Nothing to hide taste-wise at La Escondida II
If you’re looking for a new hiding place, one that serves serious, authentic Mexican fare in an easily accessible location, look no further than La Escondida II in Pleasantville.
Open a year and half, this second venture from owners Irma Lara and husband Ramiro Castilla — operators of a nearby market on Washington Avenue for eight years — possesses a cool, festive vibe.
The cuisine, based on Lara’s proprietary Mexico City formulas, is genuine Mexican, not an Americanized amalgam.
The first thing one takes notice of at La Escondida is their sunny, orange-oriented décor, coupled with artwork reflecting the rich, multicultural heritage of our southern neighbor. The next is a preponderance of Latino customers, one sure barometer that the kitchen is consistently plating up quality.
We sampled a pair of selections from the antojitos (“sudden cravings”) portion of the menu.
Flautos de pollo, a trio of three large corn tortillas stuffed with seasoned chicken and tightly wound, hence the name flautos, meaning “flutes.” After a bath in the fryer, these tidy bundles were finished with a snowstorm of sour cream, cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce. A crunchy exterior worked well with the tender poultry within — hot, steamy and soulful. In fact, if asked to categorize this restaurant’s concept, we’d label it “Latino soul food.”
Simple, honest ingredients, worked with plenty of time and considerable skill to produce extraordinary results.
Showing up in the restaurant for a morning interview with Lara, one observes this first hand. In a corner of the large, L-shaped kitchen, a young chef from Mexico City called “Chamoy” has two identical pots — one filled with rice and the other beans — softly simmering on just the lowest sliver of gas flame. It was obvious that these items, ready for lunch service, had been working for quite some time prior to my arrival.
The magnitude of those cooking vessels, each more than a foot and half across, also serves as proof positive that La Escondida is moving plenty of inventory.
The restaurant’s other chef, Abel Sanchez, is of Oaxacan origin, another positive indicator due to its status as a fertile hotbed of Latino cooking talent.
Our other antojito — isn’t it just a great word? — were empanadas de camarones (shrimp empanadas). These sort of delicate, savory pastries are common throughout the Caribbean region, largely as a result of centuries of British colonial influence.
We like to think that expertly prepared deep-fried food is the culinary equivalent of an orgasm, and this version, crisp and sexy, did nothing to disprove that notion.
When asked about her menu, Lara is quick to mention several house signatures, such as whole red snapper (pescado de Veracruzana), their take on a traditional preparation served with tomatoes, peppers and onions, originating in the southern Mexican seaside port of Veracruz.
She’s also keen on her version of pork ribs, once again reiterating the earlier soul food analogy. Having been smitten with a smooth, mildly hot green chile, served alongside chips immediately upon seating, we second her suggestion of having it on those ribs for an altogether unexpected flavor spectrum.
Mole, one of the globe’s most complex and time-consuming blends, is another of Lara’s preferred creations. Asked about the recipe, which typically includes close to two dozen ingredients, she’s understandably cagey, careful not to give away too much. Allowing that it includes “three types of chiles, including dried Anchos and mulattos, plus chocolate, plantain and Spanish nuts” was a specific as we could manage to extract.
On weekends, family specialties like pozole (corn soup), menudo (triple beef soup) and carnitas ya barbacoa de cordero (barbequed lamb) are in vogue along with live nightly entertainment.
The big news these days is the anticipated relocation of their original store to 418 N. Main St. in Pleasantville by May 15. This will both greatly increase the available retail space and allow for an expanded area serving the same well-prepared food.
Ramiro, a construction worker who doubles as bartender on weekends, is credited for the unusual moniker “La Escondida.” Translated, it means “the hiding place,” and for us, that works just fine.
E-mail Frank Gabriel at email@example.com
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