Monday, February 9, 2009

Besito Mexican Kitchen and Agave Lounge (Huntington, NY)

Besito is sort of a jewel among jewels in downtown Huntington, NY on Long Island. J and I spent the entire day there on Sunday, and found literally dozens of restaurants, bars, and short-orders shacks that piqued our curiosity, many of which were recently given high ratings in the Long Island Press "Best of L.I." issue.

Besito itself was rated the best Mexican restaurant on Long Island, and a jewel it certainly is.

The interior of the restaurant is dim and atmospheric with a clean, modern style. The smallish bar greets you first as you walk in the door, backed by shelves heavy with their myriad selection of tequilas (hence, the "agave lounge" part of their name - they have the most extensive tequila menu I've ever seen, longer even than their dinner menu). The long dining room in which we were seated was a mix of tables and deep, comfortable looking booths, dominated by a huge photo-print of two beautiful horses hung on the far wall. Another seating area was located on a slightly raised area on the other side of the restaurant. Before taking our seats, the polite yet somewhat cool hostess offered to check our coats - of course we took her up on it.

After a few moments to peruse the drink menu (I'm ashamed to say we did not take advantage of their massive tequila offerings, but neither of us are really tequila drinkers), our smiling and friendly waitress appeared tableside and offered to take our drink and appetizer orders. J ordered a tequila mojito (at least he HAD tequila) and I a pomegranate martini, both of which arrived in short order along with a duo of firey salsas and a basket of warm corn tortillas. She also offered some quacamole to start, and I must admit that this was a crafty move on her part, because the guacamole was one of the more expensive appetizers on offer, but she snuck it into her spiel so that for a second it sounded like a complimentary starter, so of course we said yes. Unsurprisingly, this was not the case, and I was mentally kicking myself a bit for letting myself be had. But we both do enjoy guacamole, and decided it wasn't a problem.

And in the end, the guacamole was absolutely worth both the price and the shifty delivery. Just moments after our drinks were delivered (both of which were quite tasty, my martini made interesting by a shot of vanilla vodka along with the pomegranate) our waitress reappeared, wheeling a cart across the dining room that was covered in guacamole-making ingredients and tools. She made our order of guacamole right there at tableside in a molcajete, right down to splitting and scooping the fresh avocados. After a few moments of mixing and smashing, the molcajete was deposited on our table with a basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips. We dug in as she rolled the cart away. The guacamole was a smooth, velvety base studded with onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, and big chunks of unmashed avocado, and was as fresh as fresh could be. We'd asked for medium spiciness, which she described as having just a bit of jalapeno (the mild had none) and although I'm sure it wasn't hot enough for J, it was just about right for me - bites with a piece of jalapeno would alternate with bites without, so my mouth would have a chance to recover. I must admit to preferring my guacamole rather smoother, and it seemed in need of some fresh lime juice to cut the richness of the avocado, but really, it was delicious.

As we enjoyed our guacamole, we perused the dinner menu and selected our entrees. J chose the Salmon Manchamanteles, described as "roasted wild salmon with crispy bananas, pineapple pico de gallo and mole manchamanteles". True to form, I ordered enchiladas: Enchiladas Barbacoa y Chorizo, to be exact, which was described as "Beef barbacoa & chorizo baked in roasted tomato & tomatillo salso, topped with potatoes, raja, and queso fresco". Mmm, sign me up. Our waitress also tempted us with a list of optional sides, including yucca fries, which I don't remember actually seeing on the menu - J jumped at that, and I had to oblige.

The meal was well paced, and we had plenty of time to leisurely enjoy our guacamole and drinks before our entrees arrived. The plating was attractive but unfussy - J's fish arrived with a graceful curl of thin, crispy banana perched on top, sitting in a shallow pool of deep dark mole; and my enchiladas were covered in a tumble of sauteed onions and peppers (the "rajas" of the menu description) crispy potatoes and shredded crisp lettuce, and a generous fine grating of queso fresco. But we all know what really mattered - the flavor. And as we both took our first bites, we were silent for just a second or two before our eyes met and we smiled. This was GOOD. Really, REALLY good.

My enchiladas were full to bursting with tender, meaty shredded beef ("barbacoa" refers to long-cooked meat, often beef from the head of cow, like the cheeks) and generous chunks of garlicky, spicy chorizo, all wrapped up in soft corn tortillas and swimming deeply flavorful tomato-chili sauce. The sweetness of the rajas, the salty crunch of the just-shy-of-bunt potatoes, the fresh crispness of the lettuce, and the mild tang of the queso, provided perfect counterpoints to the rich taste and body of the enchiladas themselves. Every bite was different and exciting and deeply satisfying. J's fish was cooked just right, tender but flaky and moist, and the sweet pico de gallo was an inspired foil to the smoky, complex mole. And the yucca fries, which we've never actually eaten before, were crispy, slightly sweet, and generously salted (perhaps a bit too generously, if truth be told) and delicious dipped in the chili aioli that accompanied them.

This was easily the best and most creative Mexican meal I have ever eaten, and to have found such a treasure in Huntingon, of all places, was revelatory. The menu may be based in standard tex-mex staples like enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas, chili rellenos, taquitos and tamales, are prepared with unique and exciting culinary twists that keep the diner on their toes and turn what could be a run-of-the-mill mexican meal into something truly special.

And if the food alone wasn't enough to sell you, the service was gracious and cheerful, the pacing was perfect (neither rushed nor sluggish), and the atmosphere was lovely. All together, this was a wonderful dining experience, and we will be returning. Often.

Besito Mexican Kitchen and Agave Lounge
420 New York Ave
Huntington, NY
p-631.549.0100
f-631.549.0155
www.besitomex.com

There is apparently a second Besito location in Roslyn, NY - you can find more information at the Besito website. The Huntington location was the first, however, so I would recommend trying it out first.

Also, if you feel like exploring downtown Huntington, the owner of Besito also owns Honu, a "small plates" restaurant just down the street from Besito, as well as a short-order burger shop America Roadside one block further - I bet they're worth checking out as well. They're certainly on our list!

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mahima sharma said...
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