Family recipes at Casa Enrique, a Michelin star

One of the first Mexican restaurants in New York City opened downtown in 1938. Its owner, Giovincio Maldonado, who sailed from the Yucatan Peninsula, named his place Xochitl, after the Aztec goddess. He patented a mechanical pan with a taco layer and printed out a glossary of imported cooking terms for his confused diners. (Tortilla: “A flat, round corn bun, about 6 inches in diameter and 1/16 inch thick….it can be bent or rolled, as we’ll explain.”) For decades, Xochitl was the only game in town. The scene diverged in the 1980s and 1990s, when the city’s Mexican population multiplied eightfold. New arrivals will release taco trucks, tamale vans, bakeriesand tortilla factories and more than a thousand professional kitchens in the five districts. If a particular French tire manufacturer is to be believed, among the best today is Casa Enrique, which opened a decade ago, in Queens, and is the city’s first Mexican restaurant to receive a Michelin star – every year since 2015.

Poured over stewed chicken, mole de biaxtla requires twenty ingredients, including hot peppers (five kinds), almonds, raisins, figs, sesame seeds, bananas, and cocoa powder.

Many years before Chef Cosme Aguilar opened Casa Enrique – before toiling in French restaurants as a doorman then cook and then chef, before his first career, as a teenage auto mechanic, before he was born – his mother ran a small restaurant in Chiapas. She died in 1983 when he was a boy. Twenty-nine years later, when Aguilar decided to open his own place, he turned to a notebook of recipes she had left behind. One of the first dishes he tried to reinvent was AlbondegasMeatballs, each with a boiled egg in the center, dipped in a smoked tomato sauce prepared with onions, garlic, and hot peppers. The first time I made Albondegas “Here, you really got me,” Aguilar said. “I haven’t tasted that meal in a very long time, and I was, like, ‘Oh my God, it’s just like my mom used to make it. “I almost cried.”

Everything you order comes with a hot pot of steaming tortillas, and many of the dishes can be reassembled into tacos.

Aguilar contains dozens of such stories. He said, “Everyone who wants to open a Mexican restaurant in New York, wants to fancy — use truffles. He was wearing a mask, but you could tell he drew a face when he said ‘truffles.’ Aguilar is not above aesthetic frills, but he also believes that excessive improvisation in traditional fare often runs, crashing over the barriers of tribute and into the pit of cultural arrogance. He chooses to dig deeper. His list is his memoirs.

Many of Chef Cosme Aguilar’s dishes are based on family recipes. Years before he was born, his mother ran a small restaurant in Chiapas.

Aguilar Biaxtla mole, poured over stewed chicken, is a tribute to both his father’s birthplace and the memory of his grandmother, who would squirm anyone within a screeching distance when she makes a mole. “Someone will peel the chili, another will drink the walnut,” he said. “It’s a lot of ingredients!” The Aguilar version contains twenty-four, including chili peppers (five types), almonds, raisins, figs, sesame seeds, bananas, and cocoa powder. On top of the accompanying yellow rice, he boldly threw: One mature individual chili tree (Scoville Heat Units: up to 65,000). A frozen blueberry margarita, or several, are some comfort here.

Winter’s heartiest dish, Pozole de Mi Tía, is a shredded pork-and-animal stew topped with shredded horseradish, with the fixings (avocado, onion, cilantro) on the side.

Everything you order comes with a hot pot of steaming tortillas, and many of the dishes can be reassembled into tacos. take pig chiapaneco, a love letter to Aguilar’s native Chiapas, marinating pork ribs in apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, garlic, and fresh thyme before slowly roasting them for four hours. Once the ribs are dispatched, what to do with the leftover marinade? Spoon it over a mixture of rice and beans and fold it into a tortilla, obviously.

Winter’s heartiest dish, a soup of shredded pork topped with horseradish, appears on the menu as Pozole de Mi Tía. Aguilar would not identify any aunt. “I have to be careful,” he said. “I have six aunts on my father’s side and six more on my mother’s side.” pause. “There are a lot of aunts!” (Entries $21 – $36).

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