One of New York City’s longtime Mexican food chefs is back in town, this time taking over the kitchen of nearly six-year-old West Village Mexican restaurant El Toro Blanco. Chef Ivy Stark made her name at Dos Caminos, helping turn the crowd-pleasing Manhattan Mexican restaurant into the mini-chain it is today, and she’ll now bring that and more experience to lighten the El Toro Blanco menu with Baja-style Mexican fare. Owners John McDonald and Josh Capon — who also own Lure, Bowery Meat Company, Sessanta and Burger & Barrel together — recruited Stark back to NYC from Chicago for her 20-plus years of cooking Mexican food across the country.
Gone from the menu are the tamales and tingas, replaced by slightly lighter food influenced by the Baja region of Mexico, known for its fresh seafood served both cooked and raw in tacos, tostadas, and more. Tuna, kingfish, and mahi mahi make appearances, as well as a lot of vegetables.
Stark is best known for her years heading up the Dos Caminos kitchens — she’s also cooked at Rosa Mexicano — and she says she’s excited to get back into a smaller restaurant. “It’s nice to be able to be in a small venue and really put a personal touch on it and my view of what creative Mexican food can be, just like Alex Stupak [at Empellon] has his view and Enrique Olvera [at Cosme and Alta] has his view.”
Stark’s job announcement in the Times came with a curious quote: “Mexican food has been stuck in a rut, but with chefs like Enrique Olvera it’s ready to move forward,” she said. When asked to clarify, Stark, who is not Mexican, talked about chefs in the U.S. who are cooking more in Mexican traditions now than American.
“I love the food, I respect it, and I will always cook with respect to authenticity,” she says. “But like other Mexican chefs are doing, they’re bringing it forward and using different ingredients and different presentations and more of a Mexican approach rather than the American Mexican food that’s been served in the United States for so long.”
She points to her shishito pepper dish as an example: she uses shishito peppers in place of serrano chiles in the traditional chiles toreados dish that blisters serrano chiles with onion, garlic, lime juice, and maggi sauce. On her new menu, she serves shishito peppers blistered with chile, lime sea salt, and fresh lime juice. Stark’s new menu is below.