I’ll Have the Alligator Tacos – Crema [Review]

One of the cuisines that seems to have a never-ending list of restaurants for me to try is Mexican.  New York City has so many different Mexican restaurants of all styles and I want to try them all.  For a cuisine that has a reputation for being the same ingredients just presented in a different way, Manhattan finds a way to interpret this semi-exotic fare into all different types of restaurants.  And so my never-ending search for the perfect Mexican meal continues … and I don’t really want it to end.

I’ve tried many of the NYC staples – Dos Caminos, Rosa Mexicana, Caliente Cab – and now I have a whole list of smaller, more unique places to dine.  Ironically, I’m not sure how I found Crema. I think I forgot to note the source when I added it to my growing list of places to try. But I’m glad I found it, and made a reservation via Crema’s OpenTable page for a Friday date night. 

The atmosphere made me a little apprehensive at first, because it had a sort-of fancy feel like it had tried to be an upscale restaurant five years ago but it didn’t work out.  The tables and the bar were pretty empty, but it was 6:30 which is pretty early for Manhattan time.  But margaritas were half off at the bar (but not in the dining room, despite what they deceivingly told us) and I had a good feeling when we finally sat down.  

As the waiter proudly explained, the chef and owner, Julieta Ballesteros, is originally from Mexico but trained at the French Culinary Institute (my dream school) and both of these facts are apparent in her menu.  The meals are quality Mexican food with a little bit of a twist.  For example, the salad we started with, Ensalada Mixta, had familiar Mexican flavors of avocado, cheese, tortilla strips, and fresh corn (sliced from the cob), but it was finished with sesame seeds and peanut-chipotle vinaigrette.  Each flavor worked together for a really unique salad that will have me coming back. 

Crema | Ensalada Mixta

Crema | Ensalada Mixta

In addition to guacamole and complimentary samples of some really delicious soup with cilantro, we settled on a small serving of tacos.  I had the fairly standard chicken tacos, AKA Tacos de Pollo,  with guacamole, chipotle aioli, cotija cheese, and topped with sweet grilled pineapple.  They reminded me of the amazing samples from Tacos & Tequila night at the Wine and Food festival.  These were worthy of an award.

Crema | Chicken Tacos

Crema | Chicken Tacos

And of course Tom, being the adventurous eater that he is, had ordered the Alligator Tacos. I have to say, they weren’t bad.  If you’ve never had alligator before, as I’m sure most of us northerners have not, it tasted similar to a fish taco.  It was fried, which added to the more “familiar” flavor, but mixed with all the Mexican toppings and some barbecue sauce it was kind of delicious. 

Crema | Alligator Tacos

Crema | Alligator Tacos

If you’re looking to try some traditional Mexican food with a bit of a unique flair, make a reservation at Crema! 

Accomplishments.

Let me start by repeating what I heard on the news the other day: Most New Year’s resolutions are broken by January 17th.  So, I thought it was a good time to quickly check in on mine – a sort of first quarter check-in.  I am a person of goals and once I’ve made them, giving up doesn’t seem to be an option.

Learning French is not going so well - mainly due to time constraints.  But, upon realizing this I’ve created a new tactic to help me succeed: on Sundays, I don’t go running because I consider it my “day off.”  (I suppose this means I should be going to church…) So instead, I’ll devote at least one hour every Sunday to my Rosetta Stone.

Running a marathon – I’m on my way!  I recently completed the NYC Half Marathon with my best friend and fellow runner. Not only was this a super cool course (they shut down Times Square for the runners!) but the sense of accomplishment at the end is like nothing else in the world.  Plus it gives me confidence that I have what it takes to train for double the distance.  

NYC Half Marathon Finishers

NYC Half Marathon – Complete!

And so … my first announcement is that I have officially been accepted into the NYC Marathon!  I was accepted through the lottery so I guess I’m pretty lucky.  Now, I have to get running and work up to 26.2!  I’ll wave to you on TV as I run the five boroughs on November 2, 2014! 

Be happy – my most challenging, truly. I’ve been examining the practice of “simplification” and applying it to my life – what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong – so that I can better my own goals and maybe help guide some others in the right direction.  I’ll probably mention more about that in the future, but one thing I’ve done right this year, especially with my goals, is make it about me. I want to run a marathon for me, learn French for me, and be happy for me.  And with each goal and each step completed, I feel a sense of accomplishment that brings me new, undiscovered happiness.  

So last but not least, I can announce a major accomplishment, at least for me.  My close friends and family know my ridiculous, unwarranted, inexplicable fear of eyes. Ommetaphobia is a real thing and I’m not sure if I should’ve been diagnosed, but I think I am cured.  I finally got laser eye surgery!  A fear of mine for so long, it took three years of building courage to finally make the appointment.  My brother and sister both successfully had the surgery years ago, and with some help from them, I was convinced this was a good move for me – and my vision – and that it may just be another major life goal to consider completed.  And I have to say, I was expecting excitement about my near-perfect vision, but the feeling of accomplishment wasn’t one I was anticipating.  I’m actually proud of myself for letting the amazing professionals at Diamond Vision take a laser to my eye.  Although I was probably more terrified than I’ve ever been in my life, after the surgery (which was literally about one minute on each eye) I had instant gratification.  ”I did it!” was ringing in my head for days.

And now I will be another happy customer and proud endorser of laser eye surgery! The staff at Diamond Vision was phenomenal – they even talked me down for a while and made me laugh as I sat in the waiting room, shaking in fear. My procedure was PRK – no flap in my cornea required (and that statement no longer gives me the creeps and makes me want to pass out like it used to) so although my surgery was more comfortable, my recovery to 20/20 vision is a bit longer. But already I am quite literally seeing the world through a whole new lens – and I’m loving it.

And now, I’m off to use my lens allowance from my vision insurance to get myself some free designer sunglasses! (Yep, you can do that …)

Fig & Olive [Review]

In the culinary playground of Manhattan, it seems every restaurant I finally get to try is replaced by 10 more that must be added to my list. I finally made a reservation at one that I’ve been wanting to check out for a while thanks to the rave reviews from both the media and friends. So, on the last day of NYC Restaurant Week, Tom and I had a dinner date at Fig & Olive.

The Meatpacking location was, well, packed and we couldn’t get a reservation, so we ended up at the midtown restaurant near my office. While Restaurant Week isn’t always a great deal (it’s up to $38 per person now), for a classy establishment like this it was a slight discount from the otherwise pricey menu.

Fig & Olive

Fig & Olive

The Restaurant

The restaurant was much bigger than I had originally thought from the outside, and we were taken straight upstairs to our table despite being very early for our reservation.  The service overall ended up being subpar, but that’s mainly because we noticed how attentive the servers were to other tables with older – and presumably richer – clientele.  I suppose that is one thing about New York I won’t get used to while in my 20′s.

Fig & Olive | Cucumber Cosmo

Fig & Olive | Cucumber Cosmo

The Food

Of course we started with cocktails – Tom went all James Bond and had a dirty martini and I opted for something a little different – a Cucumber Cosmo. After a hard day at the office, it was refreshing without being too strong or sweet. The bread at the table came with four types of olive oil – FOUR! I love quality olive oil – it’s a weird thing to obsess over – but those of you that are with me on this know there is nothing better than some high quality evoo with fresh bread.

Fig & Olive | Mushroom Croquettes

Fig & Olive | Truffle Mushroom Croquettes

From the Restaurant Week menu, Tom and I share two appetizers – Truffle Mushroom Croquette and Crab Cakes. Both were super tiny and super delicious. The crab cakes were some of the best we’ve ever had, and the croquettes were the epitome of why truffle is so wonderful a flavor.

Fig & Olive | Crab Cakes

Fig & Olive | Crab Cakes

For dinner, I had a Chicken Tajine decorated with all sorts of vegetables AND figs! I haven’t had figs in quite a while, and I’ve never had them cooked. It seems like the place really lives up to its name – the flavor combination was unexpected but unexpectedly good. My only criticism was I found a few small chicken bones which made me nervous …

Fig & Olive Chicken

Fig & Olive Chicken Tajine

Tom had paella which was some serious seafood. It was an ocean of sea creatures worthy of a Bourdain episode. It’s not my preferred meal but he loved it, so for seafood lovers it was a winner.

While I don’t usually indulge with dessert at restaurants, it’s part of the standard Restaurant Week menu and, given the small portions of such a fancy place, I was actually excited for the pot de creme and pistachio mascarpone crostini with cherries that arrived.  These are the desserts worth ordering – not too big and just perfectly sweet to end the meal.

So, overall, if you have a few bucks to spare Fig & Olive is definitely a place to try.  If your wallet and stomach are feeling empty, it may be best to save this one for another day.

Check out their menu here.