Tonight my husband and I met with family, and friends for what would be our last meal out in Brooklyn for a while.
With our workday over, and a table reservation on the horizon, we headed to Chela with big eyes and empty stomachs.
From the outside Chela has a beautiful front with foliage and wooden panels, giving it a very organic look that is finished with class.
As the rain began to spit for the millionth time that week my husband held the door for me to walk inside; I was eager to get my first look at Chela and everything it had to offer.
It was busy, very busy, and the wait space was small.
I could see happy patrons lining the whole bar, and sat on every seat available surrounding it; in the back of my mind I wondered just where our party of 6 would sit.
As I stood there, watching the bar staff shake up all kinds of delicious cocktails, my eyes where pulled towards a man making fresh guacamole right in front of us; this is the first time I noticed just how dimly lit the restaurant was when away from the bright bar lights.
In the picture you can see two bowls, empty, and waiting to be filled with guacamole.
The avocados set upon the counter in wicker baskets where so ripe and delicious looking that I couldn’t resist a gentle squeeze; I wondered if they really did go through that many avocados in a couple of days, but later I would see that yes, yes they did.
It took me a while to try and get a picture of the avocado to guacamole process, with the light being so dim, and soon this problem would become a constant for the evening with every picture taken.
It wasn’t long before a lovely lady came to escort us to our seats, which was perfect timing as my stomach audibly decided to tell the world it was overdue a feed.
Down the side of the bar and into a back room we went, single file, until we settled on the far left hand side of a mostly empty, quieter, room.
It seemed darker in here with the light, but yet somehow cozy and more intimate.
Quickly I started to scan the menu for something delicious; I was so hungry that I struggled to stop my eyes and stomach from darting back and forth, insisting I order every item available.
Luckily, a bowl of warm freshly cooked tortilla chips landed on our table, along with a bowl of fresh salsa, which helped to curb my aggressive hanger enough to allow my brain the freedom to think rationally again for a few minutes.
The menu was vast with a huge selection of food, which included a specialized vegan and vegetarian section.
I was instantly swayed by the steak tacos, which my husband decided upon, but as I was about to place my order first the waitress told us of a special of the day – Chile Rellenos.
Chile Rellenos was bell peppers stuff with queso fresco, shrimp, and zucchini, topped with chihuahua cheese and finished with a creamy garlic, chipotle and sweet corn sauce. The final touch to the dish was a sprinkle of pepper ashes from the roasting process.
I slammed my menu onto the table excitedly, with probably more force than I should, and took not another look at it – knowing full well that my heart was stuck on the special – before the waitress took it away.
The night was looking glorious as a series of appetizers began to arrive, including that spectacular looking guacamole I’d seen being made to order at the entrance, Camarones Huatulco (grilled jumbo shrimp, chipotle emulsion, and mango pico de Gallo all nestled into a half grilled pineapple) and slow cooked baby back ribs, Sonora style, in a agave chipotle glaze.
I must admit that I did have to Google, Sonora style, and found out that Sonora is a state in Mexico and that Sonora is just a way in which they are prepared/cooked; unfortunately I failed at finding exactly what was done to make the ribs of Sonora style.
First up, the guacamole arrived, and I reached my first picture taking hurdle of many for the evening.
The light was dim, leaving no justice with a picture compared to the real deal, but I thought the food too good for this review to not go ahead; regardless of how the pictures came out in the end.
The guacamole was so fresh that I haven’t had a guacamole so good in a long time.
The avocados where perfectly ripe, powering the dish forward; all of the other flavors came into each mouthful as little explosions upon the palette between beautiful bites of first class avocado goodness; non of the ingredients where too strong, and they all blended beautifully as a whole.
I couldn’t stop, in fact I ate almost half a bowl before it emptied entirely, and with the temptation for another bowl at the front of my mind I forced myself to focus on my red wine and not fill up on guacamole alone; even if it was the best guacamole I’d had since starting my review travels a few months ago.
Next came the ribs, and I’ll admit that I wished the presentation didn’t hide those little baby backs quite so well, however, all was forgiven when I took that first succulent bite.
There was such a lot going on up top, that I barely saw the ribs at all, but with the ribs in mind I scrapped the top coleslaw away and took one for my plate; passing the rest around the table to share.
These ribs had a sear so beautiful that I wondered if they’d flash seared them in the pan before cooking them low and slow.
The flavor was locked within those seared walls like Fort Knox, as each crunchy piece of meat was taken away from the bone with the ease of every bite; they where sticky, smoky, and so perfectly done that I almost forgot I was at a Mexican restaurant and wondered where the bbq was.
All too soon my one rib was over, my fingers where left sticky, and I found myself longing to order another plate just to take home and eat tonight with my husband in our hotel room – ha.
With no time to dwell on my empty plate, the Camarones Huatulco arrived, showing off the well oiled machine that is Chela; operating at maximum speed, with grace and ease.
With my allergies to pineapple forever hindering me from a good time, my husband picked a shrimp from the top of the pile and placed it on my plate.
At first I was weary, knowing that my allergies only kicked in if I ate the actual fresh part of the pineapple itself, but I dug in anyway and hoped for the best.
The shrimp was fantastic, full of tropical flavors and glazed with that sticky chipotle finish that seemed to be a theme here at Chela.
Although my taste testing stopped there, I noticed that the rest of the group destroyed the dish with ease and rave reviews along the way, as I watched longingly from my seat.
After taking a few bits and pieces of leftover tortilla crumbs, to divert my attention from pineapple carnage, giving new life to the saying ‘scraping the barrel’ I saw my main dish heading my way at full speed across the room; it was huge.
I tried over and over again to get a perfect picture, in order to really capture the dishes true beauty, but in the end the light deceived me and I was left with a picture that would never show the true potential of this main.
My first bite of the dish was outstanding.
On my fork I piled pepper, zucchini, chihuahua cheese, shrimp, and a roasted walnut; the flavors danced across my tastebuds as though performing to a mariachi band.
The creaminess of the garlic, chipotle, and sweet corn sauce was so full and delicious that it tasted almost velvety as it slid straight to my hips.
The peppers had been roasted to sheer perfection, as each soft bite burst deceivingly with the freshness of a raw pepper, and the distinct flavor that can only be attained by a ripe, good quality, bell pepper.
Paired with the slightly crunchy zucchini bites, and expertly steamed shrimp, the pepper was out of this world alone; adding the walnuts, cheese, and sauce just continued to rocket this dish onto a podium that was fit only for winners.
Each item on the dish sparkled in its own way, with its own unique taste, and yet nothing took place of another; each item worked so well together that alone it was good, but together it was something magical beyond tastebud belief.
The whole time I was eating it I kept thinking of just how naughtily creamy it was, and how well the almost sweet chihuahua cheese stuck to every bite, and yet the indulgence was only intensified more with the freshness of the shrimp and the vegetables; it was the best of both worlds, naughty and nice.
A dish like this is hard to find, and only certain restaurants can pull off so many flavors in one dish and keep the quality exceptional; I must admit that at first I worried the flavors would be so overpowering to one another that the dish would be too rich for me to handle.
Oh, how wrong I was.
This dish was a win beyond wins, and I’m so glad I got the special to really showcase what a fantastic restaurant Chela is.
Every dish oozed a quality that many other fine dining Mexican restaurants I’ve visited find hard to attain.
Chela took me back to my time in Mexico with my husband, and each bite pushed me more and more into a food coma that I welcomed with open arms.
As the margaritas and cocktails continued to flow, we ended our night delightfully full, and headed back out into the cold air; reluctantly leaving Chelas warm embrace.
The days following our visit would leave curious chitter chatter amongst our friends, and the more I spoke of our fabulous experience, the more question where asked on directions and dish recommendations for all of our friends who would later visit Chela – the Mexican restaurant that would blow their mind.
Thank you for such a fantastic evening at a restaurant I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Chela, you exceeded all of my expectations, and made me fall deeper in love with every bite.
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Until next time,