There are good days and bad days. Good meals and bad ones. Truth be told, I don’t mind when the two intersect. We spent the last weekend in New York and packed a lot into the trip- a film festival, brunch, dancing, and coffee, before heading home. A good trip, but an anxious one, as exams are this week and the next and I’m up to my ears in writing assignments. But it was a good trip. I was hard-pressed to pick a highlight as we were heading home, but my stomach growled otherwise. We’d just finished a meal up at Ofrenda, an excellent new-ish Mexican restaurant in the West Village, and though I was stuffed, I was already looking forward to the leftovers.It started drizzling that morning, and the warm, damp weather was wrung out to expose a chilly, foggy night. It was a boon to walk into warm Ofrenda and know that we could keep the party going without chattering teeth. The small restaurant makes great usage of its space, with a walk-up staircase freezer next to a kitchen, plenty of sweet and spooky decor, and just enough lighting to make each table feel cozy without being cramped. Our server was friendly and accommodating, and brought our food promptly. We started with a round of drinks and a few appetizers, guacamole and ceviche. Both were served in modern porcelain bowls, the better to highlight the fresh colors of the food.Guac was heavily adorned, but delicious, though the addition of ancho chipotles gave a strange pallor to the avocados. Excellent, spicy flavor, where the toppings reigned king. It was textured with roasted sunflower seeds, ancho, cojito cheese, and plenty of smoky paprika.The ceviche was perfect. The Bedfellow was reminded of ceviche she ate in Ecuador, and I was just overwhelmed with the enormous chunks of tender snapper. Each element was prepared impeccably, and was tossed together at the right moment so that all melded without getting mushy. By far, the star element was the reddish-brown topping- what was it? We agreed on peppers, as it was tangy and sweet, with a little crunch. We later discovered it was chapulines, or roasted grasshoppers. Such an excellent way to integrate the ingredient. Ofrenda has some damned good cocktails, incorporating a seamless fusion of Mexican and American ingredients. I started with a Devil in Oaxaca (they also all have funky names) with mezcal, carrot juice, cilantro, lemon, orange bitters, and smoked salt. It was pungent and fresh, with sweet, vegetal flavors, and the Bedfellow had the Smoky Lady, with mescal joven, elderflower, raspberry, pear, thyme, and grapefruit bitters. Both of these were testament that Ofrenda should scout out the location next door and open a juice bar- the interaction between the fruit and the booze was sublime.
By far, my favorite was the Man with the Thick Accent, made with mulato-infused tequila, maraschino liqueur, smoked pineapple, egg white, and cayenne pepper. It was like drinking a cross between a pina colada, a Bloody Mary, and a Shirley Temple. The pepper had the perfect burn, as it was scattered across the foam and made my lips tingle with each sip.I’ll admit, we didn’t go for the most exciting entrees, but it was bone-cold and raining. Enchiladas just seemed like the right thing to do. These are no basic red enchiladas, though- they’re filled with pine nuts, prune, duck confit, chicharron and tomato sauce, and papaya pico. The more subtle, fruity flavors were lost to the bold crema and tomato sauce, but a peek inside the enchiladas revealed tender, enormous pieces of duck meat held together by melting whole prunes. Masterful dinner- even better leftovers.The Bedfellow went for carnitas enchiladas, simultaneously minimal and massive, drizzled with fresh salsa verde and stuffed with tender shredded pork. She finished her plate and eyed my leftovers on the way home. I eyed the dessert menu as the Bedfellow nursed her Old Fashioned. The sole flaw of the evening was the scarcity of ingredients– they were both out of the tostada, which I’d been most excited about, and had changed most of the desserts on the website. However, they more than made up for it in delicacy and flavor. It’s rare to go to a Mexican restaurant and find a dessert more exciting than churros- hence my excitement in trying their advertised goat cheese crepe cake! Ofrenda makes their own ice creams and sorbets, though, and we were more than excited to try their fig and mezcal flavor of the day. Talk about a versatility with tequila. The ice cream was as infused as it could have been without falling apart, and had a creamy, smooth texture. The vanilla base was smoky and boozy, with small, frozen pieces of fig studded throughout. The paprika and chipotle swirl around the edge added a punch of heat and accentuated the flavor of the tequila, nearly compelling me to ask for an extra pint on the side. Stuffed, we were barely able to finish this tender, cake-like squash flan with cajeta caramel, fig pico de gallo, and alegrias, a thin Mexican candy made of toasted amaranth flour. Though I’m lacking in the experience, the candy tasted close to what I imagine communion wafers taste like. The flan was remarkably austere, letting the rich squash flavors shine. Unfortunately, they forgot the fig pico de gallo, but in this case, letting the flan stand alone may have been the right call. Ofrenda is a gem in the village, and will definitely be a repeat visit for us. It had the feel of a homey taqueria and the precision of a four-star standard. We’ve visited quite a few restaurants managed by this particular firm, and this is by far their best.
Disclaimer: We were sent here by the PR firm for Ofrenda, and our meal was comped. We covered gratuity. Thanks to the firm, chef Mario, Jorge, and staff!