During the opening months of Empellon Cocina, an ambitious Mexican eatery in Manhattan’s East Village, Chefs Alex Stupak and Lauren Resler kept their menu prices at $27 or under. Stupak also decided against serving a tasting menu, after having a “change of heart,” as he explained to The Price Hike.
But recently, Cocina debuted a $41 strip steak, a $35 pork belly dish, and a $30 lobster. When Price Hike Editor Ryan Sutton published his three-star Bloomberg News review of Empellon, the lobster was just $19.
So to learn more about these dishes and price points, we turned to Chef Stupak, who was nice enough to chat with us via email from Mexico City, where he and Lauren were attending the Mesamerica conference.
We started by asking Stupak about the lobster. Here’s how he responded: Well technically my prices on lobster have gone down. Originally we were using 50 grams of lobster meat and selling it for $19. Now we are using the entire yield of a 1 pound lobster which is 150 grams. So based on this metric we should be selling it for $57 if we were to mark it up the same way. Obviously we don’t want to do this and we also don’t want people searching for the lobster within the dish so we decided to up the portion size.
This way we are able to use bigger pieces of lobster all from one animal and cook it more gently as well.
How have your clientele reacted to these new dishes and prices? So far everything we have added or augmented has been very well received and is being ordered. We don’t keep things on the menu that are not well received for very long. From our experience putting things like this on the menu do not increase the bill at the end of the day. What it does is allow for a different style of eating that some people prefer. Some people do not want to come in and order 5 plates. Some people only want two.
What can you tell us about the steak? 29 day-aged, 16 ounce boneless NY strip from Debragga & Spitler. Our customers thought the menu was lacking blood and so did we. I dislike small steaks so we serve a big, high quality one at a reasonable price
I’m a big fan of American and Australian Wagyu, and have had great preparations at Craft, Torrisi, L20 and elsewhere. I recall that you used to sell a $200 (American?) Wagyu ribeye at the original Empellon, now known as Taqueria. Why did you remove that item from the menu, and do you have any plans to bring it back either at Cocina or at Taqueria? It was Australian. We don’t have any plans to actually put it back on the menu. People will occasionally request it and we accommodate with a couple days heads up. It’s expensive stuff which is why the price tag was what it was. For me I just disliked the way the number made the menu look. I always respond to demand and there wasn’t enough to justify making it a fixture.
Editor’s Note: Readers should keep in mind that 14 of Cocina’s 21 savory dishes are still under $20. Also keep in mind that Cocina’s $41 steak is quite reasonable considering that the entry-level price for strip steaks in New York is often over $50.