The wait is over, and there is a buzz going around town. Camacho Garage, featuring contemporary Mexican street food, has opened in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood, at 36 Fountain St.
The restaurant follows the trend of offering small plates, or tapas. Ceviche and raw bar offerings, and an extensive taco menu with fillings such as adobo marinated chicken, slow roasted lamb, confit of duck and wild mushrooms and cactus is offered, on house-made, heirloom, corn tortillas or “naked” as a filling over a bowl of grains, beans, greens and avocado.
Small-bite menu items include Tamal de Birria (slowly braised lamb and corn dumplings), Mexican Hot Dog (bacon wrapped turkey sausage dog), Ensalada de Nopales (cactus), and Duck Tambores (drumettes). The Queso Flameado (mushrooms and poblanos served with flour or corn tortillas and of course melted cheese) is served in a scorching-hot stone vessel — the perfect dish to share while your order is being prepared.
A few larger plates served family-style for four — “Para Todos” — are featured as well as daily specials. Mexican street corn, a traditional Mexican street food, is served topped with chipotle aioli, Cojita cheese, Ancho chili powder with a lime wedge to squeeze on top. Another favorite, fried sweet plantains, is drizzled with Mexican cream. With just the right kick, the Borracho beans are pinto beans cooked in beer and tequila with chipotle, onions, pickled cauliflower, carrots and jalapenos. Go all the way, adding bacon or chorizo.
The desserts will wow you, too. The warm, filled churros, you won’t be able to eat just one; luckily, three were served. Milk chocolate stuffed figs, flan and paletas, chocolate lava cake and other heavenly sweet endings round out the menu.
Complementing the menu are libations including Mexican and local beers, specialty cocktails, tequila, mescal and traditional and inspired Mexican beverages. The beverage menu picks up on the garage theme with “Low Octane” offerings that include non-alcoholic beverages such as Jarritos fruit sodas, Topo Chico mineral water, Horchata, seasonal, house-made frescas and spritzers, refreshing iced teas and house-squeezed vegetable juices. The “High Octane” selections include favorites from the restaurant’s sister brands (i.e. the Geronimo Margarita), as well as 15-plus original cocktail offerings such as Papa Doble (Montelobos Mezcal Joven, Lazzaroni maraschino, grapefruit, lime), Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Plantation Pineapple, Lagrimas de Dolore Mezcal Joven, ginger beer), Senor Camacho (Presidente Brandy, Bruxo “X” Mezcal, lime, agave) and Wake the Dead (Casamigos Reposado, vanilla simple syrup, espresso, cocoa powder).
The proprietors are no strangers to the culinary scene here and beyond. Executive Chef/co-owner Arturo Franco-Camacho, co-owners Robert Bolduc and Marc Knight, and the team behind the award-winning Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, Shell & Bones Oyster Bar and Grill, and Nantucket’s Bar Yoshi have created a fun and lively atmosphere. The vintage garage theme is reminiscent of Camacho’s father’s garage in Mexico.
Camacho’s accomplishments include: five years as chef de cuisine on the prestigious QE2; owning several restaurants in Connecticut (Roomba, Bespoke and Suburban); serving as guest chef at the Director’s Dinner at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah; his cuisine has been recognized as “excellent” in the New York Times, and he has received accolades from Connecticut Magazine, Yankee Magazine, Zagat and on Food Network’s “Food Nation” with Bobby Flay. He has been nominated for Chef of the Year by the Connecticut Restaurant Association; recognized as an Ambassador Chef by the annual Greenwich Wine + Food Festival; and two-time winner of Iron Chef Elm City, a fundraiser for Gateway Community College’s Foundation.
“I’m beyond excited to bring this completely new experience to my adopted hometown of New Haven, sharing the flavors and experiences that I grew up with in Mexico cooking with my mother and grandmother, and spending time with my father at the garage he owned,” Camacho said. “In addition to celebrating both traditional and inspired recipes from my childhood, I’m very focused on providing guests with a healthy, fresh and delicious experience that integrates and celebrates local, seasonal ingredients while still providing flexibility and fun for those with dietary restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free.”
Guacamole is probably the most recognized dish from Mexico, and there are thousands of variations. We like to add herbs for more roundness and freshness, to contrast with the creaminess of the avocados. In a bowl, mash the avocados with a fork. Mix in all the other ingredients until completely incorporated. Adjust seasonings. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds. Makes 2-3 cups.
Place figs on a baking sheet. Cut figs in fourths, two-thirds down to keep the fig together.
Stuff figs with chocolate (about one teaspoon), bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until chocolate is almost melted. Let rest for 2 minutes. Drizzle balsamic glaze on top and sprinkle with sea salt.
Make the marinade: in a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, citrus juices, agave nectar and salt and refrigerate.
To clean the cactus pads, use a large chef’s knife and work with the blade parallel to each pad. Remove all the thorns; rinse well and pat dry.
Heat the barbecue grill; brush the pads lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill each side 2-3 minutes. Let cool, slice into strips and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the mushrooms with olive oil remaining from brushing the pads, season with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and slice into strips. Cover and refrigerate.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cactus, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and oregano. Add 1/2 of the marinade, toss and season to taste. Add desired chiles.
Serve over tostadas or just on a plate. Drizzle more of the marinade, and garnish with avocado, lettuce and queso fresco if desired. Enjoy it as vegetarian or vegan option without cheese. Serves 6-8.
Dishing It Back 2020: A chance to win a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant. Runs through Nov. 12. The challenges of the pandemic have taken a toll on local businesses, especially in the food services sector. Dishing It Back is a fun, interactive way to build excitement for Gateway Community College’s Hall of Fame, while also showcasing the culinary chops of local chefs and supporting the 18 restaurants (the Foundation will be purchasing these gift certificates) who have helped the GCC Foundation’s Hall of Fame in the past. Local chefs will showcase a signature dish for home cooks to recreate in their own kitchens. Details at https://bit.ly/3o0oMjF.
BASTA Trattoria, 1006 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-772-1715, Pasta Trio, menu at bit.ly/2WPnmwy, choose three different pastas and three different sauces for $20 per person. Served for lunch (noon-3 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays for dining indoor or outdoor. bastatrattoria.com
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, 271 Crown St. New Haven, 203-777-7700, happy hour from noon to 4 p.m., with $1 sliders, $1 drafts and $2 cans and bottles. These specials are available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). bit.ly/2ZW5cek
Shell and Bones, 100 S. Water St., New Haven, 203-787-3466, re-introduces happy hour, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m, offering $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and $1 drafts. Specials available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). shellandbones.com