April 6, 2024
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Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York’s historic South Street Seaport

As noted last week, some of the most exciting and stylish new restaurants in New York are Mexican, and Americans’ familiarity with the food and conviviality is always part of the draw. Let’s face it, the mere idea that there will be a margarita and a bowl of chips in front of you soon after you sit down (not something you expect at a sushi bar) is magnetic enough, and the food in even Tex-Mex places is easy to love.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

When a new place like Casa TuLuM adds to the expectations a striking décor, exceptional service and authentic Mexican food that has been refined but is not intimidating—no grasshoppers or worms on the menu—it is well worth a trip to the increasingly delightful South Street Seaport neighborhood.

There is a clear personal touch to everything that Managing Partner Luis Villanueva and Chef/Partner Rodrigo Abrajan (from Puebla, Mexico, starting in New York with an East Harlem taco cart) bring to TuLuM, whose décor resembles a swank beach house in the Yucatán with effulgent hanging plants, natural wood slats, leather chairs and videos of Gulf of Mexico beach scenes. And, much to my applause, tablecloths. When I visited the noise level was moderate, with just 55 seats and 15 at the bar, especially the anteroom to the rear. At the bar some booming music intrudes.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

The menu is in three sections, beginning with very good traditional guacamole with freshly made corn chips ($16); even better is the King guacamole ($20) that incorporates crabmeat, crisp jicama and habanero chilies. These are made for the whole table.

What makes TuLuM distinctive is not so much novelty as it is the fine tuning with the best imported ingredients and an attention to layers of flavors and textures not easily found elsewhere in New York.

A fine example is the aguachile ($31) of both raw and cooked shrimp, octopus, cherry stone clams, lime juice and seven dried chilies with red onions cucumbers and avocado that you scoop up and get waves of tastes on your pallet. Ceviche TuLuM ($20) is similar but simpler, with raw Gulf shrimp with avocado, habanero and cilantro.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

Lobster ceviche ($31) is worth every penny—every dish here is meant to be shared—marrying good morsels of lobster with passion fruit and litchi, Mango, chile arbol, crunchy, sweet pomegranate seeds and baked multi-grain tostados, which makes my claim about the textures quite clear. In the pincho tacos section you definitely should order the “Governador” ($24), two tortillas bulked up with both shrimp and steak, Chihuahua cheese gratin, and chiltepin tomato salsa. The choice of different chilies for their sweetness, toastiness, smokiness and heat, is critical to Abrajan’s cooking and makes all the difference.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

Dishes get still heartier in the Los Platos Fuertes section starting with traditional enchiladas suizas ($26) made with juicy chicken (so often it comes dry) with tomatillo, Serrano creamy salsa, and a blend of melted cheeses. Pescado Zarandeado ($36) is a simply grilled branzino that takes on savory sparks from a marinade of annatto and guajillo chilies, while a duck mole ($41) begins the bird marinated with coffee-flavored sauce. and then made more delicious with plantains and Mexican rice. One of the most identifiable Yucatán dishes is cochinita pibil ($32), pork shoulder roasted for a long time in banana leaves with achiote paste, cured lime, onion till very tender cured lime, onion, habanero chili tetemado.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

Even with a big appetite, you may find yourself sated by then, but do share a sumptuous dessert, especially any made with Mexican chocolate.

I haven’t been to America’s southwestern cities recently to see if they are getting more Mexican restaurants at Casa TuLum’s level of innovation, but it’s indicative of the unending variety of New York’s gastronomy that food and décor of this caliber is down at the once sleepy South Street Seaport.

Casa TuLum focuses on tantalizing Yucatan food in New York's historic South Street Seaport

CASA TuLuM
229 Front Street
212-433-5800
More information: www.casatulumnyc.com

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