Monday, November 29, 2010

Modern Southwest At Its Best

I was bummed when I realized I would be out of town for TQLA's (yes, pronounced Tequila) pre-opening event. I had read with anticipation of the upcoming Washington Ave newcomer and the chef's pedigree (CIA grad Tommy Birdwell who worked alongside the legendary Stephen Pyles) but worried that my expectations might be set too high. Tonight we finally went and it turns out my high expectations were actually exceeded - when does that ever happen?!
Apparently there is a bit of controversy about what "is" Southwest cuisine and how it has been interpreted through the years. My take (or hope) is that it would have elements of interior Mexican cuisine with its fresh flavors (chiles, spices, citrus) crossed with elements of whatever "southwestern" states might be involved ... so I would expect Texas to be different than say, California or New Mexico but really this is just speculation (and prayers) on my part. And its not that I don't love Tex-Mex; I definitely do but at this point (especially after spending summer in major Rick Bayless-mode), I am drawn to the more complex flavors of this style of cuisine - or at least the potential for it.
Now - down to the nitty gritty ... the chips and salsas were kick-ass ... thin, hot and fresh chips served with a smoky, ancho-chili red sauce with just enough spice alongside a sweet-ish but still tangy pineapply/tomatillo salsa. I was happy already and feeling hopeful.
The Wild Mushroom Tamale appetizer kept the momentum going with it's wild mushroom and goat cheese filling, mushroom cream sauce and roasted corn/sundried tomato salsa. Not the least bit dry, the masa was moist and flavorful and the filling was sublime, especially when we ran our loaded forks through the cream sauce. The roasted corn and sundried tomatoes accented everything perfectly. We practically licked the plate.
My Ensenada Chicken Enchiladas held gorgeously moist and flavorful "chunky shreds" of chicken, rajas (roasted chiles) and a few caramelized onions topped with a fantastic green chili sauce that was richer than any standard "tomatillo" sauce though it did have that tangy element; then topped with queso fresco. It was simply damn good.
Did I mention that everything was served piping hot? By that I mean my enchiladas stayed nice and hot the whole time I consumed them and I just really appreciate that kind of thing. It's a shame it's kind of a rare thing.
Mike really enjoyed his Grilled Beef Tacos served with both sweet and spicy chiles and served with the same fabulous black beans and a fresh-tasting cilantro rice studded with corn that came w/ my entree as well. Good thing because neither of us had to steal from the other.
We didn't drink or have dessert but we plan to partake in those options as soon as possible; in fact, we can't wait to return. There are 167 tequilas to choose from thanks to the "tequiler" (one of only 40 such experts in the country they say). The bar is gorgeous and the service was friendly and attentive. I'm told that the menu is still being tweaked so I'm excited to see what lies ahead. I worry that some people won't come because it's smack in the middle of the douche-bag zone on Washington but I truly hope that won't keep people away because they'd be missing out on some truly fantastic cuisine. And I highly recommend going on a Monday night!

1 comment:

carol p. said...

Wow. Finally got to readyour blog. sooooooo enjoyable. You have got some serious wordsmithing chops.
Can't wait to get to TQLA soon.