2017-01-20 3074 瀏覽
I first learned of Mamasita's Cantina from an article in the SCMP about four restaurants "celebrity" chef Harlan Goldstein was opening in the same building on Lyndhurst Terrace. I didn't know, until I was at the restaurant and one of my friends told me, that Goldstein has now backed out of the project entirely, and is not associated with any of the three now existing and one soon-to-be restaurants. One certainly wonders what drama led to this-- "health concerns" are cited in the media, but Cocon
The restaurant's "about" page tells us: "Equal parts restaurant and bar , the venue strives create a concept that was new to Hong Kong- an authentic, true-to-home restaurant serving real Mexican cuisine. Heading the venue are Chef Edgar Navarro and Orlando Eggleton, two Mexican natives who are sure to bring the heat to the city."
I'm not one to be offended, but I could see how some people might be by this description. I mean, Verde Mar's executive chef, Eligio Escobedo, is Mexican through-and-through, so it's kind of disrespectful to claim that the entire concept of an authentic Mexican restaurant serving "real Mexican food" is new to the city. I mean, you can write nice ad copy without spitting on your competitors and calling them fakes. Indeed, might I just say foreshadowingly, "you're one to talk!"
I made reservations for 5 people at 7:30pm on a Saturday night. We were told that they would only hold our reservations for 15 minutes, so we arrived promptly at the specified time. However, at that time and throughout the entire meal, there was plenty of seating in the restaurant, so at least at the current moment, I think you are safe with a walk-in. After we were seated, the chef Edgar Navarro walked us through the menu, pointing out what he thought were the best things, and then even going through the second and third-best options, in case we didn't want the stuff he pointed out in the first place. I'll admit that I thought the treatment was nice, and appropriate given the dinero we were about to spend. Through the meal you could see Navarro manning the kitchen with a small army of diligent understudies. The first thing to arrive at our table was the guacamole. Menu description: "Avocado, Tomato, Onion, Jalapeno Chili, Queso Cotija, A Touch of White Truffle Oil, Served with Fresh Corn Tortilla Chips" - $88. It comes in a faux tree stump, and looked like it might be a little small, but it was a nice size for 5 people. The guacamole itself was good. One of my friends wanted it to be more garlicky, but I for one was surprised you could taste the garlic, as most places it's a little one note. I myself would have put in a little more lime juice and salt, but as I say, it was good guacamole. I couldn't taste any truffle (thankfully) and most truffle oil isn't even made from truffles-- not that I care, since it doesn't belong in guacamole. The tomatoes were halved grape tomatoes, which I wasn't really fond of; I couldn't taste any spice from the jalapeno; I don't recall noticing any cotija cheese; and finally, there was some cilantro as a garnish, but I'd have preferred more chopped cilantro in the guac itself. I was fine with it, but it was more on par with Cali-Mex (the chain, not the cuisine) than with, say, the guacamole that your friend who makes great guacamole makes. (Hi Marie!)
I'll also make a note on the chips. I'm used to (being from Texas) fresh tortilla chips that are very thin and crisp, still glistening with oil and hot from the deep fryer. These chips were especially thick. I view thick chips as an artifact of chip-bagging (like the one's you buy at the store): they have to be sturdy to not crumble to pieces during shipment and distribution. But ideally a tortilla chip is very thin, so you can eat lots of salsa without filling up on the vehicle for the salsa. So I wasn't happy with the chips. (And also, if we're doing "real Mexican," where's my free chips and salsa? I understand that in Hong Kong this is usually not a benefit as the salsa is questionable at best, but you should be showcasing your salsa game if you want to prove you've got authentic chops.) Mexican Chorizo Sausage ($108), "Charcoal-grilled, bell peppers, potato brava, achiote mayo, and green chili mustard." This was alright. It was a sausage (a hundred dollar sausage). It came with some stuff. I mean, I just can't really get excited by this, but hey, when you dine with others you're not in charge of everything, and others seemed to like it. Empanadas Cubanas ($108), "Baked Cuban pastries stuffed with fresh corn, prawns, chorizo, topped with black garlic aioli and cactus salad." The empanadas were OK. The filling didn't really stand up to the crust that well, in my opinion, and they were a bit bland. I think perhaps a larger size would've worked better. Think of a samosa: if you kept the pastry just as thick but shrunk the overall size down, it wouldn't work. Also like a samosa, you need something to add some zip to the flavor, like a lemony mint chutney. Here there was a tiny amount of black garlic aioli, but it didn't assert itself that much. As I say, the overall effect was a bit bland.
Before I talk about tacos, I want to talk about taco prices. Most of the tacos here are $88 a piece, though the veggie one runs $68 and the shrimp one is $98. And these are authentically sized tacos, so on the small side. This caused no end of grousing amongst my dining companions. I can certainly see where they're coming from: I was just in Arizona and for about a tenth of that price I got much better tacos. But one has to consider the context: rent is higher in HK; this is a fancy restaurant; and Mexican food is genuinely foreign and has import costs, from the chef all the way down to the ingredients. (It's not like you have to struggle to find a Mexican chef in Arizona.) But context cuts both ways, and we can look at other places here in HK (average prices of tacos, as calculated by me from online menus):
El Loco [sic] Gringo: $50.6
So I think the grousers were legit: the tacos are overpriced. I'll readily admit that Brickhouse and Chino, for instance, are cheaper venues, but I don't think they're so crappy that one should be paying 45-65% more for a taco at Mamasita's. Alright, well, maybe it depends on whether the tacos are 45-65% better. Well, they aren't. My wife and I split two tacos. My choice was the Fish Taco ($88), "Sol beer-battered fish, creamy avocado, red onion, chipotle mayo." I thought it was pretty good. It seemed a bit small even for a small taco, with not as much fish as I'd've liked. The avocado wasn't really noticeable either. I remember quite liking the fish tacos at Chino, and really, it's hard to do fried fish in cabbage-and-mayo poorly (unless of course you are El Loco [sic] Gringo, or Bread and Beast). If you're happy to pay $88 for a taco, this one is a good choice. My wife chose the Pork Carnitas ($88), "Pork confit, coriander, onion, radish, pineapple jam, and green tomatillo sauce." She demands that I tell you that this was not a carnitas taco. Standardly, carnitas is a type of pulled pork that is additionally crisped in fat before serving. You can fail to do the crisping stage and my wife will pout a little bit, but if you just serve her chunks of pork and tell her it's carnitas, she gets angry. To be fair, chunks of pork is acceptable carnitas, but it should be so tender that it could be shredded, and this was simply not what we had here. I didn't really see the tomatillo sauce, but you can definitely see the pile of pineapple jam on top-- not really the best choice in my mind either. Returning to the Chino comparison, their pork tacos are probably worse (though thankfully not billed as carnitas), so I guess that's something? BBQ Pork Ribs "Pibil" ($258), "16 hour slow-cooked pork ribs, pibil sauce, apple slaw salad, achiote BBQ sauce." This was easily the dish most beloved at the table. The ribs were exceedingly tender, the sauce was not too sweet and added a nice depth of flavor, and the slaw was also very good. I didn't notice until now that it was "apple slaw"-- I'm not sure how to reconcile that with my experience. Anyway, the ribs were certainly my favorite, as well as the table's. We also ordered the Mexican Rice ($48) and Refried Black Beans ($48). In some sense it was good that we got these, because we had trouble ordering enough food, because my friends were so outraged that everything cost so much. At the same time, they were relatively small portions, extremely basic, and (surprise, surprise) kind of cost a lot. The rice in particular was a bit disappointing. I like Mexican red rice that's glistening with oil and separates easily into separate grains, and this was a little bit just like rice that had been cooked in tomato sauce. It didn't even fill the small bowl it came in either.
I can't really see myself coming back here. The mains are all for sharing, and they don't come with rice and beans, so it's difficult to dine alone here and it's difficult to make a balanced meal. The tacos are priced outrageously and quite frankly so is everything else. It's not that I wouldn't pay these prices for something transcendent, but transcendent this is not. You can get comparable tacos at Chino and Brickhouse (not saying any of them are all that great). Why is it that for one US dollar I can get a great taco in the US, but for 10x that much it's a struggle to find something even mediocre here? I personally think it's the emphasis on pineapple jams and black truffle aiolis at the expense of, y'know, making good carnitas. One adds an extra fancy ingredient for the food bloggers to fawn over; the other... well, maybe it's just lost on people here, I don't know. Anyway, I do believe truly good Mexican will come to Hong Kong, but today is not the day.