No. 23: Quetzal
Luckily for Grant van Gameren (and us), culinary appropriation is not yet perceived as a crime, for as a restaurateur and chef his passions run to the acquisitive.
He’s cooked Italian at Enoteca Sociale, given us a convincing taste of Spain at Bars Isabel and Raval and administered a heavy lashing of Eastern Europe at Tennessee Tavern. His recent dabbling in Mexican flavours (at El Rey and Rosalinda) has now reached full song at Quetzal. This is his most ambitious restaurant yet, and it succeeds on every meaningful score. First, there’s the stunning design (by Partisans) and the uniquely graceful curve of its white ceiling, which slopes gently downwards from above the green banquette towards the bar and grill. Actually, everything points to that grill: some 10 metres worth of open fire is in play, with various applications from wood to charcoal. For the contemporary chef—spurred on by legendary live-fire restaurants from Etxebarri in Spain to Kiln in London—the setup is a fantasy playground.
If you want to understand why, well, tuck in. The surprise departure of the opening chefs (resulting in a temporary closure) now has van Gameren running the kitchen, and his affinity for infusing the wide range of Mexican dishes with an addictive smokiness makes the current offering better than ever. Fire-roasted sweetbreads, dusted with the heat of powdered chili, lightly smoked and plated in perfect simplicity with a roasted shepherd pepper, are tender, succulent and crispy—an instant classic. The grill also yields exceptional Cornish hen, sea bream and a range of steaks. To begin, try a bright whitefish and scallop ceviche with crunchy jicama and Japanese pear. Do not bypass the masa section (tlayuda with lamb and cabbage, etc.) or the vegetables (smoky eggplant with mole). The salsas are excellent, the service ultra-professional and the cocktail program top-tier, complemented by a solid wine list.