* Rosa Mexicano
9 E 18th St
(between 5th Ave & Broadway)
New York, NY 10003
Yes, yes… I said I would start to cry if anyone mentioned Mexican food to me again but I was recently invited to a blogger tasting event at Rosa Mexicano for the launch of their new menu and of course had to go. Free food! Rosa Mexicano is a high end Mexican chain restaurant with 15 locations nationally, including three in New York. I had been to the Union Square/Flat Iron one twice before and had an experience similar to what most Yelpers seem to say: pretty good Mexican food (albeit on the heavy side), large portions, and expensive. I had always associated Mexican food with large portions and heaviness but never had expensive upscale Mexican food. Well, my friends, Rosa is switching it up and will be launching a new menu that features smaller and lighter portions, though priced similarly to their old menu.
This is the most interesting taco I tried. It is the Panza con Callos de Hacha, aka. seared diver scallops, crisp Kurobuta pork belly, and orange-habanero salsa. As you can see from the photo, the scallops are perfectly seared. The sides were browned and very slightly charred, while the centers were still extremely tender and maybe even slightly undercooked (the way it should be). The scallops were also tremendously sweet, which is completely necessary when paired with something as flavorful as pork belly. I was surprised that the pork belly didn’t mask the scallop’s flavors. Kurobuta pork belly is essentially Berkshire (an early-maturing breed that is known for its juiciness, tenderness, and flavor). I had three of these tacos that night and depending on the taco, my slice of pork was better or worse (one more crisp, one burnt, one perfect, some with more fat, and some with less). Three of these tacos go for $21 … a bit steep in my opinion considering you get about one full (large) scallop per taco. But money aside, this new interpretation of surf-n-turf was delectable.
These are the ceviches we sampled. The first photo is of the Tacos de Hamachi, which includes mini hard shell tacos filled with diced yellowtail, bacon, serrano chile, arugula, and truffle oil. To be honest, I didn’t taste any arugula or truffle oil… didn’t realize they were ingredients until looking at the menu now. Nonetheless, these crispy mini tacos (maybe 2.5 inches?) were delicious. The hamachi/yellowtail was very creamy and sweet and the saltiness and texture of the bacon provided a great contrast. The second photo is of the Pescado Blanco, which is a ceviche sample of the local fish of the day, scallop emulsion, creamy avocado, and crispy serrano ham. I think we had yellowtail for this ceviche as well and I remember it tasting similar to the taco dish – deliciously creamy and sweet. The last photo is of the Tiradito de Callo de Hacha, which includes marinated scallops, burnt orange-chile vinaigrette, grilled pineapple, poblano peppers, and hazelnuts. Rosa really knows where to get great scallops because their scallop dishes are all amazing. The grilled pineapple provided a nice sweet and sour flavor that complemented the creaminess of the scallops quite well.
Though the scallop and pork belly taco was the most interesting taco I had, this Pescado de Baja taco (line-caught crispy local fish and jalapeno tartar sauce) was probably my favorite. There was nothing unique about this taco… there were minimal ingredients… but I think it is this simplicity that I enjoyed most. The crispy fish (we had cod) was perfectly fried… and didn’t feel too greasy at all. The center of the fish was very flaky, soft, and tender and tasted extremely fresh. Definitely no frozen fish patties used here. I liked that they went with the classic… tartar sauce and fried fish just go well together – no need to change it up here! I guess they did add some jalepenos .. but I didn’t taste any heat at all.
Pictured here is the Pollo Yucateco: spiced organic chicken, plantains, sweet peppers, chile de arbol salsa, and crema. I imagine that this taco probably fares well with the American palate… it’s sweet and mayo-heavy and contains chicken. Nothing wrong with that at all. I tend to prefer the simpler tacos where the flavors of the ingredients really shine rather than the sauces. Then again, if you’re paying this much for a taco ($15 for three for this one), I guess you are paying for the creativity that the chefs put into it. This taco also gets bonus points for using plantains.
This pretty looking taco is the Carne Asada: Ancho chile-rubbed Harris Ranch skirt steak, white beans, radish salad, and cana de cama crema. It was nowhere as good as the arrachera steak taco I had at El Fogon in Playa del Carmen but I could taste that the quality of meat was much better. The steak here was tender but lacked the gritty grilled flavor that El Fogon’s tacos had.
This one is the Carnitas de Borrego: roasted American lamb, marinated cucumbers, pistachio-habanero paste, and mint salsa verde. The lamb was pretty gamey tasting so I couldn’t finish it. Also….
I was having too much fun with their Frozen Pomegranate Margaritas and so after this point, I couldn’t really remember the details of the foods I had. This margarita is their signature cocktail, one that they’ve had since 1984. It’s made with silver tequila, pomegranate and lime juices, and then “frozen to perfection.” Definitely a strong drink (I only had one… I swear I can drink more wine than hard liquor!) and nice that it isn’t sweet at all.
We were brought Papas Fritas con Mole (handcut garlic-epazote French fries with mole) towards the end of the event. The fries were a little cold and wilted at this point but I imagine that if you actually ordered them (and didn’t just attend a free tasting event), they would be pretty tasty.
Overall, I would say that they are definitely moving in the right direction with this menu change. The ingredients are much lighter (more fish and scallops!) and the emphasis on small bites and tacos makes for easy sharing. They have also kept some of their classic menu items that involve much more cheese if you’re into that kind of Mexican food. I do think it is a bit much to pay for Mexican food, similar to how I would never pay for expensive Chinese food, but if money isn’t a concern, this place is a great. The ambience is very cool and chic… good for getting together with some trendy friends.
* I decided to save the guacamole review for the end because it isn’t a new menu item. It is actually probably their best known “thing to get” aside from the Pomegranate Margarita. They normally make the guacamole right at your table so it is guaranteed to be super fresh. As you can see from the photos above, they keep large avocado chunks in the mix instead of mixing it all into a puree-like texture. I love avocados and so like that they do that. I do think the guac we had lacked a little salt and lime… and maybe a little heat as well… but when you have it at the table, you can tell your server to add as much of whatever you like so this shouldn’t be a problem.