Thursday, December 27, 2012

Los Catrines Tequilas Review

For the past two years, whenever the GF and I have had the itch for Mexican, we went to Stephen Starr's El Vez, in the corridor of what I like to call Restaurant Row (13th Street, Center City). However, the atmosphere there is loud and in charge. They've got a freakin' motorcycle spinning on top of the center bar - 'nuff said. On this particular night, I was taking the GF to see George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at the Pennsylvania Ballet. So, while we still had a hankering for Mexican, I wanted to dine at a place with a more cozy and quiet atmosphere.

Hence Tequilas ...

If you look past the generic name of the restaurant, you will realize Tequilas belies its true essence. Authentic cuisine going beyond tacos and enchiladas, served in an environment that can be described as 'upscale Mexican food.' For those of you who may think this is an oxymoronic phrase - you are not in the know and are just used to the casual Mexican eateries which churn out burritos and nachos non-stop. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, but a more intimate, upscale atmosphere can be had when it comes with Mexican cuisine.

Having said that, don't let the paintings on the wall scare you when you first enter! Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday focused on gatherings where friends and family members who have died are remembered and prayed for. La Catrinas (dapper skeletons) are typically the pictographic embodiment of this holiday and are not meant to frighten you out the door at all!

As you head past the hostess' desk, you enter into a room with multiple tables and a fully-stocked bar. You'll generally find older, more affluent patrons enjoying a drink here. As you go past the bar, you enter into this long corridor of tables. We sat at the very end, overlooking said corridor. The entirety of the Tequilas space is quite large and can certainly accommodate quite the party!

The GF and I appreciated the copper plates and bowls that were already set in front of us at Tequilas. I don't know if this is purely for decorative purposes or for utility, but on this occasion, right after after we ordered, this set was taken away.

Mojito Verde ($10)
Siembre azul blanco, cucumber juice, basil leaves, St. Germain, agave nectar, & lime juice

Regular readers will know that I love a good mojito. Tequilas' iteration of this typically rum-soaked drink comes with ... you guessed it - tequila! I thought that would be interesting - so I went with it. The Mojito Verde was certainly distinct with earthy notes, that were followed by citrus on the finish. However, it wasn't as refreshing as I find regular mojitos to be ... perhaps I just prefer it with rum.

Deseo ($12)
Siembre azul blanco, basil, granny smith apple juice, and Moet & Chandon champagne

The GF went with the Deseo as she likes a little bubbly in her drink. There was a tempered effervescence from the Moet y Chandon, one of our favorite champagnes (can't get enough of Nectar Imperial). The granny smith apple juice brought out a nice tang to the drink, with the basil accentuating some herbaciousness to the drink.

Tortilla Chips with Pico de Gallo, Salsa, Pickled Jalapenos, Onions, and Carrots

Our meal started off with some chips and salsa (gratis). The salsa was thick and delicious, a nice tempered spicy kick. The pickled jalapenos and carrots were spicy (I cut out the seeds before devouring them). Regardless, the GF claimed, "they really kick you in the a**." Weak sauce. The pico de gallo was filled with fresh tomatoes and offered a cooling element to the trio.

Crema Conde ($7.95)
A classic cream of black beans served with bacon, queso fresco, onion, and croutons. 

The GF had a black bean soup to start. It was pureed for the most part, but not watery in the least. The beautiful coffee shop decoration was appreciated. However, the highlight was the smooth, hearty taste of the soup. It was robust and had a depth of flavor. There was also bacon, cotija, and a buttery crostini supplied on a separate plate.

Empanadas del dia ($8.95)
Handmade corn tortillas filled with the freshest ingredients.

I went with the empanadas of the day. I didn't bother to ask what type they were serving that night as I figured I would just be surprised. These particular ones were filled with beef. I typically associate empanadas with a crispy texture. Unfortunately, these were a bit limp. However, the innards were seasoned well and the accompanying verde sauce was nicely tart.

Carne Aguacate ($23.95)
Finest cut of meat stuffed with mushrooms, tomato, and epazote. 

For my main, I had the specialty of the house, the aguacate. I asked for a medium, rare temp on the steak, which resulted in a perfectly tender cut of beef. It was stuffed with mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, and epazote. It was topped with a creamy avocado and cilantro-based sauce. On the side was buttery rice and potato medallions, which were delicate, but without much seasoning. Corn tortillas were served as well. Definitely a dish I would order again.

Camaron Tequila ($23.95)

The GF ordered grilled shrimp, which had a nice snap and were perfectly buttered. Deliciously plump and fresh. The underlying swiss chard was not seasoned but was served more as an accoutrement, I suppose.

Overall, Tequilas delivered on its promise of authentic Mexican cuisine fit for a relaxed, intimate dinner before the ballet. Service was exceptional, though at times was a bit too involved. The fact that we ultimately found out our server lived in Jersey might have been a tad overboard for some, but ultimately we found service to be sweet and personable. Quite coincidental that our server's daughter went to see the Nutcracker the previous weekend! 

Tequilas on Urbanspoon

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