This is going to be much more general than what Ruth probably meant to ask for; if I can put together some more specific comments about the food at Richard Sandoval's restaurants in New York, I'll do so -- but it's been a while since I've eaten in any of them.
Mexican food is very problematical in New York. Until fairly recently, there didn't seem to be as significant a Mexican population here as there is in, say, Chicago, to say nothing of LA. Even now, the Mexican population (or at least that part of it that operates and patronizes restaurants) seems to mostly be from Puebla, so most of the "authentic" Mexican restaurants are limited to that region. It's not that I don't love Pueblan food -- I do -- it's just that I don't think you can easily get a broad familiarity with authentic Mexican cooking in New York.
On the other hand, there have long been a bunch of imitation Tex-Mex tequila mills in New York, to which young people go to get drunk and eat gloppy food. But they have few culinary pretentions -- although the glop they serve is probably what most non-Mexican New Yorkers think of "Mexican food" as.
Since there isn't a long-time tradition of high-quality "authentic" ethnic Mexican restaurants (and to be clear, by that I mean cheap places, mainly aimed at the immigrant community), most non-Mexican New Yorkers lack the kind of deep familiarity with Mexican food that they have with, say, Chinese and other Asian cuisines or Italian or even Cuban. This makes it difficult for us to appreciate, much less to judge, any attempts at Mexican haute cuisine in the City.
Several restaurants have tried. When Richard Sandoval -- an Acapulcan who first attracted notice when cooking at a non-Mexican restaurant here -- opened Maya maybe 10 or so years ago, it was far and away the best such attempt yet in New York. Over time, Maya has gotten a little tired, though, as some restaurants do. Sandoval's second restaurant here was Pampano, a so-called haute Acapulcan sea food place backed by Placido Domingo in a space where a previous Domingo-backed attempt at haute Mexican had failed. If anything, Pampano, at opening, was even better than Maya when it was new -- although, again, neither I nor most of the clientele have the culinary experience to really judge what Sandoval is doing there. I haven't been back recently, so I don't know how well the quality's been maintained.
The thing to say, though, is that the best haute Mexican -- nueva cocina, I guess you guys call it -- in Mexico City pretty much blows Maya and Pampano away. But a large part of the reason for that, it has seemed to me, is the confidence with which the DF restaurants grow from (and play with) tradition. This kind of confidence is precisely what Sandoval is denied here in New York -- not because of anything lacking on his part, but because he cannot assume a knowledgeable clientele (in fact, he can pretty much assume the contrary). He has to worry about toning down elements New Yorkers unfamiliar with Mexican food might find weird, he has to work on the assumption that most of his clientele's expectations of Mexican food are of gloppy versions of dishes like enchiladas suissas, and so his food has to sort of explain itself to the eaters (if you know what I mean by that). So Mexico City is going to be a truer test of Sandoval's capabilities than New York, because there he'll be cooking without restraint for a knowledgeable clientele.
You know, now that I think of it, I really can't wait to try his restaurant there.
Edited by Sneakeater, 28 August 2006 - 03:21 PM.