La Palapa Rockola
359 6th Avenue
New York, NY
La Palapa Rockola got a Critic’s Pick review by the NYT in 2003, so I decided to check it out. It was a slow Tuesday night when I went, and my waiter led my friend and I to a table snuggling a dark corner. We ordered guacamole to start, because regardless of how many times I am consistently shocked by $9 handful-sized portions of restaurant guacamole, I somehow cannot resist ordering it. La Palapa’s guac did not disappoint: true to my fears, it was served in a tiny bowl. But, it was spiked with sharp-sweet cumin, which accented the buttery avocados. It tasted like the guacamole we make at home, so I scraped up every last morsel of it with the warm corn chips.
We decided to share two vegetarian dishes for our main meal. I ordered the Tamal de Rajas con Queso Cotija Anejo Y Pipian Verde, a corn cake baked in a green pumpkin seed and tomatillo sauce and topped with onions and cheese. My friend ordered the Crepas de Huitlacoche, baked crepes stuffed with “corn mushrooms,” that were smothered with cheese and poblano sauce. I didn’t take to my corn cake dish and at first I couldn’t figure out why. The pumpkin seed-tomatillo sauce overwhelmed the dish, but it was too nutty and creamy for my taste, and didn’t provide enough contrast to the thick corn cake. I couldn’t identify the onions or the cheese in the dish, and after a few bites, I realized that the corn cakes had an after taste of the freezer. I asked my friend to confirm and he agreed: they tasted like they had been thawed, topped with sauce, and served. Totally disappointing. The mushroom crepes were better, since the mushrooms were very sweet and fat. The smoky poblano sauce ran through the dish like an earthy river, but the amount of cheese topping the crepes was, again, overpowering and unnecessary. In fact, we were full after three bites but dutifully ate on, since we had ordered so much food.
Guacamole: $8.95; Tamal de Rajas: $8.95; Crepas: $11.95