The temporary pleasures of each season in New York work in tandem with the drudgeries. Glorious spring requires daunting rainstorms; warming summer means exhausting heat waves; golden autumn loses the sunlight; and glistening winter turns to slush. All are part of the experience of dining out in New York, but when the skies are clear, the temperature is just right and the din of the city subsides, there are few lovelier places to be while enjoying a fine meal.
On just such an evening I was seated outside with friends at the new Caliza on cobblestoned Greenwich Street in TriBeCa, a neighborhood of low density and fine views east and west. Inside, at 7:30, the dining room proved a bit too loud, and the rush hour was over, so the only sounds we heard al fresco were of people strolling by or having a good meal of modern Mexican cuisine.
The interior is airy, bright and done in a variety of oak and pine, with sand colored floor tiles and ceiling lamps in straw baskets. Along with a striking folkloric mural by Claudio Limon. (Caliza “Next Door” is a take-out shop.)
Chef Daniel Mendoza, from Mexico City and self-taught, is the Culinary Director at Caliza, and he has wide experience learning international cuisines including Korean, Thai, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian and Peruvian foods, with stints at Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park, the Nomad Hotel and Aska, which are the kinds of highly progressive restaurants that imbue his work at Caliza.
So there is guacamole and tacos and quesadillas on the menu, but none that you are likely to have tasted before. There is also, as you can imagine, a broad selection of cocktails that include Sangre De Jamaica Tequila (Emperical Ayuuk, hibiscus tea, lime) and Morelos(Reposado Tequila, mezcal, Palo Santo, Smoke Oaks) I would recommend trying.
That guacamole ($17) is a flourish of colors, with pepita salsa machaserrano, cilantro and blue corn tostadas, and, since raw fish is now requisite as a ceviche in Mexican restaurants, the aguachile negro of striped bass, black sesame, leche de tigre, habanero and cucumber ($21) had just the right balance of tangy citrus and aromatic spices. So, too, a generous portion of scallop ceviche ($22) teems with guanabana leche de tigrehabanero, daikon, elderberries and herbed oil drizzle.
I chose the carnitas tacos of juicy pork confit with young coconut, avocado, radish, pepita and macha salsa ($14), which showed the kitchen’s care in making sure all textures are distinct and add to the whole dish. Tlayuda de hongos ($18) was topped with huitlacoche, wild mushrooms, sweet baby corn, a dash of hot horseradish crema and queso fresco white cheese to cool things down. Camarones ($16 ) are marinated shrimp with black beans, queso chihuahua, hoja santa and pico de gallo. Chicken tacos ($16) get a treatment of guajillo chili and cucumber. Flavors repeat, but in varying degrees, so that you don’t get enchiladas dishes all made the same except for a protein.
Larger plates, all with warm crisp tortillas, including branzino La Talla ($45) with chiles cascabaladobo, garlic aïoli and crisp watercress. Pollo asado ($32), a classic that is often a rather bland dish, is given complexity from a charred tomato salsa, pearl onions, rainbow radish and cilantro.
For dessert ($12) you must have the churros—or, at least, I must always have the churros if they’re on the menu—piping hot cylindrical fritters with dark Mexican chocolate.
As the sun set softly over the Hudson River and the city’s lights came on, there we were, satisfied in so many ways that went well beyond the food and the wine.
378 Greenwich Street
Open for dinner nightly; for lunch Sat. & Sun.