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Casa Enrique: Unfamiliar Mexican tastes in LIC

Chile en nogada served at Long Island City's Casa Enrique, 5-48 49th Ave. Photo by Suzanne Parker
TimesLedger Newspapers

We couldn’t be more delighted that Long Island City newcomer Casa Enrique is offering its patrons a new take on Mexican food. Chef Cosme Aguila includes recipes from Chiapas, Puebla and San Luis Potosi regions that set this eatery apart from usual Mexican establishments. These influences make for a lighter and brighter Mexican.

Casa Enrique, which happens to be under the same ownership as Café Henri, another LIC hotspot, has gone for a maxi-minimalist look at this mini eatery. White walls. White tables. White chairs. Nothing on its white walls. The only nod to décor is the assortment of whimsical Mexican tchotchkes on the deep sills of the small windows. Fortunately, its food more than makes up for its lack of attention to interior decoration. Be aware though, during busy times, you may be seated at a communal table.

The guac here immediately sets the tone of the-same-but-different. The avocado is fresh, chunky, and lightly seasoned with the usual ingredients. The accompanying chips are homemade totopos, an Oaxacan homey baked variant of the tortilla chip. Servings of three different salsas of incremental degrees of spiciness are brought for either dipping your chips, or heating up your guac if au naturel doesn’t do it for you. We found that a dollop of the medium salsa made the guac just right.

You would hardly realize that a salad of beets, jicama and queso fresco in a light lemon vinaigrette was a Mexican dish if not for your location. It is a thoroughly balanced and substantial salad that would complement almost any cuisine.

Chorizo tacos most closely resemble what we usually think of when we think of Mexican fare, yet not without a twist. Two smallish open-faced tortillas, nestled on a square of butcher paper, are mounded with a crumbled homemade chorizo and topped with onions and cilantro. The tostadas de jaiba could pass for (or be passed) as elegant hors d’oeuvres at a tony party. Four petite crispy corn tortillas are the base for a combo of crab, citrus, avocado chunks, Serrano chile and chopped cilantro.

The most intriguing thing we tried at Casa Enrique was a special, chile en nogada. This is a dish with a patriotic history. It is said to have been invented by Pueblan nuns in honor of a visit by General Augustin de Iturbide around the time the Mexican flag was introduced. It pays homage to the colors of the Mexican flag, red, white and green with a poblano chili stuffed with chopped pork, fruit, and nuts, covered (with some of the green showing, of course) in a creamy white sauce and strewn with pomegranate seeds and parsley. The nogada sauce contains walnuts, sherry, milk and goat cheese, although the taste of the cheese is very subtle. All the aforementioned components were discernible in the filling, which was surprisingly sweet for an entrée, and hinted of a flavor slightly like Major Grey’s Mango Chutney.

For something a little more expected, try their very classic Chicken Mole de Piaxtla, another dish invented by nuns. It’s that marvelously complex thick brown sauce with hints of almond, raisin, sesame, plantain and chocolate with a bit of heat, slathered over chicken and served with rice.

Mexican chocolate is some of the best in the world, so it should come as no surprise that Casa Enrique’s can come up with some pretty fantastic chocolate desserts. Chocolate pot de crema will make chocoholics swoon. The flavor is intensely chocolaty, and the texture creamy, punctuated by granular gratings of more chocolate.

The Bottom Line

It feels as if Chef Cosme Aguila of Casa Enrique has reinvented Mexican food when, in fact, he’s being faithful to a less familiar set of traditions. This restaurant will be a breath of fresh air to those already enamored with the cuisines of south of the border, and will make new converts out of those who haven’t.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Casa Enrique

5-48 49th Avenue

Long Island City, Queens

347-448-6040

Price Range: Apps: $8—14; Entrees: $14--20

Cuisine: Regional Mexican

Setting: Small, minimal decoration

Service: Friendly and efficient

Hours: Mon–Fri, 5pm–midnight; Sat, Sun 11am–midnight

Reservations: Yes

Alcohol: License pending.

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Noisy when crowded.

Handicap accessible: Yes

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