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Empellon Cocina Review

We had a very good meal here last night. The service was very good, the room had a pleasant sound level, and the seating was very comfortable.

We had a male server with dark, short hair, a beard, and very thick rimmed glasses, who was very pleasant and thorough in explaining some of the esoteric cocktail ingredients to us. My husband ordered the Sweep the Leg (Karate Kid reference!), a tequila cocktail with jackfruit which was delicious, boozy, and smoky. I ordered the Rooster's claw, which I believe had tequila, habanero, and mango. Fruity and very spicy. There's no cocktail menu online, alas, so I can't remember the rest of the ingredients. But a lot of the drinks lean towards the smoky and spicy, in order to stand up to the bold flavors in the food (this approach reminds me quite a bit of Fatty Cue WV).

Mezcal Cured Ocean Trout with Cream Cheese, Roe and Sal de Gusanos was delicious. I love ocean trout and I love mezcal. It seemed like the unholy Mexican child of Russ & Daughters and Momofuku Ssam Bar, who does similar creative raw fish dishes. Both the trout and roe had that lovely, distinctive mezcal flavor. A nice, refreshing start to our meal, and we scraped the plate clean.

This would become a theme as I used my knife to scrape every last caramelized bit of cheese from the cast iron pan for the Melted Tetilla Cheese with Lobster, Tomate Frito, and Kol (Yucatan style
white sauce). Served with fresh, hot tortillas. Gooey and delicious. The lobster was expertly cooked and melded well with the cheese and spots of tomato, which resembled more of a tomato jam.

The Gordita with Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Egg Yolk was also excellent. We were advised to cut the puffy, piping hot gordita in half, and let the egg yolk ooze out and cover everything. The crumbly chorizo was delicious, and I could tell the care that had gone into making the excellent gordita wrapper itself. A little chewy and bursting with great corn flavor.

Squid with Heirloom Potatoes, Chorizo Mayonnaise and Black Mole (chihuacle negro, 29 other ingredients) was also good but didn't seem to mesh. The white, skinny squid ribbons were cooked perfectly. Sweet and tender, and the squid worked well with the mole sauce, but I couldn't really figure out the chorizo mayo and chunks of heirloom potato. Together they tasted a bit like upscale papatas bravas, maybe there is some connection I'm missing. This dish was good but not a home run like the two previous ones.

Lamb Sweetbreads with Longaniza, Parsley Root and Salsa Papanteca (pumpkin seeds, piloncillo, sweet spices) was also good . The breaded and fried sweetbreads were warm and also very tender and creamy on the inside, and topped with crisp raw radish slices and cilantro leaves. The longaniza seemed more like a blood sausage. Earthy and dark, it contrasted nicely with the sweetbread nuggets. This dish was also beautiful to behold, served in a bowl with a very wide rim, and streaks of savory and slightly spicy sauce hugging the inside of the bowl.

Sweet Plaintain Shortcakes with Cajeta & Crema were adorable, as the shortcakes were plated to look like hamburger buns, with a compote between as a patty. Tasty but slightly too sweet, and we were unable to finish.

Overall, a very promising meal. The smaller plates seemed more strong than the larger plates, and we didn't try any of the salsas, but this was a very good meal for a restaurant that is so new. We'll be back.

Empellon Cocina
105 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Thanks kathryn for your report. The Ocean Trout (especially your describing it as "the unholy Mexican child of Russ & Daughters and Momofuku Ssam Bar") sounds intriguing since I love both R&D and Ssam Bar. The Gordita dish sounds "yummy" since I love dishes with soft cooked egg.

    1. It's always a pleasure to read your full length reviews.

      1 Reply
      1. The Mezcal cured trout was served to us in one of the monthly regional dinners Stupak hosted for awhile. Absolutely raveworthy!

        1. I ate here solo last night. Nice, casual space with good service. As for the food, I was pretty impressed. I started off with the masa crisps, which were fantastic -- perfectly crispy. I had them with the smoky and sweet salsa borracha.

          As described above, the melted tetilla cheese with lobster and tomatoes was really memorable. It was a bit hard to eat because it oozed out of the tortilla, so I ate a lot with my spoon. It was also nice on the masa crisps. Anyway, everything married really well together and with the tortillas it became a somewhat filling dish.

          Finally, I had the squid with mole. Like Kathryn, I found the squid to be perfectly cooked. Also, the potatoes were flavorful with a great texture. I found the mole to be subtle, so I liked the combination with the flavorful chorizo mayo very much.

          I'll definitely be going back with friends soon -- there are quite a few other dishes I'd like to try.

          1. I'm wondering, how are the portion sizes? How did you feel about the food value-wise?

            5 Replies
            1. re: Pookipichu

              Well, I think the portion sizes vary, so the value probably depends on what you order. I was pretty full after the masa crips ($3) and the lobster which comes with tortillas ($19) but the squid (I think this was $17) was not a very big portion. I was definitely full/satisfied after my meal though.

              1. re: Pookipichu

                We were stuffed after 5 savories and 1 sweet course, and our total before tax, tip, and cocktails was $87 for two.

                1. re: kathryn

                  The reason I ask is because I've had issues with high end Mexican where the dishes are mostly starch. One of the reasons I disliked La Fonda. I paid $16 for two chicken legs (just the drumsticks!), $10 for guacamole that was one avocado mashed up in a huge stone mortar with thick walls that made the guacamole seem more generous.

                  $12 for guacamole is a little steep when I can buy organic avocados at fairway for $1-$1.50.

                  1. re: Pookipichu

                    $12 is a lot of money for guacamole however I thought Empellon's was fanatstic. I loved the nuttiness of the pistachios inside...not to say you couldn't go here once and recreate this dish at home for cheaper!

                    As everyone said the squid was amazing and my heart just about stopped when I had the lobster and cheese. The Tongue Sopes with Refried Beans and Salsa de Arbol were also delciious. The gordita would have been fantastic if the egg had been runny. Overall however a great meal- albeit pricey for sure.

                    1. re: roze

                      I was equally impressed with their guac and will probably alter my own recipe to include pistachios going forward. But for $12...I may return just for that, with drinks at the bar, and save my Mexican cravings for the outer boroughs.

              2. Pete Wells gave Empellon Cocina two stars. I read the review and have come to the conclusion that he was either high when he ate there, or high when he wrote it, or both. That's the only explanation possible for this sentence:

                "And I was thrilled to follow the smoky, throaty call of mezcal as it wove its way through cured ocean trout and through any number of cocktails, like one called the Darkest Corner of Oaxaca."

                Ah, yes. Mezcal, the Lauren Bacall of spirits.

                4 Replies
                1. re: small h

                  The review seemed mixed to me, so I was surprised that he gave Empellon Cocina 2 stars, His hyperbole is a bit over the top.

                  1. re: Riverman500

                    Hyperbole is over the top by definition, but I know what you mean. Many of the reviews I've read lately - both in the press and on Chowhound - seem less interested in telling me what to expect from a restaurant than in showcasing the writer's ability to string together a seemingly endless string of adjectives and metaphors and random musings, some of them not even tangentially connected to food. If you want to write a memoir, write a damn memoir. Twitter baffles me, but I'm starting to see why setting a 140 character limit is useful.

                    (exits, muttering darkly to herself)

                  2. re: small h

                    Sounds like Opium to me. Trying to write like some of the Opium poets of yesteryear.

                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                      My first thought was Ecstasy, but you may be right. On the premiere episode of Girls, the lead character drinks opium tea, which means that opium must be fashionable among the young people all of a sudden. And the Times always wants to be on-trend.

                  3. My meal at Empellon Cociina tonite was not a very good one. I was thinking the name should read EMPELactoseLactoseON. Cheese, cream, butter, Too many dishes with the same or similar sauces. The Oyster dish was described as a seafood flan, one would think of perhaps a chawanmushi. There were 4 raw oysters floating in a butter cream sauce, the cost was $24, a major ripoff. The Lobster dish , Kathryn describes, was not bad. The lobster part of it was excellent, but for me too much cheese .The tortillas they came with were excellent. The shrimp dish was another butter creamy cheesy dish. The shrimp happened to be cooked to perfection, but the overpowering dairy portion killed it. There was supposed to be uni in the dish, none was detectable. The chicken meatballs were another sour creamy, buttery cheesy thing. I think this cooking was from the Swedish region of Mexico. The Tortillas chips, homemade, were excellent. The guacamole was good, i happen to like pistachio nuts. I prefer my guacamole with white onion and tomato and lime and some spice to it. But this version was enjoyable. The baby corn dish was very good and refreshing. The desserts were boring. The cocktails were interesting . I had a tequila-like martini, which was tequila, vermouth and bitters. Quite interesting. Most restaurants in NYC have kitchens filled with Mexican workers. They are hard workers, and make good kitchen help. Of course usually at a bargain rate. This kitchen in Empellon, had many people, working, 90% were "white", maybe 2 Mexicans. I found that amusing. Cheese with seafood is shunned by many, but this place seems to love the combination. The Mexican restaurants in Chicago, shine compared to Empellon. I've also travelled many regions of Mexico and never had food similar to this. I won't be back to Empellon.