Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I've been wanting to check out the new El Patron Restaurant in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood for a few months now. It's in the old Tony Cheng's Szechuan space and has a commanding position on Charles Street - oh, how I wish I could have landed that spot.
Finally, Cecilia had some time and off we went. The restaurant occupies what at one point in time was a very expansive mansion. We were able to tour the facility and the detail work is amazing - even though it's covered by years and multiple layers of careless painting. Visions of gutting and restoring the place into my own proper residence danced in my head.
But like I said, it used to be a chinese restaurant and the new owners really haven't done much to change that. The main dining room has been given a blue wash that's reminiscent of Frida Kahlo's house in Coyoacan, but that's about it. Everything still reeks of "chinese restaurant" of which even large, mural-sized prints of Pacho Villa cannot hide.
But I'm not here to worry about the decor. I'm here to sample the food. It's the food that's important. Never mind that the decor is disjointed and discombobulated, or that there's only one guy working multiple roles of host, bartenter, waiter and runner. He's a nice enough guy but he's the only one and that's a bit odd.
Of course, there's someone working the kitchen which means that there's a total of two people running this entire place. Granted it's not a huge night. There's myself and Cecilia. A table of four and a table of fourteen that's celebrating their office Christmas. Maybe twenty people on this Wednesday night. The large group has been here for awhile so hopefully that means the kitchen can focus on our meals appropriately.
I'd been here waiting for Cecilia for about twenty minutes and availed myself of the bar during that time. Being in Mexican restaurant, one should properly imbibe himself of tequila - and I don't want to be a heretic. A few shots of Herradura, an oddly-sized sixteen ounce serving of something passing itself off as sangrita but tasted more like salsa, a basket of thin tortilla chips and I could have waited another twenty minutes.
Once seated, we were off. At first, the menu scared me. Many of things you think are "Mexican" that you find at places like Applebee's are on the menu: burritos, fajitas, and other miscellany that I don't care to remember. I'm guessing those are there to satiate the masses that think they know what they like. Continue to the back of the menu and you find the "traditional dishes.' It's on that brief listing that I'm warmed by the likes of Pollo Culichi, Enchiladas, Pasta Poblana and Pollo Ranchero.
Since there's only two of us, I can't go off and order in the usual manner (everything in sight). Restraint must be the rule of the day and we ordered: Chile Rellenos, Mole Poblano, Tamales and Flan for dessert.
The food was good. Very good. The tamales were two: one in salsa rojo and the other covered in salsa verde. A nice strong corn flavor and just the right amount of spice and heat. Cecilia's family is from Monterrey, Mexico and she found the flavors to be very authentic.
For the main courses, the Chile Relleno was wonderful. Very lightly battered, the pepper was just slightly on the hot side and just delicious. The Mole Poblano was everything I hoped it to be. Sweet, deep, complex and dark. It was just a bit on the thin side, but I really wanted to tear into it harder. Delicate and nuanced. I loved it.
It's hard for me to judge Flan because my mom is a killer Flan baker. Compared to my mom's, this one was thicker. The flavor was good. Light and smooth. But the texture was thick and rich, quite a bit different than the light and delicate, while being very rich, that my mom achieves. It's good. Just different than what I think is the hallmark.
All in all, El Patron is a good place to check out. The food was good. It was authentic. And if you can get past the oddly decorated space, I think you'll enjoy the food.
807 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201