Pasión Latin Fusion
A green-chile-infused tour of Latin America
Being a generalist might be a good thing if you’re, say, a Renaissance man or a contestant on “Jeopardy!” With food, though, I prefer my chefs to focus on one area of expertise. But that doesn’t apply to Pasión Latin Fusion.
Many “fusion” restaurants serve a diversity of dishes representing a range of cuisines, but the dishes themselves remain boilerplate versions of classics. Not so at Pasión. The Nicaraguan churrasco with chimichurri, for example, blends elements of Brazil, Argentina and, of course, Nicaragua onto the same plate. It’s a big, beautifully seasoned steak, chewy enough that you have to work for it, tender enough that you will succeed. Or consider the atún (tuna) ceviche, which combines the fish with coconut habanero sauce and lime sorbet. Admittedly, the combination doesn’t work for me—it’s the only underwhelming dish at Pasión—but other people seem to love it. Either way, you can’t deny the creativity involved.
Despite influences from around Latin America, the place has a uniquely New Mexican feel. Part of this is due to chef Elvis Bencomo’s fearless exploration of the possibilities of green chile, which could make even Top Ramen a New Mexican dish. The beef is grown in state, and a pair of suspended fireplaces and dark wood paneling add to the eclectic, bucolically peaceful feel that makes many out-of-the-way N.M. restaurants special.
The most thought-provoking dish on the menu is the gaucho burrito. Billing it as a chimichurri-grilled steak with green chile, egg and cheese does not do it justice, because this is no ordinary burrito. Scrambled eggs and cheese are folded into a tortilla and topped with a generous amount of cut steak, green chile, grilled onions and tomato. It’s served in a way that takes it out of the realm of hand-held food, but that’s OK. The setup allows you enjoy the distinct elements of the dish, like those tasty bits of meat on top, piece by piece. I would call it a reconstructed burrito, and I was wholly happy to eat it.
Another normal-sounding dish, fish tacos, also ventures beyond the realm of hand-held food, but for different reasons: They’re so packed that they won’t stay together after the first bite. The batter on the fried fish contains banana, which would be surprising anywhere else. At Pasión, I’ve learned quickly to take this kind of creativity in stride. These tacos are rich beyond the deep-fried fish, with avocado slices and spicy chipotle aioli to boot. A lemon wedge and acidic strands of pickled purple cabbage lighten the load.
The setup allows you enjoy the distinct elements of the dish, like those tasty bits of meat on top, piece by piece. I would call it a reconstructed burrito, and I was wholly happy to eat it.
The simple yet maddeningly addictive yuca fries beat the grease off of any potato fry, ever. With a delicate, ethereal quality, they give the impression of melting in your mouth. When the big pieces are gone, consider pouring the chicharrón-like crumbs into the little dishes of spicy ketchup and chipotle aioli that flank them, and finish it with a spoon. Green chile salsa is another condiment worth trying.
Many of Pasión’s dishes don’t include superfluous carbohydrates on the plate. The pavo adobado, for example, is a juicy, marinated turkey leg that’s coated with an earthy dry rub and accompanied by a pile of wonderful cranberry chutney. It’s a simple dish, and it’s filling thanks to the bulk of the turkey leg.
Another simple, satisfying meal is the caldo de pez, or fish soup. It has a tomato base typical of Mexican-style fish soup, but the broth is thicker than what I’m used to, with chunks of mirepoix and a surprising amount of lemon, which stands out in the already acidic broth.
And then there’s the matter of the pastel de queso, a mesmerizing goat cheese cheesecake. It’s served deconstructed, a simple scoop of sweetened goat cheese seated on a loose base of graham cracker crumbs and crowned with a tart fruit reduction. The menu claims the sauce is mango-based, but I’m pretty sure I detect some passion fruit in there. Passion, after all, seems to be a main ingredient in everything here.