The darkness of the room was exacerbated by a rather lackluster greeting by two bored hostesses- young girls casually clad that contradicted the pedigree of the restaurant. Our server was more adept, describing the layout of the menu and making some recommendations upon our request, although somehow he managed to dribble red wine all over the tabletop each time he poured from the bottle. And made no attempt to swab it up, nor apologize for the drips, although it's possible he may not have even noticed what was happening in the dimness of the light. The walls and floors are
cement grey, concentrated spotlights cast circumspect orbs of light on the walls and tables creating a moody, mysterious ambiance that I wish had conveyed more strongly onto the menu. Freshness and lightness prevails, which is novel to typical American renditions of Mexican food. too often glopped with cheese or sauce over greasy starches. Not at all here at Cosme, where in fact, if anything, it could use a little more depth and substance. The menu is divided into three sections, although they don't vary greatly in price, but apparently separate the heartier flavored dishes from the lighter ones. It would seem more that the it goes from seafood to vegetables to what might feasibly constitute entrees. True to that description, however, our initial dishes selected from the first section, were all freshness and light, razor clams which slipped neatly off their elongated shells, brightened with citrus and a zip of crystal hot sauce. I wasn't expecting a raw clam on this one, but most of the dishes from this first menu section qualify under the guise of crudo.
Scallop aguachile touted poached jicama, which I was excited try having only ever eaten jicama in its crudite state, but instead, both the scallops and the jicama seemed untouched by heat, only gently cured by the zesty wasabi-cucumber-lime brine in which they floated. The crisp jicama discs contrasted playfully with such delicate tender scallops, so deceptively similar to the eye but starkly contrary in texture. My favorite dish arrived next, however: big hunks of king crab leg nestled into a zesty Mexican gribiche studded with salty capers and a flourish of chervil. The flavors were bright and sharp while rich and luxurious as the same time, served with a crunchy , meta-tortilla chip to render it scoopable. So far, this would be the only dish I would've returned for, and return for it I happily would.
From the second section (all varying degrees of vegetarian) we chose a purple asparagus, mysteriously bereft of any white eggplant, but lavishly doused in a picante green salsa, which may have been a little overpowering for the vegetal stalks. They did, however, retain their signature purple tips, ingeniously steamed just long enough to tenderize the sturdy stalks but without sacrificing their regally-hued crowns.
Surprisingly, this dish was better than a much-anticipated mushroom and squash barbacoa, astronomically priced at $26 for an embarrassingly measly portion of steamed mushrooms and a few chunks of grilled zucchini piled over a ruddy pool of romesco-tasting sauce. There were some dense little blue cornmeal orbs that had potential, but didn't pan out to be much more than gritty balls of compacted polenta... albeit in a fetching shade of greyish-blue. It would've gotten a little more had it clocked in around $10, but for the price of an entree, neither the size nor the flavor presented any justification whatsoever. Here, I might've solicited a little cheese, just for the heartiness I inferred from barbeque. Instead, it was all pleasant and light, but begged for depth and complexity... and an approximate 50% price decrease.
All the dishes we tried were plated meticulously, in precise compositions that achieved beautiful visual balance. But the ingredients were so disparate and segregated that it was hard to make the flavors meld in some of them. The fluke with pork belly was a perfect example of this, whereas combining a morsel of pork with a pickly bit of charred onion,
a sprig of purslane and a daub of creamy black bean puree created a delicious bite, but that balance so exquisitely achieved in the plating was less easily achieved on a d.i.y. basis. Too, there could have been quite a bit more of the black bean in order to make the components coalesce. At $29, it was a medium-size entree- certainly not generous, but adequate. The duck carnitas, on the other hand, was ample. Priced at $59, it easily serves two (the table next to us didn't order much else and even took leftovers). It arrives in a steaming iron skillet, flaunting its crispy-charred skin over a hefty leg and breast- a full half-duck per diner. Mild shredded fennel and radishes surround the bird, and a stack of earthy, pliant house-made corn tortillas accompany to wrap
up the juicy meat, which apparently takes four days to prepare from a custom blend of blue, purple, yellow and white Mexican corn . If the quantity of this dish wasn't enough to warrant the price in your mind alone, the effort invested in its creation might tip the scales as further justification.
And then the much-anticipated climax- that dessert I had been reading so very much about (drum roll, please). And yes, it was that good, really. A study in white upon arrival, the feathery-light, melt-in-your-mouth meringue broke into a creamy, corny whipped cream mousse to reveal the earthy humility of charred, pulverized husk it was made from. The unique grey-blue color contrasted gently with the pale yellow mousse, and the subtle perfume of summer corn whispered of a summer which still hasn't quite arrived. But this dessert transcends the season: my only wish (and I'm not much on dots and squiggles) was that it might have included a tart component to offset the creamy sweetness. We attempted to outsource this with a scoop of dragon fruit-mezcal sorbet, forgetting that the fruity, supermarket renditions of this flavor are even remotely indicative of the true essence of dragon fruit. Instead, its muted, almost creamy flavor offered more of the same, with a slight boozy touch (which was not unappreciated). I suppose I was envisioning the kick of raspberry... a simple raspberry sorbet would've added a nice tangy kick. Cosme isn't a flawless as I might have hoped, and at these price points I feel like it might have a couple of points to rethink. But it seems the Chef is probably back at Pujol, having garnered a solid three stars from the Times, and a following frantic enough to require ample forethought to procure a reservation. But if you have the wherewithal, Cosme is most definitely a memorable experience, although I'm not sure whether it more for the bragging rights than of the dinner itself.