By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
A special soup when we visited was the chicken pozole ($12), which Pria says is one of his great favorites. Classic pozole is usually made with pork and hominy Pria riffs on the less common Pacific version from Jalisco, which uses chicken instead of pork and substitutes fresh fire-roasted corn kernels for the hominy. The result is a brighter, more complex flavor and texture, sounding peak notes of jalapeño and cilantro.
Avocado, tomatillo, serrano, jalapeño, jícama, achiote the words themselves are as lovely and evocative as these needle-sharp, fleshy, searing, smoky, reticulated, dusty flavors. The most foreign of the foreign, though, is the cactus paddle (an appetizer, $12), a true exotic. If you've never tasted oil-brushed, grilled nopales (and most of us haven't), imagine a vegetable cross of eggplant, portabella mushroom, and okra. Pria makes a sandwich of the paddles, filling them with grilled pork loin marinated in achiote (used in quantity, the spice has a flavor similar to saffron), adding a touch of guajillo chili sauce. It's a mouthful of diverse flavors and textures the pork chewy and sour, the cactus slippery and sweetish.
And then there are the thoroughly modern touches. Sashimi-grade loin of yellowfin tuna dusted with roasted pistachios. North Atlantic calamari, ubiquitous menu filler, but this time marinated in guajillo chili-infused garlic and olive oil with homemade pickled onions and smoked chipotle chili vinaigrette. Another menu standard, a crab cake appetizer ($15), is infused with Mesoamerican spirit: Chunks of Florida blue crab are rolled in yellow corn and pan fried for a toothsome texture far from the mushy bread-crumb-and-mayo-stuffed New England version; they're served with a deep red-brown chipotle sauce and chocolaty mole. Seared Keys yellowtail gets the treatment with pico de gallo and cilantro. A trio of tiny, tender, and ruby-centered Colorado lamb chops ($32) is brushed with fresh cilantro garlic oil and served with a wild mushroom-stuffed tamale and a miniature corn-husk boat of puréed black beans scattered with queso fresco. Even a grilled petite filet mignon ($32), pan-seared, luscious and pink, comes done up in a pepper brandy sauce alongside marinated roasted red peppers and a silky, fresh masa tamale steaming in its husk.
A tray of desserts brought around after dinner looks delicious, but we are too stuffed to do more than split the sabayon ($8) three ways ("Ah," our server sighs, "this is my favorite") a whisper-soft egg-yolk foam laced with kahlua and blanketing piquant jolts of strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry like shocks of lightning in an equatorial sky.
Between the years 1518 and 1623, the native population of Central Mexico dropped from 25 million to 700,000 decimated mainly by diseases carried over in the lungs, provisions, and domesticated animals of the Europeans. It's hard to say what we might be celebrating this month if the kingdom of the Aztec Triple Alliance had lived and thrived. As it is, Thanksgiving's a holiday as loaded as a double-barreled musket. The cactus and the chili peppers and squash blossoms Eduardo Pria serves with such grace and flare are the little we have left of a once wildly rich and articulate culture; the compatible marriage of these to French and Spanish foodways are like the gleanings of an alternative, now impossibly foreclosed history. "Be it jade, it shatters. Be it gold, it breaks. Not forever on earth; only a little while here," the ancient Mesoamerican poet Nezahualcoyotl wrote. In our brief interval, it's worth giving thanks for a little bit of culinary artistry that has survived all incursions.