Oaxaca Café Restaurant
mid December, 2006, Casa Oaxacas third restaurant opened,
in Colonia Reforma at the location formerly occupied by Zandunga.
The menu is different from the two downtown branches, and
a successful effort has been made to provide a distinct and
clearly more casual ambiance. However the shortcomings in
quality of fare and lack of consideration for patrons
reasonable expectations are remarkable, surprising and disconcerting.
Casa Oaxaca seems to have immediately seized upon the opportunity
to attract a relatively young Oaxacan crowd, a trademark of
its predecessor, and built upon that major plus which lead
to its success
a relaxed, informal courtyard setting.
Now there are tables not only under the roofed circumference,
but also scattered amongst the trees tastefully lit up with
strings of lights, on the grass, and along the stone pathway.
One can sit under vines climbing arbors, alongside a smartly
decorated well, or take in the aroma of tortillas being freshly
made on a comal over firewood in a brick enclosure.
The final touches are the outdoor cantina, simple white and
terra cotta decor, and live music Thursday through Saturday
in the evening. This, coupled with a staff who have clearly
been trained at ensuring drinks are served promptly and meals
arrive hot and in unison, would suggest that the rest of any
meal would similarly meet high standards. Be that as it may,
this was not to be the case, at least not on this occasion.
Almost toasted slices of baguette were served with sides of
two red salsas, onion slices marinated in lime juice, and
guacamole. However, with European style bakery Pan &
Co. only blocks away, one would have thought that some
arrangement could have been made to provide a fresh bread,
or if keeping costs down was a consideration, then more thinly
sliced and crispy toast á la brochette. This particular
complimentary starter just didnt cut it.
The salads could have been exceptional, but because they were
overly dressed it was hard to determine with certainty. The
medley of lettuce, watercress, avocado and toasted almond
in a mandarin vinaigrette had far too much oil. The agridulce
which included grapefruit sections, avocado and hierbabuena,
topped with pine nuts, had the requisite uniqueness in flavor,
but was simply drenching.
The presentation of the red snapper in a white wine sauce
with oyster mushrooms and side of grilled small potatoes and
asparagus was regretably unremarkable, the entrée itself
was overcooked and flavor non-descript. My entrée of
tongue with capers, actually an estofado, held no surprises,
thankfully, and in fact ranked with the better estofado
de lengua Ive enjoyed. A generous quantity of mole
was as expected, and had a nice bite to the aftertaste. Similarly
the appetizer of chile de agua stuffed with requezón
cheese and huitlacoche was an attention-getter as it
eased down the throat. The most visually pleasing plate of
the evening, the two pale lime peppers with centers of dark
green interiors set atop a sea of red sauce seemed to speak
out and call for recognition, reminiscent of the appearance
of plates at the sister establishments. Similarly, at least
for this instant, the flavor combination carried me back downtown.
The decaf Americanos were the best in caffeine-free weve
had in a long time, and braised pear in red wine with coriander
was a treat, the burst of flavor as you cracked a seed being
tempered by and well matched with the wine.
The foregoing dessert came close to raising the mediocrity
of most of the meal, but then the biggest setback, receipt
of the bill: charging 42 pesos for a glass of spicy tomato
juice is outrageous, in particular when told upon inquiring
that the cost was the same as a Bloody Mary (two of three
of us were on parasite meds which precluded indulging). To
make matters worse, the kitchen made a unilateral decision
to serve a double order of the chile de agua appetizer
without being asked to do so, simply because the third in
our party elected to order it served at the same time as the
two main courses, and charged double. Something was clearly
amiss in terms of pricing and communication. For a party of
three, with no alcohol, one dessert, four appetizers of which
three were substandard, and two main courses one of which
did nothing to impress, 720 pesos was a bit much, especially
when compared to the previous nights Valentines
Day cena for six which ran 600 pesos at El Mirador,
with six drinks. Granted the dining experience was different,
but Ill return to the Cerro del Fortín before
my next trip to Reforma.
Some suburban restaurants in the city are worth the cab ride
out of downtown, but not this one, not right now. I will return,
and update to the extent that its warranted, perhaps
in a couple or few months, sooner if asked. Those staying
out of the downtown core might want to dine at Casa Oaxaca
for the ambience alone. But a few words of advice: make sure
you ask the price of everything thats not crystal clear,
order salads with dressing on the side, try the tongue, chile
de agua appetizer (as an appetizer), and braised pear,
and dont miss out on the decaf Americano.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
& Arlene Starkmans Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed &
Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
) combines the comfort and service of quality downtown Oaxaca
hotels, with the quaintness of country inn lodging. Oaxaca
accommodations with a personal touch. Ask about Alvins
Oaxaca tours, fully personalized. Casa Machaya is a founding
member of the Oaxaca Bed and Breakfast Association.
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