Taco-Loving Chef Julian Medina Celebrates His Birthday With Tequila

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Medina tucks in at Toloache. Photo: Melissa Hom

"I never thought in my life I would own so many restaurants," says chef Julian Medina of his mini-empire (at last count, it included Yerba Buena, Yerba Buena Perry, Toloache, and El Almacén). "I'm in the kitchen behind the stove for seventeen years, and now it's different — now I'm a businessman. But I still think of myself as a chef." To scratch the itch, he gets behind the stove at one of his restaurants at least once a week: "Any restaurant, I don't have a favorite. I just go and cook." Medina is participating in April 29's Taste of the Lower East Side, a benefit to support the Grand Street Settlement, under the banner of Yerba Buena, for whom he'll be making pork-belly arepas. But even when he's not at his restaurants, he prefers to eat Mexican food — "I can't get enough," he says. See how much of it he eats in this week's installment of the New York Diet.

Friday, April 16
I usually don't have breakfast, but I went to the gym and had a shake there [at Equinox]. It's called a B&B;, blueberry and banana.

I usually get lunch at one of my restaurants when I'm there. I had spaghetti with shrimp at Toloache; they had made it special for those of us in the office and I had a little bite of it.

For dinner, I came back to Toloache, to the dining room, with my wife and my daughter and some friends — a chef friend named Scott Bieber, he's the corporate chef for a French bank. We had the huitlacoche quesadilla, the seafood chorizo sopes, king-crab tacos, and we had a few cocktails, a couple margaritas, some wine with dinner. And then since the following day was my birthday, I had a Don Julio 1942 tequila to drink, so that was good.

Every so often I try to go as a guest and have dinner in my restaurants. They treat me like a regular guy — sometimes not as good as they should. They try, but they know I'm a little hard [as a customer], you know, I look around and point out what they should do differently the next day. That's one of the things that's good about going out at your own restaurant, you can actually see what the service is like, not only at my table but you can look around at other tables. It's working out, actually.

Saturday, April 17
It was my birthday, and we went for brunch to Norma's at Le Parker Meridian. I had three glasses of orange juice because they don't have alcohol there for some reason at brunch; it's just weird. I ordered the huevos rancheros, but they brought the scrambled egg quesadilla instead. But it took 45 minutes to get our eggs, and I literally said, "You know, I'll just eat it." I was starving, my daughter who's 2 and 5 months was there — it was too much. My wife had something really interesting, though: She had a scrambled egg, shrimp, and mushroom dumplings, like steamed in a bamboo steamer, and dipping sauce with them. It was very good.

For dinner we went to Aldea. It was really good. I got the pig ears with ramps and bok choy with coriander yogurt to start. For my entrée I had the lamb; it was loin and belly, with morel mushrooms and spring peas. I know the GM, Heather, and she was kind enough to tell [Aldea chef George Mendes] that we were there, and he sent mussel soup and the shrimp alhinho, which was like super; it was really great. We'd had some cocktails first, and then we had some wine, the Txakolina. It's bubbly and delicious: very, very nice, very fruitful with apples, peaches, so effervescent. It's great. We ordered the sonhos for dessert, it's like a version of doughnuts, and then they sent me this dish they call "Chocolate Passion."

After that, I came to Yerba Buena Perry for a few cocktails. The bartender made me something special with strawberry and rum; it was delicious. I had four of them, they were that delicious. But they're not that strong.

Sunday, April 18
We went for brunch to El Paso Taqueria on 104 and Lexington with friends. I had guacamole, nachos, and I had pancita, which is tripe soup. I had cured beef tacos — tacos de cecina — which were really good. To drink, I had two Micheladas, which is beer on ice with lime and hot sauce.

For dinner, I went to my wife's parents'. They live on the Upper East Side, which is where we live too. It was my birthday celebration, so I ended up cooking rib-eye tacos, and Albert, my father-in-law, he made a Romanian salad: tomato, cucumbers, feta cheese, olive oil — that's it. It's just delicious. We had bought some Bouchon Bakery caramel macarons; they're to die for. Macarons are one of my favorite things ever, and I find the caramel macarons they make there to be just amazing. We bought also some Ho-Hos from Bouchon; they're pretty good. The chocolate tart, the lemon tart, all the pastries there are so good. I had a beer and we drank red wine, a French red wine, and Champagne also, because it was my birthday celebration.

Monday, April 19
I ordered a turkey burger from the diner across the street from home. My daughter wanted to get some food and I asked her, "What do you want?" and she said, "I want Daddy's sandwich," and for us "Daddy's sandwich" is a turkey burger. I put Cheddar cheese on it, lettuce and tomato, and ketchup. No mustard because I shared it with my daughter. It came with fries. A burger without fries is not a burger.

Later I had this event at NYU with my friend [Zarela chef] Zarela Martinez. We were talking about corn, and I helped her do some food. I made some chicken mole sopes, some chicharron gorditas, and I made also some huitaloche quesadillas. Zarela made this tamal that is very traditional. It's a huge tamal that's called zacahuil. You put it in the pot and put in pieces of pork and chicken, and you wrap it in banana leaves and it's very good.

Then I was with my wife, and we went just for a pickup sushi real quick for dinner from a restaurant in the East Village. I had some sashimi — toro, hamachi, eel, uni — and the ikura, a salmon roll.

Tuesday, April 20
I went to the gym again and I had a smoothie called Havana: pineapple, mango, coconut water, and banana. It's just really good.

I went to work at Toloache and for lunch I had a tuna burrito, but with no rice and beans. I don't like rice and beans in my burrito that much; I try to make it healthy. It was just tuna with some lettuce and that's it. The tuna is rubbed with chilies and seared and sliced, and I wrap it in the flour tortilla. It's not on the menu; they made it special for me.

I taste everything during the day, and I check the food, and then later I ate something with family. For dinner, we went to this Italian place called Tiramisu which is around the corner from my home. I went with my daughter and my wife, and I had carpaccio with arugula, and pizza bianca with porcini mushrooms. And some wine.

Wednesday, April 21
I went to the same diner I ordered the turkey burger from — I took my daughter and it was just the two of us. I had sunny-side-up eggs with potato and turkey sausage.

I had shrimp salad for lunch at Toloache. I'm usually at Toloache for lunch.

For dinner I went to El Almacén, an Argentine place in Williamsburg that I also own. I had some mollejas, which is sweetbreads, and I had a hamachi ceviche. I ate it at the bar.