Tex-Mex restaurants led by high-profile chefs always worry me. It takes a lot of discipline to temper those creative urges and turn out a simple yet satisfying cheese enchilada. At Sala, talented chef Doug Brown has transformed his former New American restaurant, Amuse, into a comfy Tex-Mex joint. It’s a much better fit with its neighborhood, the transitional Cedars district south of downtown. And Brown’s menu of tamale, enchilada, and taco favorites is thankfully an exercise in culinary restraint. I just wish the food were more consistent. One of my dining companions put it best: “This is a great place for drinks and appetizers. But the entrees? Not so much.” Lets start with the good stuff. Crispy taquitos with cilantro sour cream would make a fine entree substitute. They were plump, juicy, grease-free works of art. Likewise, the queso with chorzio and guacamole didn’t last long. Chips were thin and crisp. Salsa came in two delicious versions: one smoky and the other tomato-based with a nice, fiery punch. Margarita flights, a winning Sala novelty, provide three generous tastings of the popular libation. We tried the swirl flight (cactus pear, blood orange, and passion fruit) and enjoyed each diminutive pour. Alas, the entrees on each visit couldn’t live up to what preceded them. A pork tamale’s masa was so dry it was difficult to cut. Chicken fajitas were bland. The beef taco was greasy. The most unforgivable of Tex-Mex sins, a cheese enchilada arrived lukewarm. The interior cheese was a cold, clumpy mess. And the chile con carne was—gasp!—sweet with little to no spice.
I applaud chef Brown for creating Tex-Mex food that stays faithful to its heritage. Now it’s time to spice it up.
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