Hola amigos! Como estas? Can you tell I’m going through a Mexican phase. It all started on my Melbourne trip over the Australia Day weekend where I finally got to try Mamasitas. Now this restaurant is meant to be the bees’ knees of Mexican food in Melbourne. I’ve tried Mexican before in Melbourne at the Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda and was very impressed with their quinoa salad which I have now replicated at home. The food at Newmarket for a pub was on another level. It was by no means pub grub. The dishes were packed with fresh flavours and the pub’s fit out had that whole Melbourne industrial look going on. Now it was Mamasitas turn. Last time I was in Melbourne this was a failed expedition because the waiting time was so long and we ended up eating at Chin Chins at 11pm instead (so so so so delicious). Now I know why there is such a long wait…the space is tiny. This time round I learnt my lesson and had lunch at the awkward afternoon time of 3pm. The service was fantastic. The waitress patiently answered all our questions (and there were a lot of them). She recommended we try their signature dish….corn on the cob. I know such a simple dish is their signature. It was bang on delicious. The parmesan cheese and buttery corn with a squeeze of lime was amazing. The meal was off to a great start. Next were the tostadas aka Mexican canapés. Imagine a corn chip topped with chicken, avocado and cheese. To be honest for the price you pay it’s not worth it. Get yourself a taco instead. The chicken also had a weird tuna like texture and taste. It did not win us over. The soft shell tacos with the pork filling were delicious. We should have stopped there. The mushroom quesadilla was bland with a capital B. No amount of salsa or spicy sauce could redeem it. So Mamasita was both a hit and a miss. I would still go back just for the corn and the caramel popcorn ice cream. Even though I was about to catch up with a friend at Hopetoun Tearooms, I could not stop myself from ordering dessert at Mamasitas. There were more ice creams going around then drinks. It probably was the time of day, possibly too early for tequila o’clock. I’m just relieved that I finally got to try Mamasita. Another Mexican that I walked by in Melbourne was Guzman y Gomez, which has recently opened with much hype thanks to a free burrito day. As you all know I don’t wait in lines so I was happy to wait a few days and pay to try it out. Watch out for my next treat as my Mexican love affair continues.
THE FOOD JOURNEY
I’m corny…corny, corny, corny
Tostadas = Mexican canapes = waste of stomach space
Pork tacos with a squeeze of lime…delish
Don’t bother with the quesadilla.
I’d come back just for the corn and popcorn icecream!
I made it! Finally after 3 failed attempts I walked through the doors of La Cholita, in Northbridge and got a seat in the waiting/bar area. Technically it’s not a bar area due to their liquor license so you have to always be seated but it is a bar area because then you can only order half the things off the menu (from starters to tostadas). Also you can’t order a drink unless you order food – confused yes me too. As my usual self was half an hour late my wait was much less than my friends who kindly and patiently got us in the cue to move 15 metres to another table. To be honest the waiting/bar area was more comfortable with it’s cushiony seats and I love my booths so would have been happy to play out the meal there. Alas, no we moved to the fashionable end of the room where you sit on uncomfortable stools. Why does fashion and comfort not go hand in hand? Let’s start off with the sangria, which came out in a lovely punch bowl reminiscent of house parties circa 1990s. My friend Fran is a sangria expert thanks to her dad’s signature sangria recipe. Papa’s sangria is amazing, the colour is this beautiful reddish/purpleish/pinkish and it looks as it tastes, amazing! It transports you on a hot summer’s night to a small bar in Italy where the locals know everyone’s name and everyone is drinking their sangria and just talking about how delicious it is. We don’t have to go all the way to Italy for that as this takes place in Fran’s living room but that’s Papa’s sangria, so rustic and homely that you do feel like your in that bar where Papa first learnt how to make it. Fran’s verdict, La Cholita’s sangria was too zesty, which made it not as easy to drink. She found it that difficult that she didn’t finish it. I didn’t mind the extra tanginess but if I had a choice between Papa and La Cholita in the battle for the best Sangria, Papa would win hands down like a red cloth to a raging bull. In my last blog I spoke about this Tex/Mex phase taking hold of Melbourne and finally catching on in Perth. La Cholita is a great concept with an extensive Tequila list and a variety of what appears to be authentic Mexican food items. However, what I need to understand from La Cholita which goes back to what I was saying in the beginning – is it a bar or a restaurant? Because the list of tequila was far longer than the list of food items. I’ll answer this as I dissect the food. We first started off with starters (funny that) – the guacamole dip was yummy with smashing of avocado but it lacked the kick of lemon juice. The salsa dip was also tasty but could have had the wow factor by adding chopped chilli. The octopus was pleasantly chargrilled giving it an awesome earthy flavour and the potato was a nice accompaniment. That was my favourite dish of the night. From here it takes a nose dive, one of the flavour kind. We each ordered a taco – I was so happy to reunite with my pork and pineapple combination from m 2008 Cabo San Lucas trip. I was not disappointed. I wish I had ordered 3 more of those than ordering the ‘big things’ off the menu. The chicken was probably the biggest disappointment. My friend Kristen who had been to La Cholita a couple times before remembered a different chicken to the one we had. She was the first to say the dreaded word no restaurant owner/chef wants to hear, BLAND. We all had to agree with her and out came the chilli sauces, we may have emptied the bottle. A part of me thinks they have dumbed down the flavours, thinking us Perthians can’t take the heat but in doing so that chicken is left drowning in a watered down paste. The beef was cooked medium with a salsa to accompany but it didn’t transport me to Mexico. Those flavours reminded me that I was still in Perth, paying a lot for Mexican food. The sides of rice, tortilla and refried beans were summed up by my friend Kirsty, it was just like Old El Paso that you get from the supermarket. I felt let down. I am confused at what La Cholita is trying to be – what is the point of having a waiting area when the restaurant area only has an extra 8 items. As I said, La Cholita is a great small bar concept with a restaurant license. I understand Perth liquor licences are complicated and this is possibly the only licence that would let them operate. BUT the menu speaks like a small bar menu. I wonder if we got the chef on the wrong night, maybe he wasn’t tasting the food he was putting out. All I will say is when I go for Mexican food, I want that explosion, that zing, that wow factor that Mexican food is known for. I don’t want to be piling on sauces and condiments because the chef forgot to. I like that this Tex/Mex phase is starting in Perth but would I wait an hour for a table just to order from 8 extra items, probably not. You might see my bum in the waiting area in the comfort of a booth but it will be awhile before I sit uncomfortably in those stools again. I’m looking forward to trying another addition with El Publico, hitting up the Beaufort strip. Hopefully it packs in flavours and not just the crowds unlike its amigo La Cholita.
I am loving this current mex/tex/rex/etc phase that is hitting Perth, inspired from the laneways of Melbourne, further inspired from the actual location of South and Central America without the Northern American touch of Taco Bell. Now don’t get me wrong I love me some Taco Bell, why wouldn’t you for under $3 you can get a burrito, nachos and a taco thanks to their 99 cent menu. When I was living in the USA back when the Aussie dollar was only worth 63 cents, Taco Bell was a staple. Now with the Aussie dollar at $1.05 (weakest in 7 weeks) it would have made that $3 even cheaper. Though Taco Bell is low in dollars it’s high in kilos, so your wallet and body gets heavier. I love my mum’s version of Mexican, spices from her mother country Lebanon she adds a dash of cumin while she sautees the onions and garlic, bit of mixed spice for extra flavour and Meemo Khouri’s healthy touch of putting as many vegetables in that chilli con carne. She marries kidney beans, onions and mince with zucchini and then the wrap (wholewheat of course)/burrito is given more love with avocado, chopped tomato, spinach and carrot to make a rainbow burrito. Use your imagination – add some snow peas or even bean sprouts for crunch. This healthy and delicious meal definately has me back for seconds. It does make going out for Mexican tricky business, with the standard and sloppy fake looking mince tacos topped with sour cream, random red sauce and shredded lettuce no longer satisfying. So me and Taco Bell have grown apart what with me being in Perth and Taco Bell unable to get a visa here makes this long distance relationship challenging. So I am left with Perth’s overpriced Mexican fare, shout out to Sante Fe Subiaco if it wasn’t for $2 Tuesday tacos you would not see me in there. On a random visit to Cabos San Lucas a popular place for celebrities to hang out – think Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler not that I stayed in the same resort as them. I’m guessing there’s was 5 stars and mine was 3 stars but still pretty amazing with a pool and overlooking the beach. To think that a week before Beyonce partied there – yes it’s true New Idea told me so. This is all besides the point, the food we came across was cheap and delicious. A favourite combination of mine was pork and pineapple, the irony was that my meal came from a chain restaurant in Mexico. This flavour combination was (to quote Manu) a marriage in heaven. I think about it till this day but have yet to find it in Perth. I have ranted and raved quite a lot about this blog but I am very close to a lot of latinas out there, Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull are ones that come to mind. So this won’t be the last time I blog about this cuisine and the rate Perth is popping out Mexican restaurants (2 in less than 6 months I rest my case) there will be more talk about burritos, nachos, fajitas but finally our vocab for this cuisine will expand. As you can tell I might need to do a bit more research, i.e. more eating to really master and understand the foods from such a massive area. I will not let the 4 year olds out there be the only ones speaking Spanish (thanks Dora), I too will say hola, gracias and per favour. As you can tell those were the only Spanish words I picked up in Mexico, which puzzled the locals who thought I was from there. I digress, back to the food. All this time I wanted to talk about my Melbourne experience with Mexican food and on my long list of food I was so excited to go to Mamasitas. This restaurant takes no bookings, it’s 10pm on a Friday night and we were told there was another 1 hour and half wait. So we….did not wait and went to Chin Chin instead which I will treat about another time. I will mention Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda, which with it’s cool industrial interior would fit perfectly in Subiaco or Mt Lawley. Sadly it’s all the way in St Kilda. I was with a vegetarian friend so we kept the options to that and why not because the quinoa and zucchini salad was amazing. I actually now make it for lunch (add a few more vegetables – I am my mother’s daughter after all), squeeze of lemon, add some parsley and bang a lunch that packs flavour and is healthy. To quote Justin Timberlake, ‘Senorita I feel for you. You deal with things that you don’t have to’ – as you can tell Justin was writing about me. I have to deal with overpriced Mexican food, I can’t even get the pretend $3 kind but watch this space….on Friday I am going to give La Cholita in Northbridge a go finally! As this fad is in full motion in my three attempts to eat there I have been turned away (or told to wait for more than 2 hours – same same but different). Not anymore amigos – on Friday I will do what’s never been done before (by me) stick it out for the wait and have my Mexican food (even if it might be overpriced) and get a taste of Melbourne/Mexico that I dearly miss. Hasta la vista baby!