Cosme Aguilar, one of the city’s most influential Mexican chefs, has a long list of ideas. He’s been storing them up since 2012, when he and his brother, Luis Aguilar, opened Casa Enrique in Long Island City. Their goal was simple — be the best in the neighborhood — but they ended up making history. In 2015, Casa Enrique became the first Mexican restaurant in New York to earn a Michelin star.
The recognition was a blessing, but it also boxed its chef in. Casa Enrique was an authentic restaurant built on family recipes. “I wanted to keep [it] as traditional and affordable as possible,” Cosme Aguilar says. That meant when strange but delicious-sounding ideas came to him, like making a Mexican ceviche from lobster and lemongrass, he set them aside.
That changed last fall when two things happened. In November, Casa Enrique lost its Michelin star. A month later, Cosme and Luis Aguilar opened their first new restaurant in years, a seafood bar called Quique Crudo (27 Bedford Street, near Downing Street). Whether it’s the star or the new space, the Aguilars decided now is the time to try something new.
About a third of the menu comes from Casa Enrique — dishes like sopes, enchiladas, and fried oysters that have become staples at the original restaurant. They feel more impressive at Quique Crudo. While Casa Enrique has a full commercial kitchen, here, they’re made on induction burners in a kitchen barely wide enough for two cooks to pass through side by side.
In place of carnitas and chiles rellenos, there are scallops with potato hash and “steak tartare” tostadas with capers and cornichons. One of the experiments, the lobster ceviche, is half Mexican mariscos, half tom yum soup. The oil-slicked marinade is made from coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, and lobster stock. In goes a whole lobster, and a few spoonfuls of salsa macha.
The dish broke too many rules to put on the menu at Casa Enrique, Aguilar says. Beyond the preparation, the price — around $60 after tax and tip — makes it one of the most expensive ceviches in town.
It remains to be seen how it will hold up with a full house. Both times I visited, the dining room was half full. In the open kitchen, Aguilar assembles dishes, one by one, with tweezers and tiny garnishes. It makes for beautiful presentation, but slow service as the orders pile up.
Then again, maybe I’m doing it wrong. After two visits, I’ve started to think of Quique Crudo as a restaurant, but you could easily treat it as a bar. The menu has almost 40 cocktails: They all come from Casa Enrique, but they feel straight out of Mexico City. There are carajillos (Mexico’s espresso martini), “aguachile” margaritas, actual espresso martinis, and la bandera, a colorful three-shot cocktail.
If you are dining: There are around 20 seats, but really, you’re only going to want to eat in half of them. The best ones, at the bar, give you a nice view of the open kitchen. The worst seats, at the railing, can barely fit your forks. Where you end up is a coin toss, since the bar doesn’t take reservations.
Quique Crudo is open Monday to Thursday, from 5 to 11 p.m., and Friday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.