Friday, September 10, 2010

Cinco de Mayo, 114 Monroe Center - 9/1/10

Opening some months ago, the restaurant occupies the old Herkner Jewelry store (which moved to the suburbs after a shooting incident involving the owner taking a few shots at a fleeing robber in broad daylight, but that’s another story).

The space is a now a color extravaganza. Painted walls, artistic renderings on chairs, booths, and tables provide a feast for the eyes. Upon entering, the restaurant seems small. But the booths lining the far wall move through the narrow hall and open up into another dining area that provides an entrance off Ottawa. There are TVs playing various channels but they were not noisy.

It was a late lunch and we took a booth away from the few other occupants but we found ourselves scrambling for foot and breathing space. Booths are tight; there was no chance of anything spilling on our laps. And all the tables and booths feature large foot pedestals; nice to look at but cumbersome for legs and feet.

The menu is large with all of the usual Mexican restaurant offerings but it also lists items featuring tongue and other more unusual dishes. Even the few always present American dishes are imaginative: hamburger or cheeseburger but with taco meat, and a hot dog but wrapped in a tortilla.

Chips and salsa were brought out promptly. We had to add hot sauce to the salsa and various sauces were already on the table. All of the appetizers were too hearty so we started with our main dishes. It took us a while to investigate the menu and our server repeatedly tried to get us to order. If you are looking for a leisurely dining experience, you will need to resist being rushed. If you’re on a tight schedule, you’ll be fine.

First up was Plato de Arrachera: steak, mexican cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocados. It was a creative and amazingly good dish. The steak was tender, and everything was fresh and flavorful. Along with this came charro beans, a sort of bean stew that was very interesting. After a few spoonfuls, the saltiness became hard to ignore but the dish had a nice kick to it.

Our second item was Carnitas Mexicanas: deep-fried pork served with pico de gallo. It was another delicious plate of food. The “deep-fried” is not what you might expect. It was batter-free and quickly fried until just slightly crisp on the outside. The pork was well-seasoned and not overcooked; the fresh pico de gallo was a taste treat.    

We were told that the full menu is available on their facebook page but we’ve been unable to locate the page, even after a phone call to the restaurant. Egg dishes are also available but note that there is “no Coke, Pepsi.”  And the restaurant has recently obtained a liquor license. If you want more than Tex-Mex fare, you should try this restaurant. 

May 2011 - We visited this restaurant again and were seated in the rear dining area, which was much more comfortable. We were struck again by the fact that although much of the fare is typical for a Mexican restaurant, these people do it right.
 Cinco de Mayo on Urbanspoon                                

Friday, September 3, 2010

Twisted Rooster, 1600 East Beltine - 8/26/10

A lot of attention has been paid to this restaurant and its conversion from the national chain, O’Charley’s, to what will become a “local” chain. We had to give it a try.

Walk in and it still feels as if you’re in a chain restaurant. Several young greeters/hostesses are milling about. A large dining area lies straight ahead, a bar with high-top seating is to your left, and leads to another dining area. The interior has been redone with nondescript modern decor, but the bar is attractive. At least nine TVs could be seen and very loud music is piped in everywhere in the building. With their attempt at a creative menu, it might be described as  a Sports Bar that wants to be a Gastro Pub.           

We were seated promptly and our server took a few minutes to describe the menu (not sure why - it’s not that complicated). Although the menu throws “twisted” in front of many of the items, most of the items are not that unusual. There were no appetizers or sides to start things off so we went with the soup of the day, gazpacho. Topped with homemade croutons, it was amazingly tasty and perfectly seasoned.

Next item up was the bison burger (nicely credited as Byron Center Buffalo). It came with white cheddar, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, “twisted sauce,” and salt pepper fries. Ordered medium rare, it verged a little close to medium but was flavorful and delicious.

Our second dish was the hard-to-resist twisted mac & cheese: cavatappi noodles, white cheese, house smoked chicken, sweet peas, asparagus, cherry tomatoes with baked cheddar bread crumbs and fried parmesan. It was a spectacular concoction with all items combining nicely, and nothing overcooked. The parmesan was a nice touch.

Our server asked if we wanted any dessert but there were none listed. She then brought the dinner menu, which listed the desserts as well as appetizers. When asked if we could have had one of the appetizers, she informed us that most of them were available. But how would we have known that? Check out the menus online beforehand if you’re going for lunch. Our food tab came in under $30.00.

The menu claims to emphasize local food but credits only the buffalo with its source. They do have a nice list of local beers and wines. But the main problem with this restaurant is the noise level. It is unbearably loud, unbelievably so. The music volume makes everyone speak up to be heard and the resulting roar is overwhelming. A man two tables down was talking on his cell phone, which is usually a major irritation. But although we saw his lips move, we couldn’t hear a word he was saying.

The Twisted Rooster reserves a few parking places for those picking up “to-go” orders, and this would be a much more pleasant way to experience their food. It will be interesting to watch how this place and its menu evolves. (The logo found below was kindly sent by the owners' marketing office.) And if you are wondering if there's any significance to the name, there isn't. As possible names were being bandied about, this is the name that stuck.

Twisted Rooster on Urbanspoon