Lauren Murphy | Asst. Photo EditorSpice Rack
Date with destiny: Mall’s new Mexican restaurant is a cut above chain cuisine
For the average college student, 1 p.m. is early for a Sunday. The pleasure of waking up late for breakfast but just in time for lunch is the brilliance that is brunch. But if I’m heading into civilization after a long weekend, I like some kind of twist to my brunch experience to quiet the voice in my head saying, “I could just make eggs in my PJs.”
Luckily, Destiny USA’s new addition includes Cantina Laredo, a modern Mexican chain restaurant and the first location to open in New York. It also has Sunday brunch.
As my dining partners and I settled into our table, a generous bowl of tortilla chips and two different salsas instantly appeared before us. We happily munched while we perused the menu.
We had trouble deciding what route we wanted to take with the menu. I was drawn to the idea of going tapas-style with a few appetizers, which listed an intriguing assortment of flavor combinations. But when our attentive waitress mentioned the complimentary drink that comes with the brunch entrees, she had us at “mimosas.” They were bubbly, refreshing and came in fancy champagne flutes.
Though the menu had its fair share of Mexican classics, like quesadillas and nachos, watching the Top Shelf Guacamole ($8.95) made in front of us was most appealing. We asked for ours to be extra spicy, but the heat didn’t hit until we chewed and swallowed each bite, leaving time for the smooth avocado, cilantro and tomato to work their magic.
There were also a few appetizers with flairs of other cultures. I was disappointed that the restaurant was out of my first choice: a Mexican take on sushi combining tuna, jalapeno, avocado and cream cheese that’s deep-fried with a chipotle aioli to top it off. I went with my second choice: the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($8.65). It blended soft Ahi Tuna with jicama slaw flavored like Ceviche with a lemon-lime kick, in small taco shells dotted with chipotle aioli. The real standout on the plate, though, was the pickled onion alongside. Eaten with a bite of the tacos and a spoonful of guacamole, it was a perfect mix.
Everything was a pretty big hit until the main courses arrived. The first mistake was presentation. The plates were shameful in two key ways: The grease and grit along the edges of each plate that are normally wiped down were so noticeable that it almost distracted from the fact that the plating was disproportioned and sloppy.
When it came to taste, Cantina’s flavors stood strong. My dining partner’s Chicken Fajita Omelet ($10.95) was oozing with gooey cheese and crunchy peppers enveloped in fluffy eggs. My other partner’s Migas Con Huevos ($8.95) was a scrambled egg mixture, juicy with savory bacon and jalapenos, but the eggs were almost nonexistent, their fluff chopped away into tiny slivers.
The tortilla chips could have been a saver texturally, but were soggy and chewy. My Crab Cakes Benedict ($11.95) suffered from the same issue of great tastes muddled by strange textures, which ultimately result from poor preparation.
The crab cakes were generous mounds of crab and breaded well, but weren’t crisp, possibly because they were smothered under the chipotle-wine hollandaise sauce. The poached eggs on top were bland, under-seasoned and overcooked to the point of being gummy.
Each plate’s saving grace was the soft red potatoes that accompanied each dish, simply dressed in black pepper and heavy cream. Many places get breakfast potatoes all wrong, but if this review was solely based on those potatoes, Cantina would have a perfect score.
Cantina is a definite step up from your average chain restaurant, blending fusion dishes with a well-staffed, attentive atmosphere that makes you forget you’re at a mall. Though it had a lot of strong supporting players to start, until it can get the main act together, Cantina Laredo’s brunch will not be where my Sundays are spent.
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