Jan 18, 2010

El Patron: Good Competition on the Blvd

I asked my wife today, after having been to El Patron with our friends Erica, Tyson and I last weekend, why she had been hesitant to go for so long despite my insistence that it was quite good. Her response: "Because I've been to enough Mexican restaurants on the Boulevard, I didn't think I really needed another one."

Immediately, I find a key omission in that quote: a positive descriptor. Note, she doesn't say good or fantastic Mexican restaurants. Like so many of us who flock to Southwest Boulevard when that Mexican craving sets in, she was settling for the mainstays: Ponak's, Margarita's, Sol Azteca... there are already so many choices! And it's precisely that apathy for quality Mexican food that has allowed these places to thrive for so long despite mediocrity in their quality of food, service and atmosphere.

For some time I've been not-so-silently disparaging these places, Ponak's the most, and trying to encourage my friends and family to upgrade. My pleas were finally heard last weekend and I believe my followers saw the light (please disregard the self-aggrandizing, almost biblical comparison in that last sentence).

To El Patron we went, one of the last nights in the past couple of weeks when the temps were at their coldest. I remember commenting on our short walk from the car to the front door about the numbing effect that sets in when temps fall below 20 degrees: from the teens to the negatives, it's all the same at that point. Cold.

What a pleasing, warm feeling, then, walking in the front door of El Patron. Immediate reactions, if you're used to the other spots on the Boulevard, are that it feels like such an upgrade. Whereas Ponak's, directly across the street, features dated wood-paneled walls from the 70's and a claustrophobia-inducing low ceiling, El Patron feels like an trendy loft with its exposed brick walls and sky-high ceiling.

The tall custom-made bar is nicely lit and features one classy and appropriately-sized flat screen TV, conveniently placed for those possibly eating alone but not intruding into the rest of the dining room where friends and families focus on one another.

And rather than framed pictures of chili peppers or 25 year old photos of the owners standing with pseudo celebrities who passed through long ago but clearly have upgraded to a new favorite spot, El Patron's walls are adorned with actual art! What a concept!

The menu items are in keeping with the touch of class the rest of the place exhibits. Sure, pretty much every Mexican restaurant in town has a collection of some authentic dishes and some Americanized grub, but El Patron devotes a whole section of their menu to the good stuff - traditional Mexican dinners like Carne Asada and Enchiladas de Mole. And for those tempted to go straight to the usual tacos or burritos, the first three items found are totally unexpected seafood-based dishes like marinated, lightly cooked shrimp and baby octopus - Ceviche de Pulpo y Camarones. Tortas are listed in this section, as well,  which are delicious Mexican sandwiches, usually featuring rich meats like chorizo.

In this case, I opted for their Torta Mexicana (no picture - it was too dark for my iPhone to photo to turn out) featuring flattened, seared Ribeye steak with avocado, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, mayo and Mexican cheese (doesn't say exactly what kind). This massive sandwich is served on French bread which makes for a very pleasurable carrier, adept at sopping up the meat's juices, melted cheese, squishing avocado, etc. With rice and, what I would call the best refried beans in town, on the side, I was too full to even attempt eating the second half of the torta.

The ribeye was, as expected, a little chewy. I could have taken it seared a little more rare, but the texture of the meat was still very passable. I'd definitely order this product again based on great taste and reasonable value ($10.25 - for ribeye and avocado - not bad).

Chips and salsa were refreshed even while we ate our entrees. The chips were as good as anyone else's in town; nice rounded triangles with just enough heft not to snap in the salsa. Two salsas are provided including spicy and mild. The spicy is the clear star with good chunks of peppers and onion. It has a great combo of sweetness from the tomato balancing the onion and peppers. Our friends, who claimed not to be big fans of spicy food, loved it, so I'm led to believe it's "safely spicy."

We each had a margarita with dinner, as well, with salt and on the rocks. There were mixed reactions. Our friends agreed with me that they were oddly one-note and lacking sweetness. Elizabeth extolled hers for not being made with one of those acrid mixes (we quizzed our server on whether the margaritas were fresh or from a mix. She acted as though she was completely unfamiliar with the concept of margarita mix. Good sign). I agreed that those mixes are as offensive as battery acid, but still would've liked a little more triple sec and lime. Oh, and yes, they were - since you are wondering - plenty strong, too.

Back to the food: Elizabeth had the fish tacos. Here, again, came a generous portion of three breaded, fried fish-filled tortillas, cabbage and other typical dressing items. All tacos are served on the customer's choice of corn or flour tortilla. She liked them but didn't find them to be anything special. My one bite provided little to which I can react and write but I found nothing in it to discourage me from trying them myself sometime.

Erica and Tyson seemed equally pleased with their selections. Throughout dinner I waited for them to make a trip to the restroom so I could steal a bite from their plates, but this occasion did not present itself.

Throughout the evening, our service was quite good. Not only did our server stay on top of the chips and salsa situation, but the young man filling drinks returned just at the right times. And from our seat near the kitchen door, I constantly kept and eye on the floor manager who busily monitored the floor and staff like a hawk. She was clearly a dedicated employee, vested in the success of the restaurant. Perhaps, even better, an owner. And I appreciated her dedication.

I consider this post to be an incomplete review of El Patron, overall. I've only been twice, compared to having been to several of the other places on the Boulevard many times over. A torta and a bite of a fish taco is hardly the necessary sampling upon which to accurately judge a Mexican restaurant. So I'll return soon and report back on what I find.

But I hope this review does at least convey the important qualities that struck me as so obvious on my recent trip: it's more authentic, far classier, and provides its guests a much more rewarding dining experience than its SWBLVD neighbors. There are times when I don't need to pay a few more bucks for better atmosphere and service (read: my delightful experience at Chelly's). But, even with such little exposure to El Patron so far, I can still submit that it is, unlike its neighbors, a great "destination dinner". So go ahead. Make a night of it. The other boys on the block have something to worry about.

Rating: two napkins
El Patron on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Foodie32 said...

Hi Ken. Rookie mistake on my part. But I did add the image. Nice, right? I'll continue to do so moving forward.


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