The acclaimed chef’s new seafood-focused outpost, Tintorera, offers a taste of Mexico’s haute cuisine in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
New-wave Mexican cuisine is finally getting its due, with spots like Ray Garcia’s Broken Spanish in Los Angeles receiving critical acclaim and Enrique Olvera’s Pujol in Mexico City, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, being featured in the Netflix docuseries Chef’s Table. These classically trained chefs are reimagining dishes formerly relegated to street eats or home cooking: Garcia’s beet pibil is a veggie-forward play on the classic Yucatan pork dish, and Olvera’s deconstructed aguachile is a minimalist cylinder of avocado with a ceviche-like interior.
Joining the movement is Maycoll Calderón, chef at the beloved Mexico City restaurant, Huset. Venezuelan-born and Mexico-based, Calderón studied with greats like Ferran Adrià and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York City. At Huset, his cuisine leans towards the rustic and comforting—think wood-fired pizzas fanned with avocado and mezcal-infused aguachile drizzled with chili oil. Now, Calderón is opening his first stateside restaurant in Los Angeles, arguably the national nexus of modern Mexican cuisine. Home to a sizable Mexican diaspora, L.A. has become a place where duck heart tacos and uni tostadas from food trucks are de rigueur. Calderón’s new, seafood-focused restaurant, Tintorera—inspired by the Cardona shark film of the same name – is in L.A.’s hip Silver Lake neighborhood.
“I’m actually butchering a whole Baja tuna right now,” Calderon says during a phone interview. He’s making a tartare with jalapeño emulsion and chili oil, which he’ll serve on a tostada. Part of the tuna will be seared rare and served as a main course, with ginger rice and smoked cherry tomatoes.
At last week’s soft open, palm fronds surrounded the Tulum-esque courtyard—the perfect place to slurp sea bass ceviche in coconut water. The horchata cocktails, spiked with tequila and thickened with blended avocado, were divine. Calderón admits he had to tweak his previous menus for the new restaurant. “Mexico City is at a pretty high elevation, so there are more earthy flavors, cooked with charcoal and wood, lots of olive oil,” he says. “Because we’re close to the ocean in L.A., it’s a totally different concept here. Tintorera is super fresh, citrusy, salty.”
In addition to taking advantage of California’s citrus, Calderón is discovering brand-new produce—like pluots, which he’s using to brighten salads. But even basic items are different here, he notes—the tomatoes and onions have more sugar, and the peppers aren’t nearly as spicy. He’s had to play around to find the right balance. And then there’s the issue of trends. “In California, anything that has avocado is a bestseller,” he says, so expect to find lots of those on his changing seasonal menus, but not gratuitously so.
One of the menu’s highlights is roasted red snapper with a sesame emulsion, punctuated with crisp snap peas and radishes. The sauce is somewhere between a mole and a Thai peanut satay—savory, nutty and rich, with just enough body. The hamachi tostada is a fresh complement—and the most popular appetizer on the menu—featuring sweet, sashimi-grade Pacific yellowtail bathed in a citrus vinaigrette. Perhaps the most intriguing item, however, is his NY Prime steak, served with caramelized ripe plantains and glistening roasted almonds and peanuts, all smothered in a black mole. Moles are notoriously complex, and Calderón’s is no exception—he roasts onions and house-made tortillas to ash, blending it with chocolate, chili, vinegar and a slew of other ingredients. It takes four days.
Calderón is quick to say that his food isn’t traditional, and he doesn’t want it to be. He’s trying to convey the contemporary pulse of Mexico City, which is increasingly seen as a stronghold of haute cuisine.
“Right now, gastronomy-wise, Mexico is on top of the world,” he says. “They’re comparing [its cuisine] to French and Italian cuisine, which is awesome. Before, nobody would even look at Mexico—they thought it was just tacos, or burritos, or whatever. And that’s not what Mexico City is. We’re trying to bring a little bit of that to Los Angeles.”