Alex Stupak Will Debut an 18-Course Tasting Menu at a Newly Refurbished Empellon Cocina

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There will be masa waffles.
There will be masa waffles. Photo: Evan Sung

If you happened to be in the vicinity of lower First Avenue in the East Village the other day, you might have witnessed something alarming: the papering-over of the windows at Alex Stupak’s three-year-old Empellón Cocina. Not to worry. Stupak informs us that the restaurant is merely closing for a spot of spring cleaning. “The entire dining room is getting a facelift and will ultimately feel a lot lighter, warmer, and friendlier,” says the chef.

But that’s not all. After the place reopens on the 28th, Stupak will begin experimenting with a tasting menu he’ll debut on May 5. He says he’ll start out slowly by personally serving the new menu to only one table per night. If it goes well, he may offer the tasting menu to more customers. A new à la carte menu will be available for the rest of the dining room and for those eating at the bar.

“I believe some ideas simply cannot manifest comfortably on an à la carte menu,” explains Stupak. And just what kind of ideas is he talking about? Well, for starters, there are trout-skin flautas, blood chalupas, and something called inverse al pastor tacos. “Our first menu is looking to be around 18 courses with a notable amount of it eaten with the hands,” he says. “This is exciting for me because I think it’s somehow similar to the culture of tacos and antojitos, which are undoubtedly my favorite part of this cuisine.”

Take a look at some of the new tasting-menu dishes, plus descriptions provided by Stupak himself.

Trout flautas: "The idea here was to fashion a crisp “dorado”-style taco out of fish skin. We cook the skin gently while keeping it very flat. We then roll it around steel pipe and dehydrate it. Afterward, we fry it. The skin inflates like a chicharron and becomes a crispy vessel for a trout filling flavored with smoky chiles."
Trout flautas: "The idea here was to fashion a crisp “dorado”-style taco out of fish skin. We cook the skin gently while keeping it very flat. We then roll it around steel pipe and dehydrate it. Afterward, we fry it. The skin inflates like a chicharron and becomes a crispy vessel for a trout filling flavored with smoky chiles." Photo: Evan Sung
Blood chalupas:  "We are making our own masa harina by dehydrating our own masa from al Pastor. We have been experimenting with rehydrating the stuff with liquids other than water. Thus far blood has been the most radical. We formed this blood masa into chalupas and are filling it with a mixture of crumbled Mexican blood sausage and green garbanzo beans."
Blood chalupas: "We are making our own masa harina by dehydrating our own masa from al Pastor. We have been experimenting with rehydrating the stuff with liquids other than water. Thus far blood has been the most radical. We formed this blood masa into chalupas and are filling it with a mixture of crumbled Mexican blood sausage and green garbanzo beans." Photo: Evan Sung
Inverse al pastor tacos:  "Instead of topping a trompo with pineapple we topped a pineapple with a slab of lardo. Since opening Empellón Al Pastor we've learned that the idea of a tiny pineapple actually basting and flavoring a mass of pork to be a popular myth. However, lardo does a heck of a job in basting pineapple in this context and with these proportions."
Inverse al pastor tacos: "Instead of topping a trompo with pineapple we topped a pineapple with a slab of lardo. Since opening Empellón Al Pastor we've learned that the idea of a tiny pineapple actually basting and flavoring a mass of pork to be a popular myth. However, lardo does a heck of a job in basting pineapple in this context and with these proportions." Photo: Evan Sung
Slicing the pineapple.
Slicing the pineapple. Photo: Evan Sung
The finished tacos.
The finished tacos. Photo: Evan Sung
Chicken and waffles:  "We have been tinkering with using masa as a functional ingredient in preparations that are culturally out of context. Here we made a waffle batter with our own masa and entirely without flour. The texture is appealing and the corn flavor does transmit. We topped it with smoked maple syrup, chicken-liver butter and cured-grated chicken liver."
Chicken and waffles: "We have been tinkering with using masa as a functional ingredient in preparations that are culturally out of context. Here we made a waffle batter with our own masa and entirely without flour. The texture is appealing and the corn flavor does transmit. We topped it with smoked maple syrup, chicken-liver butter and cured-grated chicken liver." Photo: Evan Sung
Arroz con leche: "We are making a straightforward rice pudding and encasing it in a thin layer of brittle meringue. A second meringue is made entirely out of milk and piped around the construct. It's topped with a spoonful of raw milk and a pinch of canela."
Arroz con leche: "We are making a straightforward rice pudding and encasing it in a thin layer of brittle meringue. A second meringue is made entirely out of milk and piped around the construct. It's topped with a spoonful of raw milk and a pinch of canela." Photo: Evan Sung
Cajeta buttercream: "We are finding that reducing goat's milk concentrates its proteins and increases its emulsifying properties. We were excited to discover that we could make a butter cream by emulsifying melted brown butter directly into the milk. It's cooled and then whipped — simplest process ever. Here we garnished the cream with grapefruit, a couple of celery elements, and some piloncillo."
Cajeta buttercream: "We are finding that reducing goat's milk concentrates its proteins and increases its emulsifying properties. We were excited to discover that we could make a butter cream by emulsifying melted brown butter directly into the milk. It's cooled and then whipped — simplest process ever. Here we garnished the cream with grapefruit, a couple of celery elements, and some piloncillo." Photo: Evan Sung
Alex Stupak’s New Tasting Menu