Akron restaurants, margaritas, Mexican food, Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar, quesadilla, tamale, tequila, vegetarian food
It is not easy to find good Mexican food here in Ohio. I have never traveled to Mexico, but I’ve spent enough time in California to know the good stuff. Most of what we have here is unspeakably bad. It survives because it comes cheap, in hefty portions. (Bad restaurant food comes in massive quantities, while great food is doled out by the tablespoon. And most of us like it that way. Mysterious, isn’t it?)
Nuevo is a relatively new spot in Akron billed as a place for “modern Mexican” food and tequila. This is big news for Akron, a city which runs a distant second to Cleveland as a dining destination. Also big news for Linnet. A fictional character of mine once expressed a desire to be waterboarded in tequila, at which point James forbade her alcohol for the rest of the evening.
The atmosphere in Nuevo is great. Plenty of natural light, cool art, a great suspended ceiling of wood panels over the bar, and a perfect soundtrack of blues (my guess: the John Lee Hooker channel on Pandora!). We arrived at an oddly early hour, 4:30 in the afternoon, yet we didn’t have a reservation so we had to eat in the bar. No hay problema!
We began with a draft Pacifico (excellent) and the house margarita, which we were promised was very close to the classic drink, but with the addition of agave syrup. It arrived on the rocks (surprising). The sweetener was not beneficial. It tasted like a Rose’s lime juice version instead of the standard combination of tequila, Cointreau and lime.
Next came the apps: the house guacamole and the queso fundido, served with black tortilla chips. The house guac is basic, with a little too much salt, but tasty. (They also serve a habanero jelly guac and one made of white beans, rosemary and roasted garlic.) The queso fundido, a “three-cheese blend with grilled scallions” had few visible scallions, but for all that it was truly delicious. Had I been at home, I would have licked the dish clean.
Next, salads! For me, the Casa salad (organic greens, tiny yellow tomato, red onion, avocado, buttermilk avocado dressing and “bolillo crisp” which turned out to be similar to a baguette). For the Long-Suffering One, the Remolacha, with roasted beets, fennel, watercress, toasted hazelnuts and queso fresco. Both are extremely well executed: crisp fresh ingredients, bright flavors, dressings that surprise and delight. (The tangy buttermilk avocado has plenty of black pepper.)
You can see that in the picture of the Casa salad, the cheese app is still sitting there, barely touched. This was the only glitch in the meal, but it was a major one. One of my pet peeves is the arrival of salads before the apps are done or (worse) the arrival of entrées before salads are done or (worst of all) the arrival of every fecking dish within a period of less than five minutes. That’s what happened to us. It all came at once. Restaurants whose entrées fall in the $12-30 range should know better than this.
Still, I was in too good a mood to let it bother me (I had tasted the fundido by then and I am a total sucker for a good cheese dish.) Nuevo is what I would call “vegetarian compatible” rather than “vegetarian friendly.” A vegetarian compatible restaurant is one where they have a couple of apps, some salads and 2-3 dinner options. That’s fine if you’re only passing through, but if you make return visits, you find yourself eating the same things over and over. Unless they have something so good it haunts your dreams, you don’t have much reason to keep returning. A vegetarian friendly restaurant, on the other hand, will offer enough possibilities to keep your interest piqued.
The Nuevo menu has three vegetarian options: the tamale with refried black beans and sweet potatoes, the taco with tofu, jicama slaw and the “three-cheese blend,” and the quesadilla with black beans, wild mushrooms, sundried tomato, baby kale, and “three cheese blend.” We went for the tamale and the quesadilla.
Each dinner item comes with Spanish rice, your choice of black beans or pintos borrachos (“drunken” beans cooked in beer), and a garnish of pickled veggies. I had the quesadilla, which was very good, but the flavors did not pop as much as I was expecting. The shrooms tasted like regular mushrooms, and I couldn’t taste the tomato at all. It was a bit bland, so I ended up dosing it with the excellent house chipotle sauce. I found myself enchanted by the borrachos, however. They’re really, really good, piquant and slightly tangy. The rice? Meh, way too oily.
The real winner was the tamale: a mouthwatering combination of vibrant flavors, served over the husk it was steamed in. This was so good, it got me interested in making my own tamales again. A perfect little blast of heat in the midst of frigid winter.
So will we be back? Yes, probably. But I’ll be sure to make a reservation, ask them to make sure there’s no serving bottleneck, and order a tequila.
Looks good! I fell in live with Mexican fiod when I lived in Tucson in grad school….nothing better than homemade tamales! (I also learned to make killer guac from a friend’s abuela 🙂 )
Ooooh Tucson. Extremely good food. It’s a great little town! I liked it much better than Phoenix.
I have a lifelong love affair with avocados, and the ones out west are soooooo good. I’d love to be able to go in my backyard and grab one off a tree 🙂
I’m here in Tucson. Shall I send some tamales your way? 🙂
Mexican is really THE thing to get in Tucson. My favorite places are taco stands or tamales sold out of pickup trucks. The only problem is trying to find that pickup truck later…it usually doesn’t happen. Which is unfortunate because the best tamales I’ve ever had came from a truck parked at a Circle K in Marana. These were made with lard—not exactly vegetarian friendly—but oh my, lard makes a big difference. The strange thing is these tasted light rather than greasy and heavy. Those really set the bar on tamales…nothing has come close since.
And yes, Tucson is way better than Phoenix.
When dealing with authentic Mex, I am always very careful about lard. It’s like the pork fat in New Orleans cooking–ubiquitous. I’m sure it’s very tasty, but it’s off the menu for me!
The food truck revolution hasn’t really blossomed here. There are a few trucks serving the weekday crowds in downtown Cleveland, but that’s about it. It’s a great way to revitalize urban areas–get some great food in, and the people will come!
I get it with the lard. Even non-vegetarians shy away from it for health reasons. In a way it’s a good thing I can’t find that truck anymore.
Food trucks are a great way to revitalize. I’m noticing that OKC is becoming quite hip with lots of young people moving there…and where there’s young people, food trucks abound. What’s not to like about great food and great prices? My brother is a CIA-educated chef who started out as the executive chef for Buckhead Diner in Atlanta and then started his own upscale French restaurant. That went under, he went nearly bankrupt. In that scene he was just another fancy restaurant, and in a bad side of town to boot. He borrowed money to start another restaurant with a food truck concept, this time Korean tacos with items on the menu that he learned how to make from our mom. This time, great success. Now he has two (or 3?) restaurants, one full service. This has a lot to do with Alton Brown’s show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” which featured my brother. After that show aired, he had lines out the door. Then he got a lot more media coverage and the whole thing just escalated.
Here in Tucson the taco trucks are all over the place and a lot of them have good food, but the majority of them are not novel or hip with clever slogans painted on the sides. I don’t know that a taco truck here would get that kind of attention. You don’t see chefs that well-trained flocking to buy taco trucks! (Maybe they have to go under first?) In any case, it’s funny how the whole thing works. Not that long ago people were afraid to eat at such places, and now it’s a “thing”.
What a great story about your brother! And how lucky for you to have a trained chef in the family 🙂
Whenever Tomas and I are in OKC at the same time, he’ll tell my other brother who lives there to invite all his church friends over. Then that very day he’ll head to the grocery store without a list and just start grabbing things. He’ll cook for fifty or sixty people without thinking about it in advance…he doesn’t think until he sees what’s in the grocery store. I’d have to plan something like that for weeks, but he just sort of runs around and “BAM,” there it is. Extravagant dinner for the masses in under four hours, shopping included.
You know, I love it when he cooks for us. But whenever I try to learn something from him, he moves too fast for me. It’s absolutely infuriating to try to learn from him, but he is amazing to watch. And of course he never measures anything, so when I ask him for a recipe, he just tells me a process, but none of the amounts. When I ask him for the amounts, he gets vague. I suppose it’s like asking Van Gogh for a paint-by-number copy of his work. He just assumes I know things that I don’t, and probably can’t fathom that I don’t know these things.
Fifty or sixty people! I can’t even imagine what that would involve. It’s a wonderful skill. A kind of magic, in fact.
I was born and raised in northern New Mexico, and I absolutely pine for the chile rellenos and tamales of my youth. I can commiserate fully on living in an area without much in the way of good Mexican food, because it’s almost exclusively cheap Tex-Mex around here. We have one restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall, that I do enjoy, but it’s not The Shed in Santa Fe, or El Paragua in Espanola! Luckily, Dad still summers in Santa Fe, and is willing to transport bushels my way when he leaves for Florida, so I have a source for my Hatch green chiles. Nothing like the smell of fresh, roasting green chile.
Yes, that restaurant in Akron should do a chile relleno dish. I also love green chili sauces. To me they have more flavor than the super hot red ones. The relationship between heat and flavor is very interesting.
I have an amazing chef in my family, too. My uncle has owned a number of successful gourmet restaurants in New Mexico and Colorado, and now is a private chef for a couple that travels the world with way too much money! But he is also the type that can prepare these amazing feasts for the whole family as if it were nothing- I have to plan ahead and cook all afternoon for even a small gathering. He’s also a master at using whatever is at hand, in anyone’s kitchen, even if it seems the fridge and cupboards are sparse, and creating some imaginative masterpiece of a dish. But I’ve never been able to get anything but a vague recipe out of him. He’ll say things like “Well, start with making your basic [some from-scratch gourmet sauce]” and I’m like “your basic what?”
A private chef for a rich couple who travel a lot! What an amazing job that would be. But I’m like you. Cooking for guests is always a big deal. I’m not one who is always whipping up food for a crowd on the spur of the moment.
So funny to me about the white bean guac you described. I make the same dip, Rosemary and all ( made it last for my Christmas party here in Mexico), but I’ve always called it Tuscan White Bean dip. It’s always a hit ( though I’ve found that Mexican rosemary is much stronger and more piny than the American version. I have to dry it out a bit to get the flavor I want.
Fundido is popular here, but suffers from the lack of interesting Mexican cheeses.
Ah, that’s true. The cheese selection is perhaps too limited. The Nuevo menu never explained its “three cheese blend,” and I’d really like to know what they use. It was definitely a mix with some sharp flavors, like aged cheddar or jack.
Yes, the white bean “guacamole” is not that imaginative (though it’s tasty). Another restaurant, Momocho in Cleveland, has cool fusion ones like goat cheese, tomato and poblano–with avocado as the base. Or sheep gouda, roasted garlic, and agave. Yum!
Chef, Rick Bayliss, has zillions of recipes he calls guacamole. Yes, cheese- Mexicans don’t age any of their cheeses. Here, I am able to get better cheeses in Costco or other shops that cater to North American tastes/needs.
I should not have read this over breakfast. Now I want lunch. And a Mexican one!
With a Pacifico on draft. Mmmmmm.
I’m reading it at 10.20pm and now I’m hungry but should be going to bed!
Looks very tasty LM! Vegos here used to have the problem of fried food being cooked in animal fat but most things are now cooked in veggie oil.
Yes, there is great progress but I still worry about restaurants saying to themselves, “They’ll never know the difference!”
Let me know how those tomales turn out when you make them 🙂
Thanks! That’s a big job so I’ll have to record it for posterity 🙂
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