I paid my first visit to Tonali, the two-month-old Mexican bistro in Durham, inspired by rave reviews on this board. The experience was weirdly mixed.
As previous reviewers said, the food is very good in just the way you would expect given the chef's credentials as a former sous chef at Four Square. Everything is very light, precise, fresh, and vibrant, and the salsas are among the best I've ever had. The vaunted tortillas are also good, though not as fragrantly corny as the tortillas at Don Jose Tienda, which I slightly prefer.
This being said, I have two massive reservations.
1) While prices are very reasonable, the portions are miniscule. I ordered a plate of three fish tacos. Each taco included one bitty piece of fish about the size of a largish hush puppy. I finished my entree in somewhere between three and six bites, and was so unsatisfied that I immediately adjourned to Eastern Light for soup and potstickers.
2) The service was perhaps the very worst I have ever experienced. It was complete chaos. Not once but twice we were brought dishes that were not ours. We were also brought the wrong bill. You could see the waitresses shopping dishes to different tables, more or less guessing who had ordered what. Our appetizer arrived with our entrees. We had no silverware, despite requesting some at the start of the meal. I had to scope around the kitchen area trying to find some myself. I finally gave up and we ate our dinner -- including our salad -- with our fingers. Toward the end of the meal, I got the attention of a waitress and requested a fork, but none arrived. I flagged a second waitress, who, as we were finishing our meal, brought us one set of silverware, as if she expected my wife and I to share a fork. At one point, I had to wrestle my plate out of the clutches of a waitress who grabbed it without asking whether I had finished. I am not one to obsess about service, especially when the food is good, but this was way beyond the pale. The weird thing was that the restaurant did not appear to be either understaffed or overbusy.
Would I return? Maybe. The food is very good, but then again you can get great tacos at a much cheaper price at Superior, Miranda's, Chicho, etc.
Sinophile (David A.)
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