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La Cienega: A New Spot for Tacos off the Taconic

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Rural Intelligence Food Anytime a new restaurant opens that isn’t serving “American bistro food” it’s a cause for celebration. And that’s why the Literary Lady sent me an urgent, enthusiastic email last week after her first meal at La Cienega, a one-week-old restaurant in Milan, NY (halfway between Pine Plains and Rhinebeck, and 1.4 miles west of the Taconic Parkway exit). She gave me a brief sketch on the owner: “His name is Teepoo; he’s Pakistani but running a Mexican restaurant and just quit his job as a litigator at a white shoe law firm.”

Teepoo Riaz, who had an all America childhood in St. Louis, is not another Manhattan lawyer-turned-restaurateur who’s had a midlife crisis—he’s too young. After practicing corporate defense for a couple of years, he decided what he really wanted to do was open a restaurant. To learn the ropes, he went to work for a big New York caterer as a banquet manager, which taught him what he did not want to do. “Catering in New York is about selling real estate for an evening,” he says. “I was interested in restaurants because I love food.”

Meanwhile, he and his wife, Dr. Marisa Kollmeier, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, who has an infectious smile, bought a weekend house in Pine Plains. “I realized if I opened a restaurant in the city I would have to stay there on weekends, and I’d never see my wife so I decided I would open one here,” he says. “And yes, my wife the cancer doctor is a bartender on weekends.” When he learned the old Milan Roadhouse was available, he decided it would be ideal for the kind of unpretentious and fun Mexican restaurant he envisioned. “I lived in LA for ten years and once you’ve eaten Mexican food in LA you are hooked for life,” he says.  “I hope people say our food reminds them of LA. It would be even better if they say it reminds them of Mexico.”

Rural Intelligence FoodSo far, La Cienega shows great promise. It still looks like a rough-and-tumble roadhouse from the outside, but inside it looks like a Hazmat team from Martha Stewart has passed through,  giving the restaurant a fresh, clean pared-down country feel. If you’re craving a margarita, you’re out of luck because the restaurant only has a wine and beer license for now, but the Chilada beer cocktail—you pour beer into a salt-rimmed glass with lime juice—is a refreshing compromise. The tacos are the real thing: soft corn tortillas with diced fillings ranging from chicken and beef to shrimp and chorizo.  You get a trio with bowls of rice and beans for $12. The chef seems to be timid when it comes to spice, and we added bottled hot sauce to the salsa and guacamole served with warm chips. But for a week-old restaurant run by a former Manhattan lawyer, La Cienega has potential to be hot.

La Cienega
1215 Route 199, Milan, NY; 845-758-8333
Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 5:30 - 9:30; Friday & Saturday 5:30 - 10:30

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 07/03/08 at 09:53 AM • Permalink