Zarela’s New York

On this trip to the States, I didn’t get my burrito fix. The plan was to head to the Chipotle Test Kitchen where a former Iron Chef contender was currently working. Instead we ended up at Zarela’s, apparently one the places to first champion the Mexican cuisine. I thought I only knew about this place through reading until I walked inside and realised that Gerrod and Kristy took me there for a pre-dinner drink many years ago.

If I had one or two of their frozen marghertia’s that probably explains it since they were so strong. A tried the guava flavoured one this time, and almost went an instant red (Asian blush) from the first sip. Tasty though.

Whilst we perused the menu, they brought a bowl of corn chips with salsa and coriander-based sauce (don’t know the name of it). Based on these alone, things were going to be good. The corn chips were light and crisp, and thick that I hope indicates they’re home made. The salsa had layers of complexity and easily out did anything you could buy off a supermarket shelf. A good start.

We weren’t quite sure what to get off the menu, but in the in decided for Chilaquiles (Crisp corn tortilla strips, shredded sautéed chicken, sour cream and white cheese baked in a casserole with either a tangy tomatillo or ranchera sauce). Pretty delicious though I thought that was a bit of a cheese overload.

I try to eat mole whenever I can, understanding how difficult the process is that goes into this complex, chocolate based sauce so I ordered the Enchiladas de Pollo (Corn tortillas filled with chicken and cheese, baked with a mole). It came even with a salad on top but I really enjoyed the complex flavours that permeated the enitre dish. The chicken was tender, the sauce deep although I wish it had a bit more of chilli kick.

For mains I got the Barbacoa de Carnero (Shredded lamb barbacoa slow-roasted in an ancho chile adobo over avocado leaves). The lamb was pleasingly tender, already cooked to the point where it fell apart with a fork. I’m glad that it didn’t have all the fatty bits as well because the texture of the dish was all soft, particularly since the entire dish had been plated on top of two whole soft flour tortillas. The sauce was great though.

Whilst my dining companion took it a bit less challenging with the Manchamanteles de Pato (Roasted half duck served with a tomato red chile sauce with dried apricots, prunes, raisins and pineapple), a dish I’d be happier to call “Sweet and sour duck”. The duck was a bit too fatty for my liking, but at least it was tender and cooked really well.

I’d really like to go back and try a number of other dishes on their menu. It certainly deserved the recognition it’s got for good food. I can’t comment on how authentic the Mexican tastes are but it seems a whole lot better than the meagre one or two places we have in London.

Name: Zarela’s (closed)
Former location: 953 2nd Avenue, New York, NY, 10022

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