Mission Cantina Report
Was meeting a couple of friends for an early dinner and, all being fans of Mission Chinese, figured we'd check out the new joint if it wasn't mobbed. We got there as they opened and sat right down and started plowing through some food.
Overall, not bad, though surprisingly subdued in terms of heat, given the chef's previous work.
We started with the two ceviches, both very straightforward, but both very good. Can't really say one was better than the other, though the scallop & beef heart was probably the winner, a little more complex with the subtle beefiness.
Soft-scrambled eggs with uni were good, the uni super sweet and creamy. Again, fairly straightforward but well prepared.
The fresh queso oaxaca was decent, if nothing I'd write home about. It was described as hickory-smoked on the menu, but I didn't detect any smokiness. Nice roasted poblano with it, though, for a little spin in mozzarella & roasted peppers. Tasty enough, but I doubt I'd order it again.
On to some tacos, then. The tortillas themselves are fantastic, not just window dressing or a delivery vehicle for the toppings, but assertively flavored on their own. The carnitas were among my favorites, three textures of pork, really really porky flavor - so many pork dishes taste like whatever sauce they're in, but here the swine was the star. Lamb was very good, as were the mushrooms. Pumpkin was great, and had a nice subtle heat to it.
The lamb ribs entree, though, was a bit of a dud for me. It's a huge portion for the price, no complaints there. The menu said it was in a coffee & hibiscus sauce but I'll be damned if I could taste either. Cumin was the predominant flavor, bringing to mind a not-spicy take on the cumin lamb from MiCh. The texture was a bit underwhelming as well. It felt as though it had been cooked sous vide, which is fine, but finish it on the grill or plancha for chrissakes.
Now, I loooooove lamb fat. It is honestly one of my favorite things. When I make chops at home I don't french them, but grill the edges and get the fat rendered and crispy and delicious. These ribs, the fat was just kind of flabby and blah. A few minutes on some direct heat would have carmelized them, given some of that Maillard reaction we crave, and probably brought out the coffee notes more to boot. Unfortunately, these were really underwhelming texturally, leaving me wishing we'd gone for the chicken instead.
There are the makings of a good dish there - scale back the cumin, finish the dish with some fire to render the fat and give a little char, it'd be a massive improvement, and a great dish I think. The prunes and onions with it were great (though I did hit a pit in one prune) - the two salsas it was served with it (red and green) could have used more spice, though. Or maybe they should leave a bottle of El Yucateca on each table for DIY heat.
For drinks, the Micheladas were good but the bacon rim was a little kitschy/dated (c'mon, bacon? over it.) and honestly regular salt would have been preferable, as it felt a little muted without it and the bacon didn't bring the same salinity. A soju cocktail with yuzu was refreshing and tasty.
Service was great, friendly, attentive but not obtrusive. Perfect, really.
All in all a good meal, lamb ribs aside, and reasonably priced. Not as adventurous as some things at Empellon, but good. That said, there were no "holy shit I have to get all my friends to try this" dishes as there were at MiCh. After my first meal there, I couldn't wait to go back and bring more friends. With MiCa, my enthusiasm - much like some of the flavors - is a bit more subdued. It's kind of a good neighborhood joint, and I'm glad to have it here.
All that said, I feel a little odd writing them up when they've only been open a day. I'll be back - reports on the chicken are really good, and I'm looking forward to trying it. And like any restaurant, there'll be quirks at first as they refine their game. They're off to a good start, for sure.
l ate there last night, too, a bit later. l feel the same about the oaxaca cheese: ok, nothing special. l did enjoy the pickled onions that accompanied it.
l got the lamb belly, carnitas and al pastor tacos. l ate the lamb first, and thought it was very, very good, with loads of umami. l found the carnitas mighty tasty as well, the addition of the pork cracklings a great touch, but l thought the lamb had the edge, flavor-wise.
The al pastor were a bit disappointing: they tasted ok, but were just not as boldly flavored as the other two. l'm a big fan of the Tacos Morelos cart al pastor tacos; l think those taste better than these [at the moment: something tells me there'll be some tweaking going on in the near future].
The three tacos on the plate created a lot of oil, which required some rearranging so that the tortillas didn't sit in it and get too greasy. All of the double-tortilla 4" tacos were loaded with their respective fillings, so $4.00 or $4.50 for taquitos doesn't feel like an overcharge, which l felt to be the case at Sembrado. And yes: those tortillas are excellent! l especially liked that, on entering the restaurant, you could smell that wonderful aroma of corn.
The lack of heat in all three tacos was definitely surprising, given MiChi's fame for its hot dishes. l asked for hot sauce, and they brought me what l think was their own blend, pink and creamy like tikka masala sauce, and very flavorful. They should absolutely keep a bottle or bowl of it on the table.
They also broke policy and let me take out an order of wings for a friend of mine; l didn't get to try them, but he said that they tasted great.
So, nothing l had was a knockout, but the tacos were very good. l work right nearby, so l'll definitely be a regular.
- chicken wings with mole spices, chili vinegar, crema
- skate wing tempura taco with avocado cream
- mushroom taco with charred queso Oaxaca
- carnitas taco with pork shoulder confit, crispy jowl, pork crackling
We enjoyed everything immensely, even the complimentary peanuts and crispy chickpeas with hot sauce. The food is fun, creative, and delicious in the spirit of Mission Chinese. We do plan to return very soon.
i was there on sunday and tried a lot of different things, though mostly tacos. feelings were mixed. on a whole, i felt that most dishes read better on the menu than they came across on the plate, but everything was still good or better.
the chicken wing and octopus taco sounded really interesting, but i couldn't detect the flavor of either. the carnitas with pork shoulder, crispy jowl and crackling was pork for the sake of being pork. maybe Morton Downey Jr. could tackle the vertical height with the crackling in place. i had to remove it.
six tacos tried - all delicious, but some with unnecessary ingredients that did more to sound unique than to elevate the flavor. that said, i would order everything i had again. next time, i'll be more focused and not attempt to try as many different tacos as possible on a single visit.
Went back last night and this past Sunday; menu is constantly changing.
Tacos sampled: pulled lamb [really good, lamb is funky and gamy, almost like goat], chicken livers [solid], duck [with duck skin chicharron: delicious], rajas [nice blend of flavors from pickled and roasted peppers and onions]. They're far less timid in the heat department now, but one should still definitely request their excellent hot sauce for the table. Order extra tortillas, too.
Smoked potatoes are kind of inspired, the spuds really absorbing the smoke, making it pronounced but not overwhelming; nice heat, too.
Collard greens are also solid: fairly traditional prep, a little vinegary, with a subtle sweetness.
The standout amongst everything l've tried is the masa: a creamy, sweet bowlful, with whole corn kernels and cilantro. l'm a big fan of all things corn, and wow is this delicious. l really hope it stays on the menu [l threatened the line cook with death if they take it off].
l'm pretty psyched about this place.