Feast or Famine

I can count on one hand the number of times Freya and I have been out to eat in the last year. That’s why it seems odd to be posting a second restaurant review this week. It’s true though, just two days after our trip to the Barn Brasserie we found ourselves at another restaurant.
It all started innocently enough. My mother-in-law took the week off and as we had booked Friday off as well, we had all decided to go out to a meal together. What Freya and her mom didn’t know was that I had also planned on taking Freya out for our anniversary on Wednesday.
I dislike writing restaurant reviews just as much as you dislike reading them, but it was either this or you get an article about my latest food obsession – smoothies! Fun and tasty, but hardly worth posting about. I will try to make this review seem fun and tasty as well.
Our collective love of Mexican food is no secret. ((We have alluded to it on several occasions and, of course, there’s the post I wrote some time back.) I have also been pestered by a great family friend and her jerk of a husband to write about the Mexican dinner party we threw for them two weeks back. I’ll get around to it!) So going to Chimichanga in Braintree seemed like the obvious choice. At least you would think so.
Chimichanga has been around for quite a while now. I don’t remember exactly when it opened, but it was at least two years ago. And yet this was our first visit. You see, I have been severely disappointed by any culinary experience in a British restaurant that’s prefaced with the word Mexican. I have maintained optimism time and time again only to be frustrated and angered after being served nachos and “Mexican Spring Rolls” with Thai sweet chilli dipping sauce on the side!? Maybe they think this is FUSION cooking, but the juxtaposition is as ridiculous as the teeth on a musk deer. So I’ve avoided Chimichanga like the plague since its’ opening. Today I’ve had to explain away two years of regret as my dining experience was very good, for the most part.
Upon entering the dining room, Freya, her mother, and I all remarked at how nice the atmosphere was. The décor trying to evoke the feelings of “just barely north of the border” cantina one might find in Arizona without going over the top. I was disappointed to see no cacti, but there were the typical depersonalised sculptures of nameless Aztec gods (I would have preferred Xochipilli-Machuilochiti, but what can you do). The music was equally soothing and bordering on the appropriate.
Browsing the menu, I found the usual suspects. The Mexican spring roll was there as were Chimi Chips (French Fries sprinkled with chilli powder), but what jumped out immediately was the inclusion of peripherals such as pico de gallo (this was excellent) and black beans. That was my first indication that I might be in for a surprise. Seeing things like Capsicum Rellenos and the eponymous Chimichanga was very refreshing.
As we were deciding on our orders, we saw a neighbouring table being served and this only encouraged my enthusiasm. The fajitas were sizzling and the burritos looked substantial.
I ordered the beef burrito, Freya had the vegetarian Chimichanga, and her mother, the quintessential creature of habit, had the steak. We insisted she would enjoy the fajitas, but she didn’t want to get her hands messy.
Our food arrived quickly, appeared fresh, and was well presented. My burrito was as big as Coneys upper leg, but not quite as meaty. It was made with Monterey Jack cheese though which is still fairly obscure in this country. I was surprised to find some very nice and simple black beans under the burrito surrounded by a bed of well-seasoned rice. Freyas Chimichanga was nice as well, although it was not fried as long as I would have had it. It was stuffed full of a medley of fresh vegetables lightly sautéed. I prefer a Chimichanga made from chicken and tomatillos. She enjoyed it, but has said that next time she’ll go for the bean burrito. Freyas mom enjoyed her steak, served on a wooden cutting board, but complained there wasn’t any salad as accompaniment. The meat was very well seasoned, presumably with a carne asada rub.
For dessert Freya and I split a caramel and roasted banana cheesecake as there was nothing traditional on the menu. It had a nice thick base and wasn’t overly sweet. Freya said this was the best cheesecake she has ever had outside of homemade.
The key to good Mexican food is proper use of seasoning and precise preparatory methodology. Unfortunately, most places in England get this completely wrong thinking that spicy and salty are the same thing. The presentation usually suffers as well with food being brought to the table burned, sloppy, or floating in sauce. Chimichanga suffered from neither of these afflictions. And while the food was certainly more Tex than Mex, it’s at least a good start in a huge culinary vacuum. Oh, and next time Freyas mom says she’ll get the Fajitas!


Anonymous said...

I haven't had breakfast yet and your post is making me so hungry! Especially that last photo...

Ari (Baking and Books)

Ros said...

I think you're so right about how Mexican food here is awful on the whole. The only time I've ever had decent Mexican was when I was on holiday in the States. Here it's badly done and badly presented and almost.... fast-food like in their attitude perhaps?

Anyhow, I'm glad you found a good Mexican restaurant. That banana cheesecake looks absolutely heavenly.

Kathryn said...

I love that sort of food! I'd never heard of Chimichanga (the food) but it sounds really good. I love fajitas and burritos - Mmm. The cheesecake looks great (I don't like bananas, but even so). Lucky you two, out twice in three days and having good meals both times!


wheresmymind said...

Any restaurant that has statues involved is ok in my book!

Freya said...

I'm always hungry for Tex-Mex. Last night, as a snack, I made two smothered beef and bean burritos for me, two tacos for Freya, and seven enchiladas for my boss (He's a real pest!)
On our first wedding anniversary we went to Chelmsford in pursuit of a Chi-Chis restaurant somebody said was there. Chi-Chis is universally scorned as garbage in America, but we were desperate. When we got there, we were sad to see it had been turned into an overpriced tapas bar.
Chimichangas are great! The version I like has chicken and tomatillos seasoned with cumin, cayenne, and cinnamon wrapped tightly in a flour totilla and shallow fried until crispy. You can always stop by for fajitas and burritos and a chimichanga, just give us twenty minutes notice.
I would be completely lost without bananas.
How about a restaurant that lets you make your own statues while you wait for the food?