Traditional Mexican Fare from Kuxé in Greenwich Village
By Beverly Stephen
At a new restaurant in Greenwich Village called Kuxé (pronounced coo-shay) from Chef Julian Medina, each menu item celebrates the traditions and childhood memories of Medina or one of his team. Medina owns eight Toloache restaurants in New York and the chefs de cuisine or sous chefs from each restaurant contributed recipes and personal stories.
Kuxé, named after the Totanac Mexican (a group native to Puebla) word for corn, opened in mid-March. It replaced Toloache on Thompson Street.
“We wanted to do something different,” says Medina “so I thought why not give them the opportunity to come up with dishes from their hometowns prepared by the mothers or grandmothers.”
The development of a new concept also provided more work for the staff during the pandemic. “We were able to give more shifts to our people,” says Medina. Most of his staff is from Puebla (as are some half million natives of Puebla now living in New York, sometimes called Puebla York) but some are also from other states such as Oaxaca or Guerrero. Medina himself is from Mexico City.
For example: Mole de Olla: Soupy beef short ribs braised in chile costeño broth, chayote, corn, carrots and green beans.
Chef de cuisine Ramon Barreto, originally from Morelos, explains his contribution: “When it would get cold, my grandmother would make this soup for our family. The hearty dish would fill my soul with warmth.”
Costillas de Puerco en Salsa Verde: Braised Berkshire pork ribs in tomatillo salsa, verdolagas, and potatoes.
“This is my mother’s favorite dish,” explains chef de cuisine Moises Rodriguez, another Puebla native. “She makes it the traditional way, in a ‘cazuela de barro’ (clay pot). You know it’s ready when the pork ribs fall off the bone.”
Medina’s own dish is Mone De Pescado: Steamed Chatham cod in banana leaf, sweet plantains, tomato, Fresno chiles, caramelized onion & lemon butter.
“On Sundays with the family, this dish was prepared by my grandfather,” recalls Medina. “All of our aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather at the house to help cook. When prepared the way my grandfather did it, this dish is the freshest and most flavorful piece of fish I’ve ever had.”
The dishes have been elevated somewhat for restaurant presentation with the use of such ingredients as Berkshire pork or Chatham cod “but the traditional flavors are there,” explains Medina. “I came up with cauliflower cochinita style. When I used to go to the Yucatan, they would throw a whole cauliflower on top of the pork.”
So far, the best seller is Tacos de Birria: Braised brisket in red chiles, melted Chihuahua cheese, onion, cilantro and salsa verde contributed by Kuxe chef de cuisine Fidel Rodriguez, a native of Cuyoaco, Puebla. — “Growing up, Birria was always the dish my family would make for very special occasions or hometown fiestas.”
The tortillas for these and all the other tacos on the menu are made in-house from landrace corn grown by small farmers and imported from Oaxaca by Jorge Gaviria’s Masienda company. “Back in the day it wasn’t that popular to make the tortillas in house,” Medina says, “but we are just now making them in this restaurant.”
Mole Poblano, Puebla’s iconic dish, is also wildly popular. Here it is braised organic chicken (choice of breast or thigh) in traditional Mole Poblano made with nuts and chocolate. Contributor Alfredo Salazar says: “Whenever there was a fiesta in my family, my mother and grandmother would prepare this dish. They would gather outside and fry the chilies, nuts, and spices that flavored the chicken in the mole.”
If you’re hearing these dishes call out for a Margarita, no worries. Kuxe offers a classic Margarita and a short craft cocktail list features tequila as well as mescal and the less familiar sotol, a spirit distilled from sotol or Dessert Spoon cactus. There are also cervezas, a Michelada, aquas frescas, and Mexican sodas.
In a time when many well-known chefs are cooking their heritage, Medina has taken the concept one step farther by allowing each team member to contribute a dish from his heritage. A diner can imagine him or herself a culinary anthropologist traveling to Mexican homes to sample their favorite dish. This is much less taxing than the days when intrepid cookbook author Diana Kennedy crisscrossed the country visiting homes in Mexican villages researching the traditional recipes.
Diners are charmed by the personal stories behind each dish. “It’s been very well received,” says Medina. “The customers like to try the really authentic home cooking in the middle of New York.”
Kuxé, 205 Thompson Street, New York, New York 10012 https://kuxenyc.com/
Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a principal of the culinary travel company Flavor Forays. She is the co-author, with Barbara Mathias, of On the Road With Flavor Forays An Insider’s Guide to Four of America’s Hottest Food Cities—Austin, Charleston, Portland and New Orleans.