Monday, April 21, 2008

Winging It

B. and I were walking down Wilson Boulevard trying to figure out where to have dinner. Since the weather was nice, we wanted to sit outside, which gave us several options around the Clarendon metro. We had talked about getting Chicken wings but Hard Times Cafe didn't get us too excited. B. pointed out Mexicali Blues and it seemed like there was much merriment, so we went inside. I perused the menu and verified that they had Pupusas on the menu (my rule of thumb for Mexican restaurants is that they should not call themselves that if they feature pupusas) - but the atmosphere was fun, the wait for a table reasonable, and the menu clearly listed pupusas as a Salvadorean specialty.

I went to get us a round of drinks and verified that the Pan-Latinamericanism of the place extended to the cocktail list, as it had several kinds of Mojitos (Cuban!). I decided to check my gastronomic geopolitics at the door and ordered a mojito for B. and a pomegranate margarita for myself. Pomegranate, more often identified with Persian food, is widely used in several Mexican dishes, including Chiles en Nogada. To my dismay the bartender spoke no Spanish, but I heard plenty of it coming from the kitchen. Though the mojito was nothing special - Rumba Cafe in Adams Morgan serves my favorite one - the Margarita was very good, refreshing but with a kick.

While we waited for our table perched on stools by a picture window I kept scoping dishes to figure out what would pass muster. Anything I saw with yellow cheese I dismissed. Mexicali is the capital of Baja California and Baja cooking is very bright, clean and tasty. B. and I decided to get fish tacos, Baja style (capeados, a form of battered flash frying for the fish, topped with pickled cabbage and a spicy guacamole served on a corn tortilla). For a starter, I was happy to see that the menu did have Chicken Wings, at least for the night, a special called Gloria's Smokey Alitas. The tacos were good, a bit on the greasier side for the fish, but with a great crunch thanks to the cabbage and in need of absolutely no seasoning. The chicken wings were spectacular - I am sorry not to see them on the regular menu. The wings were marinated in a tomatillo sauce (small green tomatoes mixed with green chiles and onions) and an ancho chile, which gave them an incredible smoke. They came with a jalapeno sour cream - I couldn't taste any jalapeno but was thrilled to see cilantro and onions, chopped and diced, mixed into the cream. This is the traditional fresh garnish of most street tacos and for me a surefire sign that it's namesake was either a Mexican woman or a rather inspired muse. I've never had wings like that - a depth of flavor and texture, cold upon almost scalding, smokey on fresh, a truly great and complex starter that hit the spot and even made me a bit homesick.

2933 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia
Mexicali Blues on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Erin S. said...

Sounds like a decent spot--I will have to check it out.