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“I want to go beyond Tex-Mex,” said chef Colt Taylor. His Mexican restaurant, Los Charros Cantina in Centerbrook, takes the plunge. “Mexico has diverse culinary regions, just like the United States, but all we know is food from the north along the border.”
Digging deep into Mexico’s culinary heritage, Taylor finds influences from indigenous peoples, the Conquistadors, the Middle East and the Pacific, all applied to ingredients from coastal, desert, mountainous and Caribbean climates. Taylor’s food is a rich and flavorful mix with a touch of New England rib.
Los Charros has a large family space with a menu of familiar dishes, but the restaurant also has a 21+ dining room with twenty-eight intimate covers. You can order from the menu, but the showstopper is a five-course (really seven) tasting menu for just $65.00.
Taylor takes traditional ingredients and presentations and applies classic European cooking techniques with exciting results. The evolving menu has recently included caviar sope, prawn ceviche, lobster barria and 48-hour braised Wagyu beef brisket. It’s quite sophisticated Mexican cuisine.
In New York, Cosme, a world-renowned restaurant created by chef-owner Enrique Olvera, is also creatively exploring Mexican cuisine with brilliant results. The chic and contemporary design of the space does not have a single canteen reference. The ingredients and descriptions are unmistakably Mexican, but these are tostadas, tacos, and carnitas like I’ve never had. A tostada with morels and fresh peas ($29) shared flavors of woodsy mushrooms and garden-fresh peas. Tender slices of octopus ($26), seasoned with pasilla peppers, were nestled under a thatch of shaved sorrel.
It’s the kind of food that leads to discussing flavors.
The Tataki al Pastor (pan-fried fish) parfait ($35) was topped with thin, transparent slices of jalapeño and pineapple, along with a dollop of mashed pineapple that stole the show. Duck Carnitas for Two ($98) is Cosme’s signature dish. The magic boneless half-duck had been braised with a fork and presented with its mahogany skin. The combination of duck, watermelon radish and cilantro with a choice of smoked mole and green pepper sauce raised the bar for carnitas.
As delicious as dinner was, it’s hard to believe the best was yet to come: Corn Husk Meringue ($20) for dessert. A meringue shell, much like a pavlova, cradled a sweet corn filling with the flavor of corn pudding and the soft texture of mascarpone. The whipped cream was waiting under the filling. The crunch of the meringue and the flavor of the corn arbitrated by the cream – oh my God!
I can see why Cosme is #22 on the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”.
In Fairfield County, chef Bill Taibe serves creative Mexican cuisine inspired by his visits to Mexico City and the popular foodie destinations of Puebla and Oxacana at his popular Westport restaurant, Don Memo. Open year-round in the Old Town Hall, the restaurant has a spacious front seating area for alfresco dining.
Taibe’s cuisine bears the authentic stamp of personal experience. Bold, colorful salsas and moles flavor each dish. A group of shared plates make a colorful and tempting table display. Among our favorites was the tuna crudo tostado ($26) with habaneros and chipotles providing a well-rounded heat. Tender Carnitas ($24) with a bowl full of pickled vegetables and Camerones ($26) in pink cream were delicious choices on the placero taco menu. Marsha was taken with the Picada ($14), a salad of evenly cut cucumber, tomatillo and avocado chunks in a bright green dressing.
Thanks to chefs like Taylor, Olvera and Taibe, the trend is shifting towards more sophisticated cuisine from Mexico’s rich and diverse culture. Better ingredients, out-of-this-world dishes, and the attention of accomplished chefs expand the idea of Mexican cuisine.