Press: TONY Eating & Drinking Guide 2003

Step into this cocina and away from the loud, tourist-packed asphalt of St. Marks Place, and you find a starkly different environment. La Palapa’s earth tones, well-spaced tables and subdued lighting make you feel like you’re in a thatched-roof hut (a.k.a. palapa) on a balmy beach. You’re soon presented with three salsas bursting with fresh ingredients. The best (and tough to find in New York) is the reddish-brown guajillo — it tastes like a blend of smoky barbecue rub and spicy, chunky pico de gallo. Shredded jicama, sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice, is refreshing. Order a side of guacamole — an exquisite blend of salty, sweet and tangy, with the perfect balance of creamy and lumpy textures. The chalupas con chorizo casero consist of seasoned, ground chorizo and queso fresco with a good dose of lime juice, layered atop corn cakes. Entrees also hit the right notes. Grilled Muscovy duck with sesame seeds is rich and juicy when ordered medium-rare, and drizzled with the robust, bitter-chocolatelike mole that La Palapa is known for. Swiss chard and toasted-pumpkin seed sauce add a nice bite to the mild cod filet. Finish with an empanada de arroz con leche, a cinnamon turnover filled with sweet rice pudding. And that’s only one of the delicious desserts. If poet W.H. Auden were alive and still living upstairs, he’d ruminate about the sublime food at La Palapa for inspiration.