May 19th, 2011
El Patio or El Xuco Xicano: Call It What You Want
There’s a new aguacil in town. Recently hired consulting Chef Jonathan Jones, most notably of Beaver’s fame, is doing Mexican his way at the new El Xuco Xicano / old El Patio’s Midtown location. While we’re still not sure how the whole process is going to work, the food, which is just a little more important than what a restaurant is called, is right on track. On a recent Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure to sample some of the new menu’s fare. While I didn’t see any evidence of the name El Xuco Xicano, other than an inordinate amount of capital X’s on the menu, the proof was in the pudding… or refried beans if you will.
Houston’s Mexican food scene is interesting to say the least. Heavy on the Tex and less so on the Mex, the offerings aren’t as good as what you’d expect from a city so close to Mexico. True, the scene is definitely stronger than many other cities, but for a boy from the west Texas town of El Paso, it still leaves much to be desired.
While it helps that he was in the dining room on the particular Friday we lunched at El Patio, Jones is definitely doing his part to lend credibility to El Patio’s food. Once known for it’s powerfully blue margaritas that have successfully erased many a night, the food always played second fiddle. With the addition of Jones’ culinary skill, not only have they revamped the menu, they’ve also reinvented the flavors.
I had heard about the Xuco Xicano experiment from Stephan, who mentioned that the food might be better than another recently opened restaurant serving cuisine de mexico. While I can’t compare the two, I can say that El Xuco Xicano is dishing out top quality food with truly authentic flavors.
We started off with an appetizer of open faced bolillos covered with a thin layer of black beans, then covered with fajita chicken and topped with cheese. The menu described them as Mexican pizzas, which I’m not sure is an apt description and I’m certain doesn’t do them justice. Steaming hot, they must have brought them straight from the broiler. As a list of ingredients, it’s nothing special, but when they were put on the table, my mouth started salivating instantly. A dish after my own heart, simple and flavorful and, of course, topped with cheese.
Our first taste of the fajita meat definitely conjured up thoughts of true Mexican food. Seasoned with a blend of spices, the hint of cinnamon added a depth to the flavor. Covered with with perfectly melted cheese, the appetizer was so good that we almost cancelled our entrees and ordered another one. Try as we might, we just couldn’t pull ourselves away from the deliciousness.
We regained our composure and patiently waited for our entrees, which were perfectly paced to give us a breather after the appetizer. I put my trust in the chef and went with one of the specials, a pork tamale plate which came with a salad and dessert for $12. As amazed as I was with the appetizer, the tamales actually exceeded all expectations. Two tamales, wrapped in corn husks arrived on my plate. When I unwrapped them, I found a moist masa engulfing perfectly seasoned pork. Sometimes, when the masa is a little dry, tamales can be tedious to eat. These were a delight. Moist and flavorful, I devoured both before I even sampled anything else on the plate. The refried black beans were perfectly seasoned and tasty and the rice was quite alright, but as sides, neither outshone the tamales, which was as expected.
My girlfriend ordered the enchiladas verde, and after the initial shock of the presentation, dove right into her meal. Served with the tortillas flat instead of rolled, the presentation was visibly more appealing on the plate, even if it took a second or two to reconcile that they were indeed enchiladas. The only disappointment was that the chicken inside the enchiladas was seasoned exactly as the chicken on the appetizer. That did little to disrupt her and when I finally looked up from the rapture that was my tamales, there was nothing left of her enchiladas to try.
While the initial entrance into the El Patio location is going to leave you worried that you might not be in the right place, one taste of the food and you’ll know: this is not your dad’s El Patio. While some may think that’s not a good thing, I personally, am a fan. No matter what it’s called, as long as they are cooking up food like we had, it’ll be at the top of my Mexican food destination’s in Houston.
[Photos by Stephan from an entirely different dining experience.]