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We changed Saturday reservation due to an indulgent afternoon but rescheduled our visit for Sunday night. At 8:00, the bar was full, save for 2 seats in front of the pile of beer glasses. We decided to relax a bit with a bottle of the innocuous Kistler Les Noisetiers for my girlfriend and a reposado margarita for myself. The margarita was stronger in flavor than expected being not sweet at all but rather tequila with a hint of lime juice and nice dose of salt. Rather delicious, being a scotch drinker, I found this style a welcome change from the overly sweet, overly limey concoctions that are typical. After 15-20 mins, we moved over a couple seats and spread out. Usually being bar diners, it was comfy and warmly lit without being dark. The noise level was about normal but I can imagine, much lower than a Saturday night. We laid out the order and told the bartender however it comes out of the kitchen is fine. I’m rather lacking in Mexican food history but really enjoy my visits to Topolobampo, Frontera, DiStrito, etc so I can’t really say if the dishes are fusions, old classics, etc unless of course, it’s obvious

Chip and Guac with two salsas

I could spend a weekend just eating this. The creamy, chunky guac with thick and crispy tortilla chips, the smokey cashew and the spicy hot arbol chile together with each bite, was whatever the Mexican word for heaven is.


The healthy pile of fresh baby arugula over orange slices and jicama was a nice palate cleanser and actually was a freebie as the bartender inadvertently added it to our rather lengthy order.


The White Tuna was very nice in texture with the beets and guava but maybe a little bland due to my salty margarita

The Tequila and lime cured Hamachi was nicely textured as well but the frozen sangrita on top made the dish for me.


Fish Tempura with Lime mayo – as good as I’ve ever had. Perfectly fried batons (either halibut or cod?) and lime mayo being the right combo of citrus bite and cream.

Scallop w Avocado and Xni Pec – My Pescetarian girlfriend Leslie is the fish taco queen of North America, and she liked the Scallop taco better than the fish. I should also add she’s rather blah on scallops so whatever Xni Pec is, sign her up.


Goat Cheese with Guaje Seeds and Morels

First off, they give you a pile of fresh tortillas in what was told to me, an Alex Stupak designed, CrucialDetail manufactured tortilla warmers. Due to the fact they’re filled with hot water, the tortillas stay warm for 45 mins plus. The goat cheese and morels was really, really, really good. I’m not sure of the spicing used but the really conveyed a meaty, heartiness long forgotten by my girl. For some odd reason, I could pick up a fennel-ly hint that almost gave the dish a pepperoni like flavor for lack of a better desc.


The nicely fried egg with runny yolk, sauced the flaky pastry and creamy refried beans nicely. I think I could eat a dozen of these for breakfast with the Arbol chile salsa (and yes, I did keep the salsas in front of me throughout the meal.


We ordered the Molote of Smoked Plantain. Mainly because I didn’t know what Antojitos are (our friendly bartender told us it was merely additional savory dishes) and I didn’t know what Molote was of have ever had smoked plantain. Very interesting flavor and texture. Once again, a perfectly fried quenelle of plantain, stuffed with the smoked plantain reminiscent of Alcapurrias.


We were stuffed at this point but I ordered the Turbot with mustard greens. Nicely seared, nice greens, and more of those tasty tortillas folded underneath. Like I said, a nice main but maybe more of the tomato habanero salsa to match the “machismo” of the previous dishes. We each had a forkful and did the push away.


So, what do you do when you’re at one of the world’s premier pastry craftsmen’s restaurants? You have his wife’s cooking. The bartender overheard our conversation and mentioned that the Chef has zero input into the sweet side of the business so to speak. The chocolate flan was very creamy and light. Almost the jiggly texture of jello and I don’t know if that’s technically a good thing or bad thing but it was a delicious thing. The accompanying crumble and cinnamon ice cream, each were on point. We also had the passion fruit tart and it was. It was fruity, tart, curdish, and came with freshly made meringue. That being one of my favorite things all time.

In conclusion,

The restaurant was warm, romantic, and comfortable. The service was great, our bartender (Mat? At least that’s the name on the check) was attentive, informative, and my girl was never without plenty of wine or me without a margarita, tecate, or negra modelo.

The food, excellent on all counts. Intellectually stimulating, perfectly cooked, and visually appealing. We overate but will gladly do it again. Of all the meals we had that weekend, this one stood out the most, clearly.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Today, Sifton gives Empellon a 1* review in the Times - but in a piece that clearly reads like a 2.

I haven't been yet, but it certainly appears as if he deducted a star for the noise/party level. But the review makes me want to try it - and soon. Like on a Tuesday, early.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Having been twice, I can confirm that the best strategy is to go on an off night. The hour doesn't seem to matter as much, as it gets crowded early some nights, and doesn't always stay busy late. The room was lively but pleasant the first time I went (when it wasn't as full), and louder than mortar fire the second time (when it was fairly crowded). The acoustics are such that it gets very loud very quickly when full, especially in the front room. Hardwood floors and brick walls, along with a bustling bar that takes up most of the front room will do that to a place. Ask to be seated in the back room if you don't want that volume level. It's always at least a little less noisy than the front.

While my experience with the food there wasn't as uniformly perfect, I definitely think the strong dishes there are very, very good. There are others that seem not to be Stupak's strongest suit, but the ones that are good are worth the trip. Don't expect much in the molecular or modernist direction that marked Stupak's pastry work in the past. It's mostly straightforward contemporary takes on Mexican in terms of technique, but the ingredients and flavor combinations show a bit of inventiveness. NY has quite a bit in the realm of haute/refined Mex now, by contrast with a few years ago. Overall, I think the food is very good, and a bit more inventive/varied than at the comparable places in town.

As for Sifton's review, I certainly think he deducted due to the noise and crowding, which can indeed affect your experience there. Then again, trying to figure out Sifton's line of thought by comparing his prose to the final star ratings is an exercise in futility. If he had given Empellon two stars, then that would put it on the same plane as Annisa...a slippery slope.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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Really strong dinner for 4 on Sunday of July 4 weekend. Would definitely say back room is the way to go, it's quieter and cozier, without being a tomb. We spent about $50 pp, including alcohol (mostly micheladas) and were completely stuffed, too full to try dessert.

We took Sifton's advice and concentrated on the tacos, trying 2 each of 5 different types: fish, al pastor (pork), lamb barbacoa, tongue, and sweetbreads. Also guacamole (both of the salsas were awesome and complex), octopus, arugula salad, and the red and green chorizo queso fundido. No wonder the waitress gently counseled us against making some of those two-taco orders into three-taco orders. Which was very classy. But the tacos are not one-bite nibbles -- if you're in a tasting mood you can split two tacos among four people and not feel like you didn't actually taste it, which has happened to us at some similar establishments.

Happily recommend, and would happily return.

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