on this story
(out of five)
Pelancho's Mexican Grill
1516 Downtown West Blvd.
by Ally Carte
One of the things they warn you about in this business is the hazards of making broad sweeping generalizations. Also included in this list of warnings given to journalists is to never use "but" and/or "and" at the beginning of a sentence, as well as to always stop with three martinis at lunch. Clearly, these are the sorts of rules that one must take with a grain of salt, which can be served along with drink number four, if you don't mind.
But "they" may have had a point with the broad, sweeping generalizations thing, if my overstuffed mailbag is any indication. Turns out that my calling German food beige irritated a horde of German food lovers. Even though I tempered the description with two addendaone, that this beigeness is tempered by flashes of red cabbage and green beans and, two, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with beige, the description and its general-ness rankled.
Here's the thing, thoughalmost any type of ethnic cuisine, by the time it catches hold on these shores, can be broken down into shorthand, which doesn't always fully describe what that cuisine was like in its homeland. A for-instance: Chinese food in China is amazingly complex and remarkably regional. Here, we get only glimpses of the true scope of this cuisine and what little of that we do get is tempered with Americanized dishes based on Americanized palates that are only loosely, at best, based on the spirit rather than the letter of the Chinese diet. Generalized, Chinese here translates to "stir-fried or deep-fried something with sauce and rice, with maybe an egg roll." Same shorthand happens with Italian delicacies. Or Mexican.
No, it's not fair. But think what would happen if someone somewhere else tried to encapsulate all that is best about "American" food and open a restaurant somewhere else. Personal experiencefrom a "Texan" eatery near Trafalgar Squarewould prove that it can be unnerving for those familiar with the food in its natural habitat. The Londoners, however, seemed to be having a whale of a time.
So does it matter, then, that to folks who have eaten in Texas this menu was only a distant cousin to what you'd actually find in the Lone Star State? I don't know. But I can imagine the kind of shock scholars (whether amateur or professional) of Mexican eating habits would experience when indulging at Pelancho's, a new Mexican place that has risen Phoenix-like out of the nest of Garcia's.
Pelancho's offerings don't deviate from what you'd expect. But rather than dabble in some strange corporate fusion of dining concepts a la Don Pablo's, this West Knox eatery sticks to the basics that have come to define American Mexicannamely dishes that involve meat, cheese, tortillas, tomatoes, onions, and beans. All species of burrito make an appearance, including the Mexicano ($5.95), with pork, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers wrapped in a flour tortilla topped with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado. Several phylum of fajitas crop up as well, including a meat-free offering ($7.99) that consists of sautéed bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms, served sizzling in a skillet.
Despite the predictability of the dishes, Pelancho's cooks them well. My enchiladas supremas ($7.49)one each of cheese, bean, ground beef, and shredded chicken covered in a deep red sauce and iceberg lettucewere remarkable. The chicken was a standout, moist and flavorful, stewed with chunks of onion and pepper that added another note to what could have been a rather one-dimensional dish. And as much as the world rails about the gaucheness of iceberg lettuce, it provides a much-needed texture contrast to the wonderfully gooey enchiladas.
Also a hit was the queso flameado ($4.99) and the house margarita ($4.50). For the former, instead of an orange, gloppy mess, Pelancho's offers up a flat casserole-type dish filled with queso blanco, a white cheese, topped with chorizo, a slightly spicy and bright red crumbled sausage. Scooped up with either the provided warmed flour tortillas or corn chips, which are automatically provided (with a side of salsa) when you are seated, this appetizer is a welcome addition to the lexicon of warm cheese dishes. The house margarita places its emphasis on the tequila rather than the lime and is perfect for cutting the queso's richness.
What doesn't work quite as well is the Fried Ice Cream ($3.95), a staple of American Mexican. A ball of vanilla is coated with graham cracker or cookie crumbs, dropped in a deep fryer just long enough to crisp the outside, served on a cinnamon sugar-dusted, fried flour tortilla, and topped with chocolate syrup. The warmish, crackling husk contrasts with the cool, smooth ice cream on the palate, which leads to bliss. At least, that's what supposed to happen. Instead, we were faced with a mushy exterior, which appeared to be granola and corn flakes, and a rock hard center. Personally, I'd skip the whole thing and have another margarita.
Regardless of how the meal ended, Pelancho's offers up serviceable Mexican food that, while it may bear little resemblance to what is actually eaten down South, is certainly what we'd expect up North.
May 3, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 18
© 2001 Metro Pulse