That’s what it’s all about. Snap. Down and dirty. Or down and uber trendy. But trendy with a smile and a welcome mat. At least for now.
Mexican “street food” and drinks. Particularly drinks made with Pulque. Sassy drinks. Drinks that have names we know like Negroni or fun words in tandem like Inebriated Monkey (watermelon, epazote and Pulque). I started with the Repentant Serpent. And though you are not likely to repent, if you’re a lover of tamarind and milky fermented agave you are likely to be happy. That’s what Pulque’s about. I stayed happy even after I moved on to the tequila based Negroni. It’s all from the same plant so mix but never worry.
I really liked this place. I liked it when it was Doyers Vietnamese but now it’s clean and shiny and though a different cuisine and crowd – just as tempting. We got there at 8pm having a reservation but no glitterati list keeper at the door. He comes later. We passed the hidden entrance to Apotheke two doors down – the hi end cocktail gem owned by the same brother/sister team and made our way down curving concrete steps glowing with votive candles. You’re faced with three steel doors. It’s made to feel like you have to find the right rabbit hole but the music and laughter clearly emanate from behind door number one.
And behind that door is a veritable temple. Albeit with low ceilings. It is a basement after all but shhh, it’s pretending to be a quasi Mayan movie set. There’s a swinging bar area to your right and a beamed dining room to your left. It’s quite lovely, visually arresting and if the lighting were a bit more even, it would merit idols. Half of our table was in the grip of darkness and the rest on the verge of interrogation.
But the staff are a far cry from ‘El Mariachi’. They’re very personable and quick to commune about drinks and dishes. (Our smiling, queens born tattooed waitress seemed the real version of the CBS sitcom Two Broke Girls). We started with the Sikil Pak while we assembled our menu choices and downed those delightful Pulque cocktails. It’s a Mayan pumpkin seed dip with house made chips. Oh, if we all meet our demise in 2012, please let this dip survive. And me with it. It’s smoky, earthy, textured, a tad piquant and so so so good. We shall colonize the new world together.
Pulque is a grand seductress – we accepted her invitation in various forms. And we adorned her with food. It’s elevated street food, authentic tastes from the corner cook but in an upscale Mexican tapas version. Two tiny tacos per order for $11 but genuinely great tiny tacos and oddly filling. More starters arrived to lessen the blow of the Pulque siren. The pickled vegetables are beautiful. Spicy, briny, and surprisingly wonderful. Usually ubiquitous Mexi-corn comes off the cob in a glass mug layered with epazote, lime, chile piquin and topped with queso fresco. A comforting, fortifying show stopper. Then came the procession – a mix of fish tacos with fiery pico de gallo, grilled cactus with poblano peppers and queso afiejo, slow roasted pork with Mayan annato seed, (conchinitas) ceviche style tuna tostadas, and golden cornmeal quesadillas shaped in a half moon with cheese and mushrooms, a masa meltdown on your tongue. Gratifying, charming food.
Pulqueria is fairly new, the menu is not as extensive as it will be. Bites are the thing but they are complex, nuanced, indulgent bites. And at our waitresses suggestion we ordered the salsa tree, an Aztec sculpture of small glass bowls each containing a variation of heat, nuttiness, deep smoke, calming avocado which further enhanced each dish and made for entertaining pairings.
The music had been great, esoteric mixed with off track favorites but the volume increased substantially as the evening focus switched gears. Just when I thought it’s over – sated, satisfied, and deaf, out came the delicate churros with a goat milk caramel dipping sauce. When they disappeared, I substituted my finger. And to stop me I guess, shots of chocolate tequila appeared. Ah, you’re never done on the mean streets of faux Mexico it seems.
When you finally ascend to winding little Doyers street, it’s like another movie set. Hard to place yourself in this post Pulque landscape. A delectable otherworldly Mexican getaway in the heart of old Chinatown right there in the middle of New York City. And with Pulque too. Fun.
11 Doyers Street between Pell / Chatham Square