Saturday, February 6, 2010

Toloache: Delicious Mexican cuisine with a taco sure to bug you!

Named for the moonflower plant, famed in Mexico for its use in love potions, Toloache is a truly enchanting bistro and refreshing breath of air amidst the chaos of midtown's hit-or-miss melee of restaurants.  Chef-owner Julian Medina has created an atmosphere and array of dishes that far exceeds most Mexican I have had in Manhattan or elsewhere.

To be quite honest, we stumbled in for just a pre-theater margarita.  We were instantly greeted by the manager, who was quite simply the friendliest and most jovial host and tour guide we could have asked for (I highly recommend asking for Luis and telling him you read about him here.)

Kieran enjoyed a prickly pear margarita.  If you have never tried one before, you should treat yourself.  Prickly pear is a type of paddle cactus, so named because the brightly colored fruit grows at the tip of the cactus leaf, resembling a ball and paddle.  Prickly pear nectar (used in the margarita) is made from the juice and pulp of the fruits, and is naturally the color you see above.  It's refreshingly sweet and tart.

As we sipped our desert refreshments (I combined the nectar with pineapple and citrus soda for a non-alcoholic version), we started noticing that a lot of delectable creativity was transpiring all around us.  Maybe we were in for more than just a beverage.

Just beyond the ceviche station was a brick oven.  While the cooks prepared a variety of guacamole (yes, they offer a variety... one involves a brilliant blend of avocado, pomegranate, vidalia onion, mango, apple, peach, habanero, and Thai basil) at the ceviche bar, we watched manchego cheese bubble in the heat on a black truffle quesadilla.

The pescado tacos were outrageous.  We Hoovered these wraps of baja-style tilapia with guacamole and a spicy jicama slaw.  Kieran, a semi-native Texan, swore these to be the best fish tacos he's ever tasted.  But he refused to try the next dish laid before us...

That's right... grasshopper tacos.  A tortilla loaded with Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers, sauteed onion, and jalapeno.

As I have struggled with how to best describe these little guys, I think the best explanation is like eating a crispy, hollow, salted pistachio with legs.  They were nutty and salty, and I have read that in Latin countries they are gobbled by the bagful just like we devour popcorn.  Unfortunately, unlike popcorn kernels, I was a little unnerved by picking tiny dried legs from between my gums and lips.

That's a close-up of one of the spared critters on my plate (click to further enlarge).  Kieran was squirming and nearly had to excuse himself at the bombastic crunch of my first bite.  It did sound like pop rocks, only the explosion was caused by salted little insect exoskeletons.  Though it is an acquired taste, I can see why people would savor this delicacy.  Given a few more goes at overcoming my inhibitions, I could probably grow quite fond of them.

After tasting the tacos (and unsuccessfully trying to convince Kieran he was really missing out), the staff applauded our bravery (or comedy, at the very least) with a tequila shot; Toloache offers over 70 varieties of tequila!

Chef Medina has quite possibly ruined flan for me anywhere else, as I would bet it safe to wager that no other Mexican restaurant's version holds a candle.  This light-as-air interpretation sits in a zigzagged stream of coffee caramel sauce, and then topped with an absolutely wonderful pico de gallo of fresh mixed berries.

The crepas con cajeta were a delightfully sticky and sweet layering of crepes, caramelized goat's milk, Mezcal marcona almond, and a dollop of banana ice cream.

Even if you aren't brave enough for the grasshoppers, if you enjoy gourmet authentic Mexican cuisine (at an extremely reasonable price), you cannot ignore this bistro.  A beautiful evening resulted from us merely wanting to grab a drink, and immediately finding the full experience too tempting to resist.  Whether an exotic guacamole, a ceviche prepared fresh at the bar, a flight of tequila, or grasshoppers... I give Toloache a hopping endorsement.  

Toloache on Urbanspoon


giovanni Crabel said...

love your blog !!!

amuse*bouche said...

Thank you so much, Gio... Let's do dinner soon... maybe you know a fun place I can feature? Huge hugs...

SPD said...

you better workthe grasshopper taco! this has been on my list since gael greene wrote about it on her blog!

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