Though the cooking of Mexico plays at most a minimal part on the menu of Cucharamama, there are a number of similarities between this restaurant and Topolobampo/Frontera Grill in Chicago starting with the Chef-restaurateurs, Maricel Presilla and Rick Bayless. Both have academic backgrounds in Anthropology with Presilla also having a doctorate in medieval Spanish history and both incorporate their cultural expertise into their restaurants, their books and their food. Another similarity of the restaurants is the decor. Though with vastly different layouts and spaces, both have similar, earthy color schemes and art showcasing their respective regional identities. One last similarity is that they both happen to have exceptional food.
Finally having the opportunity to utilize a gift certificate, I, along with my family, made a long-awaited visit to this restaurant for a late brunch this past Sunday before traveling home. Hoboken was a bit off the track for us, but it was as good a time as any to get to the restaurant. I am glad that we did, even though our sons were itching to get back home. Our collective mood heading into the restaurant was not ideal as we debated going or heading straight home. The boys preferred the latter, while my wife, who had been to the restaurant before, wanted to go for brunch along with her sister who lives in nearby Jersey City and who had given us the gift certificate. I didn't relish the extended drive home in a cramped and packed car, but I was also desirous of trying this restaurant that had been on my get to list for some time. My wife won out (and ultimately so did the rest of us).
My mood brightened once I found a parking spot in front of the restaurant and we were shown a table with good light and a view of my car. It's funny the difference the little things can make.
The restaurant was not terribly busy as it was already almost two in the afternoon when we arrived. We ordered from the brunch menu that had enough interesting items to make choosing moderately difficult. Nevertheless, we managed to order for ourselves. I started with a caipirinha that was as good as any I've ever had and nearly as good as the best margaritas I've ever had. My sister-in-law also had a caipirinha, while my wife and eldest son had the yerba mate and our two youngest sons enjoyed Venezuelan hot chocolates. The yerba mates came in great ovoid ceramic cups with silver filter straws. That would have been great enough even if the tea itself wasn't so good.
I actually wasn't very hungry when we first sat down, but that unpleasant feeling was quickly forgotten when our waitress placed plates of naan-like bread crisps on the table along with some lightly honeyed butter. These were wonderfully hot, just out of the wood-fired oven. My interest level began to rise as my stomach was stimulated out of its torpor.
That interest continued to increase as we started to receive elements of our order. Some received empanadas de carne, beautifully baked and direct from the wood oven. These were delicious pockets of beef and chimichurri spice, that proved quite popular as everyone at the table had a taste. Others including myself started with flavorful camarones salteados con ajo y cilantro. This dish would have fit equally nicely on a Portuguese table over a bowl of pasta. I seriously enjoyed an order of piquillos rellenos de calabaza y manchego gratinados. Stuffed piquillos smothered in a bechamel, a Spanish classic that really got my digestive juices flowing. This was beautifully and deliciously executed.
Main courses followed, including an ensalada de tamal, a fresh corn tamal on a bed of greens with toasted pumpkin seeds and buttermilk; pastel de choclo Chileno, a pot pie of beef and chicken with olives, raisins and a fresh corn crust; a choripán, an Argentinian sausage sandwich with roasted peppers and onions; sandwiches de chola, a Bolivian pork sandwich with lettuce, tomato and spicy sauce; fried eggs with marinated and roasted slab bacon and pan-fried potatoes with Romesco sauce; and pizza Araucana, a crisp pizza with serrano ham, manchego and parmiggiano cheeses with two eggs on top. Each was delicious and fully satisfying. In addition we had a side order of patacones, fried green plantains. Relative to everything else the plantains were a mild disappointment as they were simply average.
By this time we were getting quite full, but I still needed to try a dessert from chocolate mistress Presilla, so I opted for the chocolate flan, a spiced chocolate treat worthy of finishing this fine meal.
I expected Cucharamama to be good, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much we all enjoyed it, especially given our collective stress levels and poor attitudes prior to the start of the meal. I just wish that the restaurant was a bit closer to us and more convenient so that I could sample more of their regular menu more frequently.
For more photos please see the album.