I am reluctant to even start talking about the New York restaurant scene in this blog, because it’s such an abyss and so many people are already writing about it so well, but I want to comment on this one trend that is apparently emerging here, which means that a year from now it will be emerging in a restaurant near you. Last week, I read an article on New York magazine’s Web site about Mexican-Italian fusion as the next big thing. I was looking for a new restaurant for that night, and one of the restaurants reviewed — Matilda — is in my neighborhood. So Mexican-Italian fusion it was.
It seemed like it could be a good idea, or at least interesting. And in the end, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t exactly good, either. Everything we ordered was perfectly executed, and should have been delicious, but instead was mostly confusing.
First off, the decor was completely bizarre — all minimalist white tables and chairs and multi-colored florescent lights. For some reason (its location on Ave. C, NY Mag’s comment on its “warm atmosphere”), I was expecting a cozy place. Instead, it felt very trying-to-be-Sex-and-the-City-in-the-late-90s. And not Mexican, or Italian, or anything in between.Okay, now the food. We stuck to appetizers. My dining companion got the nachos — with fontina, huitaloche (a Mexican mushroom), corn, and truffle oil — and fritto misto. I got tacos alla fiorentina — with rosemary fillet mignon, grana padano shavings, and arugula — and basil guacamole. (Here, the very nice but often clueless-seeming waiter probably should have alerted me to the fact that the tacos come with a perfectly adequate amount of guacamole.)
The nachos were actually really good; the idea of putting truffle oil on freshly-fried chips is genius. Still, they were basically Mexican, with an Italian cheese and that truffle oil. The tacos were similarly yummy, but again, tacos, just filled with some Italianish ingredients. For that matter, the fritto misto was perfectly fried, but with just a little Mexicany sauce. And while I was guacamole-d out (holy guacamole!), it was good, too, with a discernible but maybe out-of-place tinge of basil.
That’s the thing — everything was a tinge of this, a trace of that. Is that fusion? One cuisine’s preparation, half or more of its ingredients, and then one key ingredient from the other cuisine, often feeling more like an afterthought (the fritto misto sauce, the basil in the guacamole). I have never been much interested in fusion, and this left me ambivalent at best. I would have rather seen one of those playful menus that name a typical dish (say, tamales) and then give you a new vision of that dish (tamales made out of polenta and wild boar ragú, and that’s just off the top of my head).
Maybe I should start my own Mex-Italian fusion restaurant. Instead, I will head to Williamsburg to try the other restaurant mentioned in this article (and better-reviewed), to see if there’s any hope for all of those who have always dreamed of drinking chianti alongside enchiladas. Covered with pesto.