Consuelo’s Mostly Swell-o at Santana Row
Consuelo specializes in the cuisine of Central Mexico. I enjoy eating here because you get the flavors of Mexico without eating the same old taco or burrito. However, although I have many favorites on the menu that I’m happy reordering, there are some obvious landmines that should be avoided.
Consuelo is different from other Mexican restaurants in that they don’t give you complimentary chips. Instead it’s all about their fresh and warm complimentary tortillas served with three accompanying salsas - the stand-out being the “spicy” red salsa.
We ordered the same three small plates on both our visits. We were delighted with the Yucatan Chicken Tamalitos. They were served as two flattened rectangular pieces, which are different (thought not in a bad way) from all other tamales I’ve ever had. The guajillo sauce was wonderful with a very unique spicing. Unfortunately on another visit the masa and chicken were bland and there wasn’t enough guajillo sauce, which is what gives this dish a little kick of flavor. More guajillo sauce, or perhaps a ramekin of it on the side, would be a good addition.
The Salmon Tacos looked beautiful on the plate, with a decorative drizzle of surprisingly spicy red sauce. However, the salmon tasted dry and lacked in flavor. Gluttons for punishment, we ordered the Salmon Tacos on another visit, and found we had to remove the fatty grey part of our fish at the bloodline. This really should have been removed before being served. However, the dish tasted good and the pineapple chipotle sauce brought the dish some needed heat.
On the other hand, our Cheese Quesadillas de Rajas were simple yet stellar with great flavors. This was my favorite dish at Consuelo. The tortillas encased a filling of roasted peppers and Oaxaca cheese, which had a mild yet unique flavor. All our apps arrived within 5 minutes of ordering them.
We also shared some entrees. The Pipian dish was attractively composed of three pieces of chicken – a leg and two pieces of white meat – covered in green mole. Although the chicken tasted like it was good quality, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was cooked separately from the sauce as it hadn’t completely absorbed the sauce’s flavors. I really enjoyed the complex green mole sauce and poured more and more on top of my chicken and even on my side of rice. As I ate, I couldn’t help but wish there were more pumpkin seeds served with the dish to provide more textural contrast. We ordered this again on another visit, and were overall pleased with the dish.
The Lamb Shank (Chammoro de Cordero) was the big disappointment of our meal. This was particularly noteworthy since it was also the most expensive item we ordered. The meat was fatty and it took considerable effort to find pieces that were not fatty. In addition, the mole-like sauce was overpowering.
The Filet Mignon was our favorite dish of all. The meat was cooked a perfect medium rare as requested, and the spinach was a nice accompaniment, absorbing the chipotle chile sauce.
I was unsure when we ordered a side of plantains if they would be deep fried and salty or sautéed as I’ve encountered both preparations before. I was pleased that they were nicely caramelized sautéed plantains. However, the bowl of plain white rice that accompanied them was out of place. It just seemed odd to add another starch to a starch. If the rice was Arroz a la Mexicana, that would have made more sense as at least it wouldn’t have been plain white rice. We ordered this side on another visit, but found it disappointing. The plantains were dry and needed some caramelization to bring out their sweet flavors.
We ordered the Mexican Chocolate Cake which was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I really liked the interesting flavor of the Mexican chocolate used, and could really taste the cinnamon in it. The cake was moist, fudgy, and rich, without being overly so.
Our service was above average on both visits. We also enjoyed our mango mojitos and ordered them both visits. We had a gift certificate, so we spent about $85 on both visits for 2 bar drinks, 3 apps, 2 entrees, and a dessert, and took home leftovers. Without that money, we could easily have gotten by with 2 apps 1 entrée, and a dessert. (What can I say? The Mexican Chocolate Cake is a must.)
Consuelo Mexican Bistro
337 Santana Row
San Jose, CA 95128
Mari on Consuelo:
I just went here last week for a friend's birthday after a last minute change of plans. I was definitely surprised by how good this place was. I guess I just have low expectations for Santana Row, but I was very pleased by this "expensive mexican" food.
I was particularly enthralled by the fresh guacamole (spicy), piping hot queso and fresh unending tortillas, callos de hacha (excellent pan seared scallops), Camarones de mole tamarindo (which i thought was good, but not everyone liked the mole), Mole Poblano (interesting, but too chocolatey tasting for some folks), Pechuga ranchera a la nata con espinacas (somewhat bland but moist and tender chicken). I didn't have the carnitas personally but my friends thought they were okay, but our favorite taco truck made it better.
The service was very good, the frescas awesome, but the mango mojito was a bit of a disappointment.
I'll have to try the pan fried halibut - I haven't really explored their seafood options yet. That sounds really good.
I know with Consuelo serving expensive or upscale Mexican food, it's a kneejerk reaction for Chowhounders to hate it, but for the most part we were very pleased with our meals.