Per today’s order of things, big name chefs generally lavish their attention on sumptuous, high end flagships, before diversifying their portfolio with casual, everyman counters and cafes. But Alex Stupak has gone somewhat off-script with the direction of his Empellon empire; expanding his Mexican lineup with an inventive (yet still homestyle) Cocina, a laid-back Taqueria, and the even quicker service Al Pastor, before debuting the brand-anchoring Empellon just this past month.
A buzzy, bi-level behemoth in Midtown, the ambitious eatery occupies 8,000-square feet, and employs more staff than all of his other ventures combined. There’s an open kitchen on the ground floor, as well as in the basement, and an onsite tortilleria lurks down below, too, to help furnish tacos priced from $14 (hash browns with tomatillo ketchup, falafel with grasshopper hummus) to $18 (octopus with celery and savory peanut butter) — a far cry from the $5 spit-roasted pork from al pastor.
Crab Nachos also exemplify the lofty, spendy direction of Empellon, slathered in a saline sea urchin “queso,” along with starters like Live Scallop Ceviche with kalamansi lime leche, and Sticky Rice Tamales, padded with pillows of red chile duck. As for entrees, a three-course prix fixe at Empellon Cocina is less than a third of the cost of a certain entrée at the extravagant Empellon; that would be A-5 “Fajitas;” ribbons of wagyu New York strip, dipped in a peppercorn mole touched with bananas, plantains and onion.
While certain fine dining chefs seek to rough up their image with bar food and burgers, Alex Stupak evidently has no intention of dialing anything down.
510 Madison Avenue