So, expectedly like many people this year, I will be going to Mexico City. My trip isn’t for a while yet, but as it will be my only real vacation, planning, plotting, and dreaming is well underway. The food, of course, is a big draw, especially as I am not very experienced in Mexican cuisine and want to taste and learn as much as I can. “Mexican” growing up meant Tex-Mex. Birthdays and special events at Chi-Chi’s, mall lunches at Taco Time, desperate stops at Chili’s. (Taco Bell maybe once?) As Edmonton’s Latin community and resulting food scene grew, it did so mostly through Salvadoran cuisine, and so when I crave Latin, pupusas always come to mind first. In Vancouver, there were a few legit Mexican meals, but overall, I’m a total novice in knowing what I like or want to try. As someone who doesn’t like quick meals, I’m never in the mood for tacos. I can hear many hearts breaking. I didn’t say I didn’t like them, though. I just don’t like meals that are over in minutes. And unfortunately, this has prevented me from exploring Mexican restaurants here in New York beyond a handful of times. And when I have, it’s usually not to eat tacos. My current quandary is, should I do some heavy exploring before my trip or after for comparison? Advice is welcome.
Casa Enrique in Long Island City, Queens, has been getting lots of coverage, especially because it has received a Michelin star. That definitely played a role in my visiting for a late brunch (hooray for somewhere that has brunch past 2:30 pm!), but truthfully, the big draw was the much-Instagrammed tres leches cake. If the rest of the meal was as satisfying as the cake looked like it would be, all would be right in my world.
Instead of free chips, the gratis treat are “flour puffs.” I’m sure that they have a specific Mexican name, but when I asked, my waiter gave this gringa the simple response. The fried sqiggles were unsalted, but the corn flour had enough flavour to make them oddly addictive. More so was the texture, like packing peanuts—I can only imagine. The lingering oil from the fryer made for greasy fingers after a few handfuls, but even that didn’t stop me from enjoying the edible styrofoam as I started my beer.
I had considered, and probably should have ordered, the ceviche as my starter, but the price point tipped a bit too high in my mind as did the thought that the portion would be too large. That does not mean that this salad was a let down. It was just as expected: very light, very refreshing, and crunchy. The beets may have dominated, but the jicama crunch was most distinct. The mild queso was not a rich counterpoint; its soft and grainy texture just added some nice body to the salad.
I’m one of those people who says that she doesn’t like brunch, so I steered clear of the few egg dishes to underscore the position in my mind. I also decided to explore without going for a default crowd pleaser like tacos or enchiladas, though the mole used on one version of enchiladas is supposed to be excellent. No, I went with a soup, riskier territory for me as I usually can be fearful of murky broths. I wanted to try the pozole mostly because I’ve never tried hominy before and have always been intrigued by the large kernels.
Enrique has surely done his aunt’s recipe proud based on the bowl I tried. As much a stew as a soup, the only mildly spicy red-chile-laced broth was brimming with shredded pork and chewy hominy. It was hearty, but not heavy. And like everything warm and delicious that comes in a bowl, perfect for a chilly day or when your soul needs some easy comfort. I definitely could have handled more heat, but I didn’t mind having the chance to taste the marriage of all the different elements. Served with lettuce and radish on top, the avocado, diced onion, dried oregano, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges came on the side for personal doctoring. The pozole also came with a side of totopos, which for all intents and purposes, are chips. I both dipped and crumbled.
It was at one of Edmonton’s Salvadoran restaurants where I first tasted tres leches cake. As someone who also says that she doesn’t like cake, my love has steadily grown for this sponge cake soaked in three milks (heavy cream, condensed milk, evaporated milk) that some believe first originated off the back of a condensed milk can. I stand by my dislike of cake because, to me, pastel tres leches is a thick pudding. A well-executed version has a proper eggy sponge that, when soaked in the milks, tastes of vanilla custard. The structure of the cake gives the body. You could say it’s like bread pudding, but I think a good tres leches is more… creamy? than a bread pudding. Perhaps I should say, it’s almost like flan. It should be eaten with a spoon in my opinion. Props to Casa Enrique for serving it in a vessel where the puddle of milks can be spooned and finished.
If you haven’t inferred by now, I loved this tres leches. Probably the best I’ve ever had. I worried that its height, taller than others I’ve had, would mean a drier top. Not so. Even if it was, the barely sweetened cream and goat milk caramel would help out. Thankfully, the caramel was not too sweet. Its stickiness made the spoon linger in my mouth longer, encouraging me to reflect with each bite on how much I enjoyed my meal.