Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I am finally writing my latest restaurant review!
Getting out of the house mid-week with my fellow mom friends to eat dinner is always refreshing. Eating amazing food in a cute restaurant makes it even more enjoyable. This review features Abril Cocina, a new Mexican “modern fusion” restaurant in Maplewood that opened in April. Here’s what makes Abril Cocina (April Kitchen) cool:
The Ambiance: Laid-Back, Contemporary
The narrow restaurant reminded me of small NYC restaurants, but luckily it didn’t feel claustrophobic! Not shown (in pic above), but there’s a mural to left of the front entrance that features downtown Maplewood. The crystal chandeliers give it a classy, contemporary look, but the simple chromatic drop lights, mural, and minimalist decor prevents it from feeling snobby. Patrons included families, new parents with babies in carriers, and couple. The young staff was welcoming and friendly.
A mama’s gotta have a drink when she’s out! A plus about living in SOMA is many of the restaurants are BYOB so you can drink and save $! Abril Cocina lets you add your own wine to a pitcher of Sangria mix for $8.00 for two people. It was a lot of fun being bartender for the night.
I got a lesson in Mexican cuisine right away from the menu: it’s tamal, not tamale! Yes, that Mexican husk-wrapped entree made with corn has no “e” on the end (explained the waitress). I was impressed that I could get ceviche as an appetizer, in addition to the general favorites like guacamole. The taco selections include a selection of vegetarian, meat, and seafood options–and you won’t get them with rice and beans because that’s not how they eat tacos in Mexico! I tried the Queso con Rajas with charred poblano peppers and the Gobernador quesadilla with smoked shrimp (which came in a very cool glass). Next time I want to try the Pozole Pho with rice noodles in bone broth, guajillo, pulled pork, and hominy. We couldn’t resist sharing a dessert, so we ordered the Banana Pudding with cookies. DELISH! Highly recommend saving room for this treat.
I later learned that the owner Mario Valadez T. was an engineer in Mexico for 10 years before moving to NYC and becoming a chef. After studying at Institute of Culinary Education, one of the places he worked was Dizzy’s Club – Jazz at Lincoln Center as a Sous Chef. I interviewed Mario and here’s what I learned about him and Abril Cocina:
“Our main influence is authentic Mexican food. In the last 2-3 years I pretty much tried the best tasting menus in NYC, Mexico and Las Vegas because my initial idea was to open a Mexican-inspired tasting menu in NYC. But all that changed when we decided to move to Maplewood [New Jersey]. I have traveled to more than 19 countries in Central and South America, Europe and Asia. Having dinner and tasting new things always has been my hobby. For example, I got the idea for the Pozole Pho when I was in Vietnam for 4 weeks. I tried every Pho in the Central part of Vietnam. The dish is very similar; the only difference between a Pho and a Pozole is the corn and the noodles and, off course, the guajillos we use in the broth.
Our menu will be changing constantly because of the seasons and because we like changing it up. We want to remove and add items pretty much every two weeks.
Chef de Cuisine Johangel has been a very important part of all this. We have worked in different places, so when we discuss an idea for a dish we have different views, but we are able to make our initial idea much more complete and interesting. Johangel has worked in Dovetail, Beatrice Inn, and Tavern on the Green, so his experience has been very important for this project.”
To learn more about Abril Cocina, go to www.abrilcocina.com