251 W 50th St
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 581-1818
Hours: Sun-Thu: 5pm-11pm Fri-Sat: 5pm-11:30pm
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Julian Medina
Area: West 50s
Take heed: Do not, under any circumstances, visit Toloache if you’re in an indecisive mood. For his first stint as restaurant owner, chef Julian Medina – who most recently delighted foodies at Zocalo – has reconfigured the theater district eatery Federicos as a temple to the breadth of haute Mexican cuisine. Medina’s talent is such that you’ll likely be happy with whatever you order, but the choosing is difficult to say the least.
The decision making starts with the drink orders, thanks to a menu that lists dozens upon dozens of tequilas and a host of specialty cocktails. If you’re not into the agave plant, a glass of either excellent white or red sangria is a delicious way to begin the meal.
Medina can’t even be content to just make one kind of guacamole; you can opt for the lovely traditional variety, a slightly spicier one made with chipotle, and a delicious variation studded with mango, apple, and peach. (If you’re party is large enough, you can order a trio tasting for $20). There are also six ceviches (with tasting plates of either three or five available), including a tangy shrimp-and-sour orange, a pleasing yellowtail with Meyer lemon, and a surprisingly delicate grass-fed rib eye version.
There are also about a dozen starters and small courses, all of which are ideal for sharing. I can definitely recommend the first-rate quesadilla with huitlacoche (a sort of south-of-the-border black truffle), nicely grilled, perfectly tender octopus served with stewed tomatoes, delectable miniature corn cakes topped with Mexican ricotta and a fried quail egg, and Medina’s signature tacos (two per order), in which obviously homemade soft corn tortillas are topped with everything from foie gras to braised brisket to veal cheeks (my favorite) to dried grasshoppers (which I didn’t try).
You might suspect that entrees would be superfluous, and while you could live without them, Medina makes them special as well. For example, the carnitas boast succulent roast suckling pig, organic salmon is prepared properly rare, and the carne asada is made with excellent grass-fed skirt steak and is accompanied by an addictive potato gratin and a cheese enchilada in a well-made mole sauce. (Ok, so it’s a lot of cholesterol on one plate!)
By the way, Toloache is named for a flower used for Mexican love potions. It’s an apt namesake, because after one visit, you’re sure to fall in love with Medina’s cooking!
Review By: Brian Scott Lipton