be split in to two eateries: A casual outdoor grab-n-go taqueria; and a tiny, full-service indoor restaurant. Emily and I decided against eating outdoors, and approached a hostess to put our name on the list for a two-top. For a Tuesday evening, the dainty space seemed to be overflowing with hungry patrons. Could this be the same La Esquina where folks held birthday dinners for parties of 10-15? If so, did they rent out the entire restaurant? (I later learned of the uber-exclusive downstairs space, which was “by reservation-only.” Too bad acquiring a table below street level was as likely as a snowball’s chance of survival in hell.)

Finally, after a twenty minute wait, Emily and I were seated at a cozy table for two. While the restaurant’s space was small and nothing to “write home about,” I enjoyed its dim lighting and energetic buzz.

I began my meal with a strong, yet flavorful and refreshing, passion-fruit margarita on-the-rocks. “Can we have some chips and salsa?” Emily asked the waitress. “We don’t have chips and salsa,” she replied. Emily gasped in horror, “Wow. OK, then what about chips and guacamole?” The waitress informed us that the closest thing to guacamole on the menu was a plate of sliced avocado sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil. “Great, we’d like to start with that please,” I said, while giving Emily the “trust me, it’ll be delicious” look.

As the plate of sliced avocado arrived, the waitress took our entrée orders. Aside from my craving for the Tostada de Cangrejo (cooked-crabmeat ceviche), Emily and I decided to split the Carne Enchilada (pork) tacos.

“Wow, these are really good!” Emily exclaimed and she took a bite of avocado. The subtle flavor of the perfectly ripe and creamy green flesh was truly accentuated by the crunchy sea salt and the light drizzle of fragrant olive oil.

Moments later, our entrees arrived. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the tacos: Two regular-sized (6-inch) corn tortillas were plated side by side and each topped with an ample amount of Carne Enchilada (char-grilled adobo rubbed pork). Grilled pineapple, chopped onion, cilantro and salsa verde completed the dish. While the meat could have been a tad bit warmer with less gristle, I found the tacos to be quite good. The simultaneous flavor/texture explosion of spice, smoke, sweet (from the pineapple), and crunch (onions) was outrageous.

Served atop round tortilla chips were generous spoonfuls of crab meat mixed with chopped mango, tomato and chipotle mayonnaise. While I appreciated the fresh crabmeat, I found the overall taste/texture of the dish to be quite bland, especially when combined with the other subtle ingredients (tomato, mango and “chipotle” mayonnaise…Where was the chipotle?).

Right when I was going to tell Emily that “La Esquina was nothing special,” the table of charming gentlemen seated next to us made me taste their burger. “Sure I’ll taste it, but why on earth would you order a cheeseburger at a Mexican restaurant?” After my first of two bites, I literally had to “eat my words.” My God, this was one of the best burgers I’ve tasted in NYC…If not, the country! Dressed with lettuce, tomato, shaved onion, avocado, white cheese (not sure what kind), jalapeno and a thick patty of some of the best ground beef available, I quickly changed my opinion of La Esquina. Indeed, the restaurant was special, very special.

So, did my dining experience prove to be as intimidating or over-hyped as I had assumed? Absolutely not. Would I return? Definitely, but with no desire to fight the downstairs scene. Next on this list to try? Minetta Tavern, for the infamous “Black Label Burger.”

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Reader Comments (1)

Love the review. Right on totally captures the meal, our thoughts and the delicious margs. I'm heading out the door to St Germaine wishing I could have some Mexican taco's after reliving the tasty food from your perfect review. Well done, bravo!! XOXO Em

May 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

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