Bernardo Versus the Volcano

Can a graduate of Cafe Annie find true happiness at Senor Frog's?

Other Mexican standards meet with varying degrees of success. On the plus side are straight-ahead carnitas, the deep-fried chunks of pork crusty outside, tender (mostly) within. They make a nice tortilla-wrapped package with meticulously composed pico de gallo that is far superior to most restaurant versions. I missed the punchy tomatillo sauce that Ninfa's furnishes with their carnitas, but Senor Frog's has a good green sauce back in the kitchen. It wouldn't hurt to ask.

On the minus side, the important-sounding garlic shrimp quesadilla turns out to be a plain little cheese-filled half moon cowering under a mound of unseasoned sauteed onions and not-so-garlicky grilled shrimp. Not much advertised pasilla chile flavor; not much essential quesadilla-ness, either. And not much to energize a gentle chicken-and-vegetable soup of the day, although it would make a fine cure-all for someone feeling puny. The restaurant's borracho beans, however, could hold their heads up anywhere in town.

The margaritas that lubricate Senor Frog's target audience are very decent ones that profit immeasurably from fresh lime. Lurking among the lily-gilding fresh-fruit versions is a surprising margarita made with the tart pulp of the tamarind pod; it's a shade too sweet, but tamarind and tequila seem made for each other.

Whether Bernardo Orozco and Senor Frog's are made for each other remains to be seen. The restaurant, and this city, are lucky to have him around. Now if only management will give him room to work -- and give his ideas a fighting chance to catch on.

Senor Frog's, 5016 Westheimer, 871-1616.

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