Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sel et Poivre: an affordable touch of Paris on the Upper East Side

Sel et Poivre (853 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side)

One couple clinks glasses of Cotes du Rhone, while another tears from a warm loaf of peasant bread, dipping it into the fragrant broth of the mussels a la provencal, both tables gazing upon Lexington Avenue over a lush partition of autumnal chrysanthemums.  At the bar just beyond, neighborhood friends gather before moving to a table for an anecdotal evening of comradery.

In the main dining room, dark wooden beams stretch across the ceiling toward the floor, like deep chocolate feuilletine carefully strewn across walls of a french vanilla custard.  Soft candlelight illuminates the white linen tabletops, intensified by antique sconces along the periphery.  Family photos of vacations and Parisian street scenes add a welcoming touch to the bistro, which is run by chef-owner Christian Schienle and his wife (and co-owner) Pamela, whose extremely warm and welcoming sweetness is visible throughout the entire evening as she delivers drinks and circulates throughout the dining room.  Sel et poivre ("salt & pepper") has been an Upper East Side window into Paris dining since its doors first opened in the summer of 1989.

Dinner begins with a glass of Stellina di Notte, a lightly sweet and citrusy prosecco with a hint of pear and melon.  Wines by the glass rather affordably range from $6.50 to $14, while half and full bottles range from a $19 Beaulieu Vineyards Chardonnay to a $350 bottle of Chateau d'Yquem, with practically everything in between.

Shortly after we toast, a tray arrives at the table with soft croutons of sliced french bread, a mound of shredded swiss cheese, and a bowl of rouille (a garlic aioli with crushed red peppers).  The waiter instructs us to use the garnishes in any manner we choose, but he recommends a small dollop of the rouille on the bread rounds with a sprinkling of cheese, then floating it in the fish soup which is now being placed before us.  Naturally, I take his recommendation.

Though the simplistic titles on the menu may do little to tantalize the appetite, each dish is deliciously more complex than the unrevealing monikers imply.  This fish soup ($7.75), for instance, is a hearty and fragrant, thick tomato broth laced with a base of red snapper and accents of a variety of other seafood, all of which have been pureed so that only the strong whisper of the ocean is present in this otherwise velvety soup.  With the twirl of a spoon, the garlic cream blends with the melting fromage, creating one of the most exquisite bisques I have ever tasted.  The vibrant bubbles from the prosecco awaken everything, and I am instantly in heaven.

The next course features a beautifully crisp and creamy white celery root remoulade on a pedestal of shimmery magenta beets.  This root salad appears simple enough, but one bite reveals the tanginess of the beets, and a surprising yet fantastic slight kick of cumin and curry in the remoulade.

The next dish wowed me in its simplicity and expert execution.  The mildly sweet and moist wing tip of skate fish with lemon and caper beurre blanc is everything you hope from a classic French dish.  The butter-drenched filet is so expertly prepared that it nearly dissolves on the tongue, with the salty kiss of the plump capers.  Served with tender grains of basmati rice, it's quite literally a perfect plate ($17.95).

It reminded me of a clip I once watched of Julia Child preparing a similar version, so I thought I'd throw it in for those who might want to try it.  If you are unfamiliar with skate, it's a particularly informative video about how to transform a somewhat peculiar and ugly fish into a rather simple and exquisite meal. I absolutely love every aspect of this clip from 1980 (for a point of reference, today on flounder is $14.99/lb and skate is $10.99/lb).

Tender, earthy, and sublimely decadent calves' liver is blanketed with caramelized onions and a lyonnaise sauce ($18.95).  This classic white wine demi-glace with sweet onions adds a magnificent sweetness to the thinly sliced medallion of liver, tender enough to taste like a grand sauteed foie gras.  A lumpy heap of buttery smashed red potatoes sides wonderfully with this hearty plate, all of which is smartly paired with a 2007 Vintners Cuvee Syrah from Rosenblum Cellars in Sonoma ($10), a spicy red wine with hints of lavender and vanilla that harmonize gorgeously to cut the richness of the meat.

What bistro would be complete sans a steak au poivre, executed here to remarkable effect?  Tender and lean, buttery aged New York sirloin is crusted with cracked red and black peppercorns, served in a pool of a silky, spirited poivre sauce of calvados brandy and cream.  Of course we also had to try the pommes frites, delicious golden steak fries with bits of crispy potato skin speckled with salt crystals.

As our server poured a cordial glass of Chapelle-St-Arnoux muscat ($6.50) the color of sweet golden raisins, I sighed in surrender, happily full and ready for sleep.  Although I vowed I couldn't touch another morsel, you can guess how much remained of my terrine de chocolate, a flourless sliver of light as air chocolate mousse.  I think I spooned up even the last drop of raspberry coulis.

Sel et Poivre also features prix fixe menus for brunch ($14.95), lunch ($13.95 or $17.95), and dinner ($27.95).  

Sel Et Poivre on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama likes it, but how does Five Guys really stack up?

With over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger, it should be fair to assume that there's something for everyone at Five Guys Burgers & Fries.  Though I am not typically a fanatic of franchised burger joints, I have been known to frequent a few exceptions (namely In-N-Out, although Shake Shack is rapidly spreading to far too many locations to keep count).  So when my friend, Christine, suggested that we try out the Zagat-rated burger joint that recently opened in the Rego Center Mall in Queens (which conveniently houses a new Century 21 and Costco) I decided to hop in the passenger seat for a ride.  After all, shouldn't every American at least sample the D.C.-based cheeseburger endorsed by our President?

The restaurant is impressively clean, each table wiped free of debris within moments of a customer leaving.  You sort have to chuckle, however, at the arrogance of the decor.  The walls are lined with quotes, newspaper reviews, and magazine clippings all shouting their raving endorsements of the franchise.  It all seems a bit of a waste, since logic should stand to reason that if a customer has already entered the dining room, they probably don't need propaganda to convince them to order a burger.

Nonetheless, kudos on immaculate eating surfaces and direct views of the grill and stainless steel food prep areas, separated only by a plexi-glass divider.  You can literally watch them top your personal burger just before handing it to you.  But don't expect it to be pretty at the table, though, because they tightly wrap it in foil (although it does keep in the heat).

Though their beef is neither cage-free nor organic, their website claims humane treatment of the cattle and only fresh, non-frozen ground beef that meets all USDA regulations.  In a nod to those diners that want to feel like they've ordered something straight from the farm, a sign by the register announces the source du jour for the potatoes (we noticed the sacks of potatoes stacked by the kitchen were actually from a different farm... maybe it was the delivery for tomorrow's taters?)

While you wait for them to call your number, a giant trash bag of serve-yourself-peanuts sits at each customer's disposal.  I declined to indulge, as no one around me seemed to be throwing the shells on the floor.  What's the sense of peanuts if you can't make a mess with the remains?  Aw, shucks...

But back to the 250,000 ways to order a burger.  Take a quick scroll back to the top picture in this post.  Notice anything peculiar? There's no patty!  Yup, that first image is actually the Veggie Sandwich with cheese!  There are so many topping options that a vegetarian can load up a substantial sandwich with no beef at all.  The best part is that all of the toppings are free on any sandwich, so no matter what combination you choose, the price stays the same ($3.79 for the veggie and cheese sandwich).

Don't be fooled by the sandwich titles.  A cheeseburger ($6.39) is actually TWO patties sandwiched between a toasted sesame bun.  Because I wanted to load up on the toppings, I opted for the "Little Cheeseburger" ($4.99) which is not a slider, as the name suggests, but exactly the same size as the pricier double version, only with one beef patty instead of two.  After loading it with toppings, I can't imagine how anyone could fit the two-patty sandwich in the average mouth.  When you order your burger "All-the-way" it comes stacked with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, mayo, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, and sauteed mushrooms.  Just because I really enjoy an ol' fashioned steakburger, I also threw on A1 sauce for good measure.  Since they prepare all burgers to well done for consistency and health codes, why not load it up?  Other possible toppings include relish, raw onion, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, barbecue sauce,  and hot sauce.

The patty itself is thin and juicy, well-seasoned, with crispy bits on the edges from squishing the beef into the grill with a spatula.  I actually prefer my patties thin, and thought it was a particularly tasty burger.  I love that the toppings are straightforward, no gimmicky house sauces or gourmet toppings, so you can make it as classic or loaded as you like.

This may sound strange, but I think my favorite sandwich was actually the bacon cheese dog.  The soft white hot dog bun is toasted, and the frank itself is halved lengthwise, and then grilled.  Paired with crispy bacon and melted American cheese, I think it's the best hot dog I have ever had, quite frankly (couldn't resist the pun).

The french fries are thick, and freshly cut with the skin still on, then fried in peanut oil and lightly salted.  Crispy on the outside, and tender inside, they were pretty fantastic fries ($2.89), and also available with cajun seasonings.

And I loved that there were bottles of malt vinegar available, my preferred tactic for eating fries.  Also pretty rare in NYC these days is the self-service soda fountain with complimentary refills ($1.99).

All in all, was it the best burger I've ever tasted?  Well, I love to support the local small businesses, and quite honestly, the burgers in Astoria would be nearly impossible to beat.  I am not sure I will ever hop on the subway just to grab a burger (maybe that hot dog, though), but the next time I need to head to the mall or costco, it's pretty likely I will swing by.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

JJ's Asian Fusion: more than just your typical maki & sake

The House Special Tempura Roll, a maki of smoked salmon, yellowtail, and cream cheese, lightly battered and deep-fried.

JJ's Asian Fusion (37-05 31st Ave., Astoria)
Closed Mondays

"Ohhhhh, you are going to love the yellowtail sashimi special today," Kimmy confidently and sweetly proclaims the very second I step past the neon blue glowing waterfall in the entryway.  "It has a yuzu foam, a puree of white bean and garlic, and apple kimchi."  As she guides me through the bamboo partitioned tables toward a seat near the sushi counter, she continues, "Do you want to look at the menu first, or should I turn the special appetizer in for you already while you look at entrees?"

It's only my third visit to JJ's Asian Fusion, and it seems the same staff has been here every single time.  And they seem to not only remember each repeat customer, but also their dining preferences.  On my second visit, I tried to order the shumai, to which Kimmy replied, "you had those last time... you should really try the dim sum.  Similar ingredients and flavors, but a little bit different dish."  So far all of her recommendations have been perfect, but I am starting to realize that there probably isn't anything here I wouldn't enjoy.

The rich and tender slices of yellowtail practically fall apart under my chopsticks.  A fish with a high oil content, it is nearly futile to dip it in soy sauce, which stubbornly beads up and rolls off.  So it's brilliant that this appetizer is topped with sesame seeds and crunchy fish flakes that add texture, and served with a citrusy yuzu foam to cut the richness, as well as a pool of garlicky white bean cream sauce that accentuates the bold flavors of the fish.

The apple kimchi is a unique take on a Korean classic, and the peppery glaze on juicy chunks of sour green apple offers a tart heat that wonderfully compliments the other players in the dish.  This is anything but your ordinary sushi joint, offering yet another affirmation that the kitchens in Astoria are serving up some delectably innovative cuisine that rivals even the most popular competitors in Manhattan.

Aptly named JJ's Asian Fusion, this cozy restaurant unassumingly tucked on 31st Avenue features an oftentimes French culinary approach to a marriage of a multiplicity of Pan-Asian cuisines.  The restaurant's namesake, J.J. Lin, brings both her Shanghainese heritage and training at the French Culinary Institute to create an artistic array of dishes that dexterously satisfy both sushi purists and fusion enthusiasts.  For several years the location was a take-out noodle shop called JJ's Grand Tofu, but nearly a decade ago was transformed into the current restaurant by J.J. and her husband, Richard Lin.

One of the most popular small plates are the edamame pot stickers.  For $5.50, four steamed dumplings are stuffed with pureed edamame beans, blanketed in a wasabi cream sauce, and then drizzled with basil-infused olive oil.  Al dente pasta gives way to a surprisingly substantial soy bean filling, a refreshing departure from more traditional dumplings, and just enough heat from the wasabi to tantalize the palate but not kill your taste buds for further courses.

With the shumai ($4.95) six tender meatballs of delicately seasoned minced chicken and crabmeat are wrapped in thin, savory noodles, steamed on a broad bamboo leaf that infuses a hint of earthiness, and served with a small bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping.

The dim sum ($4.95) features the same chicken and crab meatball, but in this version beautifully wrapped in a thick dumpling skin, each steamy piece crowned with a plump, sweet shrimp.  While I absolutely loved the addition of the shrimp with the dim sum, the playful texture of the shumai was deliciously irresistible.

My personal favorite, however, just might be the king crab dumplings.  Four substantial, steamed pasta crescents stuffed to bursting with sweet king crab meat ($6.95).

While JJ's more creative dumplings are reason enough to return again, and could quite easily build a meal, the more traditional gyoza are available with a variety of fillings.  In the version we tried, salty and peppery minced pork is packaged in a tender dumpling skin, steamed to al dente, and then lightly pan-seared.  6 pieces are $4.50, and hold their own against any gyoza I have tried.

One of the most surprisingly interesting, yet satisfying starters (also served as an accompaniment with many of the entrees) are the potato spring rolls for $2.95.  Smooth, herbed mashed potatoes are deep-fried in wonton wrappers, sliced diagonally, and served with a slightly peppery, orange glaze for dipping.  Sort of a citrusy, Asian croquette, they are remarkably simple and delicious.

A phenomenal dish for sharing that is not even listed on the menu is the rock lobster tempura, which you  might be able to convince the kitchen to prepare with enough coaxing.  Juicy lumps of sweet lobster meat are lightly tempura battered and fried, then tossed in a yuzu mango glaze and dotted with red and black tobiko (flying fish caviar) and finally crowned with magenta and jade micro greens.  Not only do you receive a lobster tail full of decadently crispy, sweet, and tangy fried lobster morsels, but a champagne flute loaded with more of the golden seafood, as well.  It's a real "wow" dish, and something off-menu you can order that will undoubtedly impress your date or dining companions.

Another wonderful off-menu item that might soon become a recurring special is an herbed, pan-seared blackened tuna ball.  The crispy golden sphere surrounds wonderfully tender, pink ahi tuna, and sits in a pool of caper berry cream sauce and basil-infused oil.  It's a delicious marriage of the ocean and garden, and yet another unique starter course that would be difficult to top in terms of creativity and bold flavors.

From the sushi bar comes an entirely different selection of small plates that exemplify a culinary mastery of Japanese simplicity.  Live scallops are sliced delicately thin and served in the shell, accompanied by an artfully carved cucumber rose filled with the dark outer skirt of the scallop, a more firm, briny, yet delicious contrast to the sweet, moist scallop medallions.  A salty reduction of the scallop juices accompanies, although almost completely unnecessary.  Seafood this fresh needs no masking.

For those unable to decide on the sushi bar's broad selection of sashimi, I highly recommend one of the chef's combinations.  The chirashi assortment features a generous selection of the freshest slices of seafood available, traditionally served on a bed of sushi rice.  For $16.95 it makes a perfect platter for sharing, or a quite filling meal for one.  The chef selects his own preferences, for a colorful array of the freshest catches available that day.  My friend and I nearly devoured the entire array without dipping a single piece in soy sauce.  The salmon, tuna, and mackerel were beyond exceptional.

The wok-seared blackened tuna entree features a crown of flawlessly seared, pepper-crusted ahi tuna shingled around a heaping mound of arugula tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, all drizzled with piquant wasabi aioli.

Enormous bowls of nabe yaki udon arrive at tables with enough soup to feed a family of four.  Bright yellow mounds of singapore angel hair noodles tossed in mild curry are loaded with shrimp, chicken, and colorful Chinese vegetables.  We fell in love with the chicken lo mein, a refreshingly light take on the popular sauteed Chinese dish, packed with much less oil than the typical take-out version, and more crisp vegetables and tender white chicken meat.

Along with several basic sushi rolls come a kaleidoscope array of Chef's Special Rolls.  Tropical Roll #2 features shrimp tempura with diced mango and slivers of avocado, wrapped in rice and thin soy paper, all drizzled with mango and strawberry sauces.  The harmony of the tempura batter and sweet glazes combine in your mouth like a sinfully decadent sushi doughnut that you just can't put down.

On the lighter end of maki spectrum comes the sashimi cucumber roll, replacing both seaweed and rice with thin strips of crisp cucumber spiraled around tuna, salmon, crab, and avocado, brushed with a sweet and spicy glaze and topped with caviar.

The Astoria roll is filled with crabmeat and wasabi tempura crunch flakes.  The roll is then topped with thin slices of salmon and a red pepper cream sauce, all of which is seared to order with a handheld brulee torch just moments before serving.

With the same filling as the Astoria roll, the scallop california roll is instead topped with thin medallions of fresh scallop and a citrus cream sauce, flame-seared and garnished with red and green tobiko.

The crunchy and peppery blackened tuna roll is filled with crisp asparagus spears, pepper-seared tuna, then topped with even more tuna and wasabi cream sauce.

If you ask nicely, they will even serve up one of the chef's special rolls not listed on the menu, the House Special Tempura Roll.  Filled with yellowtail, smoked salmon, and cream cheese, the entire roll is dipped in tempura batter, and lightly fried.  Imagine a Japanese take on a bagel with lox, the cream cheese warm and melted into a rich sauce that beautifully accentuates the smoky, salty, fish.  It may take a moment to get used to the warm maki, but once you do, this is certain to become a favorite.

At lunch time, you can choose any two ($6.95) or three ($9.95) of the basic rolls from the sushi bar, with your choice of miso soup or house salad.  Lunch noodle specials (including the lo mein and singapore noodles) also come with soup for just $4.95.   Several other entrees are available at special lunch prices, as well as a variety of bento boxes and salads.  JJ's also features a rather impressive sake list, which I have unfortunately yet to sample.

Desserts include banana spring rolls, yucca coconut cake, and fried ice cream, and I saved room to sample a sweet finale during only one of my visits.  The baseball-sized dollop of ice cream is available in green tea or vanilla, coated with a sweetened, crispy tempura batter, drizzled with chocolate sauce.  From appetizer to ending, JJ's hits the mark on every facet of dining.  A cozy setting, impeccable hospitality and service, and a killer kitchen that has yet to disappoint, JJ's is most definitely a reason to dine in Astoria.

J.J.'s Fusion Kitchen and Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 22, 2010

MexiQ is smokin' delicious

Build-your-own tacos with the Cazuela Tasting

MexiQ (37-11 30th Ave., Astoria)
(718) 626-0333
Open daily from 4pm

Want a comestible recipe for success?  Open a restaurant in one of NYC's most eclectic culinary hotbeds (Astoria) that features a menu by a renowned chef (Iron Chef contestant, Julieta Ballesteros, of Crema and Los Feliz in Manhattan) blending a fusion of ultimate comfort cuisines (Southern and Mexican) with owners of successful Astoria establishments (Dino Philippou of Cavo & Dimitri Paloumbis of Break) and a management team that has recently been at the helm of such neighborhood favorites as Cavo and the Studio Square Beer Garden.  With such an accomplished curriculum vitae from a restaurant before it even opens its doors, there undeniably comes a high degree of expectation.

Exposed brick walls, a mix of candlelight and the warm amber glow from the filaments of enormous cartoon-sized light bulbs on the ceiling, and a flawlessly ├╝ber-attractive staff styled in denim and plaid like tequila-wielding Gap models make MexiQ feel like a hip, sexy, urban cowboy saloon.  Overhead, a refreshingly diverse and enjoyable playlist croons tunes ranging from Regina Spektor to The Eagles that harmonizes pleasantly with the low hum of laughter and banter throughout the room.  In a recessed far corner, a large group dips from assorted guacamole jazzed up with pork belly and lime-poached shrimp at a Mexican picnic table under an abstract luminescent wagon wheel chandelier by a flat screen television mounted behind a waterfall that runs from ceiling to floor.  Just beyond a row of intimate dark-planked booths with steel-plated tabletops, singles mingle at the main bar, taking full advantage of the proximity to the 48 taps featuring craft beers, sports-broadcasting flat screens, and the temp-controlled tequila dispenser.

Besides the craft beer selection (a 4-7PM weekday happy hour features $3 Mexican beers and $5 margaritas), a colorful cocktail list boasts inventive concoctions such as a cherry cayenne manhattan, Agua Loca sangria, as well as passionfruit-jalapeno, Jim Beam-guava-chipotle, and watermelon margaritas (refreshingly delicious, and pictured above, with agave nectar and fresh melon puree).

Though I was initially turned off by the replacement of the typical basket of tortillas by the single six-inch tortilla presented with a mini-squeeze bottle of salsa roja, at the end of the meal I was actually grateful that I hadn't wasted my appetite on chips and salsa.  Keep an open mind, and this simple amuse bouche actually hits the spot and gets the taste buds ready for the dishes to come.

An important bit of advice: ask your server which plates are better for sharing.  Some of the dishes are clearly intended for multiple diners, such as the Ceviche Flight, which offers two mini-martini-glass-shots of two different ceviches, easily shared by two to four guests, and a killer deal at $14.

The octopus and shrimp ceviche blends ridiculously tender octopus and tangy lime-poached shrimp in spicy green olive tomato salsa.  The crowning touch is a dollop of creamy avocado mousse and deliciously salty fried capers.  A brilliant blend of colors, flavors, and textures.

The second ceviche is much lighter, with juicy pieces of citrus-marinated sea bass that almost taste like tender scallops, dressed with pickled onions and tomato.  Though the menu lists a mango pico de gallo on the first ceviche, it actually topped this one, which in my opinion was the perfect pairing.

The Mac & Cheese is quite appropriately listed as an appetizer rather than a side dish, as it should be consumed before anything else.  If you truly want to enjoy it properly, the subtle and exquisite blend of velvety white cheddar cheese, creme fraiche, delightfully crunchy herbed panko bread crumbs, and decadent white truffle oil should be devoured before you introduce your palate to the spicier and more piquant offerings on the menu, which might otherwise make this gourmet comfort dish seem less vibrant than it actually is.  I added applewood smoked bacon for a little salt to cut the richness for an additional $2, but shrimp and huitlacoche (a mushroom relative that grows on corn) are also possible add-ins.

Somewhat misleadingly titled (though accurately described), the Fiesta Nachos are actually an 8 layer dip served with a large cone of tortillas for scooping as well as several blue and yellow corn strips as a garnish.  I would have called this a Fiesta Dip or Pinata Dip, as nachos imply chips covered with toppings.  Despite the technicality in wording, I loved that with each bite came a wonderfully different flavor and temperature combination, as it was nearly impossible to gather every ingredient with each scoop.  Cool and velvety guacamole with salty green olives, spicy jalapenos, warm and creamy refried beans, sharp cheddar cheese, savory seasoned bite-sized cubes of chicken, mexican cream, and garden-fresh pico de gallo.  Another dish perfect for sharing with the entire table.

Though they're listed as a side dish for only $4, the fried pickles make a perfect appetizer, as well.  Four long spears of tart and tangy pickles are beautifully coated in a crispy and golden breading that miraculously holds on to each pickle with every bite.  Be sure to dip them in the shot glass of southwestern cream that accompanies...  One of the best deals on the menu.

Though I've yet to sample everything that tempts me on the menu, the pulled pork carnitas are something either I or my friends have ordered on every visit.  Marinated in citrus and coca cola (the result is a tangy molasses), the braised pork is flawlessly tender, with a beautifully sweet and mildly spicy glaze.  Served in a cast iron skillet and served with a heavenly dense jalapeno goat cheese corn bread, it ranks up there with some of the best pulled pork I've ever tasted.  The presentation has changed slightly from the original menu, but if you ask your server, you'll get the original accompaniments to make mini-tacos, as you do with the Cazuela Tasting.

The MexiQ Cazuela Tasting is a smoked meat lovers dream, with three cast iron pots offering generous portions of the pork carnitas, as well as the tequila-oregano braised beef brisket, and the adobo-rubbed beer braised short ribs.  Though the dish is $26, it comes with enough meat, expertly smoked in-house, to make nearly six jumbo sandwiches, and is intended to serve two to four guests.

Served with a generous amount of warm, soft corn tortillas, guacamole, mexican cream, salsa roja, and pickled jalapeno cabbage, it's an explosion of endless flavor combinations for building your own taquitos (see the image at the heading of this post).

I am extremely critical when it comes to fish, so trust me when I say that the Yacatan Style Chilean Sea Bass was the single most wonderful filet of sea bass I have ever enjoyed.  Blackened to glorious perfection, the meat inside was juicy and tender, with a crisp outer shell of seasonings.  The generous filet is served on a bed of chipotle mashed plantains which confused me deliciously.  They look like smashed red potatoes, but tasted like a sweet tomato smash with hints of pepper and banana, the perfect accompaniment for the blackened sea bass, which is crowned with a tower of golden beer battered onion rings.  Though the Mexican tartar sauce served alongside adds a welcome coolness to the dish, fish this tasty needs nothing at all.  This is a plate I will order again and again.

For dessert, don't expect your abuela's tres leches.  This deconstructed version of the classic three milk cake is actually a moist sponge cake topped with dulce de leche ice cream and drizzled with mango syrup.  A shot glass of evaporated, condensed, and whole milks is poured over the cake table side by the server.  With each forkful, you get all of the richness and sweetness of a tres leches without the soggy texture that can so easily be over-drenched.  Think caramel mango shortcake with fresh blueberries and cream, and you'll be in heaven.

Another misleading title is the Pecan Pie, which I almost didn't order because I don't actually really enjoy pecan pie all that much (I love the buttery filling but sort of loathe the pecans).  To my pleasant surprise, this was a phenomenal dessert that was really more of a sticky toffee and chocolate ganache torte, speckled throughout with crushed pecans.  This warm gooey chocolate cake is served with a spiced english custard and fresh berries, and topped with vanilla ice cream.  It's an exceptionally great finale.

Only open now for about a month, it seems that MexiQ is still ironing out some details and reworking a few components of what is turning out to be a delicious menu.  The general manager explained to me that they are taking quite seriously the feedback they receive, both in the restaurant and on websites such as Yelp.  "We really care about what customers are saying..." he explained.  "For example, we have already lowered the prices of our sodas and coffees because of feedback.  We're genuinely trying to listen to what our customers want, while maintaining our vision."

I've already been three times, and enjoyed exceptional service (ask for Michael or Erin), delicious food, and a very vibrant atmosphere.  While I admire their commitment to revision, I hope they don't change too much.  Because right now, it's a crazy-explosive-comfort-delicious blend of the American deep south and Mexico that I already quite love as it is.

MexiQ on Urbanspoon
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