“My brother is serving the food we cooked at home growing up,” explains Luis Aguilar of his brother Cosme, who began hand-stuffing chorizo and butchering meat at the age of seven.
Luis and Cosme, who worked for over a decade at Café Henri – with locations in Manhattan and Long Island City – are now the general manager and executive chef, respectively, at Casa Enrique. It opened last year in Long Island City under the same ownership. While the chef serves many dishes from Chiapas, where he was born, the menu reads like less of a regional tribute and more of a family history, since they moved several times throughout Mexico.
The space, formerly a satellite kitchen for Café Henri – the restaurant’s French older sister just down the street – is now whitewashed like a blank canvas, with a communal table up front and cozier, intimate seating at smaller tables in the back room. Servers are attentive and eloquently describe the menu and cooking procedures in multiple languages. Unique cocktails and homemade soft drinks form a beverage menu to be enjoyed while dining or simply snacking on chips and salsa at the bar. A mojito with muddled cucumber adds subtle sweetness, while the horchata – rich with vanilla and cinnamon – tastes like Christmas in a glass.
The menu boasts one salad, and for good reason. The Ensalada de Betabel con Jicama is unlike any I have ever enjoyed. Like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, slender sticks of golden and crimson beets and white jicama zigzag in a climbing haystack. It has two triangles of salty queso fresco and everything is doused with a fresh mint-speckled lemon vinaigrette. Crunchy, tangy, creamy, cold and refreshing, it is one of the most simple and all-around enjoyable summertime salads.
Though ceviche presents itself in several forms, the Tostadas de Jaiba remains one dish I have had to order every single time I visit. A long platter arrives with three seafood sombreros. Crispy tostadas are capped with mounds of lump crabmeat jeweled with citrus-kissed avocado, chiles, tomato and cilantro.
While tacos range from beef tongue to pineapple marinated pork, the chorizo tacos are not to be missed. The hand-stuffed sausage is crumbled onto mini tortillas with a surprising complexity of tenderness, sweetness, and gentle blend of spices, requiring nothing more than the light sprinkling of cilantro.
And speaking of complexity, the lamb shank draped in a huaxamole of dried peppers, apazote, and huajes falls from the bone at a mere prodding – a most exquisite presentation of mutton.
Weekday service is dinner only, and weekend brunch adds several egg-centric menu items. While the huevos rancheros is exceptional, the brunch dishes still do not outshine the entrees. Opt for the chicken quesadilla with a tomatillo sauce. And then you absolutely must save room for dessert. The pot de crème is like chocolate-almond velvet, but the tres leches cake puts to profound shame every other rendition I have ever tried.
5-48 49th Avenue, Long Island City
Dinner 7 days from 5 p.m. to midnight
Brunch Saturday & Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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