When it comes to authentic Mexican food, New Yorkers have strong opinions about the options Manhattan has to offer. Fortunately, after a successful year in Tribeca, acclaimed Casa Carmen recently expanded with a second location in Flatiron.
The newest Casa Carmen shares a familiar hacienda style with the Tribeca location and its menu continues the homage to the iconic Mexico City based El Bajio restaurants.
One could say Casa Carmen is the US extension of El Bajio, as New York based proprietors, Sebastian and Santiago Ramirez Degollado, named Casa Carmen after their grandmother Carmen “Titita” Ramirez Degollado. Titita’s husband Raul was one of the El Bajio founders. She took over after his death and later expanded El Bajio to 18 additional locations.
Also adding to the heritage of Casa Carmen is El Bajio restaurant designer, Luis Enrique Noriega, who created the Flatiron location’s cozy ambiance. With only 74 seats divided between the bar and dining room, his thoughtful interior design includes earth toned crafts, texture and woodwork.
At the recent Casa Carmen Flatiron restaurant opening, Titita, who is Mexico City based, was in attendance. She shared with us her "happiness and pride" after hearing the restaurants in New York would be named after her. The octogenarian was raised to be a homemaker and had no intention of becoming a chef but the Veracruz native found she enjoyed cooking and sharing central Mexican cuisine with others.
As head of El Bajio for over 30 years, Titita has traveled the world, talking about and demonstrating Mexican cooking and winning numerous accolades from professional organizations. She was named “matriarch of Mexican flavor” by the New York Times. When asked, Titita explained the three important flavors in Mexican cuisine are derived from corn, beans and a variety of chile peppers. "Chiles make the flavor not all are hot. Mixing the flavors makes Mexican cuisine different than other cuisines," she shared. Although brothers Sebastian and Santiago are at the helm of Casa Carmen, almost all of the traditional Mexican dishes featured on the menu at Casa Carmen were created with Titita’s recipes. When asked which of the recipes on the menu are her favorite, Titita revealed that pescado veracruzana is her favorite menu item but she does encourage visitors to the restaurant to also try their play on a vegetarian burger.
Casa Carmen head chef, Arturo Benito, underwent exhaustive training about ingredients, recipes and protocols at El Bajio, ensuring the signature dishes and dining customs are continued at Casa Carmen.
For those who fondly recount eating their way through Mexico City, the traditional dishes at Casa Carmen will provide them with a satisfying taste of familiarity. Offerings of enchiladas de mole, pescado a la Veracruzana, esquites and enmoladas provide choices for varying appetites. Clever inclusions in the agave-forward cocktail list include the Jamaica margarita, Sangre de Pacifico, mezcalitas and a Granada Spritz. And the dessert menu starts with Titita's favorite - flan - and also includes corn cake, churros and tres leches to sweetly end the dinner experience.
While the Flatiron location has opened as a dinner spot, there are plans in the future to offer weekday lunch and weekend brunch. This will undoubtedly receive an enthusiastic reception as classic dishes including chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and molletes gratinados will be featured.