Getting ready to go to Mexico and I didn't feel I was dressed swanky enough for Zinc Bistrot or Saucebox, the two next places on my haven't been to list of 25 for $25 places. So we went to Cafe Azul, which is fine with me. Here's their 25 for $25 menu:
Ensalada mixta: Tender greens with totopos, cotija cheese, and sherry vinaigrette
Hot, cool, and spicy salsas: Ramekins of salsa verde, salsa chipotle, and sik l' pak served with housemade chips
Sopa de elote: local swweet corn soup with chile ancho 'scissor sauce'
Molote: A toasted masa appetizer filled with red chorizo and potatoes served with a spicy salsa de chile de arbol
PLATOS DE COMIDA
Pescado en hojas: fresh Oregon sea bass wrapped and roasted in banana leaves with fire roasted poblano chiles and crema
Huaraches: tender pork cooked in a tomatillo, green chile verde sauce over toasted masa "sandals" with crema, cotija, and black beans
Relleno poblano: fire roasted spicy poblano chile stuffed with a savory vegetarian picadillo of rice, nuts, and fruit served with a chile pasilla de Oaxaca sauce
Tamales de pollo nayarit: corn husk wrapped tamales filled with fresh corn masa and braised free-range chicken in a red chile sauce served with crema and escabeche
Apple crisp: organic braeburn apples baked with a toasted pecan crisp topping served with warm with prune tequila ice cream
Pastel de antigua: old-fashioned dark chocolate cake with a Oaxacan style chocolate frosting served with almond praline
Citrus flan: marked with cream
Ice creams: cocoa ice and roasted banana ice cream served with a brown sugar cookie
And even with all these great choices I was still tempted by several items on the normal menu, especially the taco plate, which always has a way of discouraging me with its $15 price tag, a tinga pie, and as always, their manchamanteles.
My wife ordered the sopa, the huaraches, and the apple crisp. I ordered the molote, the relleno, and the ice creams. Honestly, I wanted the soup, but my wife was afraid of the chile de arbol salsa.
As usual we were served bread and chile butter. It was a baguette probably from the Pearl Bakery next door. The chile butter has a little lime in it I think and was a little spicier this time that last, I think.
My wife loved her soup. It had a good corn flavor and the ancho sauce, a kind of relish with a slightly sweetened vinegar taste to it, added nice bright and complexly sweet flavors. I think I would have liked the corn flavor a little more intense, but it's rare that I don't want flavors intensified. It may have been too much if she'd had a whole bowl with more intensity.
She loved her huarache, too, though it had a latent heat that crept up on her. But she ate it all and she's very picante averse. The meat was *very* tender while not being mush. Lovely stuff without gristle or connective tissue. It was in a very good sauce and served with a large portion of black beans as well. The huarache, like a large sope or masa pizza, was good and huge like they make them in Mexico City. There wouldn't have been that much on top of it in Mexico City, though. I think that's a good thing. You can always scoop off extra and eat it by its wonderful lonesome later.
The apple crisp was served individually in its own little dish. It was a shallow crisp with probably equal topping to apple-based innards. The ice cream was nice and added interest, although the crisp by itself was very good for a crisp. It appeared to have dried currants additionally, btw.
My molote was a little disappointing. It wasn't bad, just nothing special Maybe the doubling of starches kept it a bit bland, I don't know. It was a bit small, too. I did like the chile de arbol salsa. They did a good job of managing its heat.
The relleno was pretty good. I would have preferred a real picadillo of course rather than this rice version. But it was still quite tasty. There was an underlying sweetness to the mixture or the pasilla sauce that didn't reach out and grab you, but rather just tapped on your shoulder, like a gentleman politely asking to cut in and dance with your taste buds giving the heat and chile flavors a bit of a rest. The huarache was better and bigger, but this was still a good dish, especially for a vegetarian. I think two might have been a more fair value, but I didn't go hungry.
Chocolate ices, sorbets, and the like seem to be en vogue right now, but this was one of the better ones I've had. It had a decent texture with a very intense flavor. It was offset nicely by the roasted banana ice cream which has a lot more depth than most banana flavored items. The cookie was surprisingly good. This wasn't anything special all together, but for what it was it was quite tasty.
A good meal overall with quality service. I hope people realize how special Cafe Azul is to produce such truly authentic dishes which don't try to dress themselves up as something they aren't, but still use such good quality ingredients and consistent preparations that they earn their prices. I'd definitely choose Azul over Bayless' restaurants.
One annoyance came from another table. These two guys were complaining somewhat loudly and arrogantly to their waiter about the taco platter. The taco platter included a Mexico City style quesadilla con queso. They wanted, I think, the taco I've had before at Cafe Azul where the cheese slightly flows out the edges and crisps up. It's a wonderful thing. But these guys were going off about how the quesadilla they got (which looked exactly like what you would get in Mexico City) was like "something cooked in a George Foreman grill". Ridiculous. The waiter apologized profusely, explained that's the one they're making now, etc, and the guys just kept going off, holding it up and waving it around. The waiter apologized some more and offered to go tell the chef, etc. They said they didn't want it getting back to the chef (then what the hell is the point in complaining!!!). Anyway, the waiter comes out later and says that they're going to make one special for them the way they like it. Way above and beyond, imo. Anyway, just wanted to relate my bad customer of the week experience that still couldn't ruin a wonderful dinner.