7/28/08

Restaurant Review: Zocalo Mexican Grill and Tequileria

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So after the Indians game on Sunday, Mark and I decided to go to Zocalo Mexican Grill and Tequileria, a Mexican restaurant located on E. 4th Street in Cleveland. The E. 4th district of Cleveland is one of the most up and coming parts of the city right now, and certainly my favorite part of the city at this time. It is so nicely done; the twinkle lights over-head, the brick street meant only for pedestrians, the intimate collection of good, diverse restaurants (one being Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola), casual bars, and a great musical venue, The House of Blues. It's just a wonderful area of the city and one I'm very proud to say is in my hometown.

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Zocalo is this district's Mexican food offering. Mark and I have only eaten there a couple times and both times we ordered off of their bar menu since our visits were pretty late at night. I think once we had burritos and another time quesadillas. They were good, especially for late night food. We kept saying we really wanted to go there for a sit-down dinner and really get a taste of their dinner menu. Plus, it was recently announced that Aaron Sanchez, of the NYC restaurant Paladar Latino Food and Drink and "The Next Iron Chef" fame, has signed on as consulting chef at Zocalo. After hearing that, we were even more excited to eat there.

As you can see, it's a beautiful restaurant. It's cool, casual, and fun. I love everything about how this place looks.

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Well, we ate there... after drinking a few beers at the game... and even then it wasn't all that great. It wasn't BAD, but it definitely fell way short of my expectations. I was bummed, too, because I was REALLY in the mood for a good Mexican meal since it's one of my most favorite cuisines. Well, let me just tell you what we had and then you'll understand...

We started out with margaritas, which were good; very good in fact. Mine featured Patron Silver and Mark had a Wabo Rita, which he liked as well.

Next, we moved on to the appetizers. As I mentioned before, we had drank a few beers before coming to this restaurant, so of course I FORGOT to take pictures of the dang appetizers! Anyway, we started with the Sopes, which are corn tarts filled with pureed beans, tomatillo avocado salsa and shaved cotija cheese. The topping was fresh and good, with big flavors of lime and cilantro. However, the corn tart crust was quite dry. The flavor was good, but it was dry.

I WILL say that the homemade tortilla chips were very good, crispy, and just salty enough. They were served with complimentary salsa and we had our choice of three (which of course we asked to try all three). There was a mild that was just like a salsa fresca and it was very good, very fresh tasting. The next one was medium heat and was made with smoked ancho chile peppers. It did have a slight smokey flavor and was also good. The hot salsa was made with habanero peppers and was SO good. It was pretty freakin' hot, but not TOO hot. The flavor was everything I wanted it to be with lots of different layers of deliciousness. We were both happy with the salsas.

The next appetizer we had was the Empanadas De Carnitas. Now, I LOVE empanadas, so I was again excited. The filling was good; a little cheese and the pork was juicy and good. However, again the outer crust was dry.

Ok, so on to the dinner entrees. I ordered a 2 item combination with a beef tamale and a chile relleno stuffed with cheese and beef picadillo. I finally remembered that I brought the camera at this point in time! Of course, I didn't remember until I had taken my first bite of the chile relleno, so I apologize for the dirty silverware in the picture. Hey, I never said I was a professional restaurant reviewer!

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The chile relleno was good. I really liked it. It was hot in temperature (due to being served in a cast iron pan) and in spice (which I loved). The pepper was a bit charred and tender. I had no problem with that part of the dish.

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Now, let us talk about the tamale. Now, you haven't seen my version of tamales just yet, but I have made them a few times in the past and as Mark will tell you, they usually come out pretty darn good. I've also eaten them in Mexico, as well as some very fine Chicago and NYC restaurants. So I would say at this point in my life, I know a thing or two about tamales. The tamale on my plate last night was not what I was hoping for. Guess what? It was DRY. It's a bit beyond me how a food that is cooked by steaming can possibly be dry when served, but it was. The dish was also served with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans. The rice was pretty good; it had a good spice and I liked the addition of the corn. Other than that, it was pretty average. The refried beans were... oh yeah, DRY. Oh, and pasty, and a bit tasteless. There's a reason why I don't eat refried beans at Taco Bell, and these beans kind of reminded me of that reason... just sayin'.

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Mark got the Jalisco Steak, which is flat iron steak marinated in Aarón's Adobo served with rajas and seasonal vegetables, topped with spicy chipotle sauce and salsa verde. Mark ordered his steak medium-rare and instead he got rare. That wasn't a huge deal, because he's certainly not afraid of a little bloody steak. However, for this cut of steak, he mentioned that he would have preferred it to have been cooked as ordered. I had a bite of it myself and I thought the vegetables of the dish were very good. They had a bright, fresh taste. The steak tasted good, but didn't stand out in the bite I had. Mark will have to elaborate more when he gets a chance.

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We decided against dessert because by that time, we were just tired and ready to go home. I will say that the service was excellent. Our waitress was very nice and attentive.

I know that Aaron Sanchez JUST began helping this restaurant revamp their menu, but I'm really hoping that he pays them another visit soon. I've never eaten at his restaurant in NYC and I realize that he is merely consulting on Zocalo's menu, but if I were him and I had put my name on this menu, I would rush back to this restaurant quickly. We plan to come back after a little while has passed to see if they are able to fix the things that need to be fixed. I still have hope, although I don't all together know why. Maybe it's just my optimism or the fact that I REALLY want them to be a good Mexican restaurant. Please?

Have any of you eaten there? What did YOU think?

3 comments:

  1. Wow Tara...really interested to read this.

    As I think you know, I haven't been there yet, but I am a sucker for Mexican food.

    I'm planning a visit soon when my current financially yucko state of affairs shifts back to good!

    I'll echo your hope that Aaron pays a visit to fine tune the menu...and soon!

    You're so right about being attentive to something that has your name and endorsement on it....the kinda thing that when you have the kind of experience that you had, can make a person go WTF?

    Great reading - thanks!

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  2. I work right by E. 4th, so I've been to Zocalo quite a few times. I'm with you Tara--I want this place to be really good, particularly because of the location and the decor, but it's not there yet. The menu definitely has improved under Aaron's counsel, but it was really bad before, so now it's just OK. Guacamole made table-side is really good, and I like the Burrito Con Carne with flat iron steak. The chicken tortilla soup also has been improved. It was a heavy, sludge base before and now is chicken-broth based. Margaritas are usually good too.

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  3. I agree that I want to like this place but it is so bad so consistently that how can one keep giving away good money (more since the changes) and feel good about nurturing a dead soldier? I keep going and going but see very little care other than paying some NY celebrity chef to toot about changes that really are slow to come. The service has been extremely spotty and down right rude a few times. It seemed that getting the side work done was more important to management than completing my meal service. I live nearby and keep going in hopes that it will turn around but I am now at the ending of a saga. Maybe when it closes down it will reopen with a great new management staff????

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