With Meghan back in New York after a week-long business trip to Milan, it was only fair that we celebrate her return with a proper meal. Eager to quell Meghan’s endless desire for Mexican, we decided to check out Mi Cocina.
At the corner of Jane and Hudson Street in the northwest corner of the West Village, this quiet bodega advertises clean, home-style Mexican fare in a soothing setting. Unfortunately “advertises” is the operative word here.
Inside, the small cafe in the front quickly gives way to a adjacent dining room tailed by a charming garden patio in the back that is every bit of promising. Our 6:30 reservation proved grossly unnecessary, though I suppose some people would argue I shouldn't be surprised being that 6:30 on any night is a bit early for dinner in NYC. These are the same people that relish in possessing patience and choose to outwardly harbor a bizarre need to engage in convivial human interaction. Weird. Regardless of my character flaws, we were hungry, not to mention anxious to see if Mi Cocina was worthy of joining La Esquina (the Taqueria, not the overpriced restaurant underground) on our exclusive short list of go-back Mexican spots in the city. As always, our high hopes were second only to our appetites.
Though everything about Mi Cocina feels upscale, I’ve witnessed enough tableside guacamole demonstrations to know better than to be wooed by ornate ceramic tile, dried floral bouquets, and script-font menus, (though I do appreciate the occasional “Senor” from the undocumented server). In light of my recent Diablo Royale fiasco, I’m growing tired of an upscale casual Mexican scene in this city that is gradually becoming as deceptive as it is elusive. There are too many mom and pop “Cantinas” using cliché’ aesthetics and hackneyed gimmicks to create an “experience” that veils the tragically average food coming out of the kitchen. This is not say that Mi Cocina falls into this category, but with a menu that describes the guacamole as being made with “blessed” avocados, you can’t blame me for being a tad wary, right?
Reluctantly pushing my skepticism aside, we forged ahead, starting off with the now ubiquitous Chips and Guac (below) that comprised a handful of (what had to be) bagged tortilla chips, a paltry dollop of guacamole, and a duo of green and red salsas. Granted I have a history of being a tough on this classic Mexican appetizer, why shouldn’t I be when these days restaurants are charging upwards of $20 for mashing up some avocado with some garlic and cilantro, and often times not well at that. Much to my chagrin, Mi Cocina was no different, in fact I wonder if they even remembered to include the garlic and cilantro! Over whipped and not nearly salty enough, the guac could’ve been anointed by Pope Bemedict and you wouldn’t have known. In all honesty, the free chips and salsa at north Jersey institution Jose Tejas are better than Cocina’s, and I’m not taking anything away from Tejas by the way. Of course, I don’t mean to be overly critical here, but at $13.95, the “cocina” is going to have to do better than this
Thoroughly miffed, the 15 minutes that elapsed before our entrees arrived was as annoying as a morning installment of “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” (I don’t care!). Meghan’s mole-covered enchiladas were rather diminutive, packed with egregiously dry morsels of shredded chicken saved only by the oodles of brown silky chocolate-based mole that flooded the plate. As much as I love the spicy savory origins of this dark sauce borne out of old world Mexico, it remains difficult to find a version that doesn’t completely drown out everything else on the plate; and Mi Cocina very aptly supported this hypothesis. Nonetheless, in proving my theory of relative edibility (eat your heart out Einstein!), the monotone, unilaterally mundane dish of enchiladas was a beacon of flavor compared to my depressing chicken fajita presentation. When I think fajitas, I see a lightly seasoned, vibrantly colorful menagerie of succulent blackened chicken, fresh red and green bell peppers, and roughly chopped sweet onions, sizzling in harmonious concert on a piping hot cast iron skillet. Mi Cocina had other ideas, presenting a “pie chart” of eerily uniformly diced chicken, creamy guacamole, and refried beans, all of which together, were completely tasteless. For $22, this was a disgrace.
Having just lambasted Diablo Royale in recent post, I am mindful of the fact that it may seem as though my relationship with Mexican food is taking a turn for the worse. Truly, just the opposite is true. As I continue to expand my knowledge of the Mexican miasma that seemingly fogs the judgement of many in this city, I am beginning to better understand the inherent value of a disappointing meal. Undoubtedly, every meal to which sit down, every dish that is placed before me, is a story that invovles the conscious choice to experience food, good or bad, as a stepping stone to achieving culinary nirvana. As The Ubereater I must realize that my Mi Cocina experience, as discouraging and depressing as it was, inheres an invaluable lesson that tells us while great food may satisfy, bad food will forever educate. That being said, I’m removing Mi Cocina from my culinary curriculum for eternity.
Some lessons need not be taught more than once.
Food: C (Grossly overpriced food that is, bland, at best)
Service: B (Attentive, though, as the only couple in there, we still waited 25 mins for our entrees)
Ambiance: B (Quaint outside patio, inside is nothing to get excited about)