2015 sure has started off with a bang for Jon Neidich (managing partner of Acme) and Jim Kearns, formerly of the NoMad and Mayahuel. Together, the duo recently launched The Happiest Hour, a retro, tiki-inspired bar in the West Village, currently making a strong case for the vodka revival. And barely two months later, they teamed up with Acme and Indochine’s Jean-Marc Houmard, and Kittichai chef, Alex Lopez, to debut Tijuana Picnic; a modern Mexican cantina and mezcal-focused cocktail lounge on the Lower East Side.
While the bi-level space evokes 1970’s-era Mexico City, with a muted yellow, blue and green color palette, diner-style banquettes, and tequila bottles functioning as table lamps, Lopez’ menu is much more contemporary, reaching all over the globe for inspiration. Running the gamut from Antojitos (“little cravings”), to Pinchos (skewers), Empezar (appetizers) and family-style Large Plates, current options include Duck Empanadas with foie gras and cognac, Grilled Corn with cricket aioli and coffee-chipotle powder, skewers of meaty Mako Shark, flavored with green yuzu koshu, and Pork Chops marinated in coconut milk and drizzled with Thai spice chimichurri. There’s also a selection of Soft Tacos; pairs of floppy corn tortillas folded around fillings, like Galangal-Marinated Chicken, Skirt Steak slathered in juki sauce, Tuna Belly with papalo salad, and a vegetarian version stuffed with poblano peppers, goat cheese and shitake mushrooms, which get a much-needed texture boost from a scattering of candied nuts.
As for drinks, there’s a straightforward assortment of Mexican cervezas (Negra Modelo, Pacifico), as well as wines by the glass, ranging from Spanish Cavas to Argentinean Malbecs and German Rieslings. But if you’ve got a thing for agave-distilled spirits, Kearns is your man, constructing stiff, citrusy tipples such as the “Mi Casa Margarita,” made with Mezcal Blanco Tequila and lime, the “Smokin’ Maid,” with mezcal, cucumber, mint and agave, and the “Mi Hermano,” a heady mix of Reposado Tequila, Averna, Fernet, Dolin Rouge and mole bitters, served in a coupe glass. Or if you’re looking for something that goes down really easy, there’s always the “Grapefruit Gringo,” made with grapefruit, Thai basil, sugarcane, soda and poblano-infused vodka.
Vodka, bugs, and modern Mexican fusion? When it comes to current food trends, it seems like Tijuana Picnic really has its finger on the pulse of 2015.