Mexican comfort food

Just in time for my latest kitchen adventure is Roberto Santibañez' new book, Truly Mexican (with JJ Goode, Wiley Hardcover, April 25, 2011, $35.00, 272 pages).

I love tamales, well practically any meat-filled, lard-infused treat will do, so I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of the New York chef and restaurateur's latest book.

 If I can't get my hot tamales from local pushcarts, I'll have to make my own. In preparation, I've laid in the supplies for a big batch of tamales - corn husks, masa harina, pasilla chiles, etc.

The chef promises fast, fresh and authentic Mexican for the home kitchen. I'm sure he'll deliver like he's been doing since 2009 at his Park Slope place, Fonda.

Santibañez is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and the culinary partner of The Taco Truck in Hoboken, NJ.

The Mexico City native is also author of Rosa’s New Mexican Table.

Tamale time this weekend!

Truly Mexican

Family recipes make the meal at Lolita's Mexican Restaurant

the sweet little dining room at Lolita's on Lenox Avenue

Sitting down to a meal at Lolita's is a little like pulling up to Mama's table - if your Mama is Mexican and knows her way around the kitchen.

Named after co-owner Vincente Barrera's late mother, the tiny restaurant at the outskirts of Morningside Heights fills a gap in an area that is slowly revitalizing. His late mother dreamed of opening a restaurant, but died tragically after being hit by a vehicle in 2004 while crossing the street. Barerra is helping keep his mother's dream alive.

Open breakfast, lunch and dinner, Lolita's menu is anchored by family recipes -- most notably a homemade mole of more than 31 ingredients, secret of course, prepared by Barrera's sister, Luz Maria. The chorizo used in their recipes -- try the quesadilla de chorizo con queso -- is made from scratch also.  Even the vinegar is made from tuba, an alcoholic beverage made from palm flower sap. 


"It's the closest you can get to a Mexican kitchen," Barrera said recently over a family style meal.  Truly a family affair, his daughter and son help out in the dining room and wife, Joselyn, an Allstate insurance agent, drops in after a day at the office.

We tried the Camarones ala Diabla, made with four chiles -- guajillo, chile de arbol, ancho and chipotle -- and not for the faint of heart, as well as the Carne Enchilada, and Enchiladas Poblana (prepared with Mole Poblano). Ask for the Camarones ala Diabla. It's not on the menu.  And don't miss the Nopal, grilled cactus.


Camarones ala diabla (Spicy shrimp)

While the menu is one that is sure to please carnivores, chef and co-owner Fiacro Moran is happy to prepare vegetarian versions of his dishes for non-meat eaters.

Dinner for two is easily under $25.

Alejandro Astudillo is the restaurant's very amiable and accommodating manager and catering director.  Lolita's seats about 30, but handles outside catering for more than 200 and will arrange entertainment such as mariachis.


For more info: Lolita's 57 Lenox Avenue at 113th Street, 212-222-6969  BYOB, near the 2/3 at 110th St

Mexican comfort food at Piramide on Fifth Avenue

Piramide paella & molcajete Piramide on Fifth Avenue should be on everyone's wish list for a night out.

Open just a year, the unassuming Mexican restaurant and bar owned by Pasquale and Geraldine Viggiano, is full of pleasant culinary surprises.  

Start with the guacamole prepared tableside. The heat of the spice is adjusted to your taste by a server who seasons the traditional molcajete or lava rock bowl with pestle-ground jalapeño pepper. Added to the seasoned molcajete is a beautifully ripe avocado, which is mashed and mixed with tomatoes, onions, cumin, and salt, then finished with a squeeze of lime juice.  The housemade tortilla chips are delicious and they aren't stingy with the refills either.

If you haven't filled up, these are the recommended appetizers:

  • Queso fundido -- three cheeses melted and mixed with chorizo and served with warm tortillas
  • Quesadilla de camarones y piña -- a grilled pineapple and shrimp stuffed quesadilla
  • Ceviche de camarones -- lime marinated shrimp with avocado, olives, capers & tomatoes
  • Pulpo al ajillo -- grilled octopus in a garlic sauce

Don't miss the Molcajete Noreteño ($20), grilled strips of prime sirloin, grilled shrimp, poblano, and queso fresca served in a traditional lava rock bowl with a salsa of  chipotle, chile and tomatilloes and warm corn tortillas.

Ceviche camarones y pina

Seafood lovers should have the paella -- ask, it's not on the menu -- served with a half-pound lobster and chock full of clams, mussels, and chunks of chicken and chorizo. This traditional rice dish is not only delicious but an excellent value at $24 -- generous enough for two. 

Don't see what you crave? Use the magic word - please - and Chef Alfredo Luna will create a dish just for you - perhaps lobster and linguine with a garlic-olive oil sauce.

Average cost for a dinner for two is $50 with drinks; lunch for two is $15.

Visit often enough and take advantage of Piramide's Royalty Rewards program.  For every 200 points accumulated, you receive $10 for your next visit.

Owners Geraldine & Pasquale Viggiano

Weekly Specials

  • Loco Lunes ($3 margaritas and mojitos)
  • Taco Tuesday ($2 tacos)
  • Burrito Madness ($5 burritos)
  • Black Angus Steak Night (4 steak dishes each $17)

The first Thursday of every month, bartender Lori Burch hosts Burch's Belly Laughs featuring 10 local comics.  The free show starts at 10 pm; there is a two-drink minimum.


Making margaritas behind the bar

With the holiday season here, Piramide's offers full catering with menus ranging from $20 to $80 per person.  The downstairs party room is equipped with a sound system to accomodate iPods and MP3s so that guests can bring their own music or the restaurant will arrange live music.  DJs are welcome.

Open Monday through Friday at 1, Piramide's is open Monday through Thursday until 11 and Friday to 12.  Saturday hours are 11-12 am Brunch is Saturday and Sunday from 11-3

For more info: Piramide 499 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn 718-499-0002