I was invited to a press dinner at El Maguey Y La Tuna this Monday, December 23rd.
El Maguey y la Tuna provides you home style Mexican cooking in a small-town Mexican look-and-feel restaurant in this LES location. That was the idea of the owners of the restaurant – give back to the neighborhood. Serving Williamsburg for ten years, they moved to this location in 2001 and have been serving here, since.
Here’s some brief Spanish lessons for you (which I just learnt) before we delve into the evening. Maguey may refer to many American plants in Spanish, mainly genus agave; mescal. Y la is ‘and’. Tuna refers to prickly pear plants. So the restaurant name translates to the The Tequila/Mezcal and the Prickly Pear Plants. Interesting, isn’t it?
This evening, it was a group of six of us, including our PR spokesperson Susan Rike. This was a new group of people that I met here, different from the past two events I attended in these three weeks. I tell you, it’s enriching meeting new people.
Maria, the lively daughter and co-owner was our gracious host for the evening, taking good care of us and explaining the foods and processes and how the different foods come from the different parts of Mexico and how they’ve incorporated suggestions from their clients over the past 20+ years in Williamsburg and Manhattan, combined.
Speaking to Maria, we learnt that most of this produce is sourced locally, with only the spices and dry chilies being imported from Mexico. All of which are cooked at this very location by the lady of the house (or the restaurant, might I say), Manuela Cortez whom we got a chance to briefly speak to.
They offer about five different types of mole sauces, some of which require up to two days to be prepared. The tasting menu they had for the evening offered about four of them – red, green, adobo and chocolate. Two of them were vegetarian friendly – the red mole that came with the chili releno and the green (jalapeños) that Maria got me as a side to try. Maria told us that their customers are fond of their mole sauces and prefer to buy it from them than some of the stores.
Maria joked to us that some one (read a lady) who can prepare a nice chili releno is ready for marriage ;).
The pastry chef, executive chef and the co-owner Leonides Cortez had two wonderful desserts to wrap up the dinner, a nice chocolate cake and a very soft and tasty flan, again made in house.
Their tasting menu began with light and fluffy tamales, graduating into crisp appetizers, followed by hearty dishes for the entrees and closed with a couple of desserts. Following are the dishes of their tasting menu for that evening that were vegetarian friendly. They’ve got a bunch of other vegetarian options on their menu that weren’t a part of this evening’s agenda.
Guacamole and chips
Tenderly cooked and subtly flavored with a thin strip of vegetables in the center, this was my favorite for the evening.
Well cooked, but the egg batter seemed a tad too thick for me. Maria explained to us that this dish was popular during the fasting days and season when one has to avoid meat. She added that though this is a classic, the egg batter is tricky and the key to a nice chili releno.
Black beans and rice
Pinto beans and rice
Steamed vegetables seasoned with salt and pepper
Green mole sauce
Aren’t these cups cute? Cafe con leche was served in these. Though I didn’t have it, the people who had it really liked it.
With big chunks of apple, this cider seemed thick and nice and different, made in house.
Here’s our lovely host and the lady behind the moles and the kitchen, of course 🙂
Again, a fun evening meeting new people and trying new food!