The vegan Mexican spot Black Flamingo, once known as a nightclub at night, has transformed into a new restaurant at 168 Borinquen Place, at South Second Street, in Williamsburg. Ensenada, named after the coastal Mexican city, is Black Flamingo co-owner Bryce David and his team’s homage to regional mariscos (seafood) and mezcal. It opens on Friday, February 18.
David tells Eater he had been planning the idea for the restaurant for some years, but couldn’t find the right lease. Instead of opening elsewhere, he dropped the vegan menu and renovated the existing space to feel as if a Pacific breeze had passed through.
The new menu begins with offerings like the Mexican shrimp soup caldo de camarones and tostadas with tuna. There are Baja-style fish tacos, and an entree-sized fish of the day, served butterflied with roasted pineapple relish and pineapple butter. At the heart of the menu, though, are more large format dishes like ceviches and aguachiles. Everything is meant to be shared.
For the aguachiles, customers can pick from shrimp, fish, a mix of seafood, or cucumber for a vegan version. They can be ordered in three variations: the verde with a serrano chile base, rojo with Clamato tomato juice, and negro, a distinct dark brown color made with salsa negra.
Executive chef and David’s partner, Luis Herrera, who is Venezuelan, is quick to add, “I don’t think we’re inventing anything new here [with Ensenada]... it’s all written already.” Many of the dishes are based on historical recipes but are presented with modern flourishes.
Ceviche in Mexico can be traced back to Peruvian roots, and while similar, soupy aguachiles are Mexico’s own distinct creation.
Visits to the trendy restaurant Contramar in Mexico City, and Mariscos El Submarino, the casual seafood spot that opened in Jackson Heights during the pandemic, have been reference points while building out the Ensenada menu, David says. While Mariscos El Submarino serves its version in a hefty molcajete, aguachiles here are plated in ceramics.
Herrera tells Eater that he’s most excited to showcase sustainable, high-quality seafood at Ensenada, working with suppliers that focus on sourcing in the Northeast.
Herrera previously worked at Mexican fine dining restaurant Cosme, Roberta’s speakeasy restaurant Blanca, and was the opening chef of Venezuelan spot, Casa Ora. During the pandemic, he was also one of the chefs that came forward about his experience working at Outerspace, the outdoor restaurant in Bushwick, which unceremoniously closed last year. In the months since, he’s been hosting pop-ups but was eager to get back to a restaurant setting.
When it opens, Ensenada will join restaurants like Sobre Masa, For All Things Good, and Aldama, all which have opened in the past two years and ushered in a new era for Mexican cooking in the city. Collaboration is key: For All Things Good supplies Ensenada’s masa to make their tortillas; tostadas will come from Sobre Masa.
Jorsand Diaz, who worked with Herrera at Cosme and is of Peruvian descent, has created a mezcal program with bottles from Oaxaca, Jalisco, Durango, Michoacán, and Puebla. He hopes to showcase the regional flavor differences of the agave plant with the variety of mezcals.
“There’s a lot of focus on mezcal from Oaxaca but there are a lot of great ones coming from other spots in Mexico,” says Diaz.
The cocktail list looks across Latin America: there’s the restaurant’s take on a michelada and mezcal negroni, as well as the “Green Dream” with honeydew and sotol (an agave-like plant), among the list. The team also shares that there will be a rotating frozen drinks program.
Fans of Black Flamingo don’t have to fret, though: the name will live on as the downstairs bar area, where there will be dancing on Fridays and Saturdays until 4 a.m.
“We want the dual-level space to feel like a mezcaleria,” says David.
To start, Ensenada will be open for dinner service 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., with Saturday lunch service from noon to 4 p.m., launching this spring. David also shares that he plans to open a separate aguachile takeout window, with a slightly more paired down menu, under a name separate from Ensenada, on Borinquen Place, this summer.