The petite woman that sat in front of the imposing steel door glanced up from her clipboard to ask us if we had a reservation. We were warned that reservations at La Esquina were necessary, so we called earlier that day. She checked our name off the list and pushed the door open just enough for us to squeeze through to the other side. We heard that you had to journey down a dingy staircase through a steamy, bustling kitchen to get to the dinning room and it was no exaggeration. But for a list of tequilas like the one at La Esquina, we would have gone a lot farther.
We arrived fairly unscathed, at an intimate candlelit cave with unfinished ceilings studded with hanging red buckets, wrought iron fencing and a tile mosaic of a woman in a cowboy hat and bathing suit. We had to wonder if the decorator broke into the tequila during the job. After reading the list, we wouldn’t blame them. One entire side of the menu was dedicated to tequila, broken out by Blancos ($8 - $21/glass), Respados ($8 – 25/glass) and Anejos ($12 - $23/glass). It was at least 70 tequilas long and that wasn’t even counting the mezcal. We contemplated for a second ordering one of the three flights of tequila – the Blanco ($35), Respado ($40) or the Anejo ($45) but we decided to try our luck with the list.
Some of the list highlights were the Herradura Respado, the Tonala Anejo and the Casa Noble Anejo. We selected the Don Eduardo Anejo ($14). It was served neat, in a tiny glass that is miraculously large when it comes to tequila. On the nose were soft notes of vanilla, orange peel and smoke. It was smooth and rich on the palate. After a few sips that went down a little too easily, we decided it was time to order food.
The Bistec Taquitos sounded to good to resist - it was grilled steak, sautéed onions and salsa roja on a soft corn tortilla. We thought that the fried plantains with salsa verde and queso fresco would be a nice complement to the tequila so we ordered that as well. Ok, so maybe it had nothing to do with the tequila, but it’s just impossible to say no to plantains.
While we probably should have ordered three more Taquitos (they are appetizer size), we focused our attention back to the alcohol. There was a sherry with our name on it, and tonight our name was Lustau Dry Amontillado. If that seems a little over the top, then it’s likely you haven’t experienced the joy of sherry. The amontillado was amazing. We took a deep breath in as we brought the glass to our nose and aromas of toasted walnuts and butterscotch made our mouth water before we took our first sip. It tasted as good as it smelled - dry and smooth, with a slight salty note that reminded us of the beach.
We finished every sip (and we’re confident we got that very last one, the straggler) and made our way back up the staircase. We didn’t realize how comfortable we had become in our underground, nuevo-american gothic cave until we re-emerged back onto the corner of Lafayette and Kenmare. La Esquina didn’t feel like a restaurant, it was much more familial. The simple well-made dishes, a grand armoire proudly displaying tequila, even the trip through the kitchen, dodging frying pans and heads of lettuce, created that feeling of home, assuming your home also has wrought iron gates and tile mosaics of scantily clad women.
106 Kenmare Street