“How did you hear about us?” the genial hostess asked me when I walked into Empellon, the new flagship of chef/owner Alex Stupak’s progressive Mexican dynasty. I wanted to tell her how I visited Empellon Cocina–another lauded Stupak joint–and fell hopelessly in love with a mole-spattered plate of squid; I wanted to wax poetic about a bowl of cape gooseberries, sugar shards and citrus-encased mezcal syrup at that same dinner; but I kept it brief in fear of coming off like a crazed fan.
Empellon is the fourth sibling in the family, Cocina, Taqueria, and Al Pastor being the others. Stupak, once pastry chef at Alinea in Chicago and WD-50 in NYC, is at his most irreverent here, offering boudary-pushing flavor combinations that surprise and excite. The Octopus Tacos with savory peanut butter and celery sound alarming, but the char of the expertly-cooked tentacles blends nicely with the richness of the peanut. The Live Scallop Ceviche showcases scallops brought in fresh daily from Provincetown, Massachusetts, shucked live and bathed in kalamansi lime leche.
In a creation by Empellon Director of Culinary Operations Jason Beberman, chile-steamed sticky rice and confit of duck cooked in salsa borracha fill a luxe tamale, placed over a bed of singed corn husk for added aroma.
Dessert can be the main course at any of the Empellon restaurants, and this new location is no exception, beginning with the highly Instagrammable ‘Avocado.’ It starts with eucalyptus, olive oil and avocado, blended together and whipped until mousse-like. The mixture is painstakingly painted into a mold in three steps, ultimately mimicking a half-avocado. The faux fruit is then placed over tart lemon-lime raspado (shaved ice), goats milk yogurt and olive oil.
And then there’s the show stopping ‘Citrus,’ which can be ordered for one or for the whole table. A portion for one includes a Kishu mandarin, meyer lemon sorbet with lemon balm and coriander, lime curd with finger lime cells, grapefruit-mezcal jelly with hibiscus marshmallow, and cara cara orange with chile powder and pomegranate.
I was already dizzy from my marathon of a meal when the server brought out one of Mr. Stupak’s famous corn ice cream tacos, compliments of the kitchen. It was as delicious as I had heard.
Some have found it necessary to note that dining at Empellon is a spendy affair, which it is, but that’s not the point. Empellon’s food can change your outlook on what it means to eat out, and that’s priceless.
510 Madison Avenue (53rd Street between Madison and 5th)