Our foodboomblogger Ken Shin writes about his experience in Alex Stupak’s newly opened Midtown Manhattan spot. Read on because this place is not to be missed.
If you really want to dig deep about Empellon and Alex Stupak open this link. There is an amazing story of a talented and driven restauranteur and chef.
By Ken Shin www.kenscale.com
No chef has quite made an impact in recent years on the Mexican dining scene in New York City like Alex Stupak the abundantly successful chef/entrepreneur who started out as a pastry chef before opening up a series of Empellon restaurants around Manhattan. His own interpretation of Mexico’s versatile cuisine focuses on the lowly taco.
The latest Empellon restaurant in Midtown is sort of a coming out party for chef Stupak, with an ambitiously large two-story space. While I visited Empellon Cocina in the East Village a couple of times before it shuttered, I learned to appreciate the novelty of Stupak’s cuisine based on a taco oriented tasting menu starting at $100 per person.
The menu at Empellon Midtown has matured. It is Mexican food with some unexpected twists and turns, including NYC’s favorite Pastrami on a taco of course, sea urchin nachos and other exotic and innovative items.
When my wife Jun and I showed up at the dining space on a Sunday evening, chef Stupak was at the kitchen with eyes vigilantly focused on the staff working on various dishes. He looked especially imposing to us as he has become a ”celebrity chef'” in his own right. We were ready for him to bring it on and he did.
As I have eaten many Nachos over the last 30 years I’ve become tired of them and for health reasons I try to avoid them unless I’m really starving. Stupaks’s Crab nachos with sea urchin “queso” brought me back to the Nacho and I think I could eat these for the next 30 years. It was so delicious (in Jun’s words, predictability so given the use of sea urchin) that I couldn’t stop reaching my hands for more even though there were many other dishes to come.
Sticky rice tamales with red chile duck were another perfect starter. Beautifully presented and just the right sized portion.
Since we were at a taco master’s restaurant, we had to try a couple, right? Jun and I chose the pastrami and mustard seed salsa taco and lamb sweetbreads and lamb barbacoa taco. We initially thought the pastrami might be too stuffy once we saw the enormous chunks of meat inside the taco shell, but the balance of flavor and texture in the meat was actually quite memorable, making us wonder why other chefs haven’t thought about this concept before. Actually the chefs at Katz’s Deli serve a huge amount of Pastrami on a soft taco of rye bread.
The lamb sweetbread and lamb barbacoa taco was very good too.
By the time the short rib confit arrived, we were pretty stuffed but after tasting a piece of short rib, I knew I had to put this beautiful dish into tortillas and get some extra bites. The juicy meat with picadillo garnish on the side was just so magnificent that we decided to pack the leftovers even though we rarely do that because we are so cool.
Everyone is talking about the avocado dessert at Empellon Midtown, even though both of us were barely breathing at that point from eating so much, we still needed to try it. Undoubtedly it was a show-stopper, with a colorful blend of lime and Eucalyptus yogurt that gave, in chef Stupak’s own words when he approached our table, a sensation of a delightful key lime pie. Not only was it beautiful in appearance (hence all the Instagram photos for the plate) but the complex yet refreshing flavor was absolutely wonderful.
Getting a reservation at Empellon wasn’t too difficult and on a Sunday evening the second floor of this trendy dining space was mostly empty, making me wonder if the choice to go with a Midtown location was more driven by the objective of attracting corporate crowds during weekdays than locals looking for leisurely weekend meals. There is a full bar with plenty of tequila and mezcal based cocktail options to complement your meal.
I was pleasantly surprised by what Empellon Midtown brought to the table and would love to see how chef Stupak’s kitchen evolves over time. It really has made a big statement in terms of presenting delicious Mexican cuisine that can please anyone no matter what dish you order. It has been reported that the Cocina concept will be brought back to this location by the end of the year and we will surely repeat.