Entries in Julian Medina (3)



Coppelia, as critic Robert Sietsema observed in the Village Voice, is what the average New York City diner might have been, if the tradition had been founded by Latinos instead of Greeks. Or the Walt Disney version, at any rate. It could transfer to the Cuban pavilian at Epcot (if there was one), and chef Julian Medina wouldn’t need to change a thing.

Medina is in his moment now, with three outposts of his Mexican place Toloache, two of his pan-Latin restaurant Yerba Buena, and now Coppelia, which is billed as Cuban, but isn’t really anchored to any national cuisine.

Coppelia is the least ambitious of the three, but as diners go, you’ll be happy it exists. Located strategically at the midpoint between Chelsea’s clubland and the Meatpacking District, it’s open 24/7, serving the perfect food for soaking up alcohol after night on the town. At 8:00 p.m. on a rainy Saturday evening, it was nearly deserted. My son wondered how it could stay in business. “The crowds come later,” I explained.

If you come in sober, what you’ll find is decent, inexpensive (for Chelsea), pan-Latin cuisine. Entrées are $13.95–17.95; burgers and sandwiches $6.95–7.95; starters and salads $2.95–10.95; breakfast dishes, served all day, $4.95–9.95. The food is slightly better than you are entitled to expect at those prices.

Fish tacos ($9.95; above left) offered crispy flounder and guacamole, topped with a rich chipotle cole slaw. Arroz con pollo ($15.95; above right) could feed a family. The chicken was tender, the rice sweet and sticky, and there was an abundance of peas, peppers, and scrambled egg.

But Ropa Vieja ($15.95; above left) was dull. The shredded beef both looked and tasted like traditional diner food, and a side of beans (above right) was too watery.

There is no liquor license yet (the staff says it’s a week away). A lime soda imported from Mexico wasn’t bad at all, though at $4.50 is a bit expensive in relation to the menu. Service was attentive, as it ought to be when the ratio of staff to customers is nearly one to one. I’ve no doubt they get a lot busier later on.

I wouldn’t want to over-hype Coppelia, but it’s the kind of restaurant you’re glad to have around.

Coppelia (206 W. 14th St., west of Seventh Avenue, Chelsea)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


Yerba Buena Perry

Yerba Buena, the well regarded Latino restaurant in the East Village, has a new baby brother across town. I assume it is just a coincidence that its predecessor in this space, Matador Bistro Latino, was a very similar restaurant.

The nominal chef at Yerba Buena Perry, Julian Medina, now has three restaurants (counting Toloache in West Midtown), and one worries whether they all have his full attention. We enjoyed our meal here, but there were some missteps.

The price range of Medina’s restaurants may soon reach nosebleed levels. In the East Village, the entrées max out at $27. At Perry Street, four dishes top this amount (several of them steaks, including the obligatory ribeye). Appetizers, however, are about the same at either place ($9–14). Once the average main course is above $25, you’re not talking about cheap eats.

A Tuna Ceviche ($13; above left) with sweet onion and pickled watermelon was too tart. Arepas ($13; above right) were like Latin American sliders, stuffed here with coffee glazed pork belly and cabbage slaw. The coffee taste didn’t come through for me, but they were none the worse for it.

Lechon ($24; above left), or roast suckling pig, packed a strong comfort-food punch. Ropa Vieja de Pato ($26; above right), or duck leg and confit, was nicely done, but the duck egg on top was overdone. We assume the idea was to puncture the yoke and let it run through the shredded duck confit, but the poor yolk had been cooked through.

The carefully prepared cocktails deserve all of the acclaim they’ve received. I especially liked the Turnpike (rye, applejack, and lemon). Another was served with a single large block of ice nearly the size of a Rubik’s cube.

Although the restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived, the hostess seated us at practically the worst table, right next to a serving station. A manager noticed the error, and moved us to a banquette. After that, the service was just fine. The room has been spiffed up a bit, but the atmosphere is decidedly casual.

I wouldn’t send you out of your way to visit Yerba Buena Perry, but if you’re in the area it has terrific cocktails and mostly enjoyable nueva Latina cuisine.

Yerba Buena Perry (1 Perry Street at Greenwich Avenue, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *



[Kalina via Eater]

Note: Click here for a review of Toloache on the Upper East Side.


The so-called Mexican food we eat in America is nothing like the real McCoy: that much I learned on a business trip to Mexico City a few years ago. Bulls’ testicles, corn fungus, and fried worms were among the items on order. (I tried the first two, but gave the third a pass.)

At the new midtown restaurant Toloache (pronounced to-lo-AH-chay), you can order Tacos Chapulines, which feature sun-dried grasshoppers. Reviewers Paul Adams and Andrea Strong tried them, and you’ll find a photo here. My girlfriend and I weren’t about to touch them with a ten-foot pole, but ironically, it was this menu item—along with the foie gras tacos, which I did have—that made me think that Toloache was worth a visit.

It’s a striking space on two levels, in a neighborhood that’s normally dead to fine dining. The restaurant has white tablecloths and cloth napkins, but a theater district vibe and hustling waiters who call you a caballero. We arrived without a reservation at around 6:30 on a Friday evening and managed to secure one of the few tables not spoken for. I started with a drink advertised as a pumpkin margarita, but my girlfriend and I agreed there was no perceptible taste of pumpkin.

The menu is in multiple sections: guacamoles ($11), ceviches ($10–17), appetizers from the brick oven ($8–13), tacos ($8–14), small plates ($8–10), entrées ($18–26), and side dishes ($3–7). We weren’t that hungry, and settled on a ceviche and a taco order apiece, with a side of rice & beans. Our server insisted that wasn’t enough, and talked us into ordering a mid-course, which was more than we needed, although his suggestion was the best item we had.

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Ceviche Atun (left); Mini pumpkin with crabmeat (right)

Chef Julian Medina throws a lot of ingredients together; it doesn’t always work. Ceviche Atun had spicy yellowfin tuna, key lime, vidalia onion, radish, and watermelon. I like spicy food, but the tuna was overwhelmed. In my girlfriend’s shrimp ceviche, the flavor balance worked better.

The next dish was the item our server “upsold” us. Lump crabmeat and pumpkin came served inside a hot miniature pumpkin, with tortilla chips on the side. This inspiration looked like orange guacamole. There were some cool spots inside, suggestive of uneven heating, but it was still the best thing we had at Toloache.

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Foie Gras tacos (left); Rice & beans (right)

Foie gras tacos seemed, too, to suffer from too many ingredients: foie gras, refried beans, mango, red onion, and chipotle salsa. There was nothing wrong with the dish—how far wrong can you go with foie gras?—but it felt like a gimmick. Our side of rice & beans was fairly standard, and we didn’t finish it.

The restaurant is geared up to serve lots of people in a hurry. We noted tables turning fairly rapidly. There are probably some quality issues in the kitchen: in addition to our crabmeat salad not quite fully heated, we noted that a dish was sent back at the table next to us. There are a lot of clever ideas at Toloache, but you might need a bit of luck to put together a fully satisfying meal.

Toloache (251 W. 50th St. between Eighth Avenue & Broadway, Theater District)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *