Nuevo Latino chef Aaron Sanchez encompasses several influences from the country’s southernmost border in his cuisine.
Chef Aaron Sanchez, he of the Food Network’s Chefs Vs. City, Heat Seekers and Chopped, recently became the latest addition to Atlantic City’s star-stuffed roster of celebrity food figures.
Sanchez, native to El Paso, Texas, originally gained fame in New York City as one of the country’s preeminent young Nuevo Latino chefs, not unlike Revel’s Jose Garces. But where Garces’ cuisine leans toward traditional Spanish and Mexican, Sanchez style is eclectic, encompassing all of the divergent influences to be found along this country’s southernmost border.
As of late March, Sanchez’ creations have been featured at Showboat Hotel Casino’s House of Blues. The former signature eatery there was re-branded as Aaron Sanchez Crossroads at The House of Blues, and the results are dynamic.
Start with the bill of fare, a real amalgam of southern, Tex-Mex and American classics. Sanchez himself personally oversaw its intro, spending several days in town with kitchen staffers and management. It shows. Despite being only two weeks out from a complete overhaul, everything we sampled was delectable and highly refined.
Like wild mushroom flatbread, our first taste. Wide enough to share, crisp edges bore evidence to the menu’s “hand stretched” claim. The ingredients, admirably restrained, added just enough heft and balance to compliment this peasant gem.
A base of fresh, chunky tomato sauce gave way to earthy mushrooms, topped by a layer of asiago, cotija and mozzarella cheeses. This blend was lightly applied, as it should be, not a gooey mess, which would have overwhelmed the grilled bread’s authentic charm and structural integrity.
Next up, pulled pork sliders brought two burger-sized rolls packed with sweet, smoky pork. A layer of exceptional Champagne slaw — seriously, we want this recipe — added chew and tang, dancing merrily with the soft, yielding pork.
Maybe the evening’s single best plate, street tacos, arrived as a trio of soft, warm tortillas. Each was packed with sizzling skirt steak — the traditional cut of beef used in fajitas — and a little more of that cojita. Served alongside were pico de gallo and a dark green tomatillo salsa.
That spicy blend, derived from a smaller, tarter version of southern New Jersey’s unofficial favorite fruit, was just hot enough to make us crave more with every bite.
For those of you wondering about the “street” appellation, these little nuggets of goodness are just the right size to fit into your hand and consume with ease. Just like you would from a food truck on the side of the road.
Next up, a House of Blues salad — field greens, red and yellow tomato, spicy pecans and crumbled feta with balsamic vinaigrette. Fresh and colorful, it was a nice reminder that we’ll soon be awash in spectacular, local produce.
Our first entrée, shrimp and grits, was an admirable reworking of a traditional southern staple. Rather than the standard bowl of corn meal, this version opts for a square cake. Atop it eight shrimp were tossed with a chipotle garlic cream sauce.
We admited both the idea and the execution of this main course. The grit cake was not in the least bit gritty, eating more like a smooth piece of pan-fried corn bread.
Aarón Sanchez is one busy celebrity chef. He stars on the Food Network TV series Chopped and Heat Seekers and has appeared onChef Vs. City and the Best Thing I Ever Ate. The personable chef, whose skin is a work of art with numerous tattoos, was in town last Friday, June 22, for a media dinner to introduce his updated pub menu at Crossroads..
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