Beyond that? He laughed. “My secret.”
Shrimp and octopus, boiled with salt, crowd the depths. (The cocktail can come with either alone, but I like the contrast.) On top is a small riot of cilantro and crescents of avocado in immaculate pale yellow-green ombré. The first sip triggers the nostalgia centers for ketchup, and then the brine kicks in. It’s best when you work all the flavors and textures into one spoonful: bright, creamy, meaty, salty-sweet.
Packets of saltines accompany each cup. A friend and regular advised me to crumble them over the cocktail, but I observed others simply taking nibbles between spoonfuls. Mr. Rodriguez said, “It’s whatever you like.” In truth, I didn’t need them.
Mr. Rodriguez, who came to New York in 1989 and worked for years as a painter and carpenter, sending money home to his family in Mexico, now devotes his time to La Esquina. He has added empanadas to the menu, their shells as light as wonton skins, sealed around sea bass flaked in a pan with garlic and Mexican adobo seasoning. After they’re fried, he opens a bit of the seam and slips in mayonnaise, cilantro and a slice of avocado so fresh it tastes like sunrise.
A clean, mild ceviche of sea bass and lime, given a boost by pico de gallo, is strewn over a tostada. Tacos are generously stocked: a tumble of octopus and onions, some bits glossy and crunchy, some dark and sticky-sweet; fillets of sea bass simply grilled with paprika, or given a rugged breading and stripes of fired-up guacamole; whiting dusted in corn flour and fried until it achieves an effervescent crust that calls to mind puffy pork skins.