The quality of the guacamole, I find, can serve as a benchmark for a Mexican restaurant. At Empellon it’s not a dish, it’s a parade. No, the guac is not elaborately pounded into submission tableside. Instead, the waiter brings over the softly folded avocado attended by foot soldiers: ten small bowls of salsas, from cashew to habanero, so that each bite can be customized. It’s a gesture at once dramatic and delicious, an announcement that this won’t be "a business as usual" meal. That’s for sure: tacos filled with octopus and peanut butter (OMG, so good!) or smoky slabs of thick cut bacon; a pile of nachos garnished with creamy sea urchin; masa-free tamales luxuriantly filled with duck and Asian sticky rice. Alex Stupak, formerly a pasty chef at such temples of molecular gastronomy as Alinea in Chicago and New York’s now-closed WD-50, is the mastermind behind this Mexican fusion fare, and he’s been so successful he now helms a mini-empire. Empellon is his fourth Mexican restaurant (the other three are downtown), and undoubtedly the grandest, an art and painted-tile laden two-story room, encircled by a balcony that brings to mind the verandahs on classic Spanish colonial homes. Two tips: the tacos come two to a serving and are massive, so be sure to share (that will also help with the size of your final tab). Also, it’s much easier to get a reservation at this business district restaurant on a weekend than on a weekday.
- Pauline Frommer