My colleague at the Dallas Morning News reviewed Monterrey months ago, when it was new, and she predicted it would fill to overflowing as more and more people discovered it. She suggested we all wait and give it time before overwhelming it with enthusiasm.
That's the way it should have happened, but when we visited Monterrey just last Friday night, it looked like the discovery was yet to be made. Or, let's just say, the public is following the critic's advice too well.
Monterrey has yet to be overwhelmed--in fact, only a few tables were taken. Maybe I'm overstating the underwhelming, maybe things pick up later in the evening, but at suppertime, we were a full 50 percent of the crowd.
In fact, we would have been happier with the Christmas lights on--it was close to gloomy in our corner. The high-ceilinged room is almost painfully plain anyway, decorated with some lonely looking pictures tacked up at random, but the potentially cheerful strings of lights around our table didn't work, according to our waitress--who didn't say much else during our visit.
That's okay. Our waiter was so full of good will and good works I was ready to recommend him to the Mansion. He brought us cold Mexican beer in frosted mugs, a fresh one with each beer, so cold that the frost formed slivers of ice that slid down the glass into the brew. Because one bottle of Pacifica was missing a label, he brought it out to the table unopened so we could see the cap before he opened it. We had kids with us, so he suggested we order child's plates, not listed on the menu.
There are some regional specialties on Monterrey's menu that you don't see on every Mexican menu in town--for instance, the wittily named taco or tostadas siberia--a cold dish. (Get it?) Thick corn tortillas, fried until crispy, sandwiched chopped chicken breast, guacamole, and cream cheese for the tostadas; the same tortilla--soft--enfolded the same filling for the taco. Both dishes were delicious and large enough to be shared as an appetizer, though to be truthful, it was a battle of the forks. You can also order authentic stuff like gorditas and sopes, and nopalitos and chicharrone.
We ordered mole, and the sauce on the chicken was thick like squeeze-cheese, a dark brick-colored mixture with all the mysterious fire and sweetness mole should have. Nothing was sizzling on the fajitas regias platter. (I am extremely skeptical of those sizzling fajita skillets. I would just as soon the kitchen finished cooking my meat and send it out promptly on a plate.) No, this meat was seasoned and stewed, because even a baby goat needs to cook a long time.
Anyway the tender strings of meat, reddened by spices and cooking, were sweet, and two of us divided it up and rolled it with wilted onions in powdery-thick tortillas with hot sauce. Standard fare like meat-filled tamales and cheese enchiladas were smothered in chile gravy; they were fine, and all the combination plates are $5.75--a deal for a dinner--but we were intrigued by the more unusual stuff, and we'll undoubtedly be back to try more.
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And, not to contradict the daily newspaper, but for all you aspiring food critics and Columbuses out there, there's a discovery here waiting to be made. I wouldn't wait around for fear of overwhelming the place--check it out now.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Monterrey, 1611 Greenville Ave., 821-2026. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday 11 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 9 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fajitas Regias (Cabrito) $9.25
Pollo en Mole $7.95
Tamale dinner $5.75
Taco Siberia $3.50