A native of Morelos, Mexico, Agustin Sanchez has been cooking French food for most of his career. Since arriving in New York, the chef has spent time behind the burners in continental restaurants, ranging from La Caravelle and Pierre au Tunnel to, most recently, New York Athletic Club; it was there that he was recruited to man the stoves at Jacques Restaurant Group’s newest eatery, Mexican-inspired Epazote (1601 First Avenue; 212-988-1704).
Here, Sanchez aims to blend the flavors of his heritage with the advanced techniques he’s learned throughout his years of working in French restaurants. “Being Mexican, I never thought I’d open a Mexican restaurant,” says Sanchez. “I always did French or Italian.”
Expect to see items like tacos de pato ($14), with duck confit, apple, sweet onion, scallion, and cilantro. Tacos de ternera Bohemia style ($14) tops tortillas with veal cheek braised in Bohemian-style beer (Sanchez says the beer does come from Mexico, though) with sweet onions, poblano peppers, cilantro, and red radish.
There is a table-side guacamole (with pumpkin seeds, serrano pepper, tomato, onion, and cilantro) and selection of salsas, ranging from tomatillo to chile de arbol, but it’s not just casual dishes you’ll find at Epazote. The menu incorporates several ceviches along with large plates. The entraña a la Morelos ($27) is a dish from Sanchez’s home state; it’s a platter of grilled skirt steak in a proprietary blend of seasonings served with baked sweet potato and roasted corn. “I’ve made my own recipe with dried chiles,” says Sanchez. “It’s traditional, but I make my own flavors.”
The herb from which the restaurant derives its name makes it way through the menu as well. The de tuna ceviche is made with lime, passion fruit, epazote, watermelon radish, avocado oil, scallion, and cilantro ($15). Sanchez also uses it to make ice cream. It’s served on its own or with a poached pear. “It’s a fusion dessert,” says Sanchez. “Poached pear is very classic French, with white wine and vanilla ice cream. So here, I do it with tequila and epazote ice cream.”
It’s found it’s way into the cocktail list to boot. The namesake drink combines Fidencio mezcal, epazote, agave nectar, and lime juice ($12). It’s an agave-heavy menu, with a large array of tequilas and mezcals. Beer, wine, and Mexican soft drinks are also available.
Brunch is more customary. Huevos rancheros with costeña sauce ($14) and enchiladas suizas ($21) are the most Mexican items. And some tortas ($13 to $14) are included. The rest is filled with dishes, like omelets (there is an Epazote omelet with chorizo, zucchini, and potatoes), french toast ($12), and pancakes ($12).
Since opening about two months ago, Sanchez has had his hands full. He not only set up Epazote, but is overseeing the group’s other properties, Jacques Brasserie and Jacques 1534, on top of it. Still, for him, the chance to revisit the flavors of his homeland has been a dream. “I realized at one point, as a Mexican chef, I had to go back to my roots,” he says.