I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hecho en Dumbo: Chef's Table

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: I think Mexican restaurants stopped giving out sombreros on your birthday. 

My earliest memory of Mexican food was a local chain restaurant called Chi Chis. It served horrible bastardized Mexican food but the main reason for going there was that on your birthday, you would get a sombrero. I mean, what kid did not want a sombrero? It was a ridiculously flamboyant and floppy hat and now in retrospect, giving out sombreros at a Mexican restaurant is like giving out conical rice paddy hats at a PF Changs. Also, they had fried ice cream. I like ice cream and fried stuff so what better way for a fat kid to celebrate a birthday? Regardless of receiving a sombrero for a birthday, Mexican food has often been misunderstood and the cuisine has too often been represented by all you can eat stale tortilla chips, refried beans that can be used interchangeably with spackle and the idea that everything is shoved into a bland tortilla. Yet thanks to many restaurants emerging in the city, such as Hecho en Dumbo, Mexican cuisine can get the respect it deserves. Hecho en Dumbo is located on the Bowery and has recently started doing a chef’s table pre fixe menu that focused on game meat and seafood and it sounded interesting, and chef tables I think are fun to eat at so I went. 

The chef's table at Hecho is located in back away from the always busy and crowded dining room and it is in full view the kitchen that was already busy and turning out orders. I sat right in front of the pass, which just made me hungry the whole entire time as finished dishes were completed and runners collecting orders and bringing them out to the table. I had to hold back the urge to grab a piece of chicharon every time an order came on the pass. The pre fixe menu was a total of 5 courses with a wine pairing. Although the host was a bit pushy on urging me to get a cocktail and wine pairing, I do not generally do any because:

1. I went to Terroir for wine already earlier
2. Every time I do a pairing, I end up half sloshed and I can not taste the food half the time.
3. And I do not like it when scrawny hipsters of questionable sexual orientation is trying to up my bill by ordering booze

However, on to the food:

Food After the Jump! 
oyster and an ancho chile consume
To start was an oyster and an ancho chile consume in a shot glass. After much questioning, I concluded that you are suppose to shoot down the consommé, and then the oyster, chaser style. This worked out pretty well, the consommé was warm and spicy the oyster had a good hit of lime which balanced the smoky spicy consume, a nice little amuse to start off the meal. 

Aguachile Negro- Scallop Sashimi
The first course was the Aguachile Negro. It was a scallop sashimi, with sliced cucumber, pickled red onions, set on a crispy tortilla and a Hoja Santa Jus. The scallop was fresh and sliced thinly and had a ceviche-like texture to them because there was lime in the dish which would have “cooked” the scallop a bit, little food knowledge for yah. The combination of the crisp tortilla which was indeed fresh and crunchy and the vegetables made this an enjoyable starter course. The Hoja sauce was peppery and involves the usage of some leaf from Mexico. They were not that big on explaining the sauces and other components but the Hoja Sauce was acidic pairing nicely with the scallop and aiding in giving the scallop some firmness. 

Pulpo con Quelites- Grilled Octopus Salad
The Second course was the Pulpo con Quelites. It was sliced grilled octopus, with a chorizo oil drizzle, topped with baby Mizuna and cauliflower florets in Tamarind vinaigrette. I am a fan of this octopus, like when the Discovery Channel does a special on killer Octopus that are eighty feet long, some see that scary, but I see it as a multi-course tasting. The octopus was underneath a camouflage blanket of Mizuna, which is basically a fancy Japanese arugula. There was only a few pieces of octopus in this dish and they were chopped up, which generally a tactic used to disguise rubbery octopus but this was not the case. The octopus was tender and was infused with a smoky char from the grill. The chorizo oil also added a layer of smokiness to the dish and with the tamarind vinaigrette, added a complexity to the composition. The greens and the cauliflower did a good job in textural contrast as well as balance the richness of the octopus. Only criticism I can think of is I would have liked more octopus but other than that, it was a good dish. 

Sierra a la Talla- Spanish Mackerel with Chayote Squash and Celery Root Puree
The third course was the Sierra a la Talla which translates to a grilled Spanish mackerel, smothered in a Chile Talla sauce, nested on a bed of pickled fennel, accompanied with Chayote Squash and Celery Root Puree. The fish teetered on being overcooked, but it was just fine. Mackerel in my experience is a difficult fish to cook and can end up being overly firm but this mackerel was done well. The purees were pooled on the bottom of the plate with a whole ying yang thing going on. Both were savory but mellow and the Chayote squash was slightly sweeter than the celery root. Each part of the dish was executed nicely and by alternating and combining the different elements of the plate, created new flavors with each bite. 

Lime Sorbet with Mescal- Palate Desser-, err palate cleanser
Before the last of the savory courses, a palate cleanser of a lime sorbet with a hit of mescal was brought out. The lime sorbet was good and the hint of mescal was a nice touch. It seemed more like a dessert rather than a palate cleanser but it got the job done and readied the palate for the squab. 

Pipian Rojo de Pichon- Squab, Pumpkin Seed Mole and cactus souffle
The Fourth course was the Pipian Rojo de Pichon. That translates to grilled squab, a Pumpkin Seed mole, a cactus masa soufflé sprinkled with crunchy fried rice. This was a dish that exemplifies what makes Mexican cuisine unique and elegant. The squab was rare and cooked any longer would result in toughness. The squab was not gamey in texture or flavor. The pumpkin seed mole stood as an equal on this dish and I found myself scraping my fork for every last morsel. The Pumpkin seeds were from Puebla which I do not know if this plays a significant roll in the creation of the mole but nonetheless, it brought a nutty meatiness to the dish and the lingering essence of pumpkin with each bite. The mole had a great deal of complexity and simply unctuous and had a mix of bold spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, chiles but worked beautifully and was balanced. The cinnamon lingered after each bite and slowly wisped away making you crave and wanting more. The cactus soufflé was not the prettiest soufflé but it was able to be both satisfying and light. Only constructive criticism I can leave is that it would be nice if you can provide me with something other than a butter knife to cut the squab with. Although I have no problem bone gnawing, the butter knife did a half ass job in pretending to have some table manners and had me debating if I should have pulled out my own pocket knife to cut the meat apart. 

Chocolate Panna Cotta with Hibiscus Creme Angalise- no fancy Latin name
The dessert was a hazelnut wafer topped with a Mexican chocolate panna cotta, cajeta (goat milk caramel), and a Hibiscus flower crème angalise and hazelnut crunch. The chocolate was from Taza, an American company up in Massachusetts that makes Mexican style chocolate. The panna cotta was rich, clean and had the smoothness of a pot de crème. The floral Hibiscus crème angalise matched well with the spiced essence of the panna cotta and the cajeta rounded out the dessert. Finally, as a petite four I guess, or just a petite uno, a chocolate truffle dusted generously with unsweetened cocoa. The chocolate again was from Taza and the chocolate flavors were bold and pronounced and had an underlying sweetness which helps showcase the chocolate and was a satisfying bite to end the meal. 

Chocolate truffle- the finisher
 I have eaten at Chef's Tables before and although Hecho en Dumbo is not as refined as say Ko, it is however an enjoyable experience. The mood at chef tables in my experience and here was quiet casual and relaxed. It is always a pleasure to watch Chefs hard at work and turning out food. Unlike places like Ko, the Chefs not only are preparing food for you, they are also turning and burning out food for a dining room and are doing it with precision and quiet concentration making it look easy. You can see the craft and care that is going into each dish as they are put in the pass and are all meticulously checked by the chef and wiped down of any offending and visually unappealing residue. Although Hecho en Dumbo is a worthy place to eat in the dining room, the Chef Table is worth the experience.

Hecho en Dumbo
354 Bowery
New York, NY 10012

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