When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Cafe Tranquilo Location: 401 West Clarendon Avenue Open: Less than two weeks Eats: Mexican Price: $10 to $20 a person
Fans of Gallo Blanco at The Clarendon Hotel aren't done mourning the loss of the popular restaurant. But already, there's a new restaurant in the space. Really, it's just a new version of Gallo Blanco that's not operated by or associated with former restaurant operator Doug Robson.
The new iteration of the restaurant is called Cafe Tranquilo, and to help get things up and running, Clarendon Hotel owner Ben Bethel has brought in chef Dan Maldonado. Local diners may recognize his name because he was half of the culinary duo behind the now-defunct Tacos Atoyac. Since that spot shuttered suddenly last spring, he has opened his own taco restaurant called Mucho Macho Taquerilla.
Cafe Tranquilo offers more menu options than Gallo Blanco did. But some of the dishes may seem familiar. Take, for example, Tranquilo's Ensalada Peruana, which features quinoa, corn, pepitas, and lime coriander vinaigrette -- overall, not unlike Gallo's Ensalada Del Inca.
To test the waters, we started with an order of Tranquilo's guacamole, on the menu listed as featuring avocado, cilantro, serrano chile, pomegrante seeds, and onions. We couldn't really taste the pomegranate seed -- if there were any -- but that didn't stop us from enjoying the chunky dip.
Less successful was the Elote Dip, a sort of take on the popular Elote Callejero of Gallo Blanco days. At Tranquilo, however, the corn comes off the cob and is meant to be a dip for chips. It's not a horrible idea, but the flavor wasn't quite right. The rich blend of corn, mayo, and cheese needed a touch of citrus to balance things out.
As for the salsas, Cafe Tranquilo offers three, the best of which was the light green, creamy avocado. It was mild but flavorful, making it a nice complement to just about anything you can order. The two other options, a red-orange chile d'arbol and chunky tomatillo, didn't bowl us over.
In the entrée department, Cafe Tranquilo ups the ante with pricey options such as half of a chicken with mole sauce for $18 and a grilled rib-eye steak for $21.
We stuck to simpler fare and tested four of six taco options. The best of the bunch was the vegetarian taco, which featured grilled pieces of squash, corn, onions, mushrooms, and more.
The pork belly taco fell on the other end of the spectrum. The too-crispy fried pork belly needed more than pickled red onion, avocado, and cilantro to moisten things, resulting in a dry bite that was hard to swallow. The grilled shrimp taco also was not a favorite, thanks mostly to the aggressive chipotle aioli that somehow tasted like spicy rubber.
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The crispy fish taco was perfectly fine, though we've definitely had better versions around town.
All said and done, Cafe Tranquilo isn't that far off the mark. The food is the same brand of approachable Mexican fare that diners fell for at Gallo Blanco. With a little tweaking and a little more time, we're hopeful we'll love this spot as much as we loved its predecessor.