ANEJO Will Age Gracefully: Restaurant Review*
Though he is hesitant to dub it Mexican, the first restaurant venture of the Dominican-Italian Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa is pretty much a south of the border fiesta. With a name like Anejo Tequileria, that allusion is already hard to escape from the outset, but luckily there is no need to. Though only a week old, the patronage response is overwhelming, packing the dark wood-block tables and bar to capacity by 6:30pm on a weekday.
On a tenth avenue street corner in the heart of Hell's Kitchen, this rustic brick-walled barrio spot has an impressive tequila and mezcal centric-cocktail list created by Josh Wortman, and infuses this agave plant into the Mexican menu as well.
Cut to the star of the evening: Tequila Flan. My enthusiasm bowls over the brim for this delightful treat, made in-house with an authentic hand. The smooth custard alone is of the most satisfying texture baked with fresh vanilla beans, and surrounded by a moat of discernibly tequila-tainted dulce de leche boasting a burnt caramel sweetness you want to swim in. The unconventional kicker? A healthy sprinkling of crumbled cotija cheese, a salty surprise with each spoonful.
There were instances wherein the cotija craze was a touch overzealous, namely as snowy white mound blanketing the already sodium-rich Pork Tamal. This with a crumbly cornmeal and standard shreds of meat, a far better exhibit of pork is found in the Taco. Coddled in a soft tortilla sheet, the puerco preparation is akin to a rich ropa vieja, cured Yucatan-style in a fresh pineapple brine and then braised to tender glory. The depth of flavor is highlighted by those fruity notes combined with smoky chipotle and amplified further by diced mango and that salty - yep, you guessed it - cotija cheese.
Pineapple and chipotle also play into a vibrant Guacamole accompanied by the all too easily consuming crunch of large airy crisped tortilla disks (which certainly require a second order). This winning pair also stunningly struts in the Pina Oaxaca cocktail, creating sweet but round complexity as it sloshes with non-smokey Fidencia mezcal and the aromatic warmth of grated nutmeg.
For a choclately cocktail cap in lieu of dessert, the Mole Noche reminds of cocoa-infused tequila twist on a Manhattan. Served on large ice rocks with a buoying orange peel, the mole bitters, spicy chile, and corn whisky result in a reimagined dark drink. Also, their take on tomatoey sangrita is uber palate-cleansing with the sweet addition of orange juice. A shot of this and you're ready for the next course.
Feel free to skip over their Shrimp Ceviche and Mushroom Salad to allow for flavor fine-tuning. If you want a crisp refresher, the radish salad lightly combines its mandolin slices with pear wedges and cotija crumbles.
What you will write home about for many pages are the corn dumplings, bathing in a smoky tomato sauce you could gluttonously guzzle as soup. Punctuated by salty chorizo, oaxaca cheese and corn kernels, these deliciously dense sweet pillows of maiz radiate homespun warmth with rich textures and deep flavors. If nothing else this dish alone achieves what Sosa wants to emanate: food that feels like a product of your abuela's kitchen. While he maintains the menu will evolve, perhaps away from Mexican, he said you can count on one constant: "We are friends serving family." And though that family expands exponentially throughout the night, you are welcomed to stay at this home for as long as you'd like.