105 1st Avenue – East Village
Mexican, Hot Spot
Empellon Cocina serves modern, refined Mexican cuisine. Their philosophy is to use fundamental techniques with a unique sensibility. We were impressed with Empellon’s ‘sensibility,’ which is to push (empellon) the envelope in the kitchen (cocina). This was in no way a standard Mexican meal. Every course had a nice twist of cultural fusion, whether it was an ingredient, sauce or presentation. In keeping with our holiday extravaganza, we tasted an absurd number of small plates rather than going with entrees.
The interior is very sleek and modern. Furnishings are black and there is a yellow glow coming from the circular bar. Lighting is dim, which doesn’t fare well for photography so the photos not mine are credited below. We sat in the front at a bar height table near the window. From our vantage point we did not see the cool artwork at the bar!
We started off with a House Margarita (Pueblo Viejo $12) and a smoky Mezcal Margarita (Fidencio Classico $13) to get in the proper spirit of things. Later in our meal we switched it up a bit and tried specialty cocktails. I had the ¿Por Que No? (Pueblo Viejo Blanco $14) with pineapple, cilantro and green chile and Steve tried the Hecho en Humbo, which was smoked Mexican Coca-Cola (El Mayor Blanco $13), black walnut and orange. This would be a great spot to have drinks at the bar. They also offer agave flights. The entire program is just fun. And I love a smoky or spicy drink.
With our cocktails we decided to begin with a trio of salsas ($3 each) although I’d heard they do a killer guacamole with pistachios. Next time. We chose the salsa verde with tomatillo, cilantro and serrano pepper as well as the tomatillo-chipotle with chipotle, roasted tomatillos, roasted garlic and honey. And last but not least, the fiery Salsa Habanera with habanero pepper, orange juice, grapefruit and Mexican oregano. There was no escape from the heat with my mezcal margarita. Watch that one! Salsas are served with paper thin masa (dough) chips. Such a nice change from nacho chips – light and airy.
For snacks, we followed with Shigoku Oysters ($4 each) served with Sangrita and Salsa Bruja. Shigoku means ‘ultimate’ in Japanese, but these are from Willapa Bay off of Washington State. Apparently they are tumbled twice a day, causing them to grow scoop-shaped. We are generally east coast oyster fans, but these were mind-changing. And the sangrita? Awesome idea.
Next up, we had a Mexican twist on the Scotch Egg ($6). This was the best Scotch Egg we’ve had for a couple of reasons. A Scotch Egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. It is an awesome thing. Here the center was soft-boiled, which in itself improves the dish! But the true genius here is the use of chicken chorizo and masa tempura. That’s tempura dough. So far, we’ve got some Japanese influence happening along with the Mexican and now Scottish. Steve is a big fan of the Scotch Egg in general and we’ll need to go back for this as a bar snack!
For the taco course we tried the Peekytoe Crab Cake Taco with Sea Urchin Guacamole ($16) and the Shortrib Pastrami with Pickled Cabbage and Mustard Seed Salsa ($18). They tasted as good as they sound.
And from the Starters menu we had the Chilled Mayan Prawns ($15) with lettuces, salsa verde mousse and a crispy masa waves (there’s that paper thin dough again). Fabulous – the mousse held together the two waves. a few jalapeños were sprinkled on this as well. I managed a dark photo on this one!
And the last of our savory eats was a huge favorite, the Squid with Black Mole, Potatoes and Sour Orange Mayonnaise ($17). What a gorgeous dish. Again, the darkness was disappointing, but I did a sweet black and white Instagram as a result! The black mole was splattered like squid ink across the dish. Best calamari dish I’ve seen.
Yes, we went for dessert while we were at it. It was called Hoja Santa Flan ($12). It was served with Peanut Marzipan and Chocolate. Hoja Santa is a Mexican pepperleaf with an anise or root beer-like flavor.
This is likely a spot where we could become regulars. The menu is so fun and the combinations adventurous. The vibe is upbeat and casual. The service was really impeccable as well. A big win, this one. Just writing this up makes me want to go back!