A table at La Esquina isn't easy to come by. Their website says reservations are taken three weeks to the day but they rarely answer the phone and good luck trying to walk in unless you're a celebrity or a model. Needlesstosay, when a friend of a friend offered to hook me up, I jumped at the chance.
La Esquina is made up of three distinct spaces, each with its own menu of market-driven, authentic Mexican fare. The Taqueria serves tacos and tortas while the Café has a more extensive menu but, really, it's all about the Brasserie — a bar, cocktail lounge, and restaurant in the basement of the complex. The food is just as good upstairs but there's just something about getting past that "No Admittance, Employees Only" door and walking through the kitchen to your table that makes the Brasserie special. I guess exclusivity (read: Serge Becker restaurants) never gets old.
Once inside, you get the feeling that you've landed in a Mexican dungeon... albeit a trendy one, full of exposed brick, wrought-iron gates, and painted tiles. Dim lighting comes courtesy of chandeliers filled with fat, dripping wax candles and a DJ spins dance music from the lounge. It's all very sceney, with service to match. Our waiter was too busy giving tutorials to the table ordering flight after flight of expensive tequila to care about us. Oh well, you don't come to La Esquina for the service.
You come for the grilled corn, but that's getting ahead of myself. First we got cocktails, a blood orange margarita for me and a regular for my boyfriend. Fresh, and strong. The menu has main courses but, in my opinion, the best way to do La Esquina is to make a meal of the small plates and sides. It's less expensive and you get to try a little bit of everything. We started with the ceviche acapulco (market fish, fresh tomato, avocado, jalapeño, and lime) and the crab tostadas. So good. The ceviche was nicely balanced between cirtus and spice and the crabmeat, mixed with chipotle mayo and mango, was unreal.
Next, we split two orders of tacos — fish and pulled pork. While the char-grilled fish was perfectly cooked, the red onions and salsa verde didn't provide enough flavor. Plus the tortillas were soggy and fell apart in my hands. The pork tacos, on the other hand, were the opposite of bland. The slow-cooked meat was nice and juicy, and the pickled onions and habanero lent a solid kick.
Then came the aforementioned corn. Charred to perfection and smothered in butter, queso fresco, and spices, it's a must-order. We also got a side of black beans, topped with queso fresco and served in a clay pot. Decent, but nothing special. As if all that wasn't enough, we threw in an order of octopus tostadas at the last minute. I'm glad we did though, the tender, smoky grilled octopus was amazing.
Even though our server warned us that the chocolate cake would be more than enough for both us, we also got the bread pudding for dessert. What can you do when they have both your favorites? The chocolate cake, served warm, was topped with espresso, cinnamon, and crème fraiche ice cream and the bread pudding was sprinkled with figs, raisins, and cajeta brandy sauce. Way too much food but so, so worth it.
In a town where faux speakeasies and hidden restaurants are a dime a dozen, you'd think New Yorkers would be over La Esquina by now... but they're not. This place is consistently packed, and deservedly so — the food is above average and the prices are fair. If you can see past the attitude, you're sure to enjoy it. That is, if you can get in.