(little nervous; this is the first review I've posted. I usually just like to lurk, or post a comment if someone might find one of my experinces helpful)
So I'm dating this guy that works out at Luke, and frankly, I prefer that we spend weekend on my side of town, in the east valley, just because there isn't much out in his neighborhood beyond the chains up at Arrowhead. We are sort of hard-pressed to come up with dinner options on his side of town. But last Friday I wound up on the west side, and he suggested Mi Cocina, Mi Pais for dinner -- it had gotten Best Ethnic in The Rep or something like that -- and all I had to hear was 'fried plantains' before I got on board, even knowing nothing about what to expect from an Ecuadorean restaurant.
It's a really tiny storefront in a strip mall, with five four-tops crammed in with a register and a pastry case. It's to the point where diners smile at each other and ask other tables what they got, and how is it; you're all on top of each other so eye contact almost can't be helped. Very friendly, family-style atmosphere that kind of adds to the enjoyment of the meal. Well, if you're me.
We split the tamale sampler to start; one red chile, one green, and one Ecuadorian style banana-wrapped. Each tamale was quite large, but somehow we couldn't stop eating them. The masa was fluffy, buttery, and light; the fillings moist and well-spiced. He got the shrimp stew in peanut sauce, which was a bowl of the thin spicy sauce with large shrimp and sides of rice and salsa to add in as needed. I has the carne asada plate, done with Argentinian rub, with lentils, rice, and fried plantains (a substitution) on the side. The plantains were what I'd hoped for -- the tangy moist starch that cools the slow burn from the asada and spiced lentils. I should have got an order to go for breakfast.
The food was all great; we were too full for dessert, but the coconut flan is on my list to try, as well as the empanadas. Our neighbors split a shrimp ceviche that looked fantastic -- in a large goblet, fiery red, with baby shrimp and colorful diced vegetables, popcorn and little pickles on the side. Dinner, with my beer and the tropical soda my guy just had to try, was $33++.
The next night, we hit Tarbell's before the symphony. It wasn't as great as previous visits, for me. We both did have good wines recommended; I had a muscadet that had all the acid promised; he had an italian blend that also lived up to the description. We split the field greens salad with hazelnut vinaigrette. Sadly, there was nothing of hazelnut or even vinegar in the dressing, it was thin, oily, and tasteless. Maybe someone forgot an ingredient or two, there. He had the scotch beef, which was a mountain of brisket over red potatoes and glazed carrots. Very tender, flavorful beef. I stole ... several forkfulls; couldn't help it. I had the hand-cut basil pasta with prosciutto, nicoise olives, and chevre -- all flavors I love. The pasta was perfect, but I suspect this is one of those dishes that's made delectable by being dressed in a ladleful of butter, because that's all the sauce seemed to be. Not that that really stopped me from eating most of it.
Dessert was the warm chocolate cake topped with a tiny scoop of intensely-flavored pistachio ice cream. Not bad at all. Dinner was $92++.