Leading a chef counter is an act of bravado — “Watch me cook. Observe me at work when I’m too in the moment to remember I am being observed. This will be worth your attention.”
“We have an open kitchen anyway, and at first, I was a little self conscious,” Danny Mena tells the Voice. The chef, who’s from Mexico City, had put in time at both Blue Hill and The Modern’s kitchens before opening Hecho en Dumbo (354 Bowery; 212-937-4245) five years ago. “Now, though, I’ve come to enjoy it. I like to put on a bit of a show, light some pans on fire! You have to be aware of what you’re doing. Everything has to be perfect.”
Nestled at the back of the otherwise fairly sparse dining room, an eight person table is set and awaiting the performance. The restaurant recently re-launched its Chef’s Table, which initiated in 2011; the new, updated concept adds three more courses to an already adventurous set menu, only this time around each seasonally-themed dinner will be “tailored” to individual diners’ tastes and preferences.
“We’re offering an eight-course tasting menu that changes every day,” Mena says. “The idea is to create a menu around the customer’s tastes, so if you’re not a huge fan of seafood, that’s fine. If you’re not a huge fan of pork, that’s fine. I want you to love it. Then, we want to create dishes based on a seasonal theme. I just returned from a trip back to Mexico City, and I was really excited again by all the kinds of dried chiles, so that’s going to be my theme for fall.”
Dishes span the gamut of regional Mexican food, grounded in a sense of authenticity. “We’re making a “chilmole,” which has nothing to do with mole,” Mena points out. “It’s a burned-chile sauce, common in Yucatan. And when I say burned, I mean, pitch black like squid ink. We’re serving it with braised lamb, which is not so traditional — usually it would be chicken or pork, with some pickled pearl onions, which are very traditional. That’s how I most like to cook. If something is authentic, I want to be absolutely true to it, like the chilmole. Where something is playful, and not so traditional, I call it out as a twist to keep things unexpected.”
Coming soon are cocktail pairings showcasing a variety of tequilas, mezcals and agave spirits. “It’s a little harder to do than a wine pairing,” Mena notes, “because the spirit is stronger, but when it works, it’s so right, you totally get it. That’s really the spirit of the Chef’s Table too. It’s a little unexpected, a little fun, and, I hope, a really great experience.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2015