Never underestimate the power of simplicity. When simple ideas have the power to mean volumes, like the New York expression “Meh!” In a nutshell “meh” is used to describe that feeling of mild disappointment that follows tremendous hype, hysteria and anticipation. New Yorkers generally only use “meh” when they feel strongly about something – even if it diametrically contradicts how everyone else feels. The meaning of “meh” hovers somewhere on the sunny side of “dislike” or “disappointment”. Not quite as heavy as “awful”, and yet it has about 8 pounds more belly-fat than “just ok”. My recent visit to the Tacombi team’s newest taquería in the Flatiron district El Presidente could suffice with this monosyllabic review, but here’s why it was a bit “meh” for me.
The concept is fine: an ultra-casual, all secrets exposed, street-vendor styled red-paint-and-white-tiled cantina, serving only 17 menu options, all for less than $15. The 3-sides-open kitchen is practically within spitting distance of every table, yet thanks to the sparse service, none of the food arrives hot. (Who in the world would want to corner the market for tepid tacos?)
The Señorita Carnitas are the flavor winners. With their dark and sweet marinade topped with cheese and pickles, these two-bite-sized tacos need no additional salsas or peppers. And the tangy and toasty Esquites – a paper cup (not quite) filled with fire-grilled corn and chipotle mayo with melting Cotija cheese is spectacular.
Whereas the much ballyhoo’d Crispy Fish tacos need a little more time in the design studio. The too-large slice of batter-fried cod combined with the yummy (but soggy) Cilantro Crema proves a tad too taxing for the soft, homemade shells. And so unless you are blessed with more than thirteen fingers, a good majority of the dish won’t quite make it into your mouth.
The Pollo Valladolid’s braised Achiote Chili Chicken and Sour Orange was altogether too tame. I tried adding one of the grilled Jalapeño’s, which only succeeded in blowing the hubcaps off of every car parked on 24th street, but did nothing to give this taco any real taste.
Perhaps David Chang is correct in thinking that there might be other cities in the US that produce better Mexican food than NY. Is it the lack of access to authentic produce? Or could it be the lack of a truly discerning public who knows what the real deal should taste like? Or maybe it’s just…meh!