If there's a new Mexican restaurant on the NYC dining landscape, then you can bet it's already on my radar. And the birth of West Village newcomer, La Camelia, was no different. Only, instead of some celebu-chef at the helm, it was her food menu that really seduced me.
Fellow food-blogger and friend, Judith, The Fooditka, and I decided to meet for dinner at La Camelia (LC) at 6pm. And, as always, I managed to arrive at the restaurant with 5-minutes to spare. Fortunately, I was seated immediately at my table of choice — incomplete party and all, sans reservation. Shock. The peppy, orange-hued interior space comfortably holds a sizeable bar and dining area. A vast skylight, hovering over the center of the restaurant, illuminates the entire room.
Judith arrived shortly after I was seated and, within moments, we were handed food/drink menus and a basket of warm, salty, homemade tostados and a salsa duo. Our server could not have approached at a more perfect time, as the two of us had literally just exchanged "I need a margarita right now, or else..." glances.
LC's menu is lengthy which, in terms of Mexican restaurants, I like. I mean, what if I want to be adventurous and not order cheese enchiladas? I need options. On the flip side, too many choices can pose a problem, especially when you're as indecisive as I am. Luckily, on this particular evening, Judith and I made up our minds relatively quickly: we would split an appetizer and each order our own entrèe.
Shortly before we received our appetizer, Judith and I were presented with the evening's amuse bouche (pretty fancy-shmancy for a casual Mexican restaurant, no?): chunks of Manchego cheese surrounded by thinly-sliced, toasted garlic chips and roasted zucchini, drizzled with olive oil. While we couldn't stop raving about this dish, we weren't entirely sure how to eat it — ultimately, Judith politely utilized her fork and knife and, being the animal that I am, I used my fork - fingers - and tostados. Now, if only they had some fresh bolillo bread to sop-up all of the yummy oil...!
Just as they removed our nearly spit-clean amuse bouche plates, Judith and I received our shared order of queso fundido. A piping hot cast-iron skillet was liberally filled with gooey, melted Oaxaca, Manchego, and Chihuahua cheeses that were intertwined by a spicy and chunky pico de gallo. Served alongside, and perfect for taco/burrito making, were handmade, buttery corn tortillas. As perfectly paced as the previous courses of our meal had come and went, our entrèes arrived shortly after we had scooped up our last few bites of queso fundido.
While I could have taken a more adventurous route, I ended up ordering my "Mexican restaurant default plate of choice," the cheese enchiladas. For $12, which I find to be a good deal in the heart of NYC, I received a large plate topped with three plump, green chile-sauce bathed cheese enchiladas. A bowl of each, rice and beans, accompanied. I was pleasantly surprised by how spicy the green sauce was. In an effort to cool down my mouth after each bite, I dipped my fork in to the soothing sour cream dollop that sat atop the enchiladas. This was followed by yet another bite of my sauce-laden entree. Then, another dip in to the sour cream. Repeat. Before I knew it, I had cleaned my entire plate! While the rice was mediocre at best, the black beans were fantastic. Next time I visit LC, I will ask for a double-order, instead of rice altogether.
To conclude: both Judith and I found LC to be a breath of fresh air amidst the neighborhood's other more tightly wound, pricier venues. I thought that the restaurant did an excellent job on both the food and cocktail menus in terms of quality, variety, and price. I would recommend LC to any of my friends, family, or colleagues.
Get here now, before Sam Sifton does!