Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations. Take a look at Sam Anderson's cocktails for the restaurant here.
If a casual, a la carte restaurant serving up tacos that start at $3 and sandwiches that top the menu at $9—in a converted Salvation Army space in the middle of the banker and adult frat-boy-friendly bar scene of Murray Hill—seems like an out of place move for chef/restaurateur duo April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, that's because it is. Talking with April about the concept and the menu, even she seems a little surprised by the whole affair.
"I just found out that I haven't been pronouncing taco right," says April, standing at the smaller and quieter of the two bars in Salvation Taco, The Spotted Pig chef's new taqueria in the lobby of the Pod 39 Hotel. It comes out "tack-oh," with her distinct British accent. "It's actually a little embarrassing for me," she adds.
Like her pronunciation, the menu is not quite Mexican either, with exotic touches like curry-flavored crema or Moroccan-style lamb breast on miniature naan alongside more traditional options like spit-roasted tacos al pastor and skirt steak. Of course, there are a few Bloomfield-esque touches like sweetbread and chickpea tacos, crispy pig ears, and puffed chicken feet, lest you forget whose restaurant you're at for a moment.
Chef Bloomfield wasn't flying into Mexico solo. She collaborated on the menu with Roberto Santibanez of Brooklyn's Fonda. "Basically, I had an idea for certain types of dishes and specific ingredients I wanted to use on the menu," explains April of their collaborative process, "then Roberto would help me figure out how to interpret that through a traditional Mexican lens."
"The flavors and techniques are all very Mexican, but the food is my own."
For now, the menu is limited to snacks and salads ($3 to $10), tacos ($3 to $4 each), and tortas ($8 to $9 each, served on torta bread from Teixaca bakery in Newark), though April plans on introducing a number of large format plates in the near future, including a whole roasted pig head or bone-in short rib intended for sharing at the table, with diners picking their own meat and stuffing it into tortillas.
Those tortillas, by the way, are made with masa delivered daily from Nixtamal in Corona, Queens, hand-pattied, and cooked to order on an electric comal behind the bar. The bar menu is designed by Sam Anderson of Hotel Delmano, and draws inspiration from classic Mexican cocktails and spirits, with drinks designed to be taken along with the food.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.