Mexican Eats: Mesa Cocoayan in Williamsburg
The tall, sleek structure of Mesa Coyoacan looks somewhat out of place on Graham Avenue, with its aquamarine-tinted windows and industrial facade. The street is also known as Via Vespucci, and it lies in an Italian-American pocket of East Williamsburg where wood oven-baked bread and fine hero sandwiches are as common as coffee shops with cold drip and boutique-y clothing stores.
Mesa Coyoacan references a neighborhood in Mexico City that has followed a similar cultural arc of its current home. Ivan Garcia, the chef and co-owner, hails from the capital city—where he first learned to cook from the matriarchs of his family—before going to culinary school, and later cooking at Mercadito, which has influenced his menu here. The tacos ($9), for example, come on house-made tortillas in three dainty rounds to a plate. He serves multi-regional dishes, with some firms nods to the D.F. and his family's recipes, which are certainly the strongest on the menu.
Four house salsas meet every heat preference. The orange habenero evokes the fruitiness of the pepper before it singes a hole into your nasal cavity. The salsa borracho, a thick brown tomatillo slurry, has a savory back note of dark beer. It flanks the bowl of chunky guacamole ($8), a striking match for flawless chips.
A sundae-glass of ceviche with shrimp ($11) features small but plump specimens riding in a tart marinade of lime juice, chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and cubes of avocado. The juice has a certain viscosity that only comes from the essential component of many modern Mexican ceviches: ketchup. It's delicious.
If you're the type to clutch your pearls at the notion, there's also the more cheffy ceviche de pulpo ($12), cooked octopus in a "jalapeño citrus infusion" with grilled corn, avocado, and orange.
The entrées at some Mexican cantinas are gastronomic rigmarole, piles of swappable meat with acres of rice and beans that no truck driver could finish. Here the platos fuertes are some of the most interesting plates on the menu: short ribs in adobo with roasted chayote squash ($16); pipian verde made with organic chicken ($16); and chiles en nogada ($18), a serious and seriously difficult to make dish from Puebla that is eaten to honor Mexico's independence. A poblano pepper is stuffed with picadillo, a chopped mixture of pork, almonds, dried fruit, and pineapple, then cloaked in a cream sauce made with ground walnuts and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. The red pomegranate seeds, the white sauce, and green pepper represent the three colors of the Mexican flag, symbolizing las tres garantias, the three guarantees, of the constitution: union, religion, and independence. It's edible glory, slightly too sweet, but impressive nonetheless. I'll be back for their guajillo-ancho spiked pozole garabaldi when the temperature outside drops below that of the Sonora Desert.