El Verano is NOT your madrecita's taqueria. Far from it. El Verano ("summer"), is a highly sophisticated Mexican restaurant with complex and stunning dishes. It opened this past summer on the corner of Jobs and Windmill Lanes, where various and sundry restaurants resided for many years, among them Jobs Lane Ristorante and Jobs Lane Gastro Pub.
It has always been a large and attractive space, with a long bar by the entrance with arched wood-paneling and mirrors within. This is divided from the main dining room with arches echoing those over the bar. There are pale teal banquettes, some simple but comfortable wooden chairs, and windows all around. The bar area walls have beautiful wallpaper depicting birds and plants in subdued pinks, greens, and tans. From the ceiling hangs a variety of shapes and sizes of wicker, raffia, and punched brass light fixtures. The walls in the dining room are painted a pale dusty rose, rather like the color of some houses in Charleston, S.C., where they call it "shrimp bisque." Each table has a tiny bouquet of fresh roses, pale green water glasses and those chic Zafferano lamps that are popping up in groovy restaurants everywhere.
Although I know a few Mexican food terms, this menu required some word searches: manchamanteles, "tablecloth stainer"; borrachos "drunk"; chile Coloradito, a type of stew; Prima Donna cheese, like a Gouda, and I always forget the difference between elote and esquite, corn on the cob and off the cob respectively. One word I was familiar with but haven't seen on a menu in years is huitlacoche. Huitlacoche, or "corn smut," is a plant disease caused by a pathogenic fungus that causes the corn kernels to swell up into tumor-like galls. And yes, it is as ugly as it sounds, but considered a delicacy and is quite delicious. The flavor is nutty and earthy like morels. It is also referred to as "blister smut," which sounds more like a Shakespearean insult than a gourmet treat -- "a pox upon you, thou blister smut!"
One of chef Julian Medina's specialties is a quesadilla topped with local corn, Mexican cheeses, huitlacoche, crema, and shaved black truffle. It was extremely delectable.
Some of the other dishes we began our meal with were the ensalada de invierno, "winter salad," and toro taquitos. The salad was a blend of delicate butter lettuce leaves with toasted pumpkin seeds, bacon, queso fresco, and roasted cubes of delicata squash in a Thai basil vinaigrette. The only dud of the dish was the rings of dried (or over-roasted) delicata squash which were hard and chewy like some fruit leather grown old. We simply set those aside and enjoyed the creative salad without them. The toro taquitos were four mini corn tortilla taco shells bordered by lime wedges with a sprinkling of scallion greens and possibly togarashi, a Japanese spice blend with red chiles, sansho pepper, nori, and a few other ingredients. The toro was super fresh, rich, and tender, mixed with more scallions and topped with a little dollop of charred chocolate habanero aioli. Nice and spicy.
For entrees we tried chile relleno, ribeye tacos, camarones with pumpkin rice, and a side of crispy potatoes. The chile relleno was one poblano pepper stuffed with finely diced squashes and other vegetables on a bed of carrot puree and topped with an almond mole, toasted sliced almonds, and little nasturtium leaves. It was such a beautiful dish and although small, utterly satisfying and unusual. The ribeye tacos were also delicious. Two corn tortillas with melted cheese were topped with generous slices of fatty, marinated steak on guacamole, and drizzled with salsa molcajeteado (roasted tomatoes, peppers, and garlic.)
Unfortunately, the shrimp part of the shrimp dish was disappointing, simply because they were overcooked. The risotto-like creamy pumpkin rice was dreamy, as was the chipotle-peanut sauce and carrot slaw on top. The side of crispy smashed potatoes was excellent, especially with the sharp salsa verde on top.
The service on the night of our visit was excellent, everything was whisked away and replaced between courses, water glasses kept filled, and our waiter, Eduardo, was knowledgeable and friendly. It is also worth noting here that the chef's margarita, while pricey at $27, is superb and worth trying. It is a mixture of Maestro Dobel Cristalino Diamante Reposado Tequila Special Edition made for chef Medina combined with tangerine juice, Aperol, chiltepin, lime, and tajin.
Appetizers are $15 to $35, crudos $28 to $32, mains $32 to $58, sides $10 to $18, and desserts $15.
For desserts I took two home to try because I am a big baby about driving in the dark. They were both very good, with not much damage occurring during transportation. One was a Mexican chocolate mousse cake with tender moist layers of cake with fluffy mousse and a ganache glaze. It was topped with amarena cherries and toasted chopped macadamia nuts. The other was a beautiful white tres leches cake soaked in cherry puree and Japanese plum milk with caramelized black plum slices on top and chopped pistachios. It had wonderful flavor and the paper thin slices of plum gave the sweet cake a tart note.
The whole experience was a revelation and the food unique. As you can see from the descriptions, there are elements of Japanese and Thai cuisine along with the elevated Mexican style. The dishes are not inexpensive, nor are the plates laden with food. But El Verano is still less expensive than a Tutto or Dopo or St. Ambroeus, where you are paying a premium for noodles and cheese. No disrespect to these other restaurants, I like them all. But I loved El Verano's creativity, complexity, and presentation.
Chef Julian Medina means it when he says he buys local ingredients, and he also grows a lot in his garden in Quogue as well. At this point in time he has approximately 10 restaurants in the New York City area and this is his first on the East End. Credit must also be given to chef de cuisine, Venancio Tapia.
I enjoy my job, but when I get to dine at a place like El Verano, I really enjoy it.
10 Windmill Lane
Daily, noon-10 p.m.