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: Otro Cafe Location: 6035 North Seventh Street Open: About a week Eats: Mexican Price: $11 to $30 per person
Compared to its more ostentatious Central Phoenix neighbor, Sam Fox's The Yard, Otro Cafe is a decidedly smaller, understated place. An open, comfortable room where natural light from a few small windows and a front patio spills across a wood floor of generously spaced tables and chairs and a few leather booths. It's something you'll notice only after taking in the aromas of grilled meats from the open kitchen.
Suddenly, you're hungrier than you thought. And with good reason.
From Doug Robson, chef-owner of Gallo Blanco Café, the restaurant inside the Clarendon Hotel, Otro ("other" in Spanish) is similar to Gallo Blanco's traditional and new-world Mexican cuisine but features more shareable dishes that, like Gallo Blanco's, are made with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
Very good complimentary housemade chips and salsas -- a tangy tomatillo and a smokey, spicy red -- are a promising sign of dishes to come.
Like the El Español ($9), a shareable dish of thinly sliced pieces of ham, serrano peppers, avocados, olives, and red onion in a savory citrus dressing and accompanied by crunchy pieces of homemade bolillo bread. Lightly earthy, a little spicy, and fresh-tasting, it could have come out of any tapas-style café in Spain.
There's also an al pastor torta ($7.5). Filled with moist and tender strips of sweetly kissed roasted pork complemented by a pineapple relish and a fruity and somewhat spicy aioli densely packed between pieces of crunchy bolillo bread, this gourmet version probably won't have you abandoning your favorite torta shop for good, but it's satisfying nonetheless.
And if it's comfort you've come for, you'll want a cast iron skillet filled with Paella de Campo ($8), made with tender pieces of chicken and pork expertly combined with rice and seasonal vegetables like sweet squash for a rustic dish that gets even better when placed inside accompanying homemade tortillas.
For dessert, there's creamy coconut pudding ($3.5). Topped with chocolate shavings, it's pretty much the best Mounds bar you've had in a glass.
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The staff, efficient and friendly, are enthusiastic about the dishes.
Robson starts Otro's dinner service tonight and if its anything like lunch, the neighborhood can start enjoying it immediately.
Otro Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday