Three years ago, New Yorkers got a crash course in corn when world-renowned Mexican chef Enrique Olvera opened Cosme in the Flatiron district. From the get-go, Olvera’s corn husk meringue, inspired by one of Mexico City’s oldest bakeries, became the stuff of Instagram legend and took its place among the city’s most knockout desserts. Atla, Olvera’s latest, features a similarly Insta-ready recipe, a coconut milk yogurt whipped into such shapeliness that it takes on the appearance of Chantilly cream. Impossibly smooth and only the faintest bit sour, a pile of olive oil–drizzled blueberries nestles in its airy center, imparting temperate sweetness. This fermented non-dairy product is so good that you almost don’t mind paying $14 for it. So good, in fact, that I was convinced it was made in the restaurant’s basement kitchen, and was raring to document the painstaking process of its inevitably laborious creation for this review. Only it’s not made in-house. “We found that the quality of Anita’s Yogurt in Brooklyn was unbeatable,” chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes tells the Voice. I won’t argue.
Such an exceedingly modest construction is somewhat unexpected from a team known for enchanting city diners with ornate sea urchin tostadas and $89 platters of duck carnitas. Then again, we’re talking about the same gastronomic auteur famous for serving a duo of moles — one of which gets perpetually tinkered with, and has been cooking and aging for well over a thousand days consecutively — on their own. That minimalist combination is a signature at Pujol, Olvera’s flagship in Mexico City, which moved and upgraded its digs at the beginning of this year. Atla is intended to be a marked departure from both it and Cosme. Just before opening on the ground floor of a glossy Noho high-rise at the tail end of March, Olvera explained that the toned-down approach was “a reflection of the moment.”
Keeping prices below $20 helps. So does staying open from morning, when the modish, monochrome corner space basks in natural light, until night, when the lengthy list of agave spirits and beverage director Yana Volfson’s cocktails reign. The laid-back framework encourages flexibility, so you can enjoy your fancy yogurt at the start of the day, or as a prelude to an order of herb-packed guacamole ($14) hiding under an oversize blue-corn tortilla chip. For the record, none among the cheery staff will sneer if you want to go the margaritas-and-guac route, but doing so is kind of missing the point. Better to opt for a pambazo ($12), the beloved guajillo chile–dipped sandwich layered with chorizo, potatoes, shredded lettuce, crema, and ricotta-like queso fresco, which you can bolster with add-ons like avocado or a poached egg for an additional $3. And if you really want to kick your morning into high gear, give either of Atla’s plates featuring witch flounder a try. The flatfish shines whether breaded and fried for flaky, tender milanese ($18) or cured for vibrant ceviche verde ($17) garnished with pickled red onions. Accompanied by marinated cucumbers, the former can be turned into superb fish tacos with an extra order of tortillas, while the ceviche — with its powerful mixture that includes lime juice, ginger, cilantro, habanero peppers, and, unconventionally, fennel — is as dynamic a shock to the taste buds as Volfson’s tepache, a sweet and sour kombucha-like fizzy beverage made from fermenting pineapple rinds for three to six days.
If avocado toast and fancy vegan yogurt are part of Olvera’s new truth, so be it. With these results, it’s hard to complain. Mostly, though, the fashionable souls who cram the narrow dining area stick to staples like café con leche (with splashes of cashew milk) and chilaquiles trendily sprinkled with flaxseed ($13). Even with these healthful flourishes, comforts abound. Just look for submerged tortillas: chicken enchiladas ($15) covered in green and red salsas (you can and should go half-and-half, or “divorciados”) and a vegetarian bowl of enfrijoladas ($13) in which ricotta-filled tortillas lurk within the depths of a complex black-bean sauce. And while you might first balk at the $17 price tag for chicken soup, the result is undeniably rich and soothing. Brimming with shredded poultry, it arrives under a veil of herbs and bristles with jalapeño heat alongside a tiny wicker basket holding soft blue-corn tortillas.
Unlike Cosme with its mind-bending desserts, at Atla Olvera and Soto-Innes follow a far more streamlined style. They bombard sweet tamales ($9) with mountains of queso fresco for an earnest mix of sweet and savory, and plunk fresh strawberries (also $9) in gently whipped cream sweetened with piloncillo, an unrefined brown sugar. In the morning, there are pillowy conchas ($5), sweet brioche rolls coated in a cookie crust fashioned to look like a shell, which you can dip into bittersweet hot chocolate the way you would churros. Better still would be dunking the bun in Volfson’s coffee cocktail, which gorgeously melds a nip of Oaxacan Koch Olla de Barro mezcal with espresso and fleur de cacao. If you’ve got time to sit down for a leisurely breakfast out, you might as well indulge.