Empellón Al Pastor (Pod 39)
A very quick visit to the bar
I read somewhere that Alex Stupak’s Empellón Al Pastor at the Pod 39 hotel was all about bar food so I knew it would be a quick meal. I think we were in and out in under 45 minutes.
Stupak’s Empellón restaurant group has been growing at a brisk pace since he left pastry behind and opened Empellón Taqueria in the West Village in 2001. I enjoyed eating there but was never truly bowled over and so I missed Cocina, but really loved some of the dishes and presentations at Empellón Midtown, so wanted to check out this opening. And of course, there is the curiosity about the restaurant replacing Salvation Taco which was shuttered by April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman after the sexual harassment scandal borne at the Spotted Pig.
Atmosphere: Pretty much what you would expect from a bar in the Murray Hill area, it was lively and boisterous with pretty much a 30-something crowd. Service was friendly; definitely nothing to complain about.
Menu: Covers all the bases with snacks, tacos, sides, salads and dessert. It also has somewhat dangerous ‘eclectic’ and global themes like chicken wings with brown butter matcha, and chicken nuggets with sichuan salsa. https://www.empellon.com/location/al-pastor-murray-hill/
Dishes: We only ordered a few dishes and wanted to steer clear of nachos and guac. And to be honest, the all-over-the-globe items are turn offs for me. Given we were at a high table top, it wasn’t a place to linger either.
I was rather looking forward to the lobster rangoon. I grew up in the midwest where crab rangoon were standard on every Chinese restaurant menu. Wontons are stuffed with cream cheese, some chives and (most likely) artificial crab, and fried up. My friend from Japan loves coming to the US and eating these. Anyhoo, the lobster rangoon was a bit of a letdown. In Stupak’s version, the wontons are folded over versus made into a pouch so there is less cream cheese. There is also some spice like paprika or chili powder which would probably been seasoning enough, but really gets lost when you dip them into the accompanying chamoy sauce.
The chicken nuggets were made of a meat blend it seemed as there was no texture of chicken but more like a dense sausage as there was a lot of seasoning in them. The sichuan salsa is not memorable.
The cheeseburger tacos were good.
The pork fried rice was the best thing we ordered. The rice was fluffy and flavorful. The strips of pork were a nice change from being diced. It was also the dish that tasted best reheated.
In truth, we ended up taking home the rangoon and nuggets as we weren’t keen on finishing them. I wondered if they would taste better on another day but they really did not. I ended up tossing them out even though I really hate wasting food.
Having just returned from Mexico City, maybe my palette was sharpened to the wonders of Mexican street cuisine, but in the few dishes I sampled, I felt the flavors were lacking in the texture and refinement from Stupak’s other restaurants and just a bit too course for my taste. I do not think I’ll be heading back anytime soon.
Empellón Al Pastor (Murray Hill), 145 E. 39th St., New York, NY 10016