Empellon Cocina – East Village, NYC

Best salsa and drinks at Empellon!

Review By: Stefanie Parks –

Empellon has been on our list forever. We actually had plans to go there about a month ago with my aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, the one night we were supposed to go, their air conditioning was broken and as I’m sure you can imagine… my aunt and uncle weren’t too keen on sitting in an un-airconditioned restaurant in 100 degree weather. So instead, we went to Hearth down the street (which we didn’t love), but we were told to come back to Empellon on another night and they would “take care of us.”

And, they did!

Dave and I rode our bikes to the restaurant and as we were checking in, I explained our story to the host. He told us not to worry, we’d be taken care of. We sat down and talked to our waiter about what we were thinking. He was extremely helpful, and even told us that he didn’t like one of the cocktails we were planning to order. Well, he liked it, but only if you were just coming in to drink… He didn’t think that it went well with a lot of the food, so he recommended something that he thought we’d like better. As you may know, there’s nothing I love more than a waiter who is honest about the things that they like and dislike at their restaurants. I know you can’t possibly love every single thing on the entire menu, so please just be honest with me!

As for food, we decided on 3 salsas. The Sikal Pak which is pumpkin seeds, tomato, onion, garlic, cinnamon, epazote, sour orange juice and serano, the Smoked Cashew which is smoked cashews and chipotle, and then the Salsa Habanera which is habanero, orange juice, grapefruit and Mexican oregano. Our waiter informed us that the salsa menu went from least spicy to most spicy, so we were ordering from both ends of the spectrum… the two least spicy and also the most spicy.

In addition to the salsas, we ordered a Masa with Fettucine, Smoked Beef Tongue, Cherry Tomato, and an Egg Yolk, and Sweetbreads (Dave’s favorite) with sweet corn esquites . They brought us out all of our food plus every other salsa on the menu (7 in totall) and then Hen of the Woods Mushrooms with Black Bean Vermicelli. See I told you they took care of us!

All of the salsas were great, and what was even better were the masa chips that they were served with. The Smoked Cashew, Salsa Verde, and Salsa Habanera were my favorites (two of the three that we were planning to order anyway!) but overall, these were some of the best salsas that I’ve had. I especially loved getting to try all of them, and also loved that they set them up from least to most spicy for us.

The Masa was not at all what I expected. I thought that it was going to be some sort of taco, but Masa means dough in Spanish, so while I assumed that to mean that we’d be getting some sort of chip or tortilla, they must have been referring to the fettucine noodles. But then again, I really don’t know. The dish was good, but when you’re expecting a taco and you get pasta instead, it’s just really confusing.

The sweetbreads were great, but the portion was really small. Also, while I liked the sweetbread and corn combination, I felt like the dish was missing something. Again, definitely not a miss, but definitely not a home run either.

Surprisingly, my favorite dish of the night was the hen of the woods mushrooms with black bean vermicelli. It was another pasta dish, which I found a little odd, but this was the one dish that definitely exceeded my expectations. It was delicious, and also something that I probably would have not ordered myself, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

Overall, though I appreciated the free food and great service, Empellon was a little underwhelming. The portions were small, the meal was expensive, and aside from the salsas and the tequila, there was really nothing Mexican about this place at all. Typically when you think Mexican you think fajitas or quesadillas, not pasta and more pasta. But, the food was tasty, and the salsa (and the chips) were some of the best that I’ve had. The meal definitely was enjoyable, but I can’t say that I’ll be going back to Empellon any time soon.