When Mayahuel opened a few months ago, I did just what the restaurant’s website implored readers not to do: I quickly dismissed it. As one of the lucky few whose birthday falls on a major Mexican national holiday, I’ve had too many crappy margaritas and shots of rotgut tequila to find a bar specializing in agave–based cocktails at all appealing.
So, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to drinks there with a wine-writer friend of mine last week; fortunately, that hesitation disappeared with my first sip.
My beverage of choice was the Spicy Paloma (above, left; $13): refreshing, thanks to tart grapefruit and lime, and well-balanced, courtesy of a subtle kick from house-infused jalapeño tequila. I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to branch out and sample something else from the extensive list; I had to have seconds of this instead. My friend did the same with her Watermelon Sugar agave fresca (above, right; $13), the sweet, fresh watermelon and spicy salted rim proving too much to resist.
If only the food had followed suit. The chorizo-and-cheese croquetas ($10), though solid flavor-wise, weren’t at all what I expected: They were too greasy and fairly swimming in crema. The smoked-tomato sauce provided a much-needed hit of acidity, but, for me, it wasn’t quite enough to cut through that heavy richness.
Operating under the assumption that one can never have too much chorizo, we also ordered the camarones y vieras ($10), seared shrimp and scallops with the aforementioned sausage. The seafood was impeccably cooked, with the shrimp nestled around a chunk of the porky stuff and the scallop wrapped with a thin, nicely charred slice of the same, but I found the heavily spiced meat to be a bit overpowering. I wound up deconstructing the dish and eating the proteins separately, ignoring the ubiquitous potato straws (all crunch, little flavor) almost entirely.
Looking for a lighter dish after those two, we followed up all of that sausage with the lobster ceviche ($21). The texture of the meat was perfect—it was obvious that this, too, was perfectly prepared—but the lobster’s inherent sweetness was obscured rather than enhanced by the passion fruit, mango and jicama salsa.
It’s not all bad news, though. Dessert was the real winner: the churros y chocolate ($8) were insanely good, cinnamon-sugar dusted ropes of fried donut batter, with dulce de leche and spicy chocolate dipping sauces. These are a must-order, especially when paired with a glass of smoky mezcal. We chose the Del Maguey Minera ($13) and the Sombra ($13); I preferred the Del Maguey, but as much progress as I made that evening with my tequila issues, I still couldn’t quite finish the glass.
No matter. I’m thrilled to discover a more adult version of a family of spirits I previously avoided entirely. And besides, those churros alone are worth a second trip. Finding a savory accompaniment or two might be more difficult, but I think I’m up to the challenge. The rest of the menu won’t taste itself, now, will it?
304 E. 6th St. (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)
New York, NY