“Among the many things Mexico represents to me, one of the most powerful is flavor,” chef Enrique Olvera wrote in his 2015 cookbook, Mexico from the Inside Out. The Mexico City native has made it his life’s work to showcase his country’s rich heritage and distinctive flavors. With his newest restaurant in New York City, he's turned his hyper-attentiveness to street food, adding signature flourishes—mint in the guacamole and pico de gallo, split peas in the tlacoyos, flaxseeds sprinkled on tortilla chips.
Olvera first began cooking to impress his high school sweetheart, Allegra, now his wife. His hobby became a passion, leading Olvera to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, then to a job at Chicago's Everest before returning home. He was only 24 years old when he opened Pujol in Mexico City in 2000; the restaurant, which moved to a new location this year, provoked excitement and curiosity from critics and diners outside the country with Olvera's innovative takes on Mexican culinary traditions, and sparked a wave of creative new restaurants in the city.
In 2014, Olvera and sous-chef Daniela Soto-Innes opened the hit restaurant Cosme in New York City, attracting the likes of the Obamas. Now, instead of complexly layered dishes, Olvera's latest venture reflects his love of simple street food. Atla, a casual all-day restaurant in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood, focuses on healthy takes on Mexican fare familiar to New Yorkers (ceviche, chilaquiles, enchiladas, quesadillas), with a sizable list of mezcal, a longtime passion of Olvera’s, to boot.
As the long days of summer near an end, the bright flavors of two dishes from Atla, an Arctic char tostada and a protein-packed quinoa salad, are a welcome treat paired with 12 refreshing Wine Spectator–recommended white wines from Spain.
The Arctic char tostadas are a playful merging of the chef's background, Asian influences and a time-honored New York City favorite: the lox-and–cream cheese bagel. Traditionally, tostadas are made by cooking corn tortillas (Olvera likes to use blue corn for the masa, or dough) in a thin, flat, round pan called a comal in oil over low heat until crisp. A heavy pan can be used to weigh down the frying tortillas to ensure they stay flat. To adapt his recipe for the home cook, Olvera recommends, "Buy premade tortillas and fry [them] at home with grapeseed oil." Smoked salmon can easily stand in for the smoked Arctic char if it's unavailable.
In Olvera's rendition of a quinoa salad, tangy flavors of Greek yogurt dance with lime, cucumber, serrano chiles and ginger juice to serve as a base under the healthy grain, which is mixed with a pico de gallo that incorporates mint along with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and serrano chiles. Olvera recommends rinsing the quinoa at least three times, or until the water runs clear, and says a food processor eases the churning of the thick yogurt; he adds that he transfers the mixture to cheesecloth to remove excess water before serving.
Yana Volfson, beverage director at Cosme, oversees the compact wine list at Atla. She seeks out wines from all over the world, especially those from small producers who follow biodynamic principles, with a strong focus on Spain. She also keeps a look out for wines from Mexico, as regions like Baja California continue to improve their quality. As with the cuisine, there's a lot left waiting for U.S. diners to explore.
Below, Wine Spectator recommends 12 white wines from Spain that have scored 88 points or higher to match this tasty summer fare.
Recipe courtesy of Enrique Olvera, Daniela Soto-Innes and Atla restaurant.
1. To make the tostadas: Cook tortillas on a flat pan on low heat with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil until crispy. Otherwise, set aside store-bought tostadas. Keep Arctic char covered and chilled until ready to plate.
2. To make the vinaigrette for the Arctic char: Place a cast-iron pan over high heat. Once it is very hot, add fish sauce, cooking until it becomes completely caramelized. Deglaze the pan with the rice vinegar, then add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and scallions. Sauté lightly to ensure the scallions are fully coated. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. Add the ginger juice, yuzu juice, cilantro stems, tarragon and olive oil. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.
3. To make the requesón mixture: In a separate bowl, whip together requesón (or ricotta), crème fraîche and lemon zest. Add salt to taste.
4. To plate: Place a large dollop of the cream mixture onto each tostada. Take out Arctic char, drizzle generously with vinaigrette and place 3 small slices on each dollop of cream. Garnish with any extra scallions or chopped cilantro leaves or add capers or a dash of lime juice. Serve 1 tostada per person to create a filling meal with the quinoa salad (below). Serves 6.
Recipe courtesy of Enrique Olvera and Atla restaurant.
1. Fill a large pot with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. While waiting, rinse the quinoa 3 times (or until the water runs clear) to ensure it's completely cleaned. When the water boils, cook quinoa on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes until most of the water is absorbed and the quinoa becomes light and fluffy. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together tomatoes, red onion and 1 cup of serrano chile slices to make a pico de gallo. Incorporate quinoa and stir gently. Add diced mint, cilantro (reserving a few pinches for garnish) and lime juice, and add a dash of salt to taste.
3. Using a food processor, mix together Greek yogurt, cucumber, lime zest, mint chiffonade (reserving a few pinches for garnish), garlic, remaining serrano chile slices and ginger juice. Transfer mixture to a cheesecloth to remove excess water and salt to taste.
4. To plate, place a large dollop of yogurt mixture into individual bowls, then add the quinoa mixture. Add remaining bits of mint chiffonade and cilantro as garnishes. Serves 6.
Note: This list showcases Spanish white wines from recent Wine Spectator tastings. For more selections rated in the past year, see WineSpectator.com's Wine Ratings Search.
BODEGAS GODEVAL Godello Valdeorras 2015
Peach, quince and lime flavors mingle with ginger, briny and mineral notes in this savory white. Mouthwatering acidity gives this energy and drive. Firm and focused. Drink now through 2020. 2,000 cases made.
BODEGAS VALDEMAR Rioja White Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2015
This savory white has substantial grip, featuring firm acidity and light tannins that underpin the stony texture. Quince, chamomile and toast flavors show a distinctive character. Drink now through 2021. 3,444 cases made.
AVANCIA Godello Valdeorras Cuvée de O 2015
This racy white has energy and grip. The tangerine and quince flavors are tart but fruity, backed by fennel, mineral and light vanilla notes. Stays focused through the juicy finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,500 cases made.
BODEGAS CASA ROJO Albariño Rias Baixas La Marimorena 2015
This rich white delivers melon, pear, salted almond and smoky flavors, with vibrant grapefruit acidity imparting focus. Shows unusual power and depth, backed by a minerally spine. Drink now through 2020. 10,000 cases made.
VICENTE GANDÍA Verdosilla Valencia Ostras Pedrin! 2015
This white is more about structure than fruit. A firm texture carries savory notes of ginger, almond and tea, framing apple skin and quinine flavors. Finishes with a refreshing touch of bitterness. Drink now through 2019. 25,000 cases made.
BODEGAS LA CANA Albariño Rias Baixas La Caña 2016
This round white offers juicy flavors of apricot and quince, with lemon-lime acidity and accents of honeysuckle and chalk. Bright, lively and graceful. Drink now. 5,000 cases made.
CUNE Rioja White Monopole 2016
Lively flavors of apple, wet stone and herbs mingle in this fresh white. Crisp, well-integrated acidity keeps this focused through the clean, pure finish. Viura. Drink now. 4,000 cases imported.
ETXANIZ TXAKOLINA Getariako Txakolina Txomin Etxaniz 2016
This white is crisp and lively. Lemon and quinine flavors mingle with light herb and pine notes, fueled by racy acidity and lifted by a light spritz. Quite tart, but mouthwatering. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.
BODEGAS FILLABOA Albariño Rias Baixas 2015
This vibrant white delivers quince, lime, herbal and briny notes, with fresh herb and smoky details. Juicy grapefruit acidity and a light spritz impart energy. Drink now. 3,600 cases imported.
BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS VIÑA MAYOR Verdejo Rueda 2015
Firm and sleek, this white offers pear, blanched almond, tarragon and quinine flavors that are fresh and focused, supported by firm, citrusy acidity. Drink now through 2019. 30,000 cases made.
VIÑEDOS DE NIEVA Verdejo Rueda 2016
This white shows lovely purity, like spring water over stones, while lively acidity brightens the modest pear and mineral flavors. A modest wine, but lures you back for another sip. Drink now. 35,000 cases made.
BODEGAS LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas 2016
This white offers a broad texture that's kept focused by crisp, rather sharp acidity, and shows pineapple, lime, tarragon and briny flavors that fade to a clean, tangy finish. Drink now through 2020. 29,000 cases made.