Mesa’s owner/chef/carpenter Raul Reyes is busy with his buzz saw in the space next door to Mesa. He is constructing a small oyster bar tentatively called “El Ceviche.” Daughter Jaret Reyes sheds some light:
We will have different types of cocktails (shrimp, octopus) and fresh oysters, shrimp to peel, and buckets of beer. Not too sure about the name.
Mesa is closed tonight because their power is out.4 Comments »
My first thought: a hundred reasons and more than a dozen years would prevent me from reviewing Monica’s Nueva Cocina & Mi Lounge. I have known the owner, Monica Greene, since before I became a restaurant critic. Despite my closet full of disguises, I figured there was no way I could sneak in without being recognized.
One late-September morning, though, I called Greene to ask her how the restaurant was doing. She outlined many of the changes she went through during the year it took to open. Her original plan for the space was to create a 70-seat, chef-driven, regional Mexican restaurant called Tajin. At the time, Greene was itching to get back in the kitchen and cook the food she grew up eating. She chose the name to honor Mexican history. At the El Tajin ruins near Veracruz, archaeologists uncovered relics from the Olmec people, the first major civilization in Mexico.
After neighboring restaurant Sushi Axiom closed, Greene changed her concept. She incorporated that space and geared her food to a more mainstream audience. She doubled the original fl oor plan to 7,600 square feet that include two dining rooms, two bars, room for 200 guests, and the sushi bar left by Sushi Axiom. She changed the menu from fried grasshoppers, venison carpaccio, frog legs, and no chips and salsa to “real Mexican food with a respect for Tex-Mex.” Greene hired chef Hector Hernandez from Alma and Hibiscus, and she put herself in the front of the house.
Near the end of our chat, Greene said something that I now wish she hadn’t. She told me she was leaving forNew York in a couple of days and, after that, she was taking a vacation inTurkey. I decided to write the review. I could eat anonymously, and, if it came to that, I figured our friendship could survive a negative review.
Critics love Mesa. Fans of regional Mexican cookery love Mesa. If you haven’t tried it, you should try Mesa and love it, too. There is no better time to awaken your taste buds than Mesa’s Dia de los Muertos celebrations on Oct. 26 and 27. The event at Raul and Olga Reyes’ Oak Cliff restaurant will give guests a look at the traditional trappings and comestibles of the Mexican Day of the Dead, the time when the dead return home to feast with their loved ones.
Mesa will build an altar de muertos to honor Olga Reyes’ brother who passed away four years ago. She explains that, like all holiday altars, theirs will be an “offering the family is giving the dead.” Aside from their deceased relative’s cherished items, incense, candles and cempazuchilt flowers (marigolds), the altar will hold a glass of water, bread and other foods, along with a plate of salt in case some of the food requires extra seasoning. What won’t need to be kicked up a notch will be Mesa’s specials served by a staff in traditional Dia de los Muertos makeup.
Chief among the weekend’s dishes will be pozole. While diners slurp the reviving deep-red soup, they can enjoy two drinks specials: Viuda Negra, or Black Widow, a tipple of black vodka, lime juice and soda presented with a floating candy eye, and the Shrek Swamp Mojito.
But don’t finish everything. Leave something for the loved ones crossing over. They deserve to fall head over heels for Mesa, too.
Don’t be alarmed if on Nov. 1 and 2 someone wishes you “Feliz Día de los Muertos,” or Happy Day of the Dead. The Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos is a sacred time celebrated for millennia (In the modern era, the Day of the Dead corresponds with the All Souls Day and All Saints Day). But it’s by no means macabre. Día de los Muertos, with its roots in Aztec tradition, is a joyful time. Beloved ancestors return to the realm of the living to mingle with loved ones—and eat. The journey from the afterlife works up an appetite.
Like any holiday worth its salt, Día de los Muertos is heavy on the feasting. And, like the energy spent during the trek from the hereafter, the ritual preparation of the food associated with the holiday is labor intensive and best undertaken with family.
Tamales, an Aztec staple, are perhaps the most significant of the Día de los Muertos comestibles. Its elements (filling, masa, and cornhusk or banana leaf wrapper) correspond to the innards and skin of the individual and his/her petate, a straw bed-mat. In pre-Hispanic times the petate represented a death shroud. Simply put: Death nourishes. I say, find said nourishment at tamale factories across Dallas-Fort Worth.
The tamale’s piping hot deliciousness is matched by a big pot of mole, the most common of which, at least stateside, is the dark mole poblano, a complex sauce of chilies, nuts, spices and chocolate of legendary origin. It can take up to a day and whatever number of ingredients you care to use to make a mole, and they can be green, red, yellow, black, or any color of the earth to which we will all return.
Mesa needs more love.
At the media dinner I was invited to last night, there wasn’t a single breathing soul in the restaurant besides the bloggers and writers tasting the new menu by Raul Reyes, owner and chef extraordinaire of Mesa Veracruz Coastal Cuisine. Sure, it was a Wednesday evening, but it was still surprisingly empty for a restaurant of such high caliber.
Perhaps Reyes’ new fall menu can persuade enough people to venture out to the adventurous side of Oak Cliff, where Mesa is squeezed between a pawn shop and bakery.
Jump for some sweet shots by Melisa Oporto. Continue reading "Mesa’s New Fall Menu is Spectacular"
Former Gloria’s employee Fernando Santos teamed up with his mother-in-law, Blanca Huesca, to open Nando’s in the southwest quadrant of Preston Royal Shopping Center. Santo runs the front of the house and the bar that turns out sophisticated margaritas, while his mother-in-law mans the kitchen. Huesca’s specialty is the food of Veracruz, and her offerings include safe, middle-of-the-road ingredients and Tex-Mex dishes that will certainly appeal to the gringo neighborhood. The consistency of the food, however, varies wildly. At lunch, a side of guacamole was overly populated with pieces of cucumber. When reordered at dinner, the nutty taste of avocado was more prevalent. Our server was inexperienced and couldn’t answer basic questions about the menu, but another would swoop over to the table to add his recommendations. Continued.4 Comments »
In the current edition of D Magazine, I review Urban Rio in Plano. As Leslie Brenner would say, “I quite liked it.” However, La B did not. Last week, she granted Urban Rio one lonely star (paywall may apply). I felt she took points off the place for the wrong reasons. She notes the ubiquitous TV screens (it’s Tex-Mex in Plano!) but dismisses the efforts the kitchen takes to produce fresh ingredients such as grinding corn into masa on site and making sophisticated, time-consuming sauces (inspired by Mark Miller!). She fails in Tex-Mex once again for stating: “For dipping, there are baskets of sturdy, not particularly addictive tortilla chips. The unnatural-looking bright green ones? They’re made from cactus, a server tells us.” Leslie, that’s a good thing.
And shame on you Mr. Scott Reitz. In his Dallas Observer review he types: “Sure, there’s an endless procession of store-bought chips you can dip in a tomato-heavy salsa or runny black beans…” Huh? Didn’t you spot the workers hand cutting the tortilla chips in the open kitchen? I’ll give Reitz three stars for grasping the history of Plano and noting the significance of Urban Rio. TVs or no TVs, Nathan and Bonnie Shea, who also own Urban Crust down the street, are responsible for adding a chef’s touch to the food served in historic downtown Plano.
Guys, I understand you are both from out of town, but in Dallas we take our chips and salsa seriously. Oh, I see a best chips and salsa post. Come on gang, tell these two where to go. For chips and salsa, that is.
For your consideration:
There have been plenty of prospectors who have talked about developing historic downtown Plano into a vibrant, hip destination. The Fillmore Pub and Vickery Park, two spinoffs from trendy Henderson Avenue in Dallas, sparked the fire when they moved in among the vintage clothing stores, furniture markets, and quaint embroidery shops that have populated 15th Street for many years. The little old ladies who lunch at Jörg’s Cafe Vienna began sharing the sidewalks with tattooed barflies.
But Nathan Shea is the one who fanned the flame. He has opened two thoughtful and successful restaurants, turning East Plano into a destination for diners from as far away as Oak Cliff. Plano doesn’t seem remote when you sit at a table in the second-story bar at Urban Rio and watch the twinkling lights of Reunion Tower in the distance.
Jump for more and fabulous food porn. Continue reading "Brenner Wrong. Reitz is Close. Urban Rio in Plano Features Great Chips and Salsa"12 Comments »
Had lunch there today and was told by our waitress that they are closing on Sunday.
Is the Dallas revolution in Mexican cuisine flatlining?
Raul Reyes opened his first restaurant in 2008, a tiny place in Oak Cliff serving the colorful cuisine of his birthplace, the Veracruz region of Mexico. La Palapa Veracruzana was run by his family, wife Olga working as his co-chef, daughter Jaretzy taking managerial duties, and son Raul Jr. waiting tables. The seafood-centric menu snagged the palates of serious food lovers and critics in Dallas, but the kudos posted on food blogs and the glowing reviews couldn’t keep it alive. It closed after only a year.
“We never pulled an alcohol license,” Reyes says by way of explanation. “I couldn’t. My daughter was manager and she was only 17.”
Dejected, Reyes figured he would have to shed his chef whites forever and return to the construction business to support his family. Before La Palapa Veracruzana closed, Reyes had augmented his income by taking on handyman jobs. Chris Zielke, co-owner of Bolsa and Smoke, had hired Reyes to rebuild the bar at Bolsa, the popular farm-to-table restaurant in the Bishop Arts District. So Reyes showed up at Bolsa one day and told Zielke he’d closed his restaurant. Zielke encouraged Reyes to try again.8 Comments »
Veteran Dallas restaurateur Monica Greene’s new Mexico City-style full-service restaurant, Tajin, is under construction at the ILUME building on Cedar Springs. “The name represents beginnings to me,” Greene said. “I was born on a street named Tajin and it was there I would sit in the kitchen with the family cooks and learn how to cook.”
The space is designed around personalized service. “Google Tajin and the Olmec people can see the inspiration for some of the design elements,” Greene said. “El Tajin are ruins near Veracruz and the people had huge round faces and almost an African look.” The menu? “Mexican, Mexican, Mexican,” Greene said. “This is not Ciudad, this is going to be traditional Mexican stuff that nobody in Dallas is doing. The menu will feature liver, rabbits, and grasshoppers.” Greene will be in the kitchen but she is also interviewing chefs to work with her.
Take a look at the two logos above. Monica is also trying to decide which logo to use. Which do you like?16 Comments »
Chef Gabriel DeLeon says October 3 is the target date for the opening of Mi Dia in Grapevine. DeLeon’s new menu is a combination of Tex-Mex, Mexican, and Santa Fe-style dishes. I peeked in a couple of weeks ago and, even under construction, the dining room looks lovely. DeLeon has been cooking around these parts for quite a while. He worked at his uncle’s restaurant Esparza’s in Grapevine before he opened La Margarita restaurant in Irving, Texas. Most recently, he was the driving force behind Masaryk, a modern Mexican kitchen and tequila lounge.
Last week we posted a First Take of Meso Maya, the lovely new regional Mexican eatery at Preston Forest. Today they wrote to let us know that they are now officially open for lunch. Lunch service runs daily from 11 am to 4 pm so you have plenty time to get over there.
What to expect: Meso Maya, the self-labeled “simple modern Mexican food” restaurant that opened in Preston Forest Shopping Center last week has success writ large from the kitchen to the curb. First, chef Nico Sanchez (The Porch, Hibiscus), whom owner Mike Karns (president of El Fenix) lured away from the Consilient Restaurant Group, is heading up the kitchen. Second, the management team is being wrangled, in part, by the lovely MCrowd veteran, Elizabeth Ruiz. Third, the menu is packed with abundant deliciousness from the fresh margaritas, to the guacamole, to the house-specialty budin Azteca.
We visited (undercover) last week and are still talking about it today. Here’s the scoop:
jump for pictures and details… Continue reading "First-Take Review: Meso Maya Rocks Preston Forest With Regional Mexican Moxie"6 Comments »
I’ve had some pretty sweet meals at Alma—the enchiladas rojo, the cochinita pibil, the chile rellenos. So the news that, as of 11 am today, Alma will start serving lunch has literally made my week. Recently-promoted exec chef AQ (Anastacia Quiñones) has put together a lunch menu rich with regional faves.
Items she’s excited about: “Tortas! We have a puerco pibil, guajillo chicken, and braised short rib tortas. Each comes with its own dipping sauce and is served with yucca chips. We’re also offering aguas frescas. Today’s flavors are pineapple, cilantro, and watermelon mint.”
Race you there!
Downtown’s pretty exciting right now. First, Dirt opened on Monday (adorable store, go visit). Then, last night, Wild Salsa opened. And, according to a conversation I had with the manager at Pho Colonial, their downtown location will open in two weeks.
My husband and I have been watching Wild Salsa be built for the past few months, so we decided that even if there was a wait, we were going to try it out. Turns out, there was no wait.
The exterior of the place confused me. Someone said the sign looks like it belongs to a tattoo parlor. I agree. And then they put up a big Day of the Dead mural next to the gorgeous doors. So I was a bit more confused. To the right of all that, you can see into the kitchen. And you can also see that the windows are to be opened. That’s because they’re going to serve tacos from those windows and have seating available outside (and dog treats for those with furry friends).
Okay. So they’re starting to win me over.
Just off the phone with former MCrowd veteran, Elizabeth Ruiz. She is consulting on Meso Maya, a “simple modern Mexican food” restaurant slated to open August 1 in the former Chic from Barcelona space in Preston Forest. The chef is Nico Sanchez, formerly of Consilient Restaurants (The Porch, Hibiscus). The house specialty will be Budin Azteca, sort of a Mexican lasagna or tortilla pie if you will, along with sopas such as sopa de lima and posole de puerco. William Baker (Meddlesome Moth, Cibus, Rusty Taco) has designed the 4,800-square foot space which includes three dining areas with three vibes and a floating bar overlooking the open kitchen. Meso Maya is owned by Mike Karns, president of El Fenix. Follow them on Facebook.3 Comments »
Dallas, it’s time to wake up and taste the mole. For too many years, you’ve treated any dish served with a mole as if it were an infectious disease. Perhaps poor misunderstood mole needs a Facebook page to get you to like it. Once you’re friends, you can dig deeper into its profile and get familiar with not just mole’s complex personality but some of Mexico’s other spirited ingredients.
You will learn the word “mole” is simply a Spanish term for sauce. Almost every city, town, or street vendor on the plaza of a village has its own variety of mole rooted in the local culture. There are red, yellow, green, rusty brown, and black moles, each a unique concoction started with rehydrated chiles (traditionally a combination of pasilla, ancho, and cascabel) that are thickened with ground nuts, seeds, corn, or bread and seasoned with dozens of herbs. Some moles are based on sweet-and-tangy tomatoes or poblano peppers; others are invigorated by raisins or plums. The dark, dense, and intense mole negro from Oaxaca leaves a mysterious hint of unsweetened chocolate on the palate.5 Comments »
Kristy Alpert’s latest report on where you can find great food for less than eight dollars.
This week I headed to Oak Cliff to find one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I can’t even remember its name but I knew where to go. I’ve been living out of Dallas for a while but that didn’t soften the blow when I looked up to find my beloved dive is now another location of Ojedas. We decided to turn around and hit El Ranchito, the lively Tex-Mex with a touch of Monterrey restaurant run by owners Oscar and Laura Sanchez who also operate two locations of Calle Doce.
Jump for cheap lunch.1 Comment »
She may be young by chefs’ standards (30), but Tristan Simon feels confident that Anastacia “AQ” Quiñones is ready to helm the ship at Henderson Avenue’s favorite regional Mexican watering hole. Today, Alma rolls out a totally tweaked menu, with AQ’s touches on nearly every dish, from the watermelon in the street corn snacks to the chicken in the chiles rellenos.
With the departure of Michael Brown, Simon moved Quiñones into the spot, telling her, “You were born to be an executive chef.” To which she humbly replied, “I was born to be a cook.” She comes by her humility honestly: she worked her way through CIA, perfected her craft at Jardinière in San Francisco, but more than these, her modesty stems from a family-centered youth spent in Dallas, on Henderson Avenue specifically, and a respect for the heritage passed down from mother to daughter. (Check out the part in the interview below when she talks about her mother learning to cook for her Highland Park employer by watching Sesame Street.)
jump for some more eye candy and the video…… Continue reading "Exclusive Video Interview with Anastacia “AQ” Quiñones, New Executive Chef at Alma on Henderson Ave."2 Comments »
We already know that parsley, as a garnish, is out and micro greens are in. Also, a hamburger is not a hamburger unless it has a pickle or cornichon skewered to the top bun. Today, I predict the demise of the jalapeno and the rise of the guajillo pepper. I know it’s a bold statement, but I’m feeling bold and douchey today. So, if you have anything better to suggest, I’m all (deleted).3 Comments »