Mid to upscale Mexican cuisine is on a roll. Since last year (and despite the recession), this area has seen additions like Alma (RIP), Komali, Mesa, and Mesomaya added to main stays like Javier’s and Maximo. Four months ago, Lazaranda came to Addison Walk’s restaurant row on Belt Line in Addison. Each of these restaurants is different in terms of its influences, so a media event last week afforded me the chance to put this new entry in context.
Lazaranda is the brain child of LMA Concepts, a restaurant development group based in Monterrey, Mexico. After founding a handful of apparently successful establishments in Monterrey, this is their first outpost north of the border. It is a test case for a small chain in major markets in Texas, at which point an assessment about future expansion will be done.
The premises are large with modern fittings throughout. Along the east wall, a long bar is backlit by concealed azure fluorescent lighting. An open kitchen reflects the gleam of stainless steel in the back. To your right, a raised seating area embraces a pit in the center of the room where most of the tables are located, providing visual interest and a window view of the Belt Line Road traffic count. Mexican Art by Martin Molinaro is almost unobtrusive but adds an aura of understated class to the room.
Smartly dressed servers are attired one notch more formally than most casual dining places require, which lend to a sense of standards being maintained. But the proof will be in the eating.
The focus at Lazaranda is seafood. To start, we are served two ceviches. Good. I can compare these with two standard bearers of the art cooking in acid: Stephan Pyles and Mesa. Lazaranda’s Aztec Fish Ceviche $7.99 (grilled cactus leaves, marinated tilapia, avocado, onions, tomato, cilantro, spices and fried pasilla pepper) is an all around success. The pasilla is true dried chilaca chile. The buttery avocado cuts the lime juice and the cactus leaves add interst. While cactus is easy to find on the menus of the Mexican restaurants that line Jefferson or Maple Avenue, it is still unusual elsewhere. Here leaves are sliced like bell peppers and have a soft texture in the mouth without being slimy. The most remarkable thing achieved by this ceviche is making the normally dull and monotonous tilapia an interesting fish to eat. As usual, it provides texture and mass, but the lime and onion flavors insinuate themselves around it making it take on the character of something more subtle (like the snook at Mesa). The Tropical Seafood Ceviche $9.99 (marinated shrimp and tilapia, tomato spices, red onion, pineapple and mango, ginger, cilantro and sliced avocado) was popular with our group although I found it too sweet. Overall, these are good example of ceviche, cleverly making the most of a unflavorful fish. And to me, exalting the unexaltable represents one example of what a chef is all about.
Michoacán Fresh Tuna Tostada, $5.99, (guacamole on top of a tostada, fine sliced fresh ahi tuna, spinach chiffonade, citrus soy sauce and creamy chipotle dressing) would be the ideal charity walk-around finger food, although I think our serving size may have been smaller than the regular menu serving. The earthy crunch of the tostada combined with the cold fleshy tuna and emulsifying dressings made for a tasty snack.
The House Guacamole ($5.99/$9.99) is respectable, especially if you blend in the Serrano peppers that accompany it.
The main courses bring the Zaranda into play. This device, which gives the restaurant its name, looks like a kind of wire mesh with a hinge in the middle. Food (anything from meat to fish to tortillas) is placed on one mesh and the other one closed over the top. The whole thing is then placed on the heat to grill. We found Rib Eye Chicharrón $15.99 (cubes of seasoned steak) well done and well seasoned and reminiscent of some of the food in a Brazilian churrascaria. Mahai Mahi Zarandeado, $11.99, grilled fish marinated with 4 sauces (garlic, mustard, chipotle and soy sauce) was sauced to the point that the fish was reduced to a frame upon which to mount the other flavors. It was nice, with a flaky texture, but not a flavor constituent.
Rib Eye Taco ($4.99) sliced rib eye to an almost Arby’s-like thinness then marinated it and griddled it. Slices were lopped across flour tortillas covered with refried beans and grilled Chihuahua cheese. When folded, the tortilla went down really easy (thin slicing made the meat easier to chew) and the cheese/beans/meat flavor combination is one of the classic flavor synergies in Mexican food. This has the potential to become a signature dish, but with one problem: the meat is too greasy, making it not just gelatinous in the mouth, but liable to drip over hands, cuffs, etc. With this caveat, check this out.
Desserts are the familiar Dallas calorie bombs. The Fried Caramelized Bananas ($4.99) stand out to me as they are like a Mexican Bananas Foster – the dish that even Hurricane Katrina could not stop.
What to make of Lazaranda in the scrum of new Mexican restaurants now available here? The prices are at friendly everyday levels (lunch can easily come in at under $10). The menu selection is broad enough to please a landlubber as well as the target seafood lovers. There are some unique things on the menu (and well as such familiar staples as tacos, salads and enchiladas). Some are authentic, others innovative. Service is helpful and attentive. Lazeranda is less authentic than Mesa, less idiosyncratic than Komali, more open than Alma. Chef Antonio Márquez and co-owner Mario Letayf obviously know their trade. With a tidy up of some of the menu, they can look forward to a long future and more locations.