Exquisite New York City cuisine comes by way of Mexico in this dark, brooding Flatiron space. Prepare to have all your expectations exceeded here, for Cosme is the restaurant that has finally illustrated what it means to elevate Mexican food to the discipline of fine dining.
2004 was a landmark year for restaurants. It was the year we saw Noma, Per Se, Masa, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, The Spotted Pig, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and even Shake Shack open their doors for the first time. These were restaurants that changed the culinary landscape of the country, of the world, and simultaneously redefined what fine dining would look like and feel like in the coming decade.
I think, perhaps another 10 years from now, we will look back on 2014 with almost equal deference. We will look at it as a year that experienced another positive economic and cultural shift that resulted in daring new innovations in the field, and at the forefront of these changes to the discipline, I think we will recognize Cosme and Enrique Olvera as the harbingers of serious Mexican cuisine.
Mexican food for me has always been a cuisine that brings back intense memories of steamy corn tortillas enjoyed with freshly sliced avocado under a hot Southern California sun. It is food that reminds me of a little girl whose earliest culinary accomplishments included a perfect bowl of creamy guacamole. It is the smell of lime that reminds me of the evening when my mother told me her favorite cocktial was a margarita, and when she showed me how to make one without tequila so I could be emulate the woman I saw in her. It is food that recalls the magic hour of my childhood, looked back on with a warm, sunny nostalgia for the tacos and beans and corn that fill the eternal summer of California.
Cosme is not that food. Cosme instead takes me intensely back to my most favorite dining experiences in New York, with a local excellence and hospitality so simultaneously thrilling and refined it could only be found in this city. It is a restaurant that reminds me of falling in love with New York for the first time, of deeply connecting with a part of its storied culture.
Cosme rejects labels that could trap it under weighty definitions of tradition and authenticity. The flavors are indeed Mexican, crafted by the world’s foremost Mexican chef, but the interpretation is New York, full of elegance, subtlety, and power. The chicharron (fried pork skin) is covered with impeccable slices of radish and avocado, and begins to snap, crackle, and pop as soon as a bit of lime juice is drizzled over it. With a little heat from hot sauce to draw out even more flavor, it hits all five senses with sensational strength.
The Duck Carnitas for two have emerged as one of Cosme’s signature dishes, but exploring the menu with an assemblage of smaller plates can be far more satisfying, and far more telling about the conceptual strength of the restaurant. The Potato Tamal with ayocote beans and fresh ricotta is creamy and earthy, reminiscent of a pre-Columbian tradition but decidedly fresh and tangy.
To round out a meal for two, two larger plates can be shared, ideally the Half Lobster Pibil, a slow-roasted preparation from the Yucatan region that renders the lobster utterly succulent and tender on top of a chorizo and black bean puree, and the Black Garlic Rubbed NY Strip for Tacos. The little squares of steak are perfectly soft and pink, and could so easily be enjoyed on their own without the light, airy corn tortillas that come on the side. But then one would miss tortillas unlike any other in New York, and that would be a tragedy. The avocado-tarragon puree that appears in quenelles across the plate is also one of the most richly flavored treatments of the fruit I’ve ever tasted, an ethereal, creamy fantasy that pairs smoothly and beautifully with the protein. The dish is so clearly composed for New York, but its Mexican roots and underpinnings make it a completely novel experience.
Having opened in October of 2014, it’s clear that Cosme is already making a difference in the field, showing the city that it is decidedly new and yet intimately a part of it with its picture-perfect lighting, dark, cool setting, and clarity of forward-thinking, boundary-pushing flavors. This is what makes Cosme the only 5-star Mexican restaurant in the city.
Yes, 2014 was a good year.