I want the food to be assertive in my mouth and scream "Mexican cuisine" with its ingenious layers and combinations of spices and herbs, that collision of unusual textures, rare aromas and incomparable taste sensations. I'd like Reposado to underline why Mexican is among the world's greatest cuisines.
Despite what I think, owner Rob Fischer told me that a number of patrons still send back their orders because the food is just too spicy for them. It's hard to believe that here in Foodieville, U.S.A., that anyone's palate is still so dumbed-down, so uneducated and so unappreciative of the glories of food. OK, maybe I'm just grouchy today.
The newish, usually jam-packed Reposado is the brainchild of Fischer, who owns the Palo Alto Creameries downtown and at Stanford.
"We didn't want to open a taqueria, not the typical taco, burrito and enchilada restaurant. We wanted something more upscale, something found in the finer areas of Mexico City. And we wanted it updated and eclectic," Fischer said in an interview.
Reposado is housed on Hamilton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, the home of the long-gone Cafe Verona. Fischer spent big and the result is a striking, stylish, restaurant/bar that caught on as soon as it opened.
The Cass Calder Smith architecture stresses open, airy and elemental with concrete walls and ebony-colored floor, high-beamed ceiling and a mezzanine for overflow dining and private parties. Dining room and bar areas are swathed in earth tones with minimal adornment. In all, Reposado is sleek and contemporary without being gimmicky.
The house margarita ($8) with triple sec and fresh-squeezed lime juice matched my palate perfectly. It reminded me of languid days in Puerto Vallarta, a nice frame of mind from which to peruse the menu.
For starters one day, I opted for the special crab and corn chowder soup ($6.50). Creamy and thick, the soup was loaded with chunks of delicate crab and fresh-shucked corn. The cream of sweet corn soup ($5.50) with fire-toasted poblano chilies is the menu staple. It was like eating creamed corn dotted with tame green chilies: not bold, but not bad.
Three small sopitos ($9.75) were artistically plated. The beef with toasted guajillo salsa lacked the spicy, tangy, smoky flavor of the chilies. The pork with salsa fresca and the chicken with salsa verde were indistinguishable.
I liked the prawn ceviche ($10.50) with lime and cucumber juice, serrano chili, avocado and grilled pineapple. The serranos provided nothing more than backdrop but the prawns were meaty and fresh-tasting, and the citrus was slightly less than puckery on the tongue. A refreshing way to whet the appetite.
Queso fundido ($8.75) was a small iron pot of melted cheese, fire-roasted (but not fiery) poblanos, shiitake mushrooms and house-made tortillas. The cheese was wonderfully gooey and the mushrooms provided interest but, again, the chilies were too timid to spark the dish to life. Nonetheless, warm comfort food if that's what you're looking for.
Main courses didn't veer from this course. Pollo en mole poblano ($17.25) was a plump, juicy chicken breast blanketed in mole poblano sauce. Mole poblano is a classic and complex Mexican sauce made from chilies and spices, seeds and nuts, often with a hint of chocolate. The finished sauce is rich and fragrant, leaving a sweet to bittersweet resonance in the mouth.
Reposado's version of pollo en mole poblano was too sweet for my taste, too bright red to my eye. It covered the chicken more like marinara than mole. It was tasty in a nondescript way but the lovely layers of chilies never manifested.
Better was the rotisserie chicken ($16.50) with pumpkin seed sauce and red rice. The fleshy fowl was delicious and the kitchen rotisserie, visible from the dining room, seduced the appetite. The sauce was simpler here, and, I suppose, my expectation level was different.
Pescado asado ($16.75) was my favorite plate. Grilled red snapper, marinated in achiote (a rust-colored seed, slightly sweet and peppery) was served with jicama-mango pico de gallo and green rice. The fleshy and sweet fish tasted ocean-fresh. The pico de gallo sauce was delightfully citrusy and nicely balanced the snapper.
The desserts were excellent. Azteca chocolate cake ($6.75) was moist and rich with Mexican chocolate sauce, lime sabayon and ancho chili honey. A pleasing hint of chili lingered on the tongue.
Torta de elote ($6.75) was a sweet corn cheesecake with vanilla bean brulee and kumquat relish. The cheesecake was both rustic and refined, if there can be such a thing. It satisfied without filling and without supercharging the calorie count. It was starchier than most cheesecakes, which was its charm.
The wine menu is eclectic, to say the least. While there's not a large list, wines from every major wine-producing corner of the world are represented. There are some nice wines being made in Mexico these days; alas, none on this list. Also offered: a myriad of tequilas, cocktails and beers. Corkage fee is $10.
Reposado is already popular, if not for the food, then for the ambiance. Ideally, Fischer and executive chef Arnulfo Hernandez can find a way to please both those looking for authentic Mexican food and those just looking for a chic place to eat. Perhaps some dishes could be offered both "regular" or "high octane."
236 Hamilton Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: yes
Party facilities: yes
Noise level: high
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent
This story contains 1007 words.
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