Victor Parra Gonzalez and Vincenza (Zina) Lapi have combined their culinary talent and are ready to bring you Casa Azul this December. Anyone familiar with 128 Genesee Street (the old Dog é Style) will know that the name, Casa Azul (‘blue house’), is fitting. But the building’s blue exterior is not the only source of inspiration behind the restaurant’s name; it is also inspired by the famous Frida Kahlo museum, La Casa Azul, in Mexico.
I was not surprised to hear that Parra Gonzalez and Lapi have chosen to integrate Kahlo into the concept of their restaurant. One of the first things that I learned about Parra Gonzalez (several months ago) is that he has a great deal of admiration and respect for the artist. As Lapi explains, Kahlo represents to them, “someone who was always true to herself, her style.” Kahlo is not only remembered for her art, but also for “her perseverance, overcoming many obstacles that came her way.”
The restaurant will consist of two floors, each with its own dining concept. The downstairs will function as a ‘taqueria’ and serve Mexican street fare that combines traditional cooking methods with innovative toppings and creations. Guests can expect to see a variety of tacos and tortas on the menu. According to Lapi and Parra Gonzalez, the restaurant will be the first in town to offer a proper ‘al pastor’ taco. The preparation for this traditional Mexican taco involves roasting pork on vertical spindles. I suspect that the prospect of a true al pastor taco is enough to bring many local Mexican food lovers through Casa Azul’s doors.
Parra Gonzalez assured me that all of their tacos will be served on tortillas made by hand. I had the pleasure of experiencing Parra Gonzalez’s tortillas on a previous occasion and can personally attest to their culinary greatness. They are delicious, pliable, and strong; a single tortilla is sturdy enough to hold its fillings without crumbling into pieces when you try to take a bite. And his tortillas are always served with the most interesting and complex flavor combinations; they are just as beautiful to see as they are to taste. The upstairs—somewhat more formal than the downstairs – will have a fully developed bar program and serve large plates, share plates, tacos, and more. The illustrious Tony Rials, formerly of Mike A’s at the Hotel Lafayette and Bourbon and Butter, will run the bar.
Although Parra Gonzalez grew up in Mexico, and is the son of a chef, he is passionate about cooking and is committed to refining and expanding his techniques. He continues to travel throughout Mexico and visit up-and-coming restaurants to deepen his understanding of Mexican culture and cooking. Whenever possible, he will integrate his understanding of traditional methods and ingredients into Casa Azul’s offerings.
Lapi and Parra Gonzalez bring a wealth of combined experience to Casa Azul. Lapi is a classically trained chef (Johnson & Wales) and has worked in upscale kitchens throughout the city, including Mike A’s at the Hotel Lafayette and Buffalo Proper. She has also operated her own food truck, ‘The Blue Balls Bus,’ that served street food with new and creative twists. Parra Gonzalez, also a classically trained chef (École Hôtelière des Laurentides), is the former owner of the highly acclaimed Jaguar at the Bistro in Youngstown and has a solo project, Las Puertas, in the works.
Parra Gonzalez and Lapi plan to open the downstairs taqueria on December 5. The bar and upstairs of the restaurant will open at a later date.