Saturday, June 20, 2009

Que Chula Es Puebla…. Say What?

Yesterday, I met my old boss Bryant and his lovely wife Karen at their apartment in Sleepy Hollow. Standing on their balcony, we surveyed the ungodly 5:00 p.m. traffic inching across the Tappan Zee Bridge, and agreed our original plan to try Bailey’s Smokehouse in Blauvelt now seemed unattainable. I was content to just kick it on Bryant and Karen’s sweet balcony, but they suggested a local Mexican restaurant, Que Chula es Puebla, where they had had some reliable meals over the past two years. I was game.

I wasn’t familiar with the space Que Chula occupies (part of the Sleepy Hollow plaza), but it’s apparently been checkered with past Mexican restaurant failures. By the time we were seated, it was around 6:30 and the restaurant was still quiet. I wondered if this was a bad sign. Bryant and Karen waived it off. “They get a late crowd here,” Bryant assured me. (To his credit, when we left around 9:00 p.m., the restaurant was packed.)

The three of us were seated indoors, right next to the porch. The breeze felt nice.

I ordered a glass of Horchata ($2), a cloudy drink whose ingredients vary: some are made with rice, sugar, and ground almonds. Others use milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and various types of ground nuts. My drink seemed milk-based with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Bryant and Karen ordered hard-core, premium silver tequila margaritas, no salt, with fresh lime ($10).
Guacamole ($8) accompanied complimentary corn tortilla chips and a mild but good salsa:
I love watching guacamole being prepared. Ours was very well-made, and included the typical: avocado, chopped onions, tomato, cilantro, garlic, a little olive oil and lime juice, and what I think is the most important ingredient in setting apart a good guacamole: a tiny pinch of salt. This was one of the better guacamoles I’ve had—I think there might’ve even been some jalapenos in there, too; my only preference would’ve been more onions, to add a little crunch.
We ordered two appetizers. Here’s a look at the Ceviche de pescado ($9):
Not sure what type of fish they used (I think sole?), but the flavors were fresh and citrusy. It was served Mexican-style with crackers.

Next was the Quesito fundido ($7).

And this is where Que Chula Es Puebla went up in my book. Big time.

Our server made his way to our table and quietly and efficiently began mixing chorizo (a very delicious sausage) and guajillo (garlic and chile) sauce into melted Oaxaca cheese. As he stirred, he would lift the spoon out of the pot, and a big, nasty, gooey mess of cheese would follow. Karen pronounced something from the menu, and our server looked up, surprised. “Do you two speak Spanish?” he asked politely, motioning to Bryant and Karen. “Your pronunciation is very good.”

“Oh, no,” Karen said. But then she laughed “…but I suppose we know a few of the bad words.”

He laughed too, and went back to preparing his cheese. But then he shifted a little closer to us and dropped his voice. “Let’s hear one,” he said casually.

We looked at him, a bit shocked. He was still stirring his cheese and was beginning to spoon the mixture into the flour tortillas. The only sign that we heard what we thought we heard was a slight grin on an otherwise businesslike demeanor.

“Er…” Bryant said. He shrugged, and then whispered his best insult involving the server’s mother. We waited for Armageddon.

The server wasn’t impressed. “That’s Mexican,” he scoffed. He looked back towards the kitchen, and when the coast was clear, he inched closer to us, and proceeded to give us a quick lesson in Spanish insults. He never stopped making his tortillas.
Here they are, finished:
The quesito fundido? Good, in an extremely decadent, my-belly-is-going-to-pay-for-this kind of way. The cheese was strong on its own, without the kick provided by the chorizo and peppers. But the tableside-preparation-with-Spanish-insults-lesson? Surpassed the quesito fundido. By lightyears.

Here’s a look at our dinners:

I got the Sopes Poblanos, one chicken and one skirt steak, ($14.75), served in deep-fried, corn soft tortillas.
These were solid. I especially enjoyed the skirt steak, which had a nice char, and a good salty seasoning.

Karen had the Tamales Poblanos ($11.50), corn dough stuffed with pork and mole sauce, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed.
I had been tempted to order this because I love tamales, but was unsure of the mole sauce. I had had mole sauce twice before and was pretty certain I didn’t care for it—both times were too sweet, and I could actually taste the chocolate. Karen assured me Que Chula’s mole wasn’t too sweet. She was right. There was only a whisper of chocolate, and it complemented the mild taste of the corn dough.

Bryant went with one of his favorites, the Carne del Parian ($19.50), cubes of shell steak sautéed in chipotle sauce with cilantro, garlic and olive oil, served with soft corn tortillas.
I wasn’t a huge fan—I thought the shell steak was a little chewy and the sauce was too spicy. What can I say? I’m a wuss.

All in all, Que Chula Es Puebla is delivering reliable, authentic Mexican food, in a fun setting. Their guacamole is one of the best I’ve had, but the service is certainly one of the finest I’ve experienced.

Or, as our server might say, it’s as fine as… your mom.

Que Chula Es Puebla
180 Valley St.
Sleep Hollow, NY 10591
(914) 332-0072

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