Generally speaking, any combination of cheese-stuffed, battered, and deep-fried is going to taste pretty good. This is the paradox of the chile relleno, of which many of which are dismal. Too often they're sodden bricks that taste like they were fried weeks before, then grabbed out of the corner of the fridge when someone finally orders one and re-saturated in a fryer for a quick warm up. There are leagues of difference between a run-of-the-mill chile relleno, however, and the delicate pleasure of the one dished out by Tulcingo del Valle, a Mexican restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.
The Gonzales family has been running the show for eleven years, originally as a tidy bodega which morphed throughout the years into a full-service restaurant. They still go back every year to the Tulcingo Valley, a mountainous region two hours south of Puebla, to pick up supplies: wild Mexican oregano that clarifies the pozole; the dried chilies that their relatives cultivate; and a suitcase of spices for their mole paste, for which they shirk the blender and use a hand-cranked mill.
You can taste the effort in the tomato sauce that drapes over the chile relleño ($12.95), a base of charred tomatoes, a bit of ground chipotle, and a sneaky pinch of cinnamon is cooked down with onion and peppers. The poblano pepper is roasted and peeled, stuffed with cheese, and dipped into a frothy egg white batter and then fried, slowly, until the cheese has time to return to soft curds. The tomato sauce is poured over the fritter, which is as tender as a River Cafe omelet, with sweet layers of vegetal pepper and oozy cheese. It has a creeping kind of heat, soft and stealthy, that tiptoes through the dish. The chile relleño is a house favorite, the menu's home base. Start there, and traverse, next time.
Tulcingo Del Valle
About the author: Scarlett Lindeman wears many hats as a food-writer, recipe editor of Diner Journal, a food/arts quarterly, and a doctoral student of sociology. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.