Side note: I recently went back to my omnivorous state after being vegetarian for three years. I was completely set against eating meat and still believe that it makes sense in many ways. But that is not what this article is about. It’s about delving into new ideas around food. And I needed to make that change in order to continue with my career.
The experience that I had at Ox & Stone was exceptional. Each item was impeccably prepared and authentic to the Mexican culture with a bit of American influence. It was unique without being ostentatious. My friend (another adventurous eater), and I arrived at the restaurant in a rushed state after being fifteen minutes late for our 8:45 reservation. As I apologized relentlessly to the manager, he smiled and led us into the beautiful dining room. The ambiance reflected an 1800s Mexico. Sconces on the wall hung with graceful chandeliers dimly lit to emphasize the brilliance of the food. Despite our tardiness, we were given a larger table than we needed or deserved. The manager himself watered our table right away, and shortly after, our server greeted us. She was friendly without being overbearing, and knew her menu very well. I asked for a “mocktail” and he ordered the Hemingway, a rich white rum based drink. The bartender chose a muddled strawberry and strawberry leaf drink with soda water. I was surprised as I sipped, noting that while it wasn’t sweet like most non-alcoholic drinks, it was unpredictably satisfying.
On to the most important part: the meal. I first asked our server for suggestions, and she chose the expected “customer favorites.” I’ve had enough favorites. I’m done with butternut squash soup garnished with some sort of nut, sage, and browned butter. I’m finished with beets and goat cheese. I’m over the apple walnut salad. So I replied to her suggestions by asking what her favorites are. And those made up my choices for the evening.
I started with Pozole – a Mexican hominy soup with lots of fresh jalapeno and herbs. It was clean and bright, useful for cleansing the palate. Going with my no-bounds theme of the evening, fried pigs ears were next on the menu, served with (both house-made) barbeque sauce and aioli. I was no doubt afraid for my first cartilage-consuming bite. But tearing into the shattering crispness, I abandoned all my fears. And after dipping the slice into the spicy mayo, I was in love with this foreign food. The mayo added to the richness, while the clove-spiced ketchup, with its acidity and complimentary sweetness, made my lips pucker. The calamari was fried in a cornmeal batter, and then served with an avocado crema and their spicy house hot sauce. It seemed deliberate that the flavors were all meant to heat then cool the mouth. I then tried the Chile Rellenos. A fat Poblano chile peppers were roasted, filled with Oaxaca queso blanco, then breaded and deep-fried in a course masa flour batter. The sweet chile sauce once again demonstrated the perfect spicy-sweet balance so common in Mexican cuisine. The richness of the cheese was cut by that salsa and completely changed the character of the dish.
We then tried a special. Seared snapper with a black bean purée, smashed plantains, and garnished with sliced red onion and tomatillos cut into wedges. I’ve always been obsessed with the sides accompanied on a plate – and these did not fail to impress. The black bean purée was blanketed at the bottom of the plate. Its smoothness kept deceiving me and I thought I might have misheard our server. The skins usually present in any bean purée were simply non-existent. The plantains were sweet and pillowy. The snapper sitting prettily atop the mashed plantains had the perfect crispy skin we are always searching for. It was seasoned with just enough salt so that it left my tongue singing, wanting more. And in the nature of the rest of the dishes I had already indulged in, the raw tomatillos and sliced red onion left me refreshed and entranced by the meal that lay behind me.
My stomach protested so much at even the mention of dessert and I decided it would be a perfect reason to visit again. Unexpected turned out to be exquisite. And I’ll maybe even try the crickets next time.
Ox & Stone
282 Alexander St.
Rochester, NY 14607