Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in the door. There has been some chatter about this place. The decor is modern, brightly colored and slightly kitschy. It doesn’t scream contemporary interior Mexican, though it didn’t take long for me to get focused. About as long as it took for the salsa to arrive: Green Apple and Habanero Chili. Brilliant. Why haven’t I tasted this before? And, the hits just kept on coming. Chef Rene Ortiz has got chops. He returned to TX from the bright lights and busy restaurants of NYC to open my eyes to what Mexican food can be.
I thought I had my selections down before I arrived, but the specials list through me for a loop. Too many interesting choices. You can get lost in the Appetizers alone. I went for what seemed to be a strange guacamole. A combination of avocado, queso fresco and pomegranate seeds. Inspired. Creamy avocado + salty cheese + sweet crunch. Again, why haven’t I had this before. The combination seemed obvious after I ate it. The Elotes that came as a side to my chop blew me away. Perfect, buttery, spicy corn off the cob with street cred. The fish special was excellent. Hell, all the seafood was. Overall, we were impressed by the quality of the ingredients and imaginative combination’s of flavors, but were a little disappointed by the saltiness of some dishes (a little heavy on the finishing salt for me).
This place is very cool and bound to attract the fete set hipsters (hey, Robert Rodriguez, take it easy on the cologne). Interior design by Joel Mozersky (Uchi, Belmont, El Arbol) fits perfectly in the 2nd Street district: Splashy murals, string lights with Einstein bulbs. I think they could still round off a few of the sharp corners, though. The geometry is tight in the booths. Four big business men were seated next to us and quickly opted for a table. If you are trying to get four people in, they better be related or of the skinny jean crowd. Also, the only bathrooms are upstairs in the bar. The stairs back down to the restaurant look a lot steeper after a couple Margaritas. Nitpicks aside, this place is slick. Even the matches are cool.
I don’t want to hear any more crap about “expensive TexMex”. This isn’t 2 am in the Taco Cabana drive through. This is inspired, expressive, creative food. Let’s show Mexican cuisine some respect. I can’t believe there aren’t more places like this in Austin.