Have you ever had the annoying experience of asking a waiter to advise you about what’s good on the menu and the answer is “everything?” Well, at Tocolo Cantina, the new upscale Mexican restaurant at The Gallery at Westbury if your waiter tells you “everything,” you’re being told the truth. I’ve eaten three-quarters of the dishes and will happily recommend them all.
Tocolo is a bright and vibrant restaurant with food to match. In the gleaming open kitchen you can see the cooks at work under the supervision of Chef Alexis Samayoa. The food is Mexican as interpreted by this talented chef, which means there are authentic flavors but sometimes something a bit different in each dish that brings it to a higher level. Take, for example, the rice pudding dessert, which was not only creamy but also had a very pleasing cool smoothness which, I found out, was attained by adding crème caramel to the pudding. With this came a swirl of passion fruit puree, adding a layer of tang and sweetness. My eyes popped open with happiness at the first spoonful.
You won’t find rice and beans as a composed dish here. Tortillas of yellow or blue corn are made fresh every day. Almost everything at Tocolo is made in-house with the exception of paletas, little ice pops brought in from an artisanal Mexican sweet shop in New York City—the flavors are chocolate, horchata and mango habanero.
The meal can start with guacamole served with house made chips. I especially enjoyed the Yucateco guacamole with mango and habanero chile. Others include the classic guacamole with onion, jalapeno and cilantro and another made with tuna. I’m undecided about which salad I prefer—arugula with pickled onions and lime vinaigrette or the interesting kale salad that is prepared with red quinoa and agave dressing. Both were refreshing (and tasted great at home the next day).
There are several ceviches from which to choose. The two that grabbed my attention because of the unusual ingredients were scallops with puffed amaranth and prickly pear, and hamachi with gooseberry.
Another small plate option is Funditos—melted Chihuahua cheese served with tortillas—made with mushrooms, green chorizo (a pork sausage prepared with poblano chile) or short ribs. There is a Small Plate section—Platos Pequenos—which contains the only dish at Tocola —Tlayuda—where you’ll find refried beans. Tacos, two per order, are made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, shrimp or vegetables.
The section of the menu I need to explore further is Platos Grandes with dishes that can serve one or two people. Pollo Asado—chicken in a mole sauce—was good and I’m intrigued by Fideos (“noodles” in Spanish) with fried noodle, chorizo verde, mussels, clams and shrimp.Since a cantina is a bar, there are numerous interesting alcohol choices.
A pitcher of red sangria went well with the food—you can also get the red or white sangria by the glass, plus an assortment of margaritas, draft and bottled beer, and specialty cocktails such as Smokey y el Bandito—Old Forrester bourbon, Punt e Mes vermouth, handcrafted Ilegal Mezcal Reposado, pineapple juice and freshly squeezed limes. There are Mexican soft drinks with interesting flavors: mandarin, cherry, tamarind, grapefruit and lime.
The aforementioned rice pudding was a hit as well as hot churros served with a goat’s milk caramel sauce. But the meal doesn’t end with dessert. When the check arrives, there’s one more little surprise—a tiny cup of rich hot chocolate for the road.
Tocola Cantina is located at 920 Old Country Rd. in the Gallery at Westbury. For more information call 516-222-0060 or visit www.tocolocantina.com