By JOHN DeMERS
Since it must be 5 o’clock somewhere, it’s time for another tqla. That’s “tequila” to you and me, the stuff that comes from the agave plant in the state of Jalisco in central Mexico, the stuff of so many not-always-pretty college dreams. Today, tequila has gone the way of single-malt Scotch and small-batch bourbon, however: upward in quality as well as price. And now the stuff has inspired its very own restaurant.
I spent this evening recording a Delicious Mischief radio show at the brand-new tqla on Washington Avenue, a place much more interested in being appropriately hip with its 170 different tequilas and rock soundtrack than in being “authentic” to whatever constitutes the American Southwest. I’ll tell you what constitutes the Southwest at tqla: whatever wonders chef-partner Tommy Birdwell picked up over the years cooking with the likes of Stephan Pyles and Mark Miller. And, presumably, whatever goes with the fresh spins on tequila cocktails GM Scott Lindsey has shaken or stirred.
My meal started with the tortilla soup above, a highlight even once it found itself surrounded by several other ways to begin. For instance, there were nifty fried oysters crusted in blue corn and adrift in chorizo cream, some luscious jumbo lump crabcakes with blackened serranos and a chilled gazpacho coulis, and a terrific wild mushroom tamale with goat cheese involved. The tortilla soup felt like a meal in itself, with big chunks of fresh vegetables and a thatch of crispy anchos kicking in flavor.
For my entrée, I started exactly where I usually start: with beef. The chile-seared bone-in ribeye required too many hyphens added to the menu but had the perfect number of everything else. I’d already fallen for the blackened tomato salsa at room temp; if anything, it was even better warm atop red meat. Then again, aren’t most things? The large steak with the knife to match (eat your heart out, Crocodile Dundee!) came with a delightful mountain of super-thin onion rings and something called a squash chiliquile – more or less a cheese-puffy squash souffle. Halfway through the ribeye, the pumpkin seed-crusted salmon showed up for good measure, outfitted with Deep South fried green tomatoes and green chile mashed potatoes. Yum, in any language.
Tqla has been open little more than a week, but there’s already a signature dessert. It’s the Skillet Pie, pictured below, all sauteed cinnamon apples in a crumbly setting kissed by Myers dark rum. Yes, it’s served in a hot skillet, with cold ice cream on top. Rumor has it that other great desserts include the chocolate chunk brownie and the cuatro leches – perfect for those times when three milks are simply not enough.