Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: El Chucho - Columbia Heights, DC

11th Street NW has been exploding lately – as has my never-ending list of places to check out, one of which was El Chucho which opened in late June.  They describe themselves as “a small neighborhood cantina serving modern Mexican food”.  The restaurant is managed in part by Jackie Greenbaum whom some of you may know from Jackie’s restaurant in Silver Spring, MD.  I went to Jackie’s years ago and remembered it fondly so I was curious to try her new venture. 

My trusty taste testers, Jermaine, Leon and Carburetor, were kind enough to give up a Tuesday night and try the place out with me.  Ummm yeah, those are most definitely aliases.  At any rate, Jermaine was particularly vocal about the experience right off the bat. “What’s with this menu?  I can’t even read it.”  “I thought it was going to be all Mexicans working here, I’m a little disappointed.”  And the comments continued….  To explain those comments – the menu was a little confusing aesthetically.  The font changed multiple times, it was divided into hard to distinguish sections, some words were bolded for no apparent reason, some were surrounded by shaded-in shapes, etc.  Definitely a little overwhelming at first glance.  We bombarded our waitress with questions and she was gracious enough to help us navigate everything and offer suggestions of her favorites, a few of which we did order.  As for the employees – well we had heard that this was an “authentic” Mexican restaurant, unlike many in DC, and most employees did not appear to be Mexican.  However, upon further research on the restaurant I’ve learned that the chef’s family is from Mexico and she herself had training there.  That’s good enough for me.

Let’s get down to the business of the food.  First and foremost was the corn on the cob.  I think this picture says it all – smoky grilled flavor, cheesy salty cilantro-y goodness, not at all overcooked (which definitely makes or breaks corn) – delicious!  Only problem?  The price tag.  I know there is an upcharge on everything when you eat out, but this time of year in the mid-Atlantic you can easily find local corn at the grocery store for about $0.25/ear – this was $4 – ouch!

After the corn, we just ordered a mish-mash of things and shared it all – here’s what we got:

-       Chips & Guac – nice flavor, good balance of chunky/creamy texture, could have used a pinch more salt & garlic, but that is my personal preference.  Complaint?  The pit.  Each order I saw go by including ours had the pit in the bowl.  I know it is supposed to help with the browning of the avocado, but honestly from what I have read, it is questionable that that actually works – what it really does is take up a lot of space in the bowl.  How about a couple squeezes of lime juice instead and fill up that bowl!
-         Chicken & Steak Tacos – the chicken had a nice smoky flavor at first bite, but with each subsequent bite they tasted a little bland…more salt!  We added some of the salsa that came with the guac and that definitely helped.  The steak was more flavorful and had grilled onions and avocado, but still was helped with a dash of salsa.  Smaller in size than most I’ve had.

Chicken Tacos
-        Flautas – lightly fried, not too greasy which can often be the case.  Good amount of chicken in them and topped with some queso fresco – tasty!
-         Torta Ahogada – this is basically a Mexican sloppy joe, and a good one.  It’s a nice soft roll, with pulled marinated pork and avocado.  The whole thing is smothered in spicy/slightly sweet chile de arbol sauce, and when I say smothered I mean it.  They serve it with a pair of plastic gloves, as evidenced in the action shot below.  This was definitely the most flavorful dish we got and one I would order again.  Complaint?  No fork!  You can’t serve something like this and assume that everyone will be ok with the glove method – some of us are classy ladies and like utensils!

LEON!  Why does it look like you could possibly be shirtless here??


Upon arrival there was a 30 minute wait.  They took my name and cell number and said feel free to wander, they’d call me when the table was ready.  Considering they are placed along a 2-3 block stretch of bars and restaurants and their own bar is quite small, I thought this was a nice touch.  We ended up getting seated within a couple minutes of their estimate.

The Juan Rose cocktail is delicious.  Fruity, tart, strong.  Don’t be afraid by the “apple shrub” listed in the ingredients – there are no plants in your drink.

Plates.  With each dish that came out we indicated that we were sharing everything, yet we never got any plates.  Granted we didn’t specifically ask, but as a former waitress, I don’t think we should have to…

My tasters provided ratings based on a 0-100% scale, 100% being excellent:
Jermaine – 72%
Carburetor – 61%
Leon – 68-69% (if I remember correctly)

Trust these at your own risk; however I can attest to the fact that they all really like food, including mine, meaning they deserve at least 90% credibility.  J

Note - it doesn't appear that they have a website yet, but you can find El Chucho on Facebook.


LazyRiders said...

Great review! If only there was a full body shot of the naked man...