Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
El Zarape Is No El Zarape
The original El Zarape on Park Boulevard is one of my favorite California-Mexican restaurants. From the barbecue chicken burrito to the carnitas plate, everything I've tasted there has been brimming with flavor, and it's all served up so fresh that each ingredient shines on its own -- you can differentiate each vegetable on your tongue, each bit of meat or cheese.
I was expecting the newer, bigger, "we add tequila to the equation" version on Adams Avenue to be just as impressive -- perhaps even more so -- with a relaxed, getting-served-at-the-table feel and the ability to order up a margarita.
I went once before and was pretty happy with my shrimp dish, which was drenched (a little too much) in a spicy poblano cream sauce. I wasn't inspired to go back, and it was only now, months later, that David and I happened by and figured we'd stop in for lunch.
While waiting for our food, we received the standard chips and salsa. Unlike the sauces you can choose for yourself at the original, these two (a red and a green) were one dimensional. Some heat on the tongue, but no real flavor.
This time, I ordered shrimp tacos. The shrimp was cooked well, and it was indeed tasty, but the corn tortilla was bland and cold, like something I'd get out of a plastic bag at the grocery store. I did love the rice, mostly for its mushy texture (which is not how rice is supposed to be, but I happen to enjoy it), but the beans, too, were bland. I asked for Tapatio to liven up my tacos. The chipotle cream sauce was good, but it was too heavy on the cream, not enough on the chipotle.
But here's where it really failed: David's burrito. It was amazing to both of us that a burrito with so many supposedly flavorful ingredients -- carnitas, guacamole, cheese, beans -- simply had a mild cinnamon flavor. We actually discovered a clove inside of it and couldn't tell whether that was supposed to be there or not. But the meat had no flavor of its own -- nothing like the others, the marinated meat and almost dry, crispy edges that add to the texture and salty, caramelized goodness.
Sure, we were both really hungover, and that never helps. But it's especially when I'm hungover that I crave great California-Mex. Next time, I'm just going to stick to what I know and head straight for the original El Zarape on Park Boulevard.