Just four days from today, Mexico and Mexican-Americans will be celebrating a military victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. For the rest of us, we simply know it as Cinco de Mayo, a time of tequila, tacos and revelry. Who cares that it falls on a Monday night?!
While there are myriad places to get down with the get down on May 5, I know where my pesos will be spent: Orale Mexican Kitchen (@OraleMK, 768 Amsterdam Ave., 212-749-2929, www.oralemk.com). Newly opened, it is the first Manhattan location of their successful Jersey City restaurant. A friend and I ventured over last Friday night to see what was cooking.
As I walked up on Orale, I realized I had been to this location during one of the previous owner’s tenure, but once inside, I wasn’t ready for the hip, lively and animated space. While the space was narrow, the new owners managed to invite whimsy and character to the bar and the church door communal table. The graffiti and backlit color-blocked Jarritos soda wall makes you feel like the party has only just begun.
We sat in the back so I could get a full perspective of the restaurant. Good thing too, or I would have missed the awesome patio in the back. Should the weather have been a tad warmer, that is where I would have been. The good news is, there is still time!
The attentive servers highlighted some of the specials of the evening and talked us through some questions.
- SCHOP! Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether it be about ingredients, preparation or price. The answers might shed some light on your decisions and will affect your overall experience. Restaurant owners appreciate you putting their servers to task.
Of course, we started with some libations. Their extensive tequila and cocktail menu had our eyes dancing, not to mention the sangria, beer and micheladas (beer cocktails), wine and house-made sodas. My preferences were Pepino East (silver tequila, cucumber, mint, citrus) and Sandia (silver tequila, watermelon, citrus, agave). Both were refreshing. I can see the latter as a dog days of summer staple! My friend chose more masculine cocktails with chile de arbol and absinthe. All are just the tip of the iceberg.
The food menu was equally impressive and inventive. We made sure to get at least one item from each section of the menu, starting with salt and pepper brussels sprouts, house guacamole, Gringo Mexican mac and cheese and crispy beef taquitos. Those brussels sprouts, guacamole, chips and a beer could be everything, but more mac in the mac and cheese, please.
Feeling quite full, we opted not to partake in the assorted main dishes, but we couldn’t stop until we tried the tacos. With a choice of eight kinds and five of the same per order, we knew we needed to be wise. Thank goodness executive chef James Muir (Rosa Mexicano) took mercy on us and gave us one of each plus the special taco too. Our favorites were the Al Pastor with the caramelized pineapple, Carnitas for the crisp pork belly, Borracho for the crispy beer battered fish (#nomnom), carne for the beef tinga and roasted scallions and the special lobster taco because it was like a mini lobster roll.
Special shouts-out to Machin with the umami– roasted bone marrow topped with crispy pork belly (served nestled in a bone, hello!) and to the chili-rubbed and perfectly seared ahi tuna taco with lime green salsa, tortilla crisps serviced in romaine lettuce leaves. These tuna tacos and I have a date in the near future. Get ready!
Owners Louis Alvarez and Alex Mendelsohn wouldn’t let us leave without having dessert either, specifically the vanilla flan. While I thought the tres leches cake would be the star, they proved me wrong. The flan was not too sweet or caramelized, light in texture and the perfect ending.
You now know where I will be for Cinco de Mayo. However, should Monday be reserved for adjusting to the work week and you’d rather celebrate during a more convenient time, join them for Dos, Tres or Cuatro de Mayo events that include DJs, prix fixe menus and the first Brunch de Mayo I have ever heard of.
Congratulations, Orale, and welcome to New York City! Ole! Viva Mexico!
Happy eating and thanks for reading!
Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at kysha@iSCHOP.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl and on Facebook www.facebook.com/SCHOPnyc. For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com.