La Esquina

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I had the pleasure of knocking La Esquina off my "Before I Go" list last weekend. I first read about it in New York magazine and then several times in passing later on when minor celebrities were spotted eating there (Nicole Richie, Samantha Ronson and the like, maybe?). Mexican food is high up on my list of favorite foods/cuisines, right next to American and sushi, so my interest was piqued many years ago.

It lives up to the hype ... and I didn't even venture into the uber trendy area. La Esquina is made up of three parts, all more or less under the guise of something called "The Corner Deli," which looks like a tin-plated diner. There's the Taqueria, which is a walk-up stand where you can either order takeout or, on a nice day as it was the day I visited, sit outside at the tables and chairs. There's the Cafe, which is a cozy indoors affair, dressed up like your neighborhood coffee house or café. And then there's the Brasserie.

The Brasserie is the one that's really trendy -- reservations need to be made a month in advance, and the door down to the space is marked only by an "Employees Only" sign. Apparently you're led through the kitchen to get to the stairs that lead you into this elusive, cavernous space. And you arrive to something that looks something like a dark, Dickensian reading room:


This is where the debauchery goes down, where John Mayer probably preys on willing women. Where the people-watching is phenomenal, the drinks are great and the food is okay (it's said that the Brasserie does not share the same kitchen as the rest of La Esquina). And alas, not where I found myself last Saturday night.

We found ourselves crammed up against two couples on the sidewalk (one Spanish-speaking couple, another pair of two painfully California hipster dude types ... I seriously didn't think the stereotype actually existed until I met these two), hoping the food was worth the awkwardness.

My friend and I both had our eyes on the fish tacos ($10 for two). Ever since I experienced Wahoo's Fish Tacos in Laguna Beach, California, I haven't been able to turn down a fish taco. La Esquina's fish tacos were everything I hoped they would be: a little spicy (chipotle mayo), a little crunchy (shredded cabbage and red onions), and very, very fresh. Absolutely delicious.

I also went for the passionfruit margarita ($12), which was okay. A little small. It was more salty and ... spicy than sweet or tangy. I'd read that their drinks were pretty potent, and I know I have a relatively high tolerance for someone my size, but it tasted pretty close to spicy Gatorade to me.

Lastly, the service was awful. The restaurant was busy and undeniably understaffed, but we were ignored by the server/hostess (I think she played both roles) for about 10 minutes, and then to flag her down to take our orders or to get our check was equally difficult. I've read a lot of things about the snobby service here -- I guess it's to be expected at a place that prides itself on being exclusive, but it's not welcome. La Esquina's lucky its food speaks volumes louder than its service.

La Esquina
114 Kenmare Street

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