Rocking Horse Café
182 8th Ave. (bet. 19th and 20th Sts.), New York, NY 10011
Recently, on a quiet summer evening in the city, I visited this restaurant in the Chelsea area of New York. The festive colors throughout the Rocking Horse Café make for a lively yet cozy place.
The café has a good drink menu which includes nonalcoholic drinks as well as licuados (nonalcoholic versions of frappes). We both drank the Cool Blue (blueberries, raspberries, banana, organic soy milk, cinnamon, and organic agave nectar). This combination was satisfying, refreshing—an explosion of flavors!
We were brought homemade chips with two delicious dipping sauces: one, a tomato salsa with a beautiful smokiness and a nice spicy tang, the other, a green, very spicy salsa made of tomatillos.
For appetizers we had crepas de pato (duck epazote confit, blue crépes, spicy pasilla barbecue sauce). We could taste the slow-cooked process: duck that had been cooked in its own fat with the epazote herb making the duck tender and distinctly flavorful. I thought, before reading the menu, that I was tasting cumin, but realized that epazote has that distinct cumin flavor—times four—and pasilla is the dried form of chilaca peppers.
Tamal de camarones (sweet corn dumplings, shrimp, chipotle butter with avocado pico de gallo), a fresh corn tamal served inside the corn husk with two sautéed-in-butter shrimp, offers a well-balanced blend of flavors. This is a gluten-free dish. Many of the dishes are asterisked, denoting gluten-free. Two asterisks indicate gluten-free/vegan.
I ordered bistec en recado (herb-marinated natural hanger steak, served with mashed potatoes and a red wine escabeche). The fresh herbs consisted of cilantro, rosemary, culantro (recao), and oregano. The meat tasted strongly of oregano; it was a nice-sized portion (not too large). The mashed potatoes were a little heavy on the cumin but not overbearing for me. I really enjoyed it, including the onion rings topping the steak.
My partner ordered cordero enchipotlado (chipotle-braised lamb shank, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, epazote, and a creamy cortija polenta). The lamb was so tender it practically fell off the bone. The café’s braising technique didn’t compromise the flavor or the quality of the lamb.
Dessert was buñuelos (Mexican doughnuts with Ibarra chocolate pot au crème and spiced piloncillo syrup). This was the first time I had piloncillo (a cone-shaped sugar loaf popular in Mexico).
Our other dessert was helado con dos salsas (vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, cajeta served with sweet tortilla crisps).
We had a wonderful dinner: I loved the fusion of the dishes— without a confusion of flavors. I highly recommend the Rocking Horse Café: great ambience, wonderful food. The café is clearly a Mexican fusion restaurant so don’t expect to have an ordinary meal, but do expect to travel with your palate through unknown places in Mexico.
182 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
Owners: Roe Di Bona & Marvin Beck
Executive Chef: Jan Mendelson