February 16, 2016
Enrique Olvera is the chef at Pujol, generally regarded as Mexico City’s best restaurant. It is now rated #16 in the world on the San Pellegrino list. Its ratings improve dramatically every year. When Linda and I went to Pujol in 2009, it was not even at the top in Mexico. It was behind Biko, which Linda and I also preferred at the time. Olvera owns five other restaurants in Mexico; in September 2014, he opened Cosme in New York. It was immediately a smash hit. It received a rave review from Pete Wells in The New York Times. Ryan Sutton in Eater wrote a piece titled: “Six Reasons Why Cosme Is One of NYC’s Most Relevant New Restaurants.” Although reservations are very hard to get, Linda and I snagged one for the evening of February 2, 2016.
We were seated at a table along the back wall of the quite dark dining room. Fortunately, there are spotlights shining down above each table, which showed off the cuisine and made my photos possible, although they have an orangish cast. We started with glasses of cava. The appetizer was a habanero-pumpkin seed dip with crisps.
The dip was good and gave a Mexican start, but gradually seemed too hot and palate deadening as the habanero chilis took effect.
The menu has only sixteen items divided into three sections: seafood, vegetables and meat. Our server suggested that we order three to four items each. We did order six and that turned out to be too much. We ordered a bottle of 2011 Montabruno Crawford Beck (Oregon) Pinot Noir.
Linda’s first course was
Uni tostada, avocado, bone marrow salsa, cucumber.
There was a good, generous portion of sea urchin. It was on top of a mixture of bone marrow and tomato chunks over a crisped tortilla. The flavor of the marrow was not evident. The greens and avocado slice under them added some freshness. Good.
The cobia had a nice flavor, but it was very mild. The pineapple purée was a good fit. The fish slices and sauce were eaten taco style in the fresh, light tortillas provided. Cosme makes 2,500 tortillas a day from masa made by nixtamalization, a process dating from Mexican antiquity. It uses imported landrace corn, which has struggled against extinction in Mexico facing the subsidized American variety. The tortillas are flavored to go with the dishes they accompany.
Linda’s second course was
Beets, charred corn salsa, farmer’s cheese.
The beet pieces were to be eaten taco style in the beet colored tortillas along with their garnishes. They were nice, but the flavor of the charred corn did not become evident.
A tlayuda is Oaxacan street food made of various things strewn an a large fried tortilla. I ordered it without knowing what I was getting because our waiter recommended it and I like garbonzos, avocado and chicharróns, or fried pork rinds. The top photo is of the two bowls of seasonings put on the table. The limes were primarily for the beet dish. The red sauce was quite nice and not too spicy. I was not sure how to use it on my quite deconstructed dish. The bottom photo is of the first serving onto my plate. In general the tlayuda did not work for me and I left half of it. It was too rustic and disorganized for this somewhat upscale meal.
Linda’s main course was
Crispy octopus, hazelnut mole, pickled potatoes, watercress.
The octopus had been dry grilled, which was offset by the fusion sauce. This was good, but not an improvement on many of the octopus dishes in NYC.
Black garlic rubbed NY strip for tacos, shishitos, avocado-tarragon purée
Once again this was to be eaten taco style in the excellent tortillas flavored to go with the dish. The garlic-rubbed and seared steak slices and the avocado purée were quite nice, but did not seem out of the ordinary. It was not clear how to integrate the shishito peppers into the tacos or the flavors.
For dessert we had
Husk meringue, corn mousse
Corn husks are burned and their ash is used as a flavoring for the meringue shell. The mousse was good, but the corn flavor was restrained and it was a bit too sweet. This creation has become quite famous; one writer called it a Mexican Pavlova.
Well, as you can tell, we did not think that Cosme lived up to its reputation or its high prices. The chef surely has more culinary talent than what he shows here. My guess is that he has tried hard to adjust to New York tastes and has succeeded with many New Yorkers, but not Linda and me. The pace of the meal and the service were fine. (They probably turned over our table three times that evening.) The noise level was deafening, combining loud music, a boisterous clientèle shouting to be heard and poor acoustics. That served to enhance my irritation when I was disappointed in the cuisine.