Itzocan Cafe is a literal hole-in-the wall in my neighborhood, possibly narrower than my wingspan. It is uncomfortably packed, the table Angela and I sat in this past week was so close to the edge of the exit it would have fallen out the door had it not been closed. The room is quite an eyesore, the interiors looking like a bag of souvenirs from Mexico had exploded in it, from the floor to ceiling wall of  faux bricks that channel Aztec ruins to a print of Frida Kahlo with a bemused smile. Furthermore, ventilation is horrible, and my sweater still smells of Thursday’s dinner. Yet, in a neighborhood packed with eateries, it is perpetually popular. Why?
Perhaps it is the idea, that French culinary techniques and Mexican ingredients together could create a successful fusion cuisine. Or it is the honest plates of food, generous in serving size and flavors. The signature corn souffle appetizer arrives at the table steaming hot and flavored with an earthy scent of huitlacoche and truffles, both new and old world. Angela’s braised flank steak on this meal was fork tender and doused with a rich sauce reminiscent of boeuf bourguinon while my bowl of semolina dumplings, tomato, corn and grilled jalapeno satisfied my craving for a spicy, soupy meal. Admittedly though, this is a dish best eaten during summer, when the corn is sweeter and tomatos tangier. If it is neither the appetizers or the entrees, perhaps it is the desserts, effectively using very Mexican ingredients to good effect again. You will not be bored by its version of the warm flourless chocolate cake, made in this instance with Mexican chocolate that impart a subtly cinnamon flavor. The caramel sauce is enhanced with the scent of roasted hazelnuts. Only vanilla icecream would have made it better. The flans and creme caramels are straight forward and delicious and I really look forward to trying the blue corn crepes next time.
Itzocan Cafe is definitely not your typical south-of-the-border joint and thus not for anyone looking for a taco or burrito. But rice, beans and tortillas do not Mexican cuisine make, and a meal here should definitely convince you.
Itzocan Cafe
438 E9th St (Bet 1st Ave and Ave A)

Al fresco dining. I don’t get it. Why would people forsake air conditioned comfort to sit out in the steamy heat, waving flies while they eat? But this past Friday was actually not a bad day to be sitting out. It was bright at 7pm, and not too humid. The playground on 10th and 46th that Yanru and I had dinner in was crowded with happy people, children from the neighborhood running around energetically, suits taking a breather from yet another work week, mothers trading stories. Just sitting there made me feel as though peace and goodwill just osmosized into my cynical little heart.
Unlike 9th ave, 10th avenue is still relatively undeveloped. Rents are probably also lower, which explains the continued survivorship of Tulcingo del Valle, a bare-bones Mexican grocery store cum deli that sells authentic, flavor-packed and extremely inexpensive food. By inexpensive I mean $2.50 tacos and $5 sandwiches that’s good for 2 meals. While they have seats for dine-in customers, both in the grocery store and the “high class” next door annex complete with table settings and tablecloth, we opted for take out. But anything that needs to be eaten piping hot with real cutlery, like the piquant chicken in mole sauce or the deep green pumpkin sauce, or the various stews on the menu should be eaten in. For people who are not squeamish about stranger cuts of meat, I highly recommend the beef tongue sandwich. I enjoy the soft chewiness of the meat, the slight fattiness which is cut by spicy jalapenos. Besides meat and peppers, the monster is jammed with lettuce, tomatos, creamy avocados and as if that was not filling enough, a thick refried bean paste slathered on the bread. It is juicy, messy and perfect playground food. Yanru picked up a beef taco that she enjoyed immensely when she was not trying not to drop bits of meat and cheese on the table, and we washed all that down with a thirst quenching cantaloupe juice. We chatted, ate with gusto and enjoyed the twilight as day turns into night. You may not catch me sitting outside a restaurant when there are ample seats inside, but a playground with a torta in hand? I might just do that again.

Tulcingo del Valle
665 10th Ave (46th & 47th Sts)

This is a little belated. It is about ZZX and me at blockheads, and since he is back in Singapore and should be over his jet lag by now, this just proves that it is more than a little late… but i blame it on food poisoning.
Anyway, sometime last week ZZX was in town and he happened to be at the port authority, so we decided to meet there and then proceed to 9th Ave for some nosh. I live in the area, but as seamless and boxed dinners take over my life during weeknights, I am shamefully ill-informed about the restaurant scene in Hell’s kitchen, save for my half a dozen trusty dependables (Mee, Grand Sichuan, Maria Pia, Shimizu, Wondee Siam and Blockheads, there i said it, 6). And since ZZX vetoed everything asian and wanted to try something hard to find in Singapore, i brought him to Blockhead Burritos…
BLOCKHEADS? U BROUGHT YOUR FRIEND TO EAT BASTARDIZED MEXICAN FOOD? WHAT KIND OF FRIEND ARE YOU??? yanru was thoroughly disgusted with me the next day. But, it was ok, because ZZX really wanted to try mexican food, he was happy with what he got, and even happier with his $3 margarita, so I was happy too =)
so at blockheads, we obviously ate burritos. (For the uninitiated, burritos are basically mexican-style popiah) These guys were HUGE and filled with fresh ingredients (beans, rice, meat, guacamole, with a healthy dose of salsa and sour cream on the side). you can have it for 2 or 3 meals, depending on how you sliced it. So does it make a lot of sense that we ordered one each? Sure! we were just exhibiting greed! Once again, with $3 drinks that came with healthy doses of tequila, who can complain?
At some point during the meal, when we were both too stuffed to talk, i commented that i ate the same amount as ZZX did. Which prompted him to rapidly cut up another wedge of the burrito and stuff it into his mouth. What does that prove?

1. He is very macho and can handle his burrito
2. He is being silly
3. He is hungry

Oh anyway, as I said, the burritos were at least good for 2 meals (unless you were like Mark who painfully finished the whole thing in one sitting) , so we packed the remainder home… next came the unpleasant part, i believe the source of food poisoning to be 3 day old burritos that had somehow gone bad sitting in the fridge… not that i blame blockheads or anything, but keep in mind, everything is best eaten fresh, and if you weren’t as greedy as we were, SHARE!