Classically trained Chef Victor Parra Gonzalez had a choice to make. “Do I want to be a French chef, or do I want to be a Mexican chef?” asked the Acapulco-born restaurateur. “Or can I be something in the middle?”
With Las Puertas, a 35-seat gem on the West Side, Gonzalez’s creations answer for him.
The restaurant opened on Feb. 9 after years in the making. Hanging tungsten and paper lanterns illuminate the bright, sparse space. Burlap coffee bags cover a wall of bench seats and the back bar features a mural depicting Gonzalez’s culinary journey.
His exquisitely plated, nuanced dishes explore the coastal city of his birth, rich with fresh seafood and local produce.
Much of the opening menu highlighted cold dishes, an interesting choice for mid-winter. This is nonstandard Mexican fare.
Even recognizable guacamole ($8) bore Gonzalez’s thoughtful whimsy. Fresh avocado was garnished with shards of salty caramel brittle and crushed spicy crickets (optional). The vinegary critters balanced that creamy avocado with a hint of citrus zing, while tostada chips made for crunchy scooping.
Tiradito ($14) showcased cured red snapper on a dainty plate with bright orange sorbet, warming chile de arbol and sour pickled strawberries from Greg’s U-Pick. The plate offered six bites of symphonic flavors, reminding diners that summer will return.
Next, we swam through Scallop Aguachile ($16), raw scallops with paper-thin cucumber, yellow beet and apple slices in a zesty cilantro broth. We tasted the ocean in this airy dish, wherein the faintest pepper heat cut the brine. Charred onion charcoal sprinkled the surface, reminiscent of a rocky shore.
For carnivores, the Carne Enchilada Tartare ($19), arrived with pickled agave mustard seeds, shattered chia crackers and a dusting of foie gras snow. That buttery foie deepened the umami aspect of the meat, marinated in just enough peppery spice to tickle the taste buds.
Gonzalez’s Bone Marrow ($15, pictured as lead art) featured a surprising mousse texture, onion ash, more mustard seeds, sprigs of tomatillo and wisps of watermelon radish. He accomplished the improbable in giving marrow a light pate consistency. Studiously contrasting accoutrements elevated a novelty protein into an experience.
For dessert, spiced chocolate almond cake ($10) came with mellow mango sorbet and dollops of passionfruit cream to brighten the dense crumb, whorls of chocolate floated over the plate. A sweet local strawberry and cucumber bath offset the tart lime semifreddo ($9). A black sesame tuille throne cut the creaminess.
Finally, Duck Curado ($16) encapsulated Gonzalez’s culinary evolution. His Mexican take on charcuterie was cured with avocado leaves, nestled on smoky charred tomatillo sauce and sprinkled with crushed peanuts and pepitas. Each vivacious bite was a portrait of his persona.
“This dish is me,” Gonzalez explained, presenting it. “When I think of what I wanted to do, and who I want to be, this is it.” He looked around at his dishes, bites disappearing between smiles at each table. “This is everything to me. Everything I am,” he gestured at the plate between us. “Is right here.”
385 Rhode Island St. (807-1141)
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.