1575 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10029 (at 101th Street; map); 212-423-0255; itzocanbistro.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs
Best Dishes for Kids: Ravioli
Cost: Appetizer $7-11, Entrees $17-22, Prix Fixe $22. Cash only
There is a two-block stretch of Lexington Avenue in the low 100s that's filled with charming little dining establishments; one of them is Itzocán Bistro, which promises and delivers Franco-Mexican fare. True to its name, Itzocán is more of a bistro than a Mexican restaurant, and you won't find chips and salsa here. Rather, bread and butter are brought to the table. Mexican ingredients and flavors impart a lively, subtly assertive twist to a traditional French bistro repertoire of dishes, putting Itzocán Bistro in a class of its own.
On a recent weekday evening my daughter and I were rapidly accommodated by the maître/waiter/busboy at a comfortable table.
We ordered one three-course prix fixe dinner (at $22, including a glass of sangria), along with a few more selections from the regular dinner menu. The soufflé de huitlacoche ($9) was our hope of introducing my daughter to the joys of corn smut, but she balked at it—most likely because of texture rather than taste. I thought it was actually very good, with the huitlacoche and a bit of truffle oil lending an earthy flavor to a well-executed soufflé atop a brioche toast.
Luckily we had also ordered an appetizer of mushroom ravioli ($10) with corn and wild mushrooms that struck great success with her and kept her happy for most of the meal. Again, the fusion of mushrooms and a bit of truffle oil transformed a potentially bland dish into a rather fragrant meal.
I was very curious about the pumpkin gnocchi, one of the signature dishes at Itzocán Bistro. I ended up somewhat mystified not only by the odd, chicken-tender shape but also by the tough texture of the dumplings (made of pumpkin and semolina, I was informed).
Still, the dish had two important redeeming qualities: the vegetables were perfectly cooked—I always love when fresh spinach is cooked just enough to keep a crunchy bite—and the broth, as with the other dishes at Itzocán, packed many flavors and a certain spicy punch. Funnily enough, besides the gnocchi itself, the dish had almost an Asian soup quality to it.
The pan-seared salmon salmon ($19) we had was also very nicely cooked and flavored, and counted again with the support of a bed of crunchy green beans and chipotle ragout, and a subtly spiced broth. My daughter shared some of the salmon and green beans with her dad and that rounded her meal nicely.
The chocolate cake we had for dessert was dense and rich, with a touch of tequila, but probably too exciting for a toddler at 8:00pm, so we asked for the accompanying vanilla ice cream to be served separately to my daughter.
Mexican food is sometimes tricky for children, especially if they are not used to spices. Itzocán Bistro might well be a gentle way to introduce little ones to stronger flavors without overwhelming them. Parents, for their part, might also well enjoy the Mexican inflections of the restaurant's offerings as a punchier alternative to French bistro fare.
About the author: Aya Tanaka teaches French literature and critical thinking in and around New York, and takes every opportunity to introduce her daughter to new tastes, at home and in restaurants. She chronicles her outings on high chair ny when time permits.