Papatzul -- Mexican in Soho
This new restaurant at 55 Grand is a lovely, upscale Mexcian restaurant. I'm reminded why I seldom like to go to restaurants before a proper shakeout. Although the menu is tempting (you can see it at http://www.papatzul.com/), the execution fell short.
By far my favorite taste was the first one I had -- a clean and bracing ceviche with shrimp and scallops. The sopes zucchini, mushrooms and goat cheese were surprisingly bland and muddy.
We ordered two of the homier entrees -- the Enchiladas with duck in an almond mole, and the Budin al Pasilla, a tortilla casserole layered with chicken, pasillas, beans and a cream sauce. Both came with burning plates but the food itself was barely warm. Although there was a generous amount of duck in the enchilada, it could have been chicken as far as I could tell. The pasilla casserole was a little more interesting -- we probably should have returned it to heat it up.
My friend ordered a chocolate espresso flan with cinnamon ice cream. He is from Mexico City (as is the owner-chef) and was pleased that it incorporated Mexican chocolate. It was extremely rich and he was pleased -- the cinnaomon ice cream was so-so.
Everything from the menus to the bathrooms to the decorations seem well thought out and tasteful. I'm not willing to write off the restaurant after one mediocre experience. Maybe Papatzul will get its act together foodwise -- I sure hope so.
I had almost the same menu when I visited soon after they opened (duck enchiladas, ceviche, budin al pasilla, ceviche) and had the same reaction as you.
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Oh my god, this was awful. I read the review in the New Yorker a few weeks ago and they talked about Papatzul's authentic Mexican flavors and made it sound like a great big lollipop of a restaurant: yummy and lickable. So I head over for a meal, knowing that I need to manage my expectations but still excited for all that.
It was the third worst meal of my life and considering that I've eaten dog meat skewers and rotten fish that's saying a lot.
The server was perfectly friendly, but totally incompetent. The table next to ours were a bunch of jerks but they eventually walked out because it took their drinks so long to arrive. We waited, and probably shouldn't have. An order of guacamole and two cocktails took 20 minutes to reach the table. Not a big deal except the place was half empty. There were plenty of servers and a bartender so it's not like they were under-staffed either.
We ordered a bunch of appetizers and one entree and were disappointed in all of them. The guacamole was heavy on the lime but that's it - it needed salt, jalapenos, cilantro, something, anything. Instead it was just a big pile of lime dip. The chips are supposedly made in-house but they tasted like they came right out of a bag.
The masa boats were fine - except they were crowned with ice cold little blobs of queso fresco. The quesadillas were doughy with hardly any fillings, and they were buried under a dusting of salt. Which is weird. No salt in the guacamole or on the chips, but too much salt on the quesadillas? Was the kitchen out to prove a point? Like, "We can put salt on anything we want, or withhold it, and there's nothing you can do about it?" Because consider it made. Seriously, I believe them. They do things at random.
The chilapitas (little cups with shrimp in them) weren't bad but they were totally anonymous. And it was sort of weird that the shrimp tasted refrigerated. Not room temperature, but like little ice cubes. The octopus arrived and we started to eat it and suddenly realized there was shrimp and fish in it, as well as tiny little bitty pieces of octopus. I was worried we had the wrong dish since this isn't how it was described and the waitress told us that, no, the kitchen had just decided to change the dish and make it a special and add other things. It wasn't a problem but she seemed sort of panicky about it and volunteered that she'd take it off the bill.
I wasn't going to let her take it off the bill but then the sangria arrived and was so gag-inducing that I said, "Thanks, please do take it off the bill." That was nice of her, but serving us that sangria was downright evil. This stuff was bitter, sour, cloying -- it was like drinking cough syrup cut with lemons. Fortunately, it did contain a lot of alcohol so if you could choke down the first glass you actually didn't notice how bad it was after that.
And then came the finale: the delicious sounding
Chile Poblano Relleno De Calabza Alamendras Con Salsa De Tomate Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Butternut Squash, Currants, Sliced Almonds and Tomato Salsa
I mean, that sounds great, right?
No. It was horrible. We each had one bite and decided to get the check and go. I haven't been served a dish this amateurish in a restaurant since, well, ever. If someone had invited me over for dinner and made it, then okay. It still wouldn't be good, but at least that would make some sense. A poblano with about four enormous scoops of squash mush on top of it, on a bed of rice. No taste. No proportion. And ugly, ugly, ugly.
The bill wasn't too bad, so at least it was cheap. And it was nice of the waitress to take the octopus off. But this was terrible. Bland, tasteless, and badly run.
Just went last night. Ceviche was edible, with a good amount of tartness from the lime juice. I found the sangria to be fine but nothing special. The only messed up thing is that I ordered a shot of tequila, which actually was very cool, what with the sangrita chaser and the dipping a finger in some salt, but when she handed me the check for a $11 shot of tequila and I gave her a $20, she just smiled and said thank you, and even though it was my mistake and I just walked away it still wasn't cool to not give me change and take a $9 tip for one shot.