Can a chef who made a name for his creative vegetable dishes expand his culinary horizon beyond the vegetables? Such was the question that I had when I visited Lalito (which until recently was Lalo) from chef Gerardo Gonzalez who once led the kitchen at El Rey in Lower East Side. It was actually my girlfriend (we were not dating at that time) that I went to El Rey with a couple of years ago, and even though chef Gonzalez was gone by then, his dishes were still being served and we found a lot of interesting vegetable-centric items on the menu that turned out to be quite memorable. When I heard that chef Gonzalez showed up on the map again, this time in Chinatown, showcasing a mix of Californian-Mexican-Mediterranean cuisine, this time even adding more meat and seafood dishes, I wanted to check out how his creativity has evolved from his previous stint. In summary, I kind of wished that chef Gonzalez stuck with vegetables.
The vegetable dishes from Lalito displayed that same ingenuity as I had seen at El Rey. My girlfriend and I couldn’t get enough of the shishito peppers with shaved walnuts that worked so magically together with pomegranate sprinkled throughout. Eggplant a la plancha with gomasio and tahini was a close second best dish of the night, with an impeccable balance of flavor that made me love this dish even though I’m not really an eggplant person. Toasted kasha salad with parley, farfalle and crimini had earthy feel to it but my girlfriend and I both agreed that seasoning could’ve been moderated a little bit. Overall, though, the vegetable side was quite successful.
On the other hand, the non-vegetable dishes didn’t taste quite memorable. My girlfriend and I differed on which dish we preferred more. I thought the 3.5 ounces of baby steak with chile-hazelnut oil was well cooked, and felt the chorizo stuffed squid had too much hibiscus vinaigrette going on to make the dish overly citrusy. On the other hand, my girlfriend liked that citrusy sensation from the squid more so than the steak which she thought was more or less forgetable. In any event, we both agreed that the non-vegetable items could use some more fine-tuning. For dessert, we had the lone item available of goat milk flan with pomelo, tarragon and olive oil. I liked the silky smooth texture of the flan overall, although my girlfriend preferred it to be a bit softer.
Getting a reservation at Lalito could require some advance planning, and the dining space was nearly full on an early Friday evening when we visited the place. There is full bar with some Mexican-inspired cocktail selections to complement your meal. The vibe of Lalito is that of a typical hip place for younger crowds. Not all dishes worked but there is no question that Lalito is a good place to check out if you’re looking for some healthy, vegetable-focused elements in your meal.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 104 Bayard Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (646) 998-3408