Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crema Restaurant, Chelsea

April 11, 2010
A few weeks ago we were watching an episode of one of most frequently viewed TV programs "Iron Chef America".  I always get excited when there is a chef from NYC on the program because of New York pride :).  Well this one nite, they featured a young Mexican chef as the competitor from a restaurant down in Chelsea called Crema.  Her name is Julieta Ballesteros.  Apparently, she is from Monterrey, Mexico and came to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute.  Afterwards, she started this establishment which is meant to be traditional Mexican cuisine with French influenced technique and flare.  Well Roberto is always interested in trying Mexican haute cuisine, so after we saw the matinee Magic Flute with our friend Jodi, we decided to go for drinks and an early dinner.

The restaurant itself is lovely.  You step down into a sort of galley layout.  It has a modern feel, but still a color scheme that reminds one of Mexico.  In the back, they have a small terrace/patio which is right next to the small, open kitchen.  I think the chef keeps her eyes on the clients from there.

We started with drinks; I ordered a Margarita Imperial and Roberto a Michelada. The "mixologist" did a good job.  We were there in the late afternoon, which was a perfect time to while away a few hours drinking and eating, especially, since it is now still sunny out in the evening and the place had a really bright and pleasant feel.

We then ordered some appetizers.  Roberto ordered the Quesos Flameados and I ordered the Ceviche Veracruz.  As a bonus, the chef sent us a small "amuse bouche" of black bean soup which was served in a demitasse cup.  The soup was sort of whipped, very creamy and delicious.  Both of our appetizers were really tasty.  Mine was served in a glass and on the side was a scoop of homemade mango sorbet.  The mango sorbet was killer.  It tasted like the sweetest mango that was just reconstituted into a chilled form.  It didn't have that icy feeling that a lot of sorbets have that may be due to the water content or something.  There was also guacamole which was quite tasty.

For our main course, Roberto ordered Ribeye con Chilaquiles and I ordered Empanadas del Mercado.  Roberto's dish was really excellent. I think of chilaquiles as this sort of peasant leftover concoction and she had it plated in a mold so it looked so neat and elegant.

Unfortunately, neither Roberto nor I really liked what I got as a main course which was essentially a mixture of seafood within a pastry shell.  I think it was a little over-seasoned and it was tough to tease out the individual flavors of the seafood components as they were disguised within a heavy red sauce.

Although overall it was a good and positive dining experience, neither of us felt that we were going to race back there again soon.

Here are a couple of other Mexican "Haute Cuisine" places we've tried:
My favorite so far, although it is right in the middle of tourist laden midtown/theatre district
Also very good.  Does a good job of feeling authentic, but still high end.  Makes the crossover that way which Rosa Mexican chain and Dos Caminos lacks.
Nice, upper west side, good meal.  Lots of tables, but manages to maintain an intimate feel.
Over-rated, more of a scene for the single partying set with high exposure.
Have tried two locations, 1st Avenue and Lincoln Center.  The food is good, but also has similar feel to Dos Caminos.  It is very sterile feeling and lacks a cozy feeling that is part of the appeal of Mexican food.

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