La Puerta Azul: a culinary trip South of the Border (okay…south of Pine Plains)

I had been hearing especially good things about the restaurant, La Puerta Azul (the “Blue Door”) from my customers lately.  So, a group of friends decided to check it out over weekend.  Some of us were true mavens of Mexican food and had tried the restaurant a few years ago but found the food lacking, so we were a little skeptical.

Happily our skepticism was soon assuaged.  We were fortunate enough on our visit to meet one of the owners, Ashley Reifler, who gave us a little background on their restaurant.  Ash (as she likes to be called) and her husband, Bradley, moved to the area 11 years ago.  Inspired by the popular Blue Goose Cantina in Dallas, they had a dream of someday opening a Mexican restaurant themselves…and eventually that’s exactly what they did.  After a bumpy start with their former partners, it seems they have now found their “sea legs”.

La Puerta Azul first opened several years ago with well-known Mexican chef Ramiro Jimenez and a large and impressive space designed by the famous Glen & Co. (designers of Mario Battali’s Del Posto restaurant).  A clever waterfall with a “bridge” and brightly colored walls and fabrics immediately transport you out of cold and dreary Dutchess County to a warm and friendly hacienda.

Though Jimenez has moved on to start his own restaurant, their new chef, Cassandra Cotoia, a C.I.A. graduate (and formerly Jimenez’ sous chef) is very talented indeed.  She learned (and has even improved) many of his recipes and has created some delicious new dishes of her own.

[click photos to enlarge]

Our dinner started with Classic Margaritas on the rocks.  La Puerta Azul earned “Best Margarita of 2010” from Hudson Valley Magazine and we had to agree.  This was a great margarita.  It didn’t have that “Baby Aspirin” taste many commercial mixes some restaurants use have.  And, if you’re a tequila connoisseur, you’ll be very impressed with their list of fine tequilas.  Also very tasty was the Guacamole which was prepared tableside in a large stone mortar and pestle.  It was served with fresh crispy tortilla chips and a tomato salsa (which we thought could have been a bit spicier and more chunky rather than pureed).

We were then served a trio sampling of soups (sopas): Sopa de Frijoles (black bean); Sopa de Maiz (corn soup) and Sopa de Tortilla (tortilla soup).  Our favorite was the Sopa de Maiz.  Made with sweet corn, onions, poblana chiles, cream and garnished with mushrooms & truffle oil…sweet and savory…very, very good!  The black bean soup could have been “zippier”.  In fact, a few of the dishes could have been “hotter” but like many Mexican restaurants in the Northeast, chefs often err on the side of caution believing a customer can always make food spicier (with a hot sauce or chiles).  After all, you can’t “un-spice” food.

A great sampling of appetizers came next.  Our favorite was one of Chef Cassandra’s new dishes… so new, in fact, it’s not even on the menu yet so make sure you ask for it.  It’s a Quesadilla filled with goat cheese, baby arugula, mango chutney and green apples…absolutely delicious!  We also liked the Flautas de Carnitas (crispy corn tortillas filled with roast shredded pork and topped with pico de gallo, queso fresco & crema fresca), as well as a beautifully presented Camarones a la Parrilla (grilled tiger shrimp served in a onion ring “shell” and filled with guacamole, pico de gallo & topped with a chipotle aioli).

Our entrees: Another beautifully presented dish – Camarones al Pastor (seared shrimp flavored with achiote, pineapple onion & guajillo chiles.)  It was served with a very delicious tomato rice & finished with rosemary sauce.

Carne Asada y Tolache – this grilled skirt steak came with a spicy morita chile sauce (we liked the “heat” on this dish).  It was accompanied with corn rice (just as tasty as the tomato rice) & crispy onions.

I had Fajitas de Pollo – sizzling chicken with peppers & onions. Served with three soft flour tortillas.  The chicken was flavorful and juicy and the ranchero beans it came with were really delicious.

Note:  All the entree portions were very generous so you could probably share if you were including appetizers with your meal.

By this time we were more than full but Ash assured us we needed to at least sample a few of their desserts.  She didn’t have to twist our arms!  The Arroz con Leche was something I’d never had before:  Crisp pastry shells filled with coconut-almond rice pudding, drizzled with caramel sauce, with a scoop of homemade tequila-lime ice cream. Yummy!  Churros – this is a traditional crispy fritter dusted with cinnamon sugar & served with warm chocolate sauce; and the very decadent Torta de Chocolate which is a  molten chocolate cake topped with coconut-avocado ice cream & prickly pear sauce.  We were then officially stuffed and our waiter happily packed up our leftovers for us to enjoy the next day!

I have to say I was very impressed with the entire staff  at LaPuerta Azul (many of whom have been there for years).  All of them were charming: authentic and friendly without being obtrusive.  From Ash and the dining room manager, to our wonderful waiter, Chris, to Chef Cassandra who came out of the kitchen to greet us and answer any questions we might have — all seemed sincerely interested in making our experience a truly fun and relaxing night out with friends.  Thank you!

We’ll be back!

La Puerta Azul, also serves a Sunday Brunch (with music this month by Arlington High School’s String Quartet!) and features live music on Friday nights.

La Puerta Azul
2510 Route 44 (at Route 82)
Salt Point, NY 12578
(845) 677-AZUL (2985)