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Cosme’s Squash Tamal Proves It’s Still One of New York’s Best Splurges

It’s $20 but worth it, critic Ryan Sutton says

A dimly lit indoor dining room with several round tables, custom light fixtures on its walls, and a long L-shaped bar countertop in the back
The dining room at Cosme
Photo by Daniel Krieger

About once a year or so I like to check in with Cosme, the modern Mexican spot in Flatiron by Daniela Soto-Innes and Enrique Olvera. The menu changes often, which makes things exciting for folks like me who enjoy experimenting with new dishes rather than falling back on a larger safety net of older ones. I also check in because Cosme continues to raise its prices.

At the time of my three star review in 2014, I calculated that a diner wouldn’t spend less than $98 per person after two drinks, tax, and tip, a number that jumped to around $140 in mid-2017. Last night, my solo dinner, which included five modestly-portioned dishes — not a surfeit of food by any measure — and a single drink, ran $179, easily putting it in the same price category as The Grill, The Pool, or L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The restaurant’s famed duck, $48 upon opening and $89 last year, is now $94, though to be fair, the portion size has grown.

I could go on about the ups and downs of my meal last night (briefly: there were very few downs), but without question the dish that will surely engender productivity-hampering daydreams for some time to come is the humble tamal.

Cosme’s honey nut tamal
Cosme’s honey nut tamal
Ryan Sutton

The restaurant, in its characteristic brevity, describes the creation in three words: “Honeynut squash tamal, ha’sikil p’ak, castelrosso.”

Of course, nothing is quite so simple at Cosme. The base of the presentation is steamed white masa, cut with brown butter and honey-laced squash puree. The ha’sikil p’ak, in turn, is a traditional Mayan pumpkin-seed paste forged from tomatoes, tomatillos, pepitas, thai chiles and guajillos. This is all finished with a proper shaving of castelrosso, a whole cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont.

I’ve encountered lard-heavy tamals at New York taco stands that serve as excellent individual meals by themselves, but the Cosme version is more of a nimble, palate-whetting mid-course. The tamal itself practically dissolves on the tongue with as much ease as a spoonful of fresh ricotta. The salsa, a stunning emulsification of nuts and fruit, is packed with so much heat and acidity, it’s as if it’s running a high voltage current through the gourd-packed masa. And finally the castelrosso imparts the whole affair with a salty, savory, low-level funk.

Almost impossibly, none of the flavors overwhelm one another; the level of balance evokes the head-spinning creations of Jean-Georges in its three Michelin-starred heyday.

So guess what? I’m calling this $20 snack a BUY. And even though Cosme might need to patch up a small weak spot or two on its very expensive menu, there’s nothing to suggest that it still isn’t one of the city’s most enjoyable spots for an occasional splurge.

Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).


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