Review: Sureste Mexican is a love song for traditional Yucatán cuisine | Food and Beverage News | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events
As a young cook working under the late Chef Robert Uyemura at Euro Bistro in Yia Yia many years ago, Alex Henry dreamed of owning his own gourmet restaurant. Like many newcomers, he envisioned a quintessential modern restaurant based on the food and techniques he had learned working for chefs in conventional high-end kitchens. But Uyemura saw something different for Henry. Dazzled by the traditional Yucatán-style staff meals prepared by Henry, Uyemura encouraged the future chef to look within himself and embrace the food that belonged to him personally.
Now, about a decade later and with stints at many fine dining properties under his belt, Henry has finally followed Uyemura’s advice with his first restaurant, Sureste Mexican (1 foundry road). Based on the Yucatán cuisine that is the centerpiece of her family’s culinary tradition, the fast-casual spot is both a love song for the food that defines her ancestral homeland and an opportunity to share that less familiar with regional Mexican cuisine with Saint-Louis. guests.
Looking back, Sureste has always been Henry’s culinary destiny. After moving to St. Louis from the Yucatán region of Mexico as a child, Henry describes a childhood based on a dual identity. While one side was defined by his new home in the United States and all the American traditions that entailed, the other part of him remained firmly rooted in Mexico, especially in his from abuelita kitchen, where he spent several months each year with his family. She was hugely influential, instilling in him a passion for food, so when it came time for him to pursue a career, he chose cooking and enrolled in the culinary program at St. Louis Community College–Forest Park. Around this time, he started working for Uyemura, then moved on to other kitchens in the city before landing with Michael and Tara Gallina at the famed Vicia and eventually at Ben Poremba’s upscale Mexican restaurant, Nixta.
Henry’s time at Nixta was eye-opening as it made him think about all that was possible with an upscale Mexican concept. However, it would take him a few years, plus a two-year gig as executive chef of Cleveland Heath, to take the leap and open Sureste. Although he initially envisioned the restaurant as a brick-and-mortar sit-down style, he instead decided to test the waters as a booth inside City Foundry’s Food Hall.
Since opening in October, Henry has been delighted with the response he has received to his less familiar style of Mexican cuisine. Sureste’s success proved something he always believed: that once people had the chance to taste traditional Yucatán cuisine, they would fully embrace it.
This success has everything to do with Henry’s undeniable talent and fierce commitment to doing things for the long haul – exactly how his abuelita would do them. You see this philosophy in every dish he prepares, even something as simple as fries and salsa. For this humble side dish, Henry charred leftover onions and peppers, then tossed them with tomatoes, chiles and spices for a concoction that’s more earthy than zesty. another dive, sikil pakis a traditional Yucatán aperitif made from sunflower seeds and tomatoes – and looks like a thick hummus but tastes like roasted nuts with cilantro and onion.
Unlike a street taco, Sureste’s tacos are served deconstructed; diners receive a bowl overflowing with a generous helping of filling and three handmade blue corn tortillas rolled up and placed on the platter. You won’t go wrong no matter what you choose, because Henry has mastered the kitchen, from golden potatoes – tossed in a cumin-black pepper-allspice seasoning blend and topped with pickled red onions – to superb citrus marinated beets.
However, it’s not just the vegetarian options that impress. Henry’s take on the fish taco is extraordinary and nothing like the California fried versions. Here, Henry mixes the meat of a roasted whole fish with tomatoes, citrus fruits, peppers and herbs; the fish is so juicy it forms its own vibrant sauce that you slather on the tortilla like you’re soaking up cioppino broth with crusty bread.
Diners can also choose two different types of turkey. He prepares the traditional Yucatán protein in either a bright citrus marinade or a mole of burnt chili. He describes the latter as a labor of love that, from start to finish, takes four or five days. You taste this effort in the deeply earthy and complex chili heat of the meat.
Two pork tenders complete Sureste’s taco toppings. The first, a crispy pork version, combines a tender breast with pieces of crispy chicharrons which is finished with aioli and cabbage. It’s an outrageously delicious choice and a masterful blend of textures, although the second pork option, the cochinita pibil, may be the best thing you put in your mouth all year. For this, Henry uses a whole pork simmered with homemade spice paste and fresh citrus. The meat is so succulent; it’s spreadable and shimmers with a glorious nectar of fat and citrus juice that’s both decadent and bright. You never had cochinita pibil until you had Henry.
Tacos aren’t the only way to enjoy these great toppings. Sureste offers a pibihuaor Mayan Fried Roll, a hollowed-out boat of thick masa, as well as a panucho, or Tostada filled with beans. The first, soft and tender, allows the protein of choice to penetrate every crevice like an open sandwich. The latter is crunchy and filled with Sureste’s exceptional bean concoction.
However, if there is one dish to taste in this magnificent restaurant, it is the colado-tamale style. Forget your tamale preconceptions. This style is moister, plumper, and fattier — and features less corn than a silky custard that flutters as you move the plate. On its own, this voluptuous masa would be a worthy dish, but Henry fills it with the cochinita pibilsolidifying it as one of the best dishes in St. Louis.
Something this beautiful would be right at home in a museum, let alone a restaurant with white tablecloths. It’s a path Henry could have easily taken, but instead he chooses to share a piece of himself with St. Louis at a humble food stand. Sureste proves that you don’t need cutlery, plates and full service to make a great restaurant; such delicious food can speak for itself anyway and wherever it is served.
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