Taste, Where Mexican Mexican is Not Called Mexican
“I don’t call it Mexican,” says Chris Hebert, the proprietor of Taste, a (so far) lunch-only café within the Hudson Supermarket.
Though Hebert’s menu features the likes of carnitas con tomatilla, puerco en barbacoa, rice and beans, this food is not Mexican?
True, some things are not always what they seem. The Hudson Supermarket, for example, is not a place to buy groceries, though the building it occupies on Hudson’s Warren Street once was. Now it’s more like a mini lifestyle department store, where an eclectic group of stylish (mostly) vintage and antiques dealers conduct business as one. Among them is Chris Hebert and his former partners in Toad Hall, a once-upon-a-time boutique within the fashion-forward ABC Carpet & Home in New York.
Taste, the café at the back of this entertaining enterprise, recently came under Hebert’s direction. And it serves (hate to contradict the guy) Mexican food. “Everybody has some strange idea of what Mexican food is, and they often ‘hate it,’ based on a bad experience with Tex-Mex or they ‘love it’ based on a good experience with Tex-Mex,” Hebert explains. “Either way, they probably have never tasted real Mexican food.”
Hebert has. A mostly self-taught cook from a foodie family (his dad, a goat farmer, created the incredible Nettle Meadow chèvre, which Hebert sells at the café), he had always “loved Mexican food,” Tex-Mex and otherwise. Twelve years ago, to learn more about the real deal, he traveled to the Michaocan state of Mexico to take an intensive cooking course with the legendary Diana Kennedy. Kennedy, the widow of a New York Times correspondent who had been assigned to Mexico in the 1950s and ‘60s, has spent more than half a century researching, documenting, and disseminating through some eight cookbooks Mexico’s regional cuisines, traditions many authorities believe might have been lost otherwise. As an expression of their gratitude, the Mexican government has granted her their equivalent of a knighthood.
It is this food, Mexican Mexican, that Hebert serves at the café, which he admits is his “low risk way of getting into the restaurant business.” Though he continues to sell home furnishings (including the tables and chairs at Taste) and does most of the display throughout the store, his dreams these days center on developing Taste into something more than a lunch spot. With a wife and daughter at home across the river in Greene County, Hebert now confines his night shift duty to occasional private parties for between eight and 40 at the store. But there’s a large curtained off corner adjacent to Taste that tickles his imagination. He can see a supper club, perhaps with guest chefs serving other, obscure cuisines.
Meanwhile, customers at Taste can’t believe their good fortune. Neighborhood people such as Timothy Dunleavy, owner of Rural Residence down the block, nip in almost daily for their Hebert fix. “All this for ten bucks?,” Dunleavy marvels as he whisks his steaming lunch back to his store. Quite right. An arugula salad with a peppery citrus dressing and a garnish of toasted pecans and coarsely chopped, locally-grown apples and radishes; pork marinated in an ancho chili sauce then slow cooked with banana and avocado leaves; fish for tacos that first has been sautéed with chili d’arbol and garlic, then dressed in a lime juice, lemongrass, and serrano chili vinaigrette—for a sawbuck, no one has a right to expect such finesse.
Extraordinary food at a fraction of its potential price? Now that is a fragile construct. Better come and get it while it lasts.
The Café at Hudson Supermarket
310 Warren Street
Thursday, Friday, Sunday & Monday, noon - 5 p.m.
Saturday, noon - 6 p.m.
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday