Originally posted to BakingMeHungry, August 28, 2012
There’s a new website powered by the Food Network, called CityEats. It features restaurants in Washington, DC, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and New Orleans, with plans to expand to more cities in the future. The site was promoting Restaurant Week in Washington, DC, with an offer to send a $20 gift card to anyone who ate in and reviewed one of the featured restaurants. I made a dinner reservation for two at celebrity chef Mike Isabella’s Mexican restaurant Bandolero (3241 M Street, NW).
The restaurant is very cool looking, with a dark, Day of the Dead theme. The dim lighting, exposed brick walls, gates between tables, and skeletal décor made me feel like I was in some kind of dangerous and sexy Mexican border town. The restaurant was packed with a crowd of all ages, from those in their early twenties to those in their fifties—most everyone was dressed for a night on the town.
The upstairs dining room was more open and less loud than the bar downstairs. We had a leather couch on one side of our table, which I was eager to sit in (I just knew I could make reclining while eating tacos look hot). I sunk a little too deep, changed my mind, and moved into a real seat.
We ordered a series of tapas based on the delicious sounding food descriptions and the recommendations of our waiter. First came the Tomatillo & Avocado Gazpacho ($11) and the Blue Crab Taquitos ($13).
The waiter brought out a bowl of diced watermelon and oranges, with a pitcher of gazpacho, which he poured over the fruit. The gazpacho had a very creamy consistency from the avocado and a tangy flavor from the tomatillo, which was fairly strong. It tasted great with each spoonful that contained a piece of watermelon or orange (I didn’t like it without the fruit). It became like a treasure hunt to search for the little gems of melon and citrus.
The Blue Crab Taquitos were quite good! The fresh tasting crab meat was served with coconut, red chili, and purple potatoes in a mini taco shell. Each bite left me wanting another.
Next to arrive was the Sikil Pak ($6), a dip made of pumpkin seeds, jalapeno and oranges, and served with a basket of chips and pork rinds. The dip was very bland. The pork rinds were a nice surprise, though.
Then we had a series of tacos. We ordered the Chicken Taco ($10) with BBQ chicken, poblano and plantain (not pictured); the Suckling Pig Taco ($13) with shredded pork, green apple, and habanero mustard; and the Skirt Steak Taco ($12) with refried beans, avocado, salsa, and crispy onions.
The Suckling Pig Tacos were the most unique of the three, with a nice flavor combination of sweet, spicy and tangy. The Skirt Steak Tacos and Chicken Tacos were both good enough, but there was nothing particularly special about them.
The Mole Negro ($12), short ribs covered in a mole sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and served with papas (fried potatoes), fell apart at the touch of my fork (delightful!). The flavor of the mole sauce was excellent. Unfortunately, the potatoes were weird, dense and chewy.
The last dish was the Queso Fundido ($14), described by our waiter as a must-try, signature dish. We had high hopes for the melted manchego cheese with duck confit, mushrooms and a sunnyside up egg. However, the flavor of the cheese was all we could taste, and it honestly tasted like the Tostitos queso dip you can buy at any grocery store or gas station.
All in all, I do not understand what the hype is about. The restaurant was sexy and fun, but the food did not stand out. I probably will not dine again on the mostly mediocre, overpriced tapas (except maybe for the crab taquitos). I did wonder if the cocktails are worth making a return visit (I may not have been fair to the restaurant by not trying any, but I really did have high hopes for the food.) Sorry Mike Isabella, but I’m still on my search for great Mexican cuisine in DC.