Chatting With Luis Arce Mota About the New Ofrenda, Moving Beyond Quesadillas & Whether New York Is Ready for Cow Eye Tacos


Luis Arce Mota’s new restaurant, Ofrenda, opened in the West Village last week serving homestyle Mexican cuisine, which means you won’t find a single quesadilla on the menu. Not that there’s anything wrong with quesadillas, says Mota. He just wants to introduce New Yorkers to other aspects of Mexican cuisine. Namely, its many peppers. He’s also hoping we might be ready for cow head tacos, complete with eyeball and brains.

What is the concept behind the menu at Ofrenda?

My idea came because I believe Mexican cooking is about using peppers. I wanted to use a different pepper in all the dishes. There are so many peppers in Mexico, but you can’t get many of them here. I also wanted to cook what my mother made when I was a child. There’s nothing wrong with quesadillas, but I didn’t want to do this southwestern food. I wanted to do homestyle [Mexican cuisine]. I want to show people that Mexican is not just tacos and nachos. We have real meals!

So, we can expect quite a traditional menu?

I have a little experience of all different cuisines. I picked up a little bit in Italy, then went to Cordon Bleu in France. I tried to blend the ideas. The menu is maybe 80 percent traditional and 20 percent fusion. For example, I’m not using flour tortillas. Actually, I’m using egg roll dough, which I got from my Chinese friend. I have French training, so I try to incorporate that. The French went to Mexico and left behind some recipes. In Mexico City, you can see the influence with the heavy sauces.

How is this different from your first restaurant, Cafe Condesa (which you’ve since sold your shares in)?

The other place I opened, Cafe Condesa, I called New York-style because it had Asian, French, Italian, and Mexican influences.

Where else have you worked?

Back in ’92, when I got here, I didn’t speak English. I found a job at Carmine’s as a dishwasher. I didn’t want to cook professionally until 1995. It wasn’t until I started at Union Square Cafe that I really understood what it’s about. I didn’t get it until then that my job as a cook is to give people a good time and to try to do the best that I can every time. Michael Romano, he explained it very well.

Would you like to see more upscale Mexican in New York?

Yeah, I would like to see more refined Mexican cuisine. It’s difficult to do upscale Mexican because it’s hard to make a profit. A lot of people don’t think Mexican food can be like French or Italian. I just went to Mexico City and I went to the best places where they are doing interesting things using French technique with Mexican ingredients. For myself, I want to present something like we did at Union Square — just good food, not too fancy.

What do you have in your kitchen at home?

I don’t have anything! Because at the end of the day, I don’t want to come home and cook. I usually have salsa, tortillas, and eggs. And food for my pet. I have a parrot. Maybe I’ll make quesadillas with salsa or eggs on tortilla with salsa.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

One of my favorite things is cow head tacos. It sounds gross — and my wife complains about it — but I like the eye, the brains. I was thinking of opening a place for head tacos. Maybe I will present a plate like that at Ofrenda.

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