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Sep 21, 2009 01:36 PM

Estragon lately?

Who has been relatively recently and what did you have? Anything particularly note-worthy? And why not more buzz on this place? The menu looks dreamy.

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  1. I've been in the last month or so (post Julio taking over as chef) and it was better than ever.


    Lengua con Mojo Verde: beef tongue and salsa verde on toast
    Garbanzos Fritas: fried garbanzo beans--perfectly crisp and surprisingly delicious
    Calamares: perfectly fried calamari
    Croquettes: possibly the best I've had outside of Spain
    Cod cheeks a la pil pil: cod cheeks in a spicy pepper and oil sauce
    Carillada de Buey: braised beef cheek with sherry reduction
    Roasted padron peppers: A seasonal special likely no longer available, but delicious

    And I didn't have it on my last visit, but that crazy stew with Morcilla and tripe I recall being quite good.

    Good cocktails, good wine menu--notably, some great Spanish whites.

    I don't know why they don't get more attention. The food is excellent, the service is good, Julio is a great guy and now terrific chef. I've never had a bad visit and am dismayed when I see the place less-than-full.

    yumyum, definitely hit up up and enjoy!

    9 Replies
    1. re: rlove

      First of all rlove, thanks for the rlove and your rec's. Tried a few of them last night. SRSLY one of the yummiest meals I've had in a long time, although one of the richest and heaviest too.

      The place was almost empty and it would have been much more fun with more lively fellow diners. It's just a few blocks outside of that hot zone -- in a quiet part of Harrison Ave that feels industrial and hospital-sanitized. It should be much busier because of the food they are dishing out. A waiter reported they were slammed Wed night, but it was pretty sleepy on Thursday which is a shame.

      Had the trifecta to start: pringas (bone marrow, beef shank and pork belly on toast) , cod cheeks in pil pil but not really, and beef cheeks in sherry reduction. The pringas should be illegal -- all of the succulent bits shredded up rillettes-like with umami to the nth power. Extraordinary. The beef cheeks were also amazing ... stewed forever with a light sherry kiss in the rich broth. Bread to mop. I can see eating both of these on a snowy night and being really happy. Cod cheeks were good but not really pil pil -- chef Julio explained he can't get the cheeks with the skin still on so it's difficult to make the sauce the right way. I'm not sure about that -- I've seen Jose Andres make it without skin -- but whatever, it wasn't the best.

      A little breather and some nice wine and a few tall tales from the bartender and then the next course: Island Creek oysters, chicken croquettes, and we ordered the jamon iberico that never came. I don't think we paid for it though -- that would have been a bummer. Tempted by the tongue and the lamb sweetbreads special, but there was just no room once the first course set in. The oysters were almost crisp. In a nice way -- sort of a snap to the tooth. This is hard to explain but they were yummy. Chicken croquettes greaseless as promised but almost too creamy, like baby food. Probably would have been better before or instead of the other richness.

      Trio of Toscanini ice-creams for dessert -- totally wrong. The flavors (chocolate with pepper, strawberry-basil, burnt honey) were good but they were all ice-crystally like they'd been stored in a not cold enough freezer -- Limster would have been pissed. In retrospect a time-waster and unnecessary.

      Wine was delicious -- a Txakoli I've never had but loved, and a rioja that went well with the meaty bits.

      I plan to go back and explore more -- chorizo, boquerones, alcachofa! From this small sample, I think the food is way better than the always-crowded Toro.

      1. re: yumyum

        And also the leftover beefy cheeks made the best breakfast ever. Toasted bread, shredded cheeks, poached egg. A sprightly little dash of sherry vinegar and a bit of smoked paprika on top. Gawd.

        1. re: yumyum

          yum. yum. that was supposed to be MY breakfast. ;)

          1. re: Nab

            Pringas. That's just fun to say.

        2. re: yumyum

          Nice reviews rlove and yumyum!

          Bacalao al pil pil does rely on the gelatin in the skin, most commonly made with skin (and bones) on salt cod. With the cheeks, perhaps they were trying to get enough gelatin w/o skin since they are more bony overall, but seems like a case where they would be better served using an appropriate cut. There are other fresh fish which you can do al pil pil and I don't think all cod species work perfectly (plus you want a good thickness cut of fish). In any case, if Made in Spain had a properly made bacalao al pil pil with fresh skin off, filleted, cod I would be curious. My favorite way to have them (caras de bacalhau) is fried with some kind of a piri piri sauce, although they are good in a caldeirada too.

          Ice crystals are more likely temperature fluctuation, whether in transport, or just been in and out of the freezer too often. You only need to blast freeze ice cream initially, a restaurant freezer should be good enough for temporary storage, but perhaps they take it in and out because straight out of the freezer its too hard to serve? A restaurant might be better served buying packed in quarts and taking out once.

          1. re: itaunas

            I need to go hulu that Jose Andres thing again, but he wasn't using cod cheeks to be sure.

            Your theory about the ice cream is right on ... we waited a LONG time for the dessert to arrive, like they had taken the tubs out to defrost for a while. Do that too many times and you've blown it.

            1. re: itaunas

              In my experience, one can achieve the proper texture of pil pil with kokotxas without skin (which, I believe, are not just cheeks but also throat morsels), since there is a goodly bit of fat in these parts. He may have been working with a lean set. I agree with you itaunas that selection of fish and cut is very important here.

              Bacalao al pil pil is truly a culinary wonder, though. I did a very brief (2-week) mini-study of the dish in Basque country (link below), and it never failed to bowl me over:


            2. re: yumyum

              Definitely one of those rejuvenating, recalibrating kinds of meals that I'm not soon to forget. Unbelievable that a place like this is not slammed on a Thursday night. We didn't walk by Toro, but I can bet the bar was 5-deep and surly.

              Who's mixing up bone marrow, pork belly and beef shank without anybody noticing ? While I agree with yumyum this should be illegal, I think it's more criminal that there's not a long line for this stuff. Unbelievably rich, buttery, dotted with speckles of marrow, holy cow. And pig. Yumyum first detected the smokey finish, which we were told was due to the addition of a little chorizo.

              The beef cheeks had that sticky richness that evokes memories of my mom's nehari, and I particularly appreciated the sherry finish, providing a slight spark to what sometimes can be an overly dull kind of sauce. It's this dish that'll be haunting me for a long time.

              The kokotxas al pil pil were not right. While the kokotxas were rich, sticky little morsels themselves, this dish is all about the sauce and that's where it fell down. Nothing bad tasting about it, but definitely not a pil pil. More aoili-like sauce, and I believe the kokotxas were simply sauteed as they seemed to have a slightly crispy edge to them.

              I keep trying to remind myself that half the things we ordered were not even that great, but jeez, the other half was just so sublime you'd forget all about it.

              1. re: Nab

                I gave Julio an award for "biggest balls" in last year's Stuff Magazine dining awards for opening his Spanish restaurant a few blocks from Toro, a place with a similar concept that is one of the most popular restaurants in the city. That end of Harrison Ave is still terra incognita for a lot of folks who rove freely around the rest of the South End, too. But I'm always recommending Estragon to friends, even more so now with the improved food: I think it is unfairly overlooked.


          2. No question that de Haro taking over the kitchen at Estragon is a massive improvement. He's just a better chef than the guy he initially hired (whose food I liked, too), and he's taken the food in a more traditional direction. Everything seems sharper and more consistent now. He's a pretty suave host, but that place is much better served with him back in the kitchen. And he still manages to get out and make the rounds in the dining room.


            1. Thanks yumyum for the pringas suggestion. Estragon started opening for luch thsi week and I tried them Tuesday. The tapas menu at lunch is abbreviated but I asked if i could get the pringas and they complied. Excellent meaty/fatty dish like really good brisket bits at the bottom of the pan. Also had the spinach with pine nuts, salad with tuna and white asparagus, and garlic shrimp. The place has a nice vibe but was absolutely empty at 1PM. Hope they do well.

              1 Reply
              1. re: gourmaniac

                I'm thrilled you tried it gourmaniac and hope others do too.