Baru's wife, Lucia, is from Mexico, and Isalita is an homage to the cutting-edge cuisine of Mexico City. "Mexico has French, Spanish, Aztec influences," he explains. "We have creative culinary opportunities to play on." Portions are small to tiny: "It's all tasting portions. We want people to explore the menu." The tacos, three to an order, are four-inchers, which is to say, canape-sized. (Tacos run $7-$10, and nothing on the menu is over $13.) Although he emphasizes that Isalita is a restaurant, not a bar, Baru says that his "craft-produced mescals and tequilas pair well with the food, just as wine pairs with food in France."
Isalita's ingredients include a local rarity: huitlacoche, or corn smut, a Mexican delicacy. Baru brings out a bowl of it. Brown and slimy and dotted with corn kernels, it's not something you'd eat by the spoonful. "It's not very attractive is it? They call it the Mexican truffle. Not so much because of the price--we get it in cans, and it's expensive, but not that expensive--but because of the earthiness." Isalita uses it in guacamole, tacos, and soup.
Isalita, 341a E. Liberty, 213-7400. Tues.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4-11 p.m., Sun. 4-9 p.m. Closed Mon. www.isalita.com