Perhaps you've heard of Cosme, Mexican superstar chef Enrique Olvera's first restaurant in New York? It was only one of this season's most buzzed-about openings, due partially to Olvera's renown (he runs the World's Best Restaurant-certified Pujol in Mexico City) and partially because New Yorkers seem collectively more interested in ambitious Mexican food now than we have arguably ever been before (see: Empellόn Al Pastor, Mission Cantina).
As a result of this deafening hype, Cosme is one of the hardest tables to get in the city. The dining room is booked through 2015, and the angular hosts are not particularly sympathetic to walk-ins (even if you arrive promptly when the doors open at 6 p.m.).
However! For those without the golden ticket of a reservation, there is a bar, and it's not just a bar: It's the entire front room, with lounge-y tables and chairs and a sleek, dark color scheme, separated almost entirely from the dining room by a wall. So it's actually possible to walk in to Cosme, sit down and have a mostly enjoyable meal, albeit one composed more of several snacks than proper entrees, due to the abbreviated bar menu.
Uni tostada (top left) and chilaquiles (bottom right)
Best are the tostadas, particularly the luxe uni variety ($15) with avocado wedges and tomatoes tossed with warm bone marrow. It's one rich ingredient on top of another, offset by the crunch of a freshly nixtamalized fried corn tortilla. The mussel tostada ($13) with a potato-carrot Russian salad and chipotle mayo is another strange-but-it-works combo, thanks mostly to the impeccably plump whole bivalves.
Olvera is fussy about serving his ripe, rich avocados at optimal room temperature, and though the extra effort is appreciated, for $14, one hopes for something a little more exciting than his very straightforward bowl of guacamole, seasoned with only onion and cilantro. Things get significantly weirder with the burrata ($23), a UFO-looking orb of milky cheese atop a bed of mild salsa verde and fresh green "weeds" such as lamb's-quarters and watercress. It could use a little more heat and a little more acid, but it's a pleasure nonetheless to see one of 2014's most ubiquitous ingredients in an unconventional context.
Crispy corn and epazote quesadillas ($13) arrive looking more like empanadas, but they're satisfying, and the accompanying fiery habanero-tomatillo-cilantro salsa is good enough to keep around for just about everything else you order. You'll need it to enliven the chilaquiles ($19) with a soft-cooked egg: The comfort-food classic should be a slam dunk but falls short, tortilla chips withering under a strangely flat salsa roja.
Wall hanging | Bonita Applebum cocktail
Fortunately, excellent drinks and dessert help redeem things. The much-Instagrammed husk meringue with corn mousse ($12) is astonishing to look at and to eat; it's an ashy husk-infused shell oozing forth with a salty-sweet corn-cream filling. And the El Ninja (all cocktails $14) combines mezcal, gin and vermouth with house-made shiso shrub, lime and dehydrated pineapple to gloriously tropical effect. (The Bonita Applebum, named for a Tribe Called Quest song, is a good alternative for those who avoid tequila, mixing apple brandy with cachaça, smoked apple juice, cinnamon and lime).
It would be nice if the full menu was available at the bar and if the service was warmer overall. But even if you can't get the full Olvera experience until reservations open up again, most of the food you can get is worth it, in terms of both taste and innovation. In the meantime, see you at the bar.
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