A.G. Newsletter #38: Empellon, Peels, Wondee Siam II

Well hey there readers,

What a fascinating week it’s been. Yes, there was a royal wedding and Osama Bin Laden is dead, but did you know that I have a new banner? You didn’t? Oh, then click here and enjoy it! (You may need to clear your cache to see it; if you don’t know what that means, ask your children to do it.)

Also, this morning I posted about a dish I made with the sorrel I found at the farmer’s market. What’s sorrel? What dish did I make with it? Click here to find out.

Now on to this week’s newsletter.

Last Tuesday night, I convinced Craig who normally likes to return home from work to a hot, home-cooked meal to join me for a trip to the West Village’s newest Mexican joint, Empellon.

What fascinated me about this place was that its chef/owner, Alex Stupak, was the dessert chef at wd-50 (note: the desserts at wd-50 were my favorite part of the meal when we ate there in 2008) and he dropped all that to open a Mexican restaurant. That restaurant is Empellon which is why I wanted to eat there.

Ok, let’s get the negatives out of the way first: it’s very, very loud in there. What’s that you say? See, I couldn’t hear you, as I said, it’s way loud.

Also: it’s a pricey joint. Three tacos cost $17. See? Pricey.

But everything was very tasty. I enjoyed our tortillas, which were freshly fried and thicker than the cheap kind you find in a bag, and house-made guacamole:

There was also a smoked cashew salsa and another kind of salsa, both of which were kind of watery; I prefer chunkier salsas.

Smoking is a technique Stupak clearly enjoys; not only did he smoke the cashews for the salsa, he smoked the salt that lined the rim of the glass of my margarita.

Truthfully, there wasn’t anything remarkable about this margarita (I couldn’t really detect the smokiness in the salt) but it definitely hit the spot.

The tacos were really excellent. Craig and I shared three fried fish tacos:

Which came on warm, fresh tortillas with a tart mayo and cilantro.

We also shared tacos al pastor; ya know, with pork:

And these too were great. But $17 for each plate. But great. But $17. You can see how complicated it all is.

The dessert was stunning, as it should be considering Stupak’s background. We shared this passionfruit tart:

I love passion fruit and I love passion fruit tarts. This did not disappoint.

All in all, Empellon is not a good weeknight dinner kind of place; it costs too much. But for an evening out with friends on a Friday night? I heartily recommend it.

* * * *

You may know Shuna Lyon as the blogger behind Eggbeater, but did you know that she’s the acclaimed pastry chef at a relatively new East Village restaurant called Peels?

I’ve been meaning to try Peels for a while, but any night that we’d go there, the crowds were too enormous. So I made up my mind to try it for lunch. I went there with Diana last Wednesday.

Look at this big floral display:

Isn’t it lovely?

The place is positively bathed in sunlight during the day: take my word, it’s the perfect time to go.

Upstairs, Diana and I sat, and pretty soon Shuna came out to say hello:

To say that she gave us a tour of the menu wouldn’t do it justice. She carefully described all of her favorite dishes, desserts, pastries, and breads. Some of her descriptions were so compelling that they deeply informed how Diana and I ordered. Namely, the way Shuna described the quinoa salad and the turkey sandwich.

Here’s the quinoa salad:

It’s Shuna’s favorite salad on the menu and from the picture you can see why. A light, refreshing bowl of grains on a warm spring day. Very delicately dressed, this was a nice thing to share.

And then the turkey....

As Shuna explained, most supermarket turkey meat is from processed meat; meaning—and she went into graphic detail here—the turkey meat is ground up and pressed into that big round shape that you see when they slice your deli meat. The turkey at Peels comes from turkeys that are freshly killed (they’re brought straight to Peels after they die.) So behold the freshest turkey sandwich you’ve ever seen:

Indeed, that turkey had a very distinct, turkeyish flavor. And, once again, it was a nice light option considering that Shuna was about to slam us with desserts.

Oh the desserts! Oh the gluttony!

We had a sundae with chocolate and pretzels that gave everything a salty kick:

We had the Eton Mess, a surprisingly unsweet mixture of meringue, yogurt, rosewater and mint:

We sampled Shuna’s favorite sorbets, her lemon marmalade and her spicy coconut:

And, finally (can you breathe?), an Anzak granola biscuit made with pecans and all kinds of good things:

I don’t have to tell you that it was all good. It was. Shuna, I forgive you for nearly killing us with your decadent desserts: it was worth it!

* * * * *

Finally, on Saturday, Craig and I walked from our apartment up to the Doughnut Plan in Chelsea (I’ll post about that later this week), then up to Central Park where we read our books (me: “Lonesome Dove,” Craig: “Just Kids”) and then we went to dinner before we went to see Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” which is one of the best productions of a play I’ve ever seen. If you’re in New York, you have to score tickets.

We ate that dinner at Wondee Siam II on 9th Avenue, near 53rd Street.

I’ve written about Wondee Siam II before on the blog (see here) but it’s a good thing to know about if you’re seeing a show (my other theater-district favorite is Vinyl, not so much for the food as the atmosphere. They have themed bathrooms!)

At Wondee Siam II, we shared these basil rolls:

Which were refreshing (Craig wanted the fried kind, but I convinced him, after those afternoon doughnuts, that we should order the basil instead.)

Craig had the pad see ew, which was good enough:

I had something that I love there: the duck salad (its official name is Yum Ped Yang):

You get crisp bits of duck (almost like duck bacon), apples, pineapple, red peppers, red onion, all in a spicy, punchy dressing. It’s a great combination.

Ok, folks, that’s it for this week’s newsletter but worry not. There are plenty of amazing posts in the works for this week, so stay tuned!

Until next time….

Your friend,
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