While Y and I had a great time at the group chowdown in March at Tepa and immensely enjoyed the food and company, we hadn't returned til Sat. of this weekend. I can't believe it's been half a year already, but we like to try new places and tend to eat around Santa Cruz. In short, the space and service felt quite familiar; however, the food didn't romance us quite like before. Photos of our two dishes are linked below.
Y had the cazador, a mixed grill of shrimp, chicken, beef, and chorizo that was served w/ a fondue cheese and the usual sides of rice, beans, and salad. I asked Mrs. Rivas what kind of cheese was used for the fondue and she replied "Mexican fondue cheese." I kept on thinking about Nathan's term of "hammered" to describe overcooked, obliterated meat, and it rang true of the cooking this time around, as is clearly captured in the photos. They still manage to make the meats relatively tasty w/ their spicing; however, they would taste so much better if less "hammered." The fondue cheese was sort of salty, not that exciting, and quickly congealed into one blob.
I had the corajuda, a seafood mix of shrimp, abalone, and octopus served w/ sliced cactus, sausage (not chorizo), and onions in a tomatillo sauce that was fairly soupy. The sauce packed a good amount of heat that escalated w/ each bite, making me repetitively reach for my agua fresca de tamarindo. The different parts of the dish didn't really come together, and the shrimp were again "hammered" and unpleasantly chewy. The abalone and octopus were more tender, but didn't taste all that fresh. The best part of this dish was that quesadilla that, I've come to agree w/ Nathan, is a requisite at any Tepa meal.
Some changes I noticed: The beans are different. Served in their own little bowl, they are goopy and cheesy and tasted like refried beans w/ cheese. I like the prior whole pinto beans better, but I bet many people like this new cheesy, creamy version. They now also serve a wedge of queso fresco on the side. The lighting was very, very bright (I didn't use any flash photography) so that you could see the knick knacks better. I didn't even know they had a jukebox in the corner! The crowd was mostly non-Latinos; some men even looked like they were having a business meeting of sorts. We didn't get one plate or cup w/ a chip in it, which I kinda missed. :-(
The menu looked the same. Specials menu looked pretty much the same, but I didn't see any pipian dish on there. Jorge might serve this by request though. I seem to fall in love w/ Tepa again on every other visit, so maybe next time I will be swept away. I'm sorta tepid on Tepa's meat and seafood heavy dishes for now though, so maybe I'll return for those empanadas next time...