Up in Youngstown, chef Victor Parra Gonzalez has been expanding the boundaries of Mexican food in Western New York at his restaurant just outside the entrance to Old Fort Niagara, Jaguar at the Bistro. His elegant, sparse plates are a world apart from the rice and beans plates that define Mexican food for most Buffalo area eaters.
Check out his version of chilaquiles, the photo at the top. That's a slight coating of tomato sauce on crispy tortilla chips, delivered to the table before they could get soggy.
Gonzalez put his versatility on display in recent Tuesdays, offering 10 or more small plates that touch on Mexican cuisine but could otherwise be mistaken for French minimalist tapas. He is doing it once more before trying something different on Tuesdays. One last "antojo Tuesday" will take place Nov. 25, he said. The dishes you see below will probably not be in the menu, except for the desserts, because he wants to present new ideas, he said.
The deal is the same: three choices for $20. The Nov. 25 menu will be up to 18 dishes long, he said.
These are not big enough to be called "small plates." Even tapas are larger. This is a tasting menu. Two people shared all 10, plus perfect churros ($5) and goat's-caramel flan ($7), and left comfortably full.
If you can't make it Tuesday, you can check out his menu, which changes often, here.
I got to run through the menu a couple of weeks ago. I left impressed by the variety, the flavors and the delicacy of his work, even if I wished for a stronger punch of chile, garlic and stereotypically Mexican flavors. That's not what Gonzalez is into, as this gallery explores. (Click on photos to see larger versions.)
We started with ceviche, raw fish partly cooked in citrus juice. It still tasted pleasantly like fresh fish.
Pork carnitas were tender and well seared; I could have done with three of these.
The shrimp version, with pineapple salsa, was almost as good.
The corn dough of a steamed tamale with pork was fluffy, not leaden; the pork inside was tender.
A chorizo and potato empanada was pale outside but full of flavor.
Grilled squid was well seasoned but the big piece was tougher than I expected.
Salmon was well-cooked, but I wanted more flavor from the dish.
A Mexican-style risotto was precisely cooked and unctuous, but bland.
The churros offered crispy exteriors and fluffy middles. Delivered warm they were spot on.
The flan was deeply flavored, rich and creamy, and the pear was spoon-tender.