Fresh Mex

Patrons at Mexican restaurants in the U.S. usually don’t expect the seasons to drive the menu. But at Orale Mexican Kitchen in Jersey City, N.J., sourcing local, seasonal produce is a priority of consulting chef James Muir—and his menu reflects it. About 85 percent of the produce he buys is local, although Muir admits that availability does start changing in mid-November. Right now, winter squash and pumpkin are finding their way into dishes, as well as kale, Brussels sprouts, pears and apples. “We try to break the culinary boundaries of ‘Mexican’ and have some fun with the menu, even incorporating Mexican flavors into classics from another cuisine,” he says.

The 70-seat Orale is primarily a small plates concept serving shareable food. The menu begins with Bocadillos—Mexican snacks—that go for $5 apiece and feature lots of seasonal produce. Brussels sprouts are quartered and deep fried, then tossed in salt and pepper, and butternut squash is cooked, puréed, then topped with queso fresco, chorizo and a chili glaze “to counteract the sweetness of the squash.”

In the Enchiladas y Ensaladas category ($15 each), Orale features a vegetarian option, filled with roasted spaghetti squash, shiitake mushrooms and sautéed spinach and kale. “We want to accommodate vegetarian and vegan diners with special items—not just the standard vegetable plate,” notes Muir. He takes pains to balance the flavors here to create a satisfying dish; the squash adds texture and sweetness that complements the bitterness of the greens and the shiitakes contribute richness and earthiness.

Seasonal vegetables make it into the “Mains” section of the menu, too. Halibut a la Plancha is served with yellow rice spiked with saffron and achiote; diced pumpkin adds another warm burst of color and an autumnal accent. Bone-in lamb ribs coated with a tamarind-chili glaze are sided with sweet and spicy butternut squash.

“In fall and winter, we offer more comforting dishes and try to change the menu so we’re not reliant on produce that’s not local,” Muir says. Of course, Mexican cuisine essentials, such as avocados, chilies and jicama, have to be brought in from afar, but thanks to an active network of New Jersey farmers, more is being grown locally.

Muir relies on two primary produce purveyors that source from local farms. He plans to start working directly with some farmers by spring. In the meantime, the chef is busy making fresh pumpkin pesto and tomatillo chipotle compote to freshen up the winter menu.   

Today's top stories

1
Despite gains in comp sales and customer traffic across the restaurant industry, operator enthusiasm may be fading, according to the National Restaurant Association’s latest Restaurant Performance...
2
Papa John’s International has promoted COO Steve Ritchie to president, the pizza-delivery company announced Thursday. Ritchie will continue his duties as COO, a position he has held since 2014, when...
3
Lower beef prices and sales leaps buoyed profits at Ruth's Hospitality Group during the second quarter ended June 28, the company said Friday. Net income at the steakhouse company, which operates the...
4
Restaurant executives shared some surprising figures and factoids during their financial reporting this week. Here are a few of the more arresting numbers: 600 A renovation forced Pollo Tropical to...
5
Driven by sales gains at its Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical fast-casual brands, Fiesta Restaurant Group saw its profit jump 20.8 percent in the quarter ended June 28, the company said Thursday. Same-...
6
Buffalo Wild Wings has news for beer lovers that could be hard to swallow: Prices are going up. This fall, the company expects major brewers to boost draft beer prices—a move that will trickle down...
7
Restaurant innovation comes in diverse forms, as several chains demonstrated this week in revealing their mid and long-range plans. Where else would a standout turkey be regarded as a potential...
8
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to require all New York City chain restaurants to label high-sodium foods on their menus has drawn criticism from opposing corners. Some public-health professionals...
9
After a 20-year hiatus, Naugles, a popular Mexican restaurant that once had a cult-like following, reopened this week in southern California. The Naugles rebirth was met with joy which resonated over...
10
Following its recent acquisition of food-delivery startup OrderUp, Groupon Thursday launched its first foray into on-demand food delivery, Groupon To Go. In a food-courier market flush with...