Greenpoint's New Calexico Carne Asada
Yikes! The bland guacamole tastes mainly of oregano, and it's expensive, too.
Few food carts have been ballyhooed as much as Calexico's, which show up on a regular basis in Soho, Williamsburg, and Brookyn Bridge Park. In fact, they won a Vendy Award in 2008. Inevitably, these purveyors of California-style Mexican cuisine have moved into brick and mortar, including a first location in Red Hook, with a second promised in Greenpoint.
The build-out of the restaurant is spacious and comfortable, and the drinks are tasty, including a fine margarita, but the food disappoints.
Well, the Greenpoint location recently opened at the quintessential corner of Bedford and Manhattan avenues, which my friends in the neighborhood had been eagerly anticipating. I went to find out what all the fuss was about, and discovered a big, airy bar with plenty of tables, high ceilings, and many square yards of exposed brick, a comfortable place that has apparently been thronged from the minute it opened.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the cocktails but was very disappointed with the food. The guacamole, at $10, is on the expensive side. What's more, some bright bulb in the kitchen substituted oregano for cilantro, which is an awful idea. Though chunky and freshly made, my date and I left most of it in the bowl.
The place is not knocking itself out, menu-wise, though maybe the bill of fare will be expanded eventually. For the time being, aside from a few salads and apps, the only things being offered are tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and the Mexican sandwiches called tortas.
The tacos (carne asada left, fried fish right) are only a step above Taco Bell, strictly for people who don't like Mexican food.
At $5, the tacos are way more expensive than they ought to be. A single corn tortilla wraps a choice of carne asada, pollo asado, tofu asado, pulled pork, fried fish, or black beans. The fish was nicely breaded and fried, and sluiced with the so-called crack sauce, which is really a mild chipotle mayo, basically confirming the principle that mayo makes everything taste better. The fish taco thus proved very bland, as did the carne asada taco, which had a runny form of the house guac squiggled on top, along with tomatoes and shredded greenery. It was marginally better than the Baja-style fish taco, but it begged comparison with the same (and cheaper) product at Dos Toros, which is superior in every way.
Our favorite dish at the new Calexico was the black bean quesadilla, which was a better deal at $7, and might come close to filling you up if you're not very hungry. The black beans are especially good, but if you're a vegetarian or pescetarian, don't get excited: The beans are enhanced with lots of bacon.
The menu seems like out-and-out bar food, and it wouldn't have been as disappointing if it had been priced like bar food (i.e., a little cheaper, as bar food often is, as an incentive to stay and down more drinks).
Yes, I know Cal-Mex cuisine should be blander than the southern Mexican food we're used to, but this place is ridiculous!
The best thing we tried was the quesadilla.
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