By Jeanine Zelkas
Within the lovely space that houses Toloache — a contemporary Mexican bistro in Midtown’s Theater District — chef/owner Julian Medina, who was born and raised in Mexico City, combines experiences from his homeland with his training at the French Culinary Institute and in the kitchens of such restaurants as Maya and Zocalo to create an individual style that elevates Mexican cuisine in a modern way. By incorporating new ingredients and healthier preparation techniques, Chef Medina reduces the heaviness of traditional Mexican cooking with his reinventions of classic home-style dishes.
Named for a flowering plant used in love potions in Mexico, Toloache provides a pleasing setting for the senses with mezzanine seating, a guacamole and ceviche bar, wood-burning oven, painted murals, ceramic tiles, and large tin lanterns hanging from the ceiling. With a focus on fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients, and a passion for all kinds of chilies, Chef Medina has put together an intriguing menu of a broad range of delicious offerings. I was impressed at the onset with the trio of freshly prepared and brightly colored guacamole. A perfectly mild traditional variety was accompanied by an extra spicy version with chipotle and creamy queso fresco as well as a fruity option containing habanera peppers whose moderate spiciness balanced out the sweetness of the pomegranate, mango, quince and peach and proved to be a nice summertime option.
Choosing amongst the ceviches was a difficult task, with such appealing options as shrimp with sour orange and organic salmon belly with tomatillo, but we were very pleased with our ultimate selection of tender yellowtail that was attractively displayed atop cucumber slices and dressed with lemon and salsa. Similar flavors were experienced within the Malbeque oyster ceviche shooters served in shot glasses and offered with or without the addition of tequila.
Some of Chef Medina’s most innovative dishes are to be found among the taco selections. All made with tasty handmade corn tortillas, unique filling options range from fried whole grasshoppers to caramelized veal sweetbreads with corn and salsa. We especially enjoyed our tacos with foie gras, refried beans and mango habenero salsa as well as the ones with tender organic pork, grilled pineapple and salsa. The salmon entrée with maitake and huitlacoche mushrooms, fava beans and zucchini flower sauce was delightful, though heavily salted.
For me, the standout of my samplings at Toloache was the amazing mole poblano entrée. Farm-raised chicken breast was wonderfully prepared with Jerusalem artichokes, poblano rajas, plantain gratin, and a mole sauce that was simply spectacular. Toloache’s extensive dinner menu, packed with tempting descriptions, would keep me coming back to try more, but I am certain that I would always include the chicken mole among any future meals here. The warm donut-like dessert of six mini churros, perfectly cooked to a light crispiness and served with a thick rich chocolate dipping sauce and an equally rich goat’s milk caramel sauce, is the one dessert not-to-be-missed and makes for an ideal ending to a meal at Toloache.
251 W. 50th St. (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
By Jeanine Zelkas