Public service announcement as many restaurants in NYC have extended Summer Restaurant Week, Rocking Horse Cafe might to date be the best buy I’ve seen… Here’s the scoop…
Last week, I went for my first of three Summer Restaurant Week dinners at Rocking Horse Cafe in Chelsea. Both of us had been meaning to try the restaurant for some time and had never seemed to make it there for dinner. I’d already spoken a couple of times with the restaurant to set up the reservation and unlike most calls to restaurants, they had so much personality. I felt like it had to be a good sign.
Once we were seated, we were greeted by a basket of chips and salsa. The chips have to be the largest chips I’ve yet to encounter in a Mexican restaurant (no, I’m not complaining) and they were very fresh. The salsa was somewhat smokey and most importantly, dining in Manhattan has led me to greatly appreciate Mexican restaurants which do not charge you for chips and salsa, so (D) all of the above means this is a big plus for Rocking Horse. And unlike any other restaurant I’ve yet to encounter in my many restaurant weeks, they actually include a drink in the prix fixe special – and it’s good. You get one of their frozen watermelon margaritas, made with Herradura Silver tequila, triple sec and lime. When you consider their drinks on the dinner menu all start at $10, that’s a huge bonus to Restaurant Week-ing here.
For our appetizer, we both elected to go with the Budín Azteca, which consisted of corn tortillas layered with free range chicken breast, Chihuahua cheese and salsa verde. My friend felt the dish was too heavy on cheese, which may be why I thought it was so perfect as is. It is definitely plentiful on the Chihuahua cheese, although I thought the remaining ingredients weren’t stifled by it. The tortillas were also thick enough that the dish wasn’t too soggy. It was sort of an enchilada spin on a quesadilla. I highly recommend – this could have easily been my main dish and I would have been content to call it a night. I was also intrigued by the Quesadilla de Hongos, which included organic spelt tortillas, roasted mushrooms, caramelized leeks, manchego & fontina cheeses with white truffle oil & apple-jicama slaw. However, being allergic to mushrooms, it seemed it wasn’t meant to be (but manchego plus fontina… wow).
For our main course we elected to go with a couple and share. First, we tried the Camarones con Papaya, which included Mexican white shrimp, caramelized onions, papaya and rajas poblanas in chipotle tomato purée. It felt like a Mexican spin on stir fry (minus the rice). I was a little disappointed by the rajas poblanas affter having been so impressed by them previously at Cabrito. They were slightly spicy but definitely weren’t as powerful, partly I guess due to the sweeter flavor of the papaya. Overall though, nice mix and the fish were very juicy and flavorful.
Our second choice was the Atún en Corteza de Chiltepe, which was chiltepe chile crusted tuna with chorizo-poblano studded wild rice and a sweet corn emulsion. I was a bit intrigued as I cannot say I’ve ever come across tuna on the menu for a Mexican restaurant. The tuna was perfectly prepared – lightly seared on the exterior and fully pink on the inside. The chiltepe chile coating on the outside was a perfect balance to the soft flavor of the tuna. The pairing with the chorizo-poblano rice and a sweet corn emulsion was interesting – the chorizo bring a bit of salty flavor balanced by the sweet yet salty flavor of the corn. The interesting mix of flavors made me prefer the dish slightly to the shrimp, although both were excellent.
For dessert, we chose two to split. The Tortita de Chocolate was a given, which was their spiced flourless Valrhona chocolate cake paired with cinnamon ice cream. The chocolate cake was not too dense and the cinnamon ice cream added a lot more to the dish than the typical vanilla option. Well played. I was pleased that even after finishing off half of it, I didn’t feel maxed out on chocolate as flourless chocolate cake (well, of that portion size) can often lead you to be. Out other option, the Flan de Coco, was a nice change of pace. The dessert was a coconut crème caramel with coconut tuile & candied pistachios. Sometimes I find crème caramel to be devoid of any distinct flavor. Kind of as if you were eating flavorless Jell-o but the milky flan-ish version. However here since they prepared it with coconut, it had a lot of flavor. We were pleasantly surprised. I don’t know that I would have thought to pair pistachios with coconut, but it actually worked nicely.
Have I finally found my go-to basic Mexican place? No. Did I find a spot for creative Mex I highly enjoyed? Yes.
Rocking Horse Cafe -182 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street) – 212.463.9511