Outside of Mexico, there are probably fewer people in the world who are as in love with Mexican cuisine (or an interpretation of it) as Americans. One never quite realizes just how good we have it in the States when it comes to finding tasty Mexican or Tex-Mex food until one travels to Europe where the difference between a wrap and a burrito isn’t quite as understood as it is here. Our approach to Mexican cuisine has also changed considerably as our culture has begun to embrace bolder flavors, and today’s foodies demand authenticity. While we still love our cheesy, sour cream-laden, Tex-Mex #3 combo specials, a lot of restaurants - even those owned and operated by gringos - are incorporating more and more authentic Mexican flavors and techniques into their menus, and even more restaurants are elevating Mexican cuisine to a level of sophistication previously unseen. Dennis Max’s new Boca Raton restaurant, The Mexican Cocina & Tequila Bar, has managed to bring diners a unique combination of bold, authentic flavors paired with creative innovation and the familiar flavors that we, as Americans, know and love from Mexican cuisine. The result is a restaurant that offers a fun, uninhibited ambiance with great food that teases and plays with your palate in very exciting ways.
Part of what makes a city gastronomically unique are not only the independent eateries and local food customs, but also some of the homegrown chains that are seldom - if ever - found anywhere else, even though they can be so omnipresent where we live that we assume them as a given. I learned at a young age that Pollo Tropical cannot be found in North Carolina, and more recently that ribs at Flanigan’s can be something for which a homesick South Floridian can really yearn. We might laugh it off now, but after being away from the 305 for a while, many of us start thinking about the little things that we left behind. Being that Miami is a young city, many of our culinary traditions (including chain restaurants) are fairly new and many are developing right as I am finishing writing this sentence. Salsa Fiesta, which first began close to Midtown Miami and before opening a second location in Pembroke Pines, may soon become yet another one of our local food traditions as it opens its third location in Aventura next month with complimentary margaritas to celebrate.
Exposed bricks, 200 year-old reclaimed wood beamed ceilings, imported Mexican terra-cotta tiles and ceramics, and personal black and white photography adorning the walls are just the beginning at Móle. Open since March, Móle, a Mexican eatery on the Upper East Side, serves sophisticated and refined Mexican cuisine expertly prepared by chef and restaurateur, Guadalupe Elizalde. Using her family’s original recipes Lupe creates a culinary experience not found in your run-of-the-mill taco-based establishment. Along with her husband, Nick Cervera, the couple designed a space and menu that encapsulates regional and classic Mexican cuisine while maintaining a close sense of family and tradition.
After being seated, we were promptly greeted by our waitress and a unique palate cleanser: a scoop of grapefruit and mint-infused shaved ice served over a platter of dry ice. We were given the option of topping it off with a shot of their house tequila. Yes please! This was the perfect balance of subtle sweetness to get us started.
As we perused our menus, we munched on homemade tortilla chips and our choice of 3 dipping sauces or their house mango hot sauce. The dipping sauces - roasted tomatillo, chipotle crema, and salsa roja - ranged in levels of heat from “just a kick” to “whoa baby!” I’ll leave you to decide which was which. We were given their cocina menu and their tequila menu. The tequila menu offers 3 lists of the 3 different styles of tequila: platinum, reposado, and añejo. Within each list, the selection is divided between the different available flavor notes. It is set up for making the most educated decision regarding your drink selection. Tequila can be served in a shot or on the rocks, and our knowledgeable waitress was able to set my husband up with a tequila that suited his palate perfectly: a peppery añejo on the rocks. I opted for the Lolita Margarita. Typically, margaritas provide a sour punch to the taste buds that is mellowed out by the salted rim. This margarita was made with Grand Marnier, cane syrup, a squeeze of grapefruit, fresh lime, and of course, salt on the rim. With its elegant presentation and sweet flavoring, I thought of it as being more chic and subtly sweet than traditional margaritas.
The appetizer menu was loaded with options that I wanted to try! Pork belly guacamole? Tortilla soup? Crispy masa oysters? Queso fundido? Lobster Enchilada? After appropriately sensing the confusion and indecision on my face, our enthusiastic waitress suggested that we do a taps-style tasting. With a sigh of relief, we began rattling off our selections. The pork belly guacamole was a different take on a classic - the avocados, cilantro, and tomatoes were clearly fresh, and it was topped with cubes of pork that, when eaten together with the guacamole, gave it an unexpected texture and flavor. The tortilla soup consisted of a bowl of pulled chicken, crisp tortilla strips, avocado, pico de gallo, green chiles, and queso blanco. Our waitress then poured the chicken broth directly onto those ingredients, allowing the flavors to steep directly in front of us and rendering a seemingly simple soup that was bursting with flavors! Whether you like to sip the broth and eat the other contents separately, or eat them all together in a party of flavors, you simply cannot go wrong! The crispy masa oysters came highly recommended, so we opted to give them a try. These full-flavored, fried oysters were served in their shells over chipotle crema sauce, and they did not disappoint. The queso fundido was right up my alley! This hearty dish was made up of the mixed flavors of meat, chorizo, and mushrooms. It was topped with melted Asadero cheese and gave you a slight kick to the taste buds. The queso was served alongside a plate of warm tortillas to assist in the “plate-to-face” process. The Lobster Enchilada is a great recommendation for those who are fans of milder cuisine. This dish features lobster, corn, mild chiles, and jack cheese, with a creamy sauce drizzled over the top. The appetizers were delicious!
As we were waiting for our entrees, we sipped our beverages, sat back, and took in the scenery. My husband had spent a portion of his childhood in Mexico and reported feeling nostalgic while sitting there. The low light with soft mood music was reminiscent of sitting outside in a genuine Mexican quinta. The outside seating area featured a large tree, providing shade for the entire area, with light fixtures and chandeliers hanging from the larger branches. For extra entertainment, they always have a silent film playing in the background. Simply sitting there was an enriching experience.
For our entrees, I ordered the shrimp ajillo, while my husband ordered the bone-in rib eye. The shrimp ajillo featured shrimp cooked in a delectable garlic and butter sauce that is not for the faint of heart. The medley of flavors included in the sauce was more than I could have ever expected. There were no hints or undertones here. This dish is “in your face” delicious! The Bone-In Rib Eye was grilled with a sear to “rare” perfection.
After dinner, we ordered the diablo margarita, simply out of pure curiosity. How exactly would a spicy margarita taste? This drink certainly caters to the palate of those who prefer spicier flavors, given the serrano chile in the drink and the rim of pepper sugar. The spiciness provides a fantastic balancing act to the margarita’s tang, replacing the sweetness of a typical margarita. It was not for lovers of “tame” cuisine! The table service platter for after-dinner coffee included 4 cups with your choices in sweeteners: Splenda, rock sugar, Mexican chocolate, or brown sugar caramel. The presentation was adorable!
The service was exceptional throughout our entire stay. Our waitress got to know our tastes after paying attention to our comments and was able to make recommendations that were appropriate to each of us. At the very end, our check was brought to the table along with a large cloud of cotton candy, a temporary tattoo bearing the restaurant’s name, and a damp washcloth, for prompt application. It truly leaves its “mark” on you: mind, body, and appetite! Lolita is a wonderful place for intimate conversation, so bring a date. Or if you are in the mood for a livelier experience, they also cater to larger groups. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a good time with great food directly in the heart of South Beach.
Lolita: Cocina and Tequila Bar
100 Collins Avenue
South Beach, FL 33139
Did you know Roast Suckling Pig has its very own national holiday? This December 18th, celebrate the swine with some good ‘ol fashion pork! Technically, the holiday should take place over the span of two days, since that’s how long the average pig takes to be prepared and roasted. The main ingredient involves a four to six week old piglet, ranging between nine to twenty pounds. For those couple of weeks, the pig is bred solely on its mother’s milk. Although younger pigs are preferred for their tender meat, larger pigs are not uncommon.
A wide variety of roast suckling pig recipes have been created for the holiday season. For a Mexican flavor, add Mexican cinnamon, dried avocado leaves and guajillo chiles. For a more Asian roast, use vinegar, five-spice powder, and red miso. For a Cuban-inspired recipe drench your tender pig in oranges and limes and place it in La Caja China. This ritual was passed down from family to family, specifically Roberto Guerra’s family. One day in winter of 1985, Guerra’s father, who had immigrated to Miami, told his son about the way they cooked for large amounts people in Cuba. Using a large wooden hot box, the pig would lay roasting slowly under a charcoal fire. Young Roberto Guerra asked his father to show him and thus La Caja China was born. The improved ovens are built with local materials for up to 100 pounds of juicy pork meat!
Originally opened in 1984 in Midtown Manhattan, Rosa Mexicano was hailed as elevating Mexican cuisine to an upscale fare. Now with the opening of its second South Florida location on Lincoln’s Road’s stunning Herzog & de Mueron plaza at 1111 Lincoln Road, Rosa Mexicano brings its chic vibe and authentic Mexican cuisine to Miami Beach. As I stare out my office window at their al fresco diners, I wish I was eating their signature table-side prepared guacamole right now! Not only is Rosa Mexicano known for their made-to-order guacamole, their signature tacos de panza de puerco (pork belly tacos) served on house-made tortillas, with spicy piloncillo pickles and fiery molcajete salsa, is also a must-try! If you have not tried their Frozen Pomegranate Margarita, what are you waiting for? We included it in our list of must-have Spring Break drinks!
There are a lot of things in life that are a mystery to me. Like why are we here? Who actually built the pyramids? Why did the Incas disappear? And finally, why is the word ‘abbreviation’ so long? Which bring me to my next dilemma: when in search for Mexican food, it seems like everywhere I go, I always hear one thing: “Well, that’s not real Mexican food. You can’t get real Mexican food here!” So what exactly is real Mexican food? Having never been to Mexico or eaten at a Mexican family’s home, I’ve never had the opportunity of trying the real thing and hence, Mexican food to me is another mystery. With every Mexican restaurant that pops up claiming it carries the real McCoy, how can one be sure?
It's as easy as clicking your heels together three times and chanting "There's no place like Mexico, there's no place like Mexico, there's no place like Mexico". The hot new restaurant Tacontento, tucked away on Lincoln Lane, will make you feel as though you have stepped through a porthole into another country.
The decor and atmoshphere at Tacontento is authentic, charming, fun, comfortable and so aesthetically engulfing that you will forget to look at your menu to select your meal. To top it off, the service is warm, friendly, upbeat and professional. My gayte and I were graciously seated by a sweet hostess at a community table and were then swiftly greeted within seconds by our server with an offer for something to drink. We already felt as though we weren't in Kansas, or on South Beach anymore.
If you’ve ever been to Dos Caminos in New York or Las Vegas or have heard of their high quality modern Mexican food, you’ll be glad to hear of their new location opening today, January 27th, at the Sheraton Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. This will be the sixth location for Dos Caminos of this fast-growing restaurant company and we’re excited to welcome them to the Sunshine State!
Dos Caminos Fort Lauderdale will accommodate guests inside and outside – for everyday dining and special events. With its oceanfront setting and the industrial elements, that maintain all Dos Caminos locations, this new restaurant will fit right in with South Florida’s exciting atmosphere and beach-loving environment. Another great feature of Dos Caminos Fort Lauderdale will be its feature of a collection of historical and modern, black and white images by photographer Murray Hall.
DC’s Restaurant Week is here. During the week of August 16 – August 22, 2010 experience more than 200 of Washington D.C.’s finest restaurants. This is a great opportunity to try 3-course lunches priced at $20.10 and 3-course dinners priced at $35.10. Choose from an range of food including Contemporary American, Mexican, French, Mediterranean, Italian, Southern, Seafood, Spanish, California, Pan-Asian and more!
Tables can fill up fast so make reservations early and especially for the most poplar restaurants. Prices are per person and do not include beverage, tax or gratuity. For a list of all participating restaurants go to OpenTable.com. Remember it's better to drink on a full stomach.