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JESS ELIZARRARAS

DINE

Villa Rica

403 Blue Star, (210) 635-0036, chefjohnnyhernandez.com From our review: Despite some missteps, what’s coming out of Villa Rica’s side of the kitchen shared with Burgerteca is an honest enough reflection of the cooking of both Mexican coasts to merit our attention, albeit at prices that don’t allow for taking random pot shots. But that’s what we’re here for. Try the ceviche Veracruzano. It’s not a fancy rendition, but it’s absolutely true, clean and fresh — a good introduction to the genre. Among Villa Rica’s small plates, you might well be tempted, as I was, by the fish minilla (hash) empanadas; they sound way better than they are. On two occasions, the masa packets came away as seeming both pasty and under-seasoned. The eager-to-please chef came by a second time, asking how everything was, so I told him. His response was to bring out a ramekin of crunchy/punchy chileajo salsa. Don’t waste his or your time — just ask for this automatically at the beginning of every meal. It does wonders for almost everything and is much more interesting than the table’s merely fiery habanero salsa. A jot of it wouldn’t have hurt even the appealingly inventive soft shell crab tacos with their guacamole and crisp serrano ham. Fish enchiladas rojas are the most substantial option among the small plates, and you should absolutely try them. Here, the spicing is just right, the fish holds up texturally, and the plate satisfies at every level, with crema and queso fresco adding welcome grace notes. Speaking of texture, it’s a quality that weighs heavily in any dish featuring octopus—and Villa Rica’s pulpo chielajo is no exception. Fortunately, it’s an exception in the positive direction. The formidable loop of cephalopod, its suckery apparatus all-too-apparent, would be daunting to most. But though the chileajo cloaking is a little one-note in this context, its heat does tame a beast whose texture offers some resistance but not resilience. The refried black beans on this plate came mixed with white rice in a kind of unfortunate mash-up of the Caribbean’s classic Moros y Cristianos. But then there were those fried plantains…

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Flavor Winter 2018  

Flavor Winter 2018