“How do I love thee?” wrote the poet to her husband: “Let me count the ways.” If she were living here, and living now, no doubt she’d be addressing Hector. And here’s the answer: Cafe Ena, La Fresca, Costa Blanca, Rincon 38 — and now, DR49 (aka Don Raul at lunchtime).
This time, chef Hector Ruiz is bringing his Latin flavors and scrupulous French training to 50th & Xerxes in a tiny oasis of fine (but not formidable) dining. From a kitchen smaller than my condo’s closet, he serves 15 two-tops bounded by calm sage-green walls and window drapes, deftly combining micro vegetables, primo proteins (steak, duck, lamb, seafood) and inventive sauces — several to any given plate, the workaholic! — worthy of an elite, Michelin-starred restaurant (where, indeed, he used to work in Paris).
Choose — or try to — from 14 listings, all sized for twosomes to share ($12–$24). We pigged out with four, and that’s perhaps one too many for saner diners. Start, perhaps, with the more petite Piquillos plate: ultra-creamy goat cheese melded with fennel truffle, then stuffed into a sweet, crimson piquillo pepper, presented with shards of (elite, canned bonito) tuna, fennel slaw and piquant micro arugula, all treated to dual sauces — one, yellow ahi pepper; another, a chard-white onion aioli. In this edible orchestra, each component plays well with its companions and doesn’t fight to outshine them.
Next, the don’t-miss Aguacate plate: luscious, ideally ripe hunks of avocado consorting with tender diced octopus, sweetened with a flowery hibiscus glaze. They’re joined by yellow tomato, sweet-sharp bits of pickled onions and a roll call of sauces: yellow aji (garlic) aioli; Spanish white bean tapenade; roasted tomato-jalapeno salsa; and ancho aioli. (Does this guy never sleep?) What sounds like overkill is not. Each knows its place and function.
Next, the lamb. Oh, the lamb! On the Borrego plate two luscious, meaty, and fat-oozing chops join spears of white truffled asparagus, baby carrots, caulini (just what it sounds like: a cauliflower-broccolini hybrid), onions, a whisper of chiles, more micro arugula and a sparse julienne of crunchy tortilla chips. Dots of smooth, savory butternut-squash mole complete the just-right plate.
Then, a pair of duck tacos. Yes, tacos: white corn tortillas mounded with savory, rich, rich duck shards mingled with more pickled onions, radish, micro cilantro and that sweet-savory, soothing mole of butternut squash, along with a three-chili aioli and a second aioli of chard and onions.
Next time: the citron lobster composition. The halibut, paired with potatoes in duck confit. The avocado ancho-crusted sea bass. The duck breast bearing Moroccan spices. Boredom? Never!
Well, that’s not quite true. Desserts are more sedate ($8). Choose a mandarin panna cotta paired with chocolate mousse; a flan sauced with white peaches; a citrus creme brulee; or our finale, the chocolate-chipotle lava cake, dressed in a (too-mild) white ginger sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. Tasty, for sure, but safe.
There’s a long list of wines, the most affordable being a lovely Albarino, $11. Beer, too. And, talk about TLC: At the close of the evening, our server poured a complimentary splash of liqueur as Hector circulated among his guests with a smile and a personal greeting.
4953 Xerxes Ave. S.