- Jennifer May
- A view of La Puerta Azul's ceramic-tiled bar.
A visit to a Mexican restaurant, fancy or otherwise, would not be complete without guacamole. La Puerta Azul, an upscale eatery outside Millbrook, offers a fairly conventional guac, with the usual ingredients, including tomato, onion, cilantro, and a balanced touch of seasonings. The texture is spot-on: not too creamy and not too chunky. What makes this guacamole stand out is the fact that they mash it with a mortar and pestle right at your table, which adds a certain charm to your dining experience. That, and the fact that it’s $12 an order.
La Puerta Azul is located on Rt. 44 between Millbrook and Pleasant Valley in a strip plaza, amid a tanning salon, fitness center, and a tile gallery. Across the street is a tired-looking local grocery. But don’t let any of that deter you. The restaurant sits back, hacienda-style, flanked with hibiscus and impatiens, shrubs and stones, and hanging leather swings. Its pale beige stucco exterior, along with a formidable stone tower and signature blue door, is a marked contrast to the rest of its surroundings.
The inside does not disappoint, either. It’s a mix of classic Mexican décor with a modern twist: ceramic tiles, wooden booths with brightly embroidered pillows, exposed wooden beams, bold-colored artwork, and a sleek indoor waterfall. The place is cool and modern, traditional and welcoming at the same time.
- Jennifer May
- Guacamole is made fresh tableside with a mortar and pestle at La Puerta Azul.
While a good deal of the menu is on the pricier side of what you might expect to pay for Mexican food—the dinner entrees range in price from $18 for the traditional Arroz con Pollo, to $25 for the Bistec a la Punta, Filet Mignon with Tequila sauce and peppers—La Puerta Azul is good value for the price point compared to other fine dining establishments in the region. The fare is thoughtful and creative, and authentic. Executive chef Ramiro Jimenez, a native of Mexico City, grew up cooking alongside his mother and grandmother.
After migrating to Manhattan to pursue his culinary career, Jimenez spent a number of years working his way up at some of the city’s premier Latin restaurants, such as Patria, Chicama, and Noche. In 2006 Jimenez was hand-selected to be the executive chef of La Puerta Azul after a chance meeting with owners Bradley and Ashley Reifler, a Manhattan couple.
Jimenez’ vision for La Puerta Azul is to create high quality, vibrant, authentic Mexican food using the freshest of ingredients with a sophisticated flair. “Mexican food is so much more than just rice and beans and hot peppers. I want to share my heritage, culture, and passion for real food,” he explained. “I want to serve it the way it is made in Mexico.”
Jimenez seems to have successfully imparted this vision into the food. Having always wanted to try ceviche, I opted for the Ceviche Verde de Atun ($9), tuna in a mixture of lime juice, tomatoes, oranges, and pickled jalapenos, served atop a basil sauce. The genius of ceviche is that the proteins in the fresh, raw fish are broken down by the acids in the citrus juice, thereby “cooking” the fish without heat. The result: a rather attractive marriage of the fresh tuna, the cool citrusy tang of lime juice and bits of orange, the spicy acidic crunch of the pickled chilies, and the savory basil sauce.
- Jennifer May
My companion and I also tried the beef empanadas ($8). To simply call them beef turnovers would not do them any justice. Savory ground beef, capers, olives, and tomatoes were encased in warm, crusty pastry, artfully drizzled with a condensed milk-sweetened chipotle aioli, and served, rather minimally, on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. We were intrigued by the sweet and salty dichotomy of flavors and the careful presentation of this traditional Latin appetizer. It was clearly a manifestation of La Puerta Azul’s concept of preparing classic Mexican cuisine with panache.
Some of the other appetizers include Ceviche Acapulco ($10), a shrimp ceviche comprised of tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, and avocado; Sopa de Maiz ($8), a sweet corn soup enhanced with leeks and poblanos; and Tamal Blanco ($7), which is white corn steamed and wrapped in a husk with chicken, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro.
For brunch entrees, my companion selected huevos rancheros ($10); I ordered the chorizo omelet ($10). Huevos rancheros is a classic Mexican breakfast dish that is comprised of eggs, black beans, salsa, and tortilla. As soon as I saw my companion’s plate I was struck by plate envy. I wanted what he had: a festive tower of alternating layers of tortilla, black beans, salsa, shredded chicken, lettuce, cheese, and topped with two beautifully poached eggs. The chicken, an atypical but appropriate inclusion, was smoky and seasoned just so.
My own dish, while not nearly as pretty as that of my companion’s, was satisfying in its own right. The tidy yellow half-moon was fluffy and filled with tomatoes, crumbled bits of the salty, sour Spanish sausage that is chorizo, and tomatillo sauce.
Of course, brunch and dinner are not the only ways to go. La Puerta Azul also serves lunch seven days a week. The relatively short lunch menu offers, among other things: hamburgers, Mexican-style (topped with Oaxaca cheese; $11); chicken or pork enchiladas ($15); and fajitas ($18).
- Jennifer May
There is, then, the matter of dessert. My companion resisted; I could not. Churros are Latin American street food, which are fried pieces of oblong-shaped dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, served with hot chocolate, and they are on the menu ($7). I was more than eager to try them, and soon discovered, happily, that they alone are worth a second trip to La Puerta Azul. Really, what could be a better match for freshly fried dough than thick, velveteen hot chocolate? (It’s even better eaten straight-from-the-fridge cold the next day.)
Other dessert offerings include pastel de tres leches, a three-milk cake soaked in rum and milk syrup and served with caramelized bananas, pineapple flan, and almond cake with blood orange ice cream. (The ice cream, too, is made from scratch.) Dessert prices range from $7 to $8.
The extensive variety of alcoholic beverages is blatantly impressive. To start, there is a list of 75 tequilas, a haven for the aficionado. Blanco (white), reposado (rested), anejo (aged), special tequilas, and tequila flights are available. La Puerta Azul also has a selection of margaritas and other cocktails. Of note is a particular margarita called the Big Spender, and it is aptly named. Made with Herradurq Seleccion Suprema Tequila, which is aged in oak barrels for four years, it’s $50.
The wine list consists of vintages from Millbrook, California, South America, Europe, and Australia, featuring a dozen wines by the glass and almost all of the two dozen bottles under $40. As for beer, there are 12 rotating brews on tap and an even larger collection of domestic and imported bottled beers.
It would seem that La Puerta Azul’s iconic name (“the blue door”) is living up to its lore. According to Jimenez, the color blue in Mexican culture signifies luck and peace, so the act of painting a door blue symbolizes bringing luck and peace into the home. As it stands, reviews of the restaurant have been consistently favorable. But it is certainly not just luck in Jimenez’ case: The man works hard, commuting daily from Yonkers and logging 14-hour days.
This month his long-awaited cookbook by Sea Script Publishing was just released, titled La Puerta Azul: Everyday Feast and featuring recipes from the restaurant. “It calls for the same ingredients and techniques we use here,” Jimenez said. “The premise of the book is good food doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just traditional ingredients served with an upscale touch.”
Like everything else he does, Jimenez channeled his passion for his craft into writing the cookbook, which took six years to complete. He doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon, either. He has visions of moving his up with his family to Dutchess County and opening a second La Puerta Azul in the area.
“I’m here for the long run,” he said with a laugh.
La Puerta Azul
2510 Route 44, Millbrook (845) 677-2985; www.lapuertaazul.com
Open 11:30am-10pm Monday through Thursday, until 11pm Friday and Saturday. Sunday 11:30am-9pm, brunch service until 3pm.
Upscale, modern bistro meets traditional Mexican hacienda. It’s colorful, spacious, and downright cool. Service
is warm and professional.
Soups, salads, and appetizers range from $6 to $12; brunch $10 to $14; lunch $11 to $18, and dinner $16 to $25.
Handmade guacamole; tuna and shrimp ceviches, chicken and rice, beef short ribs braised in Mexican red wine; grilled pork tenderloin; cured lamb shank; huevos rancheros, churros; pineapple flan.
Comprehensive list of tequilas; variety of margaritas and cocktails; rotating assortment of house-infused vodkas; extensive wine selection, by the glass or by the bottle; sangria by the glass or pitcher; 12 draft beers and a wellrounded collection of American and imported bottled beers.
All major except Discover.
Quesadillas, chicken fingers, hamburgers, French toast, and omelets. High chairs and crayons available.
Live music every Friday and Saturday night; see website for complete schedule.