Panchita's #3 Report
Or, Can A Restaurant That Is Empty At 8:30pm On A Saturday Night Possibly Be Good?
To be fair it wasn't totally empty. When we arrived, just moments after Trot Nixon hit a home run in the 11th to beat the A's, there were eight individuals sitting at the bar sulking over the game being shown on the tiny television. Half of them were restaurant staff, and the others were close enough to the staff to walk freely behind the bar or into the kitchen when they needed something.
Over the course of the night only two other groups came in to eat. Both groups also knew the staff well and freely moved about all parts of the restaurant. At one point a father got up and started dancing with his 8 year old or so daughter in the aisle. Later the waitress walked from near the bar into the back room carrying a puppy. All this amid an extremely sophisticated decor of white napkins, designer lighting, and fine art. It had the look (and thankfully, the food) of an upscale restaurant, but the familial feel of a Latin American locals hang-out.
Given that we were his only table (another waitress tended the patrons at the bar and other tables), I expected our waiter to be pretty attentive. While he was very helpful in explaining specials and answering questions, he was far more interested in the A's game aftermath and subsequent boxing match than in us. We had to speak up to get his attention for anything, but somehow it just didn't bother us. We just settled into the place's routine and had a good time.
Okay, the food...
We started with one of each of the pupusas. I'm not a pupusa expert (yet!), but I have eaten a great deal of masa and filling preparations to know that these were pretty darn good. We watched them being prepared freshly at the kitchen station behind the bar. The masa was fresh, light, and had delicious corn flavor. My favorite was the cheese--odd since they all had cheese, but somehow the pure cheese just hit the spot. We also really enjoyed the bean, pork, and chicken versions. I thought the salmon and shrimp ones just didn't work with the cheese and that the chile rojo and vegetarian tasted too, well, vegetal, but they each had their fans around the table. The accompanying curtido (cabbage salad of sorts) was fresh and refreshing. The presentation was beatiful: two large bowls with four pupusas each, cut into quarters and pulled apart, the curtido in the center topped with colorful microgreens (these are becoming ubiquitous), and dozens of droplets of salsa rojo and crema covering it all.
Our main dishes were good but not quite as exciting as the pupusas. The camarones in mole verde had about a dozen large, sweet, tasty shrimp in several stages of disassembly, but the sauce wasn't especially interesting. The enchiladas verdes with chicken were better: tasty stewed thigh meat with a more assertively flavored green sauce. The pork chop came in a delicious thick adobo of chiles (ancho, I suspect), garlic, and oil with bits of sauteed onions and peppers. Everything came with a small scoop of casamiento (a mixture of black beans and rice, fairly uninteresting) that was topped with cheese (tasty, salty, cotija-like cheese).
We split one order of flan (the only dessert available), which was topped with shaved and roasted almonds. It was delicious, though I thought it was too firm at first. But we didn't finish it right away and the bite I had about 10 minutes later had an excellently soft texture. When I reread the chowdown post (linked below), I had to wonder if the arguing Michael and Limster simply ate them at different times.
Liquor is not served. The wine list is a small, boring collection of widely available wines. The beer list is better with a decent selection of Latin American beers.
Total bill came to about $25/person.
Answer: Yes it is good. I hope this post encourages others to go try (or retry) this place. I fear it will not last much longer if they are consistently empty as they were the night of our visit.