Over the past few years, Mexican cuisine in New York has increasingly gained more regional options, with dishes of central Puebla still dominating. Chef Fidel Caballero’s Corima focuses on northern Mexico, remixing and infusing some Japanese techniques and flavors in the process.
The new restaurant opening on January 12 at 3 Allen Street, near Canal Street, is an evolution of the pop-ups he has hosted over the past couple of years.
The restaurant’s name translates to “circle of sharing,” and it’s a theme that carries through to the comal placed over a wok burner, where most of the dishes are hit on the grill.
With the restaurant split between two menus — a la carte in the front, a tasting menu in the back — the output is ambitious, with little crossover between the two, following a format that Naks in the East Village is also trying out.
On the a la carte side of Corima, with roughly 28 seats split between tables and a bar area, there are dishes like a tuna mille-feuille with husk cherry salsa and chicharron furikake; skate tamal with potato and Iberico foam; and duck taquiza presented with banchan-style pickled and fermented items. Pastry chef Julie Shin, who previously worked at Contra’s upstate general store, is making mochi churros and sweet potato and mandarin raspado.
At the back, there are about 24 seats (split between tables and a chef’s counter), for one of the more reasonably-priced new tasting menus: $98 for seven courses plus botanas (snacks). The menu includes a potato cuttlefish udon with cornhusk dashi. “We’re making basically like a kombu with it,” he says. There’s also duck with black garlic mole, aguachile with beets, and sweet potato ice cream with ginger and puffed wild rice streusel. It’s executed with the help of sous chef Ezequiel Corona (formerly of Mischa and Estela).
“Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m this kid from El Paso, and made it happen,” says Caballero. “I come from a place where no one really talks about the food, and it’s as good as another; I wanted to get it out there…. It’s not just about burritos, my friend.”
While Chihuahua is the menu’s main area of interest, Caballero also looks elsewhere in the north at Sonora, for its wheat, and Baja California for the seafood.
They’re using handmade flour tortillas — which has finally got its moment in New York, though Caballero says Corima is not a Tex-Mex restaurant.
“Throughout the pop-ups, we tested our tortillas, I ate probably, like, two hundred or three hundred, playing around with duck fat, the traditional lard, coconut fat, before landing on chicken fat ultimately,” he said. “It’s a recipe that will constantly evolve, thinking about a way to make it vegetarian, but for now, chicken fat is king.”
Mexican vineyards, from regions like Valle de Guadalupe, are on the wine list. Meanwhile, for cocktails, expect drinks like a gin sour made with uni that uses ingredients from the kitchen. There’s also a list of sotol — the spirit sourced mainly from Chihuahua, some from Durango — developed by general manager Vince Ott, formerly of Thai Diner.
Caballero is part of a new class of alums from the Wildair and Contra universe that have gone off on their own just in the last few months, including Bad Habit, an East Village ice cream bar, and Demo, a small plates bar, forthcoming in the West Village by chef Quang Nguyen. Like his predecessors, the Corima space veers minimalist: There’s exposed brick, countertops made with oxidized zinc, and ceramics sourced from local and Mexican artisans.
Corima is a culmination of Caballero’s career. He worked at Martín Berasategui’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain, and later, was the sous chef at the Lower East Side’s Contra. But like many hungry chefs, the dream was always to open his spot, so he started experimenting on days off, hosting pop-ups under the name Corima at Winner Bakery, Rhodora, Fulgurances, and the Contra sibling, Peoples Wine bar.
When Casa Enrique and Cosme were dropped from the Michelin list last fall, that left Oxomoco as the only starred Mexican restaurant in the city. Caballero hopes his new Lower Manhattan spot will be a stage to experiment with the cuisine of the border in an arena it’s often left out of.
“I don’t think that its fine dining is out, but what was important was we as an industry had time to figure ourselves out and how to do it in a way that feels more relevant,” says Caballero. “We felt that this was the best avenue to guide customers through a cuisine that hasn’t been done in this way before.”