Friday, December 01, 2006

This Week's Restaurant Review: Consuelo In San Jose

Mexican food can either be magic or tragic. It’s rarely anywhere in between. Some of the best and worst meals I’ve ever had involved cuisine south of the border. I am not a big fan of the gelatinous combinations of cheese, rice, beans and mystery meat that you’ll find at many Mexican eateries in Northern California. I have eaten Mexican food at the most expensive restaurants in the Bay Area and have had horrible experiences, while I’ve also eaten at remote taco stands that can best be described as shacks in faraway places like Ixtapa and Mazatlan, and encountered some of the most delicious food on the planet there. Good Mexican food can cause me to wax poetic, while the bad kind can make me religious -- causing me to fervently worship the porcelain god to the point where I swear off the stuff forever. Fortunately, the Consuelo Mexican Bistro, located in San Jose’s Santana Row, serves the former. This food is muy, muy bueno, to say the least. Consuleo is a beautiful Mexican restaurant with about 120 seats both inside and outside on their well-appointed patio. They serve authentic Mexican cuisine using lesser known ingredients and they do it to perfection. Everything is served tapas style and meant to be shared. The place is lively and busy pretty much all the time, but that never bothers me. My fiancée hates loud places, but I figure it’s a trade-off situation. If a place is noisy, it usually means that A.) the patrons are chronically hard of hearing or B.) the place serves damn good food. Consuelo has a very high, red-tile ceiling with yellow walls and booths made out of wood and leather. When you walk in, it makes you feel like you’re in a really nice five-star restaurant in Mexico City or Acapulco. The whole atmosphere of the place says “class” – from the iron chandeliers to the beautiful plates and glassware – Consuelo is a feast for both the eyes and palate. The best thing about Consuelo is the tortillas. They make them on the premises and you can tell. They are soft and hot and works of art. The place doesn’t skimp on these little wonders, either – keep asking for them and they’ll keep ‘em coming! We started off with the Guacamole ($7), which they make for you tableside performance style. This incredible concoction consists of avocadoes (duh!) Serrano chiles, onions, tomatoes and a bunch of other amazing fresh ingredients you won’t find in any other guacamole. The Quesadillas ($7) are a flavorful combination of Oaxacan cheese, poblano chiles (semi-hot, so beware, you gringos!), accompanied by a trio of mouth watering salsas (mango, tomatillo and roasted chiles) that yell, “Fresh!” The Ceviche de Pescado ($10) is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, consisting of fresh chunks of white fish, marinated in lime juice mixed with diced tomato, jalapeno chile, onion, green olives, cilantro and olive oil. The soups are also fantastico. Try the Pozole Verde ($9), a chicken and hominy soup served Sinaloa style, with jalapeno chile, tomatillo, spices and topped with radish, avocado and onion or the Sopa de Tortilla ($7). I thought the best tortilla soup was served at a place called Pancho Villa’s in Los Cabos, but this is truly el superior. It’s a robust pasilla and spice puree with tortilla strips, avocado and cheese. For entrees or Especialidades, I recommend the Mole Poblano ($11), one of the legendary dishes at Consuelo. It’s a blend of spices, chiles, nuts and chocolate in a rich and flavorful sauce, served over chicken that is tender and moist. The Chamorro de Cordero ($14) is a Colorado lamb shank marinated in a spice Muscat paste, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. Something I have every time is the Carnitas ($13), Michoacan style marinated tender chunks of pork, served with a chile guajillo and arbol salsa. If you want side dishes, you’ll have to order them, because nothing at Consuelo comes with the obligatory rice and beans. They have a wide selection of rice dishes, bean selections and more. Consuelo Mexican Bistro is at 277 Santana Row (right across from the movie theaters) Suite 1125 in San Jose. I would recommend always calling ahead for reservations. Their phone number is: (408) 260-7082. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area, but Consuelo is head, shoulders and several sombreros above the rest. If I could, I’d eat there every week, which would mean my nickname would change back to Gordito in el minuto!

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