Brandon Hernández 8 a.m., Dec. 20
Growing Pains Subside for El Take it Easy
I happened to run into Jay, the highly visible owner of El Take it Easy and the Linkery, the other day and that planted the seeds of a visit to the supposed outpost of TJ in North Park. That the restaurant was celebrating its second anniversary and running some food and drink specials clinched the deal. Now, I'm not the only person who felt that Easy started out with a nebulous concept and lackluster execution. I know those are harsh words, but they rang true two years ago and it's been some time since I drank or dined there. But my last visit shifted my perspective some.
For the anniversary party, the kitchen had rolled out a series of "fancy tacos" for $4 each. Those tacos are now being worked into the regular menu as they were evidently a success with customers. I was, quite frankly, impressed with the tacos that came to my table.
First, the oyster and bacon. It came partially disassembled with the cooked oysters still in their shells and off to the side of the plate. The oysters had retained their liquor during the cooking, with the addition of some spicy elements, and were quite intoxicating on their own. The complete taco was extremely flavorful, although a tremendous mess to eat. The oyster taco, rather unfortunately, didn't make it to the permanent menu as it was the best of the bunch. Nevertheless, the others were quite good.
Easy's take on tacos gobernador replaced the peppers with celery and the gooey cheese with a grated oaxaca-style cheese that evoked queso fresco. It was much lighter and more brightly flavored than a taco truck gobernador. For a yellowtail taco, the fish had been lightly seared as carpaccio and then topped with roasted corn and a stonefruit salsa.
If the tacos had a major weakness, it's that the handmade corn tortilla was undersized and failed to contain the meats and vegetables. I ate my tacos with a fork, like French people are rumored to do when they vacation in Mexico.
So long had been my abstention from El Take it Easy, that hadn't even had a cocktail there since the restaurant started serving from a full bar. I hadn't even been in since the removal of the mandatory 18% service charge, which I learned had been gone almost a full year. It never bothered me, but a lot of people will no doubt be happy about it.
From the bar, I tried the house's Manhattan. Fighting Cock brand bourbon with angostura bitters and sweet vermouth, stirred with ice, and served up with a maraschino cherry--shockingly orthodox for a restaurant that started out serving fried chicken necks, but potent as hell and well balanced.
Specialty cocktails for the anniversary made great use of mezcal and (my favorite) gin. There was a refreshingly minimal use of vodka. Everything that came to my table had showed a judicious use of spirits that hadn't been overly adulterated. The average cost of a cocktail was about $9. Novel additions like kimchi juice and pickled blueberries paid homage to Easy's "crazy" roots, but showed that the restaurant is, after a couple of years' growing pains, finally learning to balance ambitions and imagination with refined technique in a manner that justifies the price of entry, which now seems more reasonable.
3926 30th Street