When the former pastry Wylie Dufresne's wd~50 left his post to start a Mexican joint in the West Village, there was definitely some head scratching. However, Mexican is what he likes to eat. Alex Stupak's Empellon opened last Monday in the former Chow space on West 4th Street and has already, of course, seen some critiques on the interwebz. Let's go to the early word.
The Soulless News: Boozy NYC has some harsh things to say about the space and drinks, though he notes that the food was fine. "Right off, we were surprised how generic and soulless the place looks. Is this supposed to be a taqueria or a fancy restaurant? We'd heard the former but it looks like an attempt at the latter - certainly with touches like bathrooms stocked with handcloths and pricey menu options (3 open-faced tacos for $17)... The food we tried was basically fine but the most intriguing option was gone so we relegated ourselves to the drinks. One cocktail, Por Que No?... was quite good while the Darkest Corner of Oaxaca, Del Maguey Vida... had smoky elements but wasn't memorable. It also came in a skimpy portion... Drinks are $12 - $14, which is a stretch for an unknown bar program using tiny Death & Co size glasses." [Boozy NYC]
The AMAZING News: The "Diva of the Upper West Side" aka Yelper Yvette S. absolutely loved Empellon. "The food and service was AMAZING at Empellon. The menu is interesting and well priced. The atmosphere is cozy and a bit romantic. Ok, not so romantic that guys would feel uncomfortable but if you want a place for a date this [is] it... I had the tongue tacos as it was recommended to me by the host. I was hesitant at first but after one bite I was hooked. Those things were so good I wanted to lick the plate! This place understands what "hot" means. Being from the caribbean when I ask for spicy I am most times disappointed. But they BRING THE HEAT at Empellon. All around it was an amazing experience and I will be going back with a gaggle of my girls to try the rest of the menu." Yvette S also enjoyed the Por Que No cocktail: "Oh, one more thing. I highly recommend the drink called Por Que No. All I have to say is you will be saying yes, yes, yes all night long." [Yelp]
The Good News: Our operning alert" has a whopping 53 comments, mostly about people fighting over the price of a taco. However, Guests #21 and #22 actually went to the space and had a grand ol' time. Guest #21 writes: "Before people comment, I would suggest trying Empellon. I went last night, the first night they were open to the public, and these tacos are not like anything else you can get in NYC. Further, tacos were 25% of our meal as the sopas and mariscos were to die for. They have top notch servers there as well. It is easy to comment aimlessly. Go and you will see." Guest #22 agrees: "I went last night as well. Agree with #21. The food quality and creativity combined with the wine and cocktail list were very strong. Atmosphere and service worked as well. Everybody should drop their preconceived notions of Mexican food and cheap tacos and see what Stupak has created." Here here! [ENY]
The Sweet News: Michelle Golden pens a Day One piece for Zagat Buzz on Empellon. Here are her food highlights: "The relatively straightforward menu skews snacky and features some offbeat flourishes. Guacamole and chips come with a smoky cashew “salsa.” If tacos with baby shrimp and tomatillo chipotle salsa aren’t punchy enough, there’s also tortillas topped with griddled head cheese and pickled veggies, plus ceviche of snapper, beets and guava. A duck entree with potato and peppers at the next table had us regretting we hadn’t saved more room. And no dessert menu in a Mexican restaurant would be complete without some form of deliciously fried dough – in this case, buñuelos with goat-cheese caramel and warm honey from Stupak’s pasty-chef spouse, Lauren Resler." She also calls the cocktail program by Matt Resler "ambitious." [Zagat Buzz]
The Twitterific News: Tweeters are buzzing about Empellon, including @erinphraner, who had a truly special meal over there: "Really special dinner @alexstupak Empellon last night. Great scallop ceviche, short rib picadillo, fish/cabbage tacos & passion fruit tart." Nice. [Twitter]
The Offended News: Jean Hsu of essential luxuries writes out her adventure at Empellon on her blog and is pretty critical of the service. Here are some highlights: "It was Saturday night and the restaurant was lively and packed. But maybe a little TOO packed. I am not sure if Alex Stupak has ever had the opportunity to sit in his restaurant to be served...but he should probably give it a shot. Because I have never, in my life, experienced a more annoying dinner. I'm talking OFFENSIVE. Let me count the ways... As they [the waiters] would reach over my body to rearrange the napkin of the patron sitting next to me, the USED and DIRTY cloth would GRAZE the back of my neck. DISGUSTING. SICK. HORRENDOUS. I am cringing as I write this. I spent a majority of dinner with my eyes wide open, asking my dining partner, "Is this really happening right now?"" Her experience is apparently so bad that she says something to the waitress who brings out 3 complimentary desserts (for 2 people) and champagne. At least Essential Luxuries likes the dessert... "The Chocolate Flan with masa-cocoa strussel and cinnamon ice cream was quite lovely. Excellent textures and just rich enough. Probably my favorite of the three." She wraps up with an ominous: "But with so many other Mexican eatery options...Stupak may have already lost his shot." Ouch. She also tweets "alex stupak, pls hire me as a restaurant consultant. empellon needs work, but i see potential." [essential luxuries]