To kick off the birthday weekend, my housemate suggested dinner at either Zax Tavern or Dona Tomas -- a difficult choice, but I finally settled on Dona Tomas, since the third member of our party had never been there (we ended up having dessert at Zax -- see post above).
As usual, I had no regrets about this decision: everything was delicious!
I've been on a halibut kick, so I couldn't resist the sauteed halibut cheeks. The flesh was tender and moist, and the sweetness of the halibut was enhanced by the "sauce" of finely diced butternut squash with agave liqueur, epazote, shallots, butter and thyme. The green beans on the side had also been cooked (braised?) in a light but flavorful sauce.
Vegetables are a real strong point of this kitchen: another star was the intensely flavored but etherially light budin de verduras (pudding of asparagus and scallions) that came with the Camarones al mojo de ajo (also available as a side dish) and the pureed butternut squash and perfectly cooked spinach that accompanied the Carne Asada con crema de hongos. My housemate often says that although the menu changes every six weeks, there's always carne asada, it's always different, but always good. The meat in this version was perfectly grilled: still medium rare but with that primally appealing smoky charred grilled meat flavor.
I've found that the antojitos are weaker than the entrees here -- the sauces can be a little overpowering and the flavors less well balanced, and this was true of the quesadilla con mole Amarillo I had. On the other hand, the Sopa de Lima (a permanent fixture on the menu), rose to the top of the list of "soups to remember next time I have a cold": the rich chicken flavors were perfectly balanced with lime juice, garlic and other aromatics. Good stuff!
Dona Tomas is open for dinner only -- decrying this fact, we told our server they were missing a bet by not being open for brunch on the weekends. He said they have no plans to change operations at that location, but that they'll be opening a second location on Fourth St. in Berkeley that will serve lunch and brunch, and also sell some of their sauces and other products. So keep an eye out!
5004 Telegraph Ave. (at 51st)