Sunday, January 12, 2014

Boca Loca Cantina

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Boca Loca Cantina
2000 Belcourt Avenue

Nashville restaurant waves tend to pick up speed and size quickly. One minute there are not many decent pizza joints in Nashville and in the next minute there are a dozen. The same is true of nuevo-Mexican taco joints. There are now a number of such establishments all over town. So, how does Boca Loca fit into the wave?

The space may seem familiar. There have been a number of restaurants here in Hillsboro Village, most recently Bombasha Brazilian steakhouse. Tim Heavey and partners have done a good job of giving the interior an artistic and whimsical makeover. It’s the “Day of the Dead” themed artwork that has become the trend. They have hired an excellent chalk artist, though, and the d├ęcor fits the theme of the place: relaxed and fun.

Boca Loca is as much a drinking establishment as a restaurant. They boast an extensive whiskey and tequila inventory. Cocktails have daily specials and some twists on old favorites. We enjoyed spicy bloody Marys topped with a float of vodka on half a hot jalapeno- an eye opening start to a brunch.

Chef David Reyes keeps his menus simple. The brunch line-up is primarily new takes on old classics. The Eggs Benicio pairs tender carnitas beef with perfectly poached eggs. The promised spicy hollandaise can barely be seen on the plate and yet there is still plenty of flavor here. Home fries are finely chopped and tender- a perfect match for some of the spicy and husky house red salsa.  The Mango/Habanero Guacamole is a nice take on the original. The mango tends to dominate the dish with just a trace of habanero. Fruit can be found mixed in all over the menu, and usually to nice effect. It brings a Caribbean feel to many dishes.

The tacos are the usual line-up of meats and one veggie option. The tortillas are handmade- thick and tasty. The al pastor comes with a pineapple/avocado salsa. It’s a good taco. The Oaxaca tamale doesn’t fare was well. It’s a great idea for a dish, mole on tamale, but unfortunately the tamale is bland and far too dense on this day. The mole is mediocre at best. The promotional material says that Chef Reyes has spent much time in Mexico. Perhaps he is dumbing down the recipes for the American palate? Quality mole is a real process and the result should be a complex blend of flavors. The regular guacamole is also a fail on this outing. The lime completely overwhelms the avocado and the serving size is quite small for $7.

They have a vegetarian option at each stop on the menu, which is appreciated.

Veggie Eater:  I was not sure what to think of this place, mostly due to Meat Eater’s negative impression on his first solo foray.  So, I was thrilled when the second outing seemed to prove him wrong.  I opted for brunch, which may be the reason for the different experience and the chilaquiles were all that I hoped for.  The dish was very aesthetically pretty (salsa verde and crema draping the dish) and proved pleasing to the palate as well as the eyes.  Fresh-fried chips lend a different take at the dish, providing crunch instead of fluffy texture.  These are adorned with salsa verde (not as zippy as I would like, but a nice bright flavor), avocado, cilantro, radish (love the use of radish in Mexican food), red onion, crumbled queso fresco and perfectly cooked over easy eggs.  The dish’s texture changed over the course of the meal, as the chips became wilty and transform into a more traditional version.  This was coupled with a reasonable bloody Mary-Tito’s vodka, Zing Zang (and they are at least honest to note the mixer used) and a halved jalapeno “boat” filled with more Tito’s.  It’s a nice twist, as the Tito’s leaches the capsaicin from the jalapeno and them ultimately brings a nice heat to the drink.  Seasoned salt lines the rim.  Of note, almost every menu item sports a “farmers market” version of seasonal vegetables to appease the veggie eating crowd.  I can’t speak for regular lunch and dinner, but thought it was spot on for a brunch joint.

Meat Eater: We know the rent is probably sky-high at this location. $55 for brunch for two with drinks is not outrageous. $22 for lunch for one (and me not even being a pig on this occasion) is probably a bit high. Hopefully, the Vandy crowd will be able to support that. I think Chef Reyes will get the menu ironed out to have more consistency. It’s a fun spot for dinner and drinks and there’s always a place for that in Nashville.

Okay, here is my rant for the week. They have clearly hired some PR firm to handle their online presence. That’s fine. However, the Yelp reviews are so completely over-the-top enthusiastic as to appear, how shall we say, highly encouraged? Please restaurant owners: don’t have people do over the top reviews. It stands out as a warning sign to anyone viewing. And certainly don’t hire firms to post over the top reviews to enhance your reputation. If they are ham-handed (and these are) it only does your reputation damage. My favorite described the interior as an authentic Mexican cantina, which this place is so far from as to be laughable. It has since disappeared. Wise move.

Boca Loca Cantina and Taco Factory on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I love me some yelp 5 star reviews from members with only 1 review. The challenge for me is finding the ones where their grasp of the English language pops out. Yelp is such a terrible platform for credible reviews. I trust no reviewer unless they have more than 20 reviews and the other 90% of their work is from Nashville. I spend more time reviewing the reviewers than the establishment I may want to visit..

Eric and Katie said...

One thing I do like about Yelp is you can read people talking about standout dishes they tried etc. I agree, not worth much more than that.