Cosme – First Bite
Cosme is an impossible reservation; the kind that can drive a foodie crazy because it feels too important not to eat there, and yet, it’s nearly impossible to snag a table. (They have been booked through early 2015 since they opened a few weeks ago!) I guess word that one of the world’s best chefs just opened up shop in town travels fast, nevermind a Mexican joint, which we New Yorkers don’t have enough of. I somehow managed three seats at the communal table, then proceeded to bother the reservationist enough that they moved us to our own table when we arrived. (Phew. Say what you will, but I hate communal eating.) It was like winning the restaurant lottery where New York dining is concerned.
Cosme isn’t what I expected. When it’s that hard to get a table, you imagine more of a statement spot. Instead, I wandered into a dimly lit, 3,500 square foot space, modernly outfitted with a long, light wood bar and matching tables throughout the dining room, black bucket chairs, and wood shelves along the walls, lined with books, glasses, plates and wine bottles; as if you are sitting in someone’s kitchen. Upfront, there’s a few high top communal tables and funky lounge chairs. It’s tastefully decorated; part homey, part industrial, but there’s nothing showy or show stopper about the decor at this Flatiron newcomer. In fact, until recently, Cosme was a strip club called Ten’s, peddling boobs and booze. Now, it’s a proper restaurant peddling refined margaritas and tamales.
I celebrated my reservation victory in the upfront lounge with a zippy Paloma, a classic Mexican cocktail, a blend of tequila, lime, soda, and grapefruit syrup. It is there, and only there, that you can sample snacks, like Guacamole and Smoked Salmon Tostada, but not the full menu. The full menu is available in the main dining room where chef Enrique Olvera is really strutting his stuff. I don’t like to drink cocktails with my food, no matter how well-balanced they are or properly matched to the food, so I switched to a glass of 2011 Fie Gris from the Loire Valley, the perfect partner for Olvera’s vibrant fare. (There’s an impressive selection of sherries from Bodegas Tradicion by the glass if you prefer.)
As for Olvera’s cooking, it’s not your typical down & dirty (and I mean that in the best way possible!) Mexican by any stretch of the word. His Mexico City eatery, Pujol, serves a modernized and refined brand of Mexican. At Cosme, he moves much farther away from his roots, seizing the opportunity to cook outside Mexican borders. The result is Italian Burrata with “weeds” and Salsa Verde. It’s a melting blob of burrata wading in a zippy pool of Salsa Verde (so good they should bottle it), crowned with a garden fresh fistful of wild greens. Burrata’s never had it so good. What a genius, and yet simple pairing! So is the Mussels on a Blue Corn Tostada, married to a cheeky version of Russian salad, made with cubed potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions, glossed with a feisty chipotle mayonnaise. While the Octopus Cocktail (boiled octopus with red onion, avocado & purple corn atole) was admirable, it wasn’t memorable. But thankfully, it’s the only dish I ate all night that didn’t make me to take pause to savor the innovative combination of flavors in my mouth.
It seems like everyone’s doing a scallop sashimi of some sort these days, but none as beautifully balanced as Olvera’s take on traditional Shrimp Aquachile. Instead of shrimp, he scatters Scallop petals with petals of Jicama, Cucumber, Lime, and a sneaky hit of Wasabi to keep things interesting. And I’ve never had anything like his Mushroom and Squash Barbacoa with “Chilpachole.” Olvera takes a Valencian seafood soup and transforms it into a sauce that sits beneath smoky and tender Mushrooms and Squash – an intense combination of flavors that feels cutting edge without moving into avant-garde territory.
His Mexican-ish fare mingles traditional Mexican dishes with Greenmarket ingredients and global flavors, like Raw Hamachi anointed with fermented Serrano and Black Limes, Boston Mackerel with Kohlrabi and Caesar Dressing, and New York Strip, Shishitos, and an Avocado Tarragon Puree. Of course, some dishes are more firmly anchored in Mexican cooking, like the deeply flavored, braised Duck Carnitas, heaped with Sliced White Onion and Tomatillo Sauce, and dosed with Chile De Arbol (red chile), which permeate the whole dish. I’m a total Tamale snob, and I think Olvera’s turning out the most comforting and simultaneously exciting tamal in New York right now. The velvety, and yet incredibly light on its feet masa gets Swiss Chard, Ricotta, Tomato Salsa and plenty of cilantro. His Chilaquiles are a little more cleaned up than your typical morning after scramble, but just as tasty –Salsa Roja-sopped Chips, Queso Fresco, fresh dill, Onions and a Poached Egg that you break open with your fork, swirling the warm, runny yolk into the dish. Nothing’s overthought or overwrought with too many ingredients or seasonings. The complexities and talent all lay in the chef’s novel combinations and ability to pluck maximum flavor from all his ingredients.
Desserts are nearly as good as the savory side of things. Especially the Husk Meringue, tucked with a nutty, addictive Corn Mousse, finished with grated corn husk. I’m not usually a big fan of liquor and dessert, but the dark Chocolate Mousse with Mezcal and Orange Zest is a terrific exception. Lest I forget the delicious balancing act that is Nixtamalized Parsnip with Greek Yogurt, Banana, as well as an awesome Amaranth Ice Cream, dusted with toasted amaranth seeds. Why are the desserts so good? Because Enrique Olvera and his partners (former investment bankers) snagged a talent of a pastry chef from Le Bernardin.
It’s refreshing to see an internationally acclaimed, foreign chef, like Enrique Olvera, really show up in New York and give it all he’s got. Really, my only complaint about Cosme is that it’s so damn hard to get a reservation.