Harlem’s Agua Fresca Shines Above All

| December 6, 2012

agua frescaFrom my experience, New York City’s Mexican Restaurants are hit and miss, but once in a while the planets align and voila—pay dirt! This is exactly what transpired on a recent visit to Harlem’s sparkling ode to Mexican and Nuevo Latino cuisine, Agua Fresca.

Please forgive me in advance if I gush effusively over these epicurean treasures—but this is quite simply the finest cuisine of its type that I have ever had the privilege of experiencing—anywhere!

Recently I made a new friend while traveling in Germany and lo and behold, she was from NYC. Like many, she had a favorite restaurant—one that happened to be owned by a “good friend.” With a dose of skepticism, I agreed to join her for an outing, with expectations being what you might imagine. After a few months and a couple of misfires, I finally breached the threshold of Agua Fresca for the first time and all I can say is, “Thank you Demetra!”

Entering Agua Fresca you are welcomed into an intimate dining area—one that glows with warmth and seats approximately 30 at full capacity. This cozy space is highlighted with a comforting color palette, vibrant artwork and a soundtrack that pulls your mind from the streets of Manhattan and transports you to a place that moves just a little more slowly—a place you want to be.

Mexico born Chef Adrian Leon fuses traditional Mexican cooking that was gleaned from his mother, with dynamic and sophisticated flavors he mastered while paying his dues in New York City’s finest restaurants, and the results are simply phenomenaagua fresca salmon cevichel.

We started off our evening by imbibing one of the house-made sangrias alongside a trio of guacamole including Traditional (Hass avocados, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños and lime juice), Colorado (a chipotle pepper glaze gives this a smoky and spicy flavor) and Con Camarones y Piña (with shrimp and pineapple). It was a treat to sample a variety of different guacamole and all three were extraordinary, but the spicy smokiness of the Colorado, for me, was born in the dream factory. Next it was time to dive into one of the ceviches on offer and we did so by sharing the Tiradito (thinly sliced salmon, cucumbers, jalapeños, orange juice and soy sauce marinade) —picture perfect with flavors to match.

Moving on to the entrees, I simply had to try the Lengua Tacos (braised beef tongue, guacamole, onions and roasted tomato morita sauce). Maybe they left me speechless simply because I was eating tongue, but this was classic and rocked my world. I couldn’t have been happier… that was until Demetra offered me a bit of her Dorado. This pan seared catch of the day served with BBQ sauce, rock shrimp, coconut rice, jalapeño and chimichurri was simply magnificent. It took everything I had not to climb over the table and hip check my friend right out of her seat—yes, it was that good!

Being named one of the “Ten Best Inexpensive Restaurants of 2011” by the New York Times is an honor that is well deserved. There is nothing overworked, or pretentious about this cuisine. It is simple and expertly executed, with brilliant flavor combinations that will have you coming back time and again.

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