Just before Christmas we were speaking to a friend who lives in Teaneck, NJ and she mentioned that the Mexicali Blues Café had reopened in Northern Teaneck, on Queen Anne Road. We had been regulars at the old location since 94-95 so were quite pleased to hear the news and made for the new location this past Saturday.
First, a bit of history because I believe theres some relevance: what started out as a well-run Southwestern (a la Mark Miller) restaurant with some flair gradually morphed into a nightclub. First a small stage was added to showcase local talent, then Grateful Dead imagery replaced the décor, then a genuine stage was added and the ceiling was painted black and it seemed to be as much about live music as it was about food (which has always had a good rep).
So we were curious to see what direction they would take upon relocating. They went the full fledged nightclub route, though they still want to be a restaurant before 10pm and the layout is better, but expect to see a lot of tie-dye and hear a lot of the Dead. The majority of the space is open two story with a stage at the front end and a long bar on one side. What I liked was how they made the dining area seem cozy, like a space within a space, in the rear- there are two levels, an upper and a lower, and theyre not so large. We sat on the balcony of the upper. The restrooms were well kept.
We started with margaritas (of course) on the rocks- well done and nicely balanced between tequila and lime, not making you wince from either. The dinner menu is the same as the old and I appreciate that they didnt try to reinvent the wheel. The signature dishes (Pumpkin and Sesame Crusted Tuna, Citrus Glazed Sea Bass, etc.) are still available, though we didnt order them this time. Sadly chips and salsa are not gratis ($3.50 with refills), which is probably because they would get hosed by the bar crowd if they were, but my wife would have preferred if the first bowl was gratis and you had to pay for refills and I agree. But the Pico de Gallo is very good, with a nice chipotle kick.
We started with the crab cakes, done southwest style (natch)- nicely done, with large lumps of crab meat being dominant and the corn, black beans, creamy chile sauce all supporting. My wife had the Strip Steak with Carmelized Onions and Chile Demi-Glace and a Mushroom Papa Rellena. She agonized over this decision because shes a plain steak with salt person but was very pleased in the end. The steak had fine flavor and texture and the other flavors were harmonious. I had to go for the Smoked Duck Enchilada Mole, and loved it. It did something very interesting on my palate about midway through: the first half was dominated by the mole flavor (which I didnt mind at all because the mole poblano was excellent) then the smoked duck (tender, BTW) took over. It was like going from heaven to a better part of heaven. I can see some people grousing about the flavors having taken so long to develop, but to me the dish did what I wanted it to do, so I was a happy camper.
Beer selection was decent (no draft, unfortunately), the usual suspects in the Mexican and CorporateYellowBeer camps though I was pleasantly surprised to see the Saranac Pale and Amber available (good choices, IMO). But no Rogue Dead Guy?! Tsk, tsk.
Service was friendly and attentive. We shall be returning (definitely the fish next time), though I will be bringing my tunnel vision along and only concentrating on the dining area.