Sunday, October 11, 2009
When Lauren and Andy called me, I was heading out to lunch at (gag) Applebee's with a friend after drooling over some extremely out-of-my-price-range custom audio gear at Sound Investments. They wanted to do a review, and I thought... good. Anything to redeem the day after eating at Applebee's. Seriously. Anything. Someone could have clocked me in the puss with a garden spade, and I think I'd have gone to bed laughing about it. I'm not sure there's any food experience more unpleasant than Applebee's. Particularly after seeing Waiting...
So, we decided on the Arriba Lounge, located very conveniently off of 41/45 and Hampton, on 124th St. in Butler.
Yeah, I kind of forgot that the Village of Butler even existed. Sorry to our three readers in Butler. It's just so easy to overlook... I mean, outside of Butler Skateland, is there anything really spectacular about the Land Time Forgot?
Well, we were going to find out. Arriba Lounge is situated in two what appear to be turn-of-the-century storefront/apartment combos, linked by a small, aftermarket hallway. One side is the what I would assume they consider the "Lounge" portion, the other is the dining room. And what a dining room it is!
Cochineal walls, a fabulous pressed tin ceiling, and a number of south-of-the-border wallhangings contribute to the, "Hey, Gringo, This is a Mexican Restaurant" quotient, which always makes me a little queasy. Especially the sombreros hanging above the service area painted to look like a decrepit Spanish Mission. BONG! SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY! What? Restaurant review? Oh, right...
So, I got there late (no surprise), and Andy and Lauren had decided to tuck into the offerings of three (3) salsas and homemade chips, just in case I didn't show up.
So, we had a mild Pico, milder still Salsa Verde, and an apparently gawd-awful hot devil's breath with Habañero chili. The fresh pico was a nice blend with the super-crunchy homemade chips, but the verde had a sort of off-flavor to it. I usually expect tomatillos to have a bit of an acidic bite to them, but this wasn't so acidic... almost had a sort of metallic taste to it. We also ordered a large order of their guac, which came highly recommended by our server:
I couldn't help but notice that our large guac came in the same plastic dessert dish that the salsas came in. If that was a large, what was the small? Tucking in right away, the smooth buttery texture of the avocado gave room to a very strong aroma of garlic. I was encouraged, but that encouragement sort of fell short. Where I expected a little salt, a little heat, a little acid, I got... garlic. Even the flavor of the avocado itself was sort of underwhelming. Luckily, the Eating Milwaukee staff is a resourceful bunch: there was slices of lime on our glasses of soda!
I was elected to do the lime squeezing, but much to my chagrin, our limes were the new Florida Hybrid Juiceless™ brand. Oh, the humanity! Maybe three drops of lime juice later, and it was on to plan 'B': salt. Surely the miniature plastic Corona bottle filled with salt would help. Well, it did, a bit. But then I had a brainstorm: what if we mix in a little of the salsa verde? Brilliant! Except now, instead of a custard cup of garlicky, bland guac, we had a custard cup of salty, garlicky, metallic guac. So much for Guacamole bliss...
Andy ordered the Enchiladas Suizas with steak and Chorizo:
Lauren, the Combo Platter (Taco, tostada, and enchilada):
And I ordered the house special Fajitas de Camarones:
I was immediately excited by the description of my dish on the menu: shrimp cooked with pineapple, bacon, bell peppers and onions. Oooh! Pineapple, bacon and shrimp! This was the sort of food I could get behind.
However, when the cast-iron skillet arrived, I was hard pressed to see any pineapple or bacon anywhere. I did, however, see a mound of shrimp, onions, and peppers, studded with bits of chopped garlic. Okay, I thought, maybe I'm just not seeing the pineapple and bacon 'cause it's tucked under this gigantic mountain of shrimp. I'm sure I'll find it.
Well, try as I might, I couldn't find a single bit of bacon or slice of pineapple. So, unless the shrimp were cooked with said ingredients and then removed, I just can't find any explanation other than the recipe got changed and the menu didn't. I was a little disappointed. Add to that the gigantic pool of shrimp-juice at the bottom of the skllet, and the soggy, steamed texture of the veggies, and this was starting to shape up into a sub-par dinner. I truly believe the only saving grace was the large portion size... which in and of itself was a mixed blessing, in that I got to experience that same sense of disappointment tonight again when I had my leftovers.
Andy and Lauren seemed to echo my sentiments: good enough food, but just something missing. What was it? None of us were sure. I got to taste Andy's chorizo, which was spicy, crumbly and greasy... all of the wonderful things about chorizo. But it still lacked a certain "pop": that one aspect that takes technically sound and well-prepared food and transports it to a whole-body experience. For more on food like that, please read last week's review on Tandoor.
Was the Arriba Lounge a bust? No, I don't think so. We got more than our money's worth in portions, but always felt like we were only getting half the story from the kitchen. Maybe someone was having a bad day. Maybe one of the cooks called in sick. Who knows. But I truly believe that there's greatness lurking in Arriba's menu, they just have a little bit of tightening up to do.
Is it possible for a Mexican restaurant to try too hard? Yes, yes it is. Ask Chi-chi's. Ignore the sombreros hanging on the walls. They're just there waiting for the next installment of Nacho Libre to be filmed.
Big, big plates of food. Hot, and not stingy with the proteins, either. Most dinners range from $8-$15
We ran out of chips a little too often, and by the time we got more, we had our entrées. Not a big beef, I know, but when we go out to eat, timing is everything.
The Food: C+
And it does hurt me to not give a glowing grade, but I just can't in good conscience shout from the hilltops about this one. You're better off with Taco Thursday's at Grebe's. Now that's a value!
Arriba's Restaurant and Lounge
4753 North 124th Street
Butler, WI 53007