Eatery Expert Review
Chefs wEE Love: Nacxi Gaxiola, Pulqueria
by Sarah Mintz, Contributing Writer
Monday, May 28, 2012
Down on windy Doyer Street, you can find Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the famous dim-sum spot in Chinatown that has withstood the test of time (open since1927) and still flaunts both its faded red and yellow awning and wide selection of teas. Also on Doyer Street, you will find the Chinatown branch of the US Postal Service, Ting’s Gift Shop, and a few reasonably priced barber shops. While the rest of Chinatown buzzes a few blocks away, the 200-foot curved street has an eerie and somewhat empty feel to it. However, greatness is to be discovered if you step into Pulqueria and taste the spicy brilliance of Chef Nacxi Gaxiola. Blink and you’ll miss the entrance and one of the most exciting and delicious Mexican dining destinations in Manhattan.
Chef Gaxiola grew up in Mexico City (hence Pulqueria!), but he studied Physics and Chemistry in school to become a chemist…or an actor. Go figure. Growing up with parents who worked a lot, Nacxi learned to cook on his own. No one in Gaxiola’s family has a history in restaurants. Besides his grandmother who shared the secrets to the perfect flan, he is a self-taught chef. He always liked science, but never thought about applying it to cooking.
Then life happened. Naxci’s college in Mexico went on strike for about nine months and he found himself as a dishwasher at a local restaurant while tutoring students in Math and French on the side. Nacxi eventually moved to the United States and found his way to working underneath the world-renowned Wiley Dufrane at WD-50. Due to visa issues, Nacxi moved back to Mexico and dedicated the next three years of his life to researching and learning Mexican cuisine. Food became his passion and New York became his ideal playground.
Gaxiola made a name for himself at La Superior in Williamsburg before being hired by Chris and Heather Tierney, the brother and sister duo behind Apotheke the hidden cocktail bar conveniently located next door to Pulqueria on Doyer Street under the red awning that reads “Gold Flower Restaurant.”
Like most restaurants in New York, Pulqueria took longer than expected to open. The extra year gave Gaxiola time to develop the menu he dreamed of, bringing foods from his native Mexico City and other regional cuisines. Honestly, where else in New York can you find a menu offering Mayan pumpkin dip alongside pig’s feet tostadas and hibiscus flower enchiladas? Only at Pulqueria.
Chef Nacxi’s favorite Pulqueria dishes? The pescado pibil, an entree that combines dishes from two different Mexico regions. Other menu favorites include the pork shank for two, salsa sampler, and mole poblano.
Hardest ingredients Nacxi is working with these days? Pigs feet and cactus. Can’t argue with him on that one.
What will Chef Nacxi not eat? As most chefs, Nacxi will eat mostly anything, but hates “dusty” beans including peas, favas and garbanzos. Don’t expect to find these beans on the menu anytime soon!
Favorite NY restaurant? Traif in Williamsburg.
Favorite cooking technique? Frying semi-liquids, a Mexican technique and his favorite way to add flavor.
Chef Nacxi is already making tweaks to his menu based on what customers want. He realizes that there are many misconceptions about Mexican cuisine – that it’s all about big dishes and filling burritos. Nacxi is making an attempt to shrink larger menu items and build a solid tasting menu. I couldn’t agree with him that giving less in terms of quantity and more in terms of flavor profiles is key to understanding the many different Mexican regional cuisines.
You wouldn’t know that Pulqueria has only been open a few months, since Gaxiola and Pulqueria’s popularity has led to the launch of a Sunday brunch menu. Previously closed on Sundays, Pulqueria is now offering brunch fare including chilaquiles, enchiladas, budin azteca and a full range of egg dishes from noon to 6pm. Keep your eyes peeled for blood sausage coming to the menu soon.