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Dec 22, 2010 12:52 PM

China Poblano - The Cosmopolitan

This Chinese/Mexican place has been getting a lot of buzz in the NYT even before it opened, which it only recently has. We checked it out last night, and were fortunate to have Chef José Andrés in the kitchen on a Tuesday evening. The experience was a very good one.

Actually made reservations with Open Table, and since we'd not eaten since breakfast, made them for 5 p.m. Arrived at 4:55 to an empty restaurant with a nervous hostess who was unwilling to seat us - turns out that the staff was having a meeting (Chef Andrés was there) which ended up a little after five. I got irritated and almost bolted - am glad I didn't.

The front of the restaurant looks like a mall fast food. Not a good first impression. There are even takeaway windows for Mexican and Chinese food. My wife was giving me the "I thought you said this was a good place; it looks like Hot Dog On A Stick" gripe.

Once led inside (they have communal tables, but I grabbed a four-top for the three of us - I kinda hate eating with other people whom I don't know) , the place revealed itself to be pretty nicely decorated. Lots of changing ethnic photos projected on the walls and on a large sculpture of a head. The tables were some sort of composite - pretty - and there was a nice mirrored wall that allowed us to totally escape the shopping mall feel that we'd gleaned from the entrance.

Staff was amazingly friendly (cheers to Brea, our server) and knowledgeable. Drinks were interesting: I had a "salt air margarita," which had a salt foam floating atop the well-made drink - this was one of the best margaritas I've ever had (I had a couple by the time I left), as the salt foam was the perfect way to deliver salt to the drink. My wife had a "lemon drop soup" - sort of a lemon drop served with sweet lemon noodles one could chopstick out of the glass. She thought it was tasty, but didn't get a second.

I've got to get somewhere here in a hurry, so this will be a short review: we had a couple orders of cochinita (pibil) tacos (that were outstanding) and carnitas tacos (served with little chunks of chicharrones for crunch - they were very delicious) - both served with a chipotle/tomato salsa, a shrimp cocktail (my wife loved it), some guacamole - very delicious, and I'm fussy on this (but somewhat mild, even in its "spicy" iteration), a Mongolian beef salad (tasty, wonderfully crisp greens, probably not worth the $15 charge), steamed pork buns - very delicious, if light on the pork, with a very light, airy dough, and, for dessert, the terra cotta chocolate warrior - nestled on a bed of crumbled salty gingery cocoa, very sophisticated cocoa-chocolate, not the usual choco-glop one expects, with a chocolate ice cream center, and a goat milk flan - spec-tac-u-lar . . . one bite would have been enough - served with carmelized pineapple (they almost didn't release this to us, as the chef was unhappy with how the flans were shaping up).

Dinner for three with two cocktails a piece and tip ran a bit over $200. I'd go again tonight. Let me see how many pictures Chowhound will let me attach - I took a lot.

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  1. Thanks for sharing! I'm even MORE excited about China Poblano now. I can't wait to try it when I get home!

    1 Reply
    1. re: atdleft

      My wife and I went back last night - though we weren't especially hungry after tea at Petrossian. Made sure to sit in Brea's section (her knowledge of the menu and gracious enthusiasm are outstanding). My wife had to have the shrimp cocktail (made with lump crab meat as well - Gina said it might have been the best such cocktail she's ever had) again, along with the guacamole (lots of citrus and onion taste - very good and somewhat different than the usual). I grabbed some more of the smokey, succulent cochinita tacos, as well as a bowl of the rainbow congee (different from the usual congee - great sausage, egg, veggie taste - quite excellent and something I'd have again.

      I also wanted to try the Tres Lychees dessert - it was interesting in that it was L I G H T, but it sure didn't grab me flavorwise the way that the sublime flan had. And . . . apparently the executive chef was so unhappy with the way that the flans were turning out, that they're off the menu for the time being! Very sad news - I'm glad that I got to have one (they comped it, BTW, as it was not shapewise up to their standards), because it was - as I said - sublime. One of the best desserts I've ever had (not in any way knocking their wonderful chocolate/chocolate-mousse terra cotta warrior).

      Had another salt air margarita, then Brea turned me on to an interesting off-the-menu drink: the Ruben Garcia. This is a Ron Cooper rocks margarita with a floater shot of Del Maguey mezcal . . . and a "sal de gusano" rim. It's pretty darn wonderful, and something I'd like to have again.

      Again, not much time for posting - sorry - but here are some more pix.

      Go check the place out - it seemed a lot busier last night than the night before, and I sure can see why. Everyone seemed excited about the place, and with good reason.

    2. The food at CP was pretty much what I expected of Andres - good, not "Great." The service was excellent, much like all the DC properties. Andres was in the house and rubbing elbows with all the bigwigs when we were there - signed a menu but never came to the table or anything.

      All in all it is a solid lunch.


      2 Replies
      1. re: uhockey

        Hi Uhockey,

        I'm the old guy who recognized you in Neiman Marcus - CP hit my expectations. What did you have?

        Nice to have met you - my wife (shopping at the Jo Malone counter) was happy to hear that you'd been the source of the recommendation that led us to Tableau a couple years back.

        Video of the CP sculpture by my brother-in-law, if anyone's interested: http://youtu.be/FfLUwY2FlSg

        1. re: Erich

          "old guy" Haha. Was that Neiman or Saks? Who knows?

          Glad to've met you. CP was good - not great - and definitely did meet expectations for such a new spot. I'll eventually get my longwinded thoughts up.


      2. Love the idea of the salt foam. Thanks for the report.

        1. Just a short report here:
          Pics at http://insert-food.blogspot.com/2011/...

          The restaurant has two separate kitchens for Chinese and Mexican menu items, and these are connected to takeout windows where passers-by can order items to-go. We had originally planned to have lunch here, but after perusing the menu, our stomachs got the better of us and we switched our reservations to dinner that same day. Upon arriving at dinnertime, we were seated at a communal table - service was fast and efficient, and we quickly got around to ordering some items. The menu is thematically divided into 3 "cuisines" - Mexican, Chinese, and Chinese-meets-Mexican.

          Salt-air margarita
          Singapore Sling
          We started off with some cocktails. The salt-air margarita was excellent. In fact, all margaritas ought to be served this way - the foam (created with soy lecithin) ensures that you get just the right dose of salinity in every sip. The balance of tequila and lime juice was good, not too sour or alcoholic.

          On the other hand, the Singapore Sling was a slight let-down. It was overly sweet and the flavours didn't taste as fresh as they should. The menu describes the cocktail as "the original recipe from the Raffles hotel". I've been to the Raffles, and let me tell you, their version tastes better. Perhaps the current Singaporean recipe has been tweaked for the modern palate, I can't say for sure. Regardless, I am rather sensitive to sweetness, so others may find this drink perfectly palatable.

          Lengua tacos
          Beef tongue, pasilla salsa, radish garnish
          The lengua tacos were excellent with the pasilla salsa on top and some additional chipotle salsa - nicely spicy and the beef was cooked to tender perfection. I love radishes in dishes so I was happy to see them piled atop the meat here.

          Gazpacho Morelia
          Pineapple, cucumber, jicama, dragonfruit, queso fresco, chile pequin, tangerine juice
          Next was a dish from the Chinese-Mexican fusion section of the menu. The server mentioned that it had just been added to the menu the day before, and after tasting it, we told him that it should probably be taken off the menu. On paper, it sounded intriguing, but the dish that arrived was essentially a glorified fruit salad. It was impossible to get more than a few chunks of vegetable/fruit in each bite, and there was nothing to tie the disparate flavours together. We sent this back to the kitchen. As it turns out, this dish would continue a theme wherein the Chinese-Mexican dishes seemed to be the weakest dishes of the evening (see the tuna ceviche below).

          "Dancing eggplant" - Steamed eggplant
          Soy sauce, black garlic, bonito flakes
          "When pigs fly" - char siew bao
          Both of the above were well-seasoned and quite tasty. The texture of the steamed eggplant was great - firm and meaty, standing up well to the strong garlic/soy sauce combination. The pork filling in the baos were likewise excellent, but the dough left something to be desired. They were slightly too dense and also too thin, and ripped when I pulled the paper away from the baos. The server proudly mentioned that their baos were packed with filling and far meatier than the usual dim sum versions. I thought to myself that he was missing the point: filling is important, but a good bao should be equally appreciated for the taste and springiness of its dough. Overfilling a bao not only upsets the balance, but creates a structural weakness that results in torn buns.

          Silencio tacos
          Duck tongue with rambutan
          My favourite dish of the evening - absolutely delicious. The sweet rambutan flesh was a perfect foil for the savory, chewy duck tongue. Three perfect bites per taco.

          Chrysanthemum Pu-erh tea
          Tuna ceviche
          Avocado, amaranth seeds, pecans
          This dish wasn't bad, just rather boring. I liked the addition of amaranth seeds, but there was too much for the amount of tuna on the plate, and everything else was fairly standard. The whole pecans were unnecessary.

          Snow pea leaves, pomegranate, orange, lily bulb petals, marigold
          Red-braised pork rou jia mo
          This Chinese "street sandwich" was stunningly good. The braised pork was sweet, salty, moist, succulent and fatty. This contrasted well with the slightly-crispy bread it was served between. One could criticize it for being one-dimensional, but that would be beside the point. The sandwich was immensely satisfying on a primal level.

          Cajeta flan
          Goat's milk caramel, pineapple
          Coconut tapioca balls
          Mandarin orange sorbet, passionfruit, coconut air
          We enjoyed both desserts, but the coconut tapioca balls were particularly good. It was clever to include a coconut foam and toasted coconuts, in addition to the coconut milk - this really allowed us to experience multiple textures/temperatures of the coconut. The sorbet and passionfruit sauce were sweet and also appropriately acidic, to cut through the richness of all the coconut components.

          Overall, we enjoyed our meal and the experience. The main problem with China Poblano is that the best dishes were purely Mexican or Chinese, and the fusion dishes fell flat. Thus, I see this restaurant as a unique concept that works within the confines of the Strip, but might flounder in big cities where one can get better (and cheaper) ethnic food in specialist establishments. There is promise in the Chinese-Mexican fusion, but the team here will have to work hard to expand and improve this section of the menu (currently limited to ~5 dishes, at least two of which were mediocre). If they do, I'll be interested in coming back to give China Poblano another shot.

          2 Replies
          1. re: shouzen

            "The main problem with China Poblano is that the best dishes were purely Mexican or Chinese, and the fusion dishes fell flat. Thus, I see this restaurant as a unique concept that works within the confines of the Strip, but might flounder in big cities where one can get better (and cheaper) ethnic food in specialist establishments" excellent summary.


            1. re: uhockey

              Yeah, on reflection of our experience, it really is.

          2. We were just in LV and need at a small quick bite and saw the "take-out" windows at China Poblano. Picked the "When pigs fly" (steamed pork buns) and where extremely underwhelmed. The filling was not bad but nothing exceptional with the dough too dense. I know it was just one small sample of the whole menu but it seems a bit that big names can sell things without anybody questioning the quality. If a regular chinese restaurant would have sold 4 small buns of this quality for $10 everybody would give them a hard time.