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Victim of Ambition
Forced to leave a scuzzy shopping strip earmarked for gentrification, the former Cortes Deli -- now called the Cortes Restaurant -- has embraced the zeitgeist and done some gentrifying of its own. Its new location at 404 Shepherd boasts a leaded-glass door, a bar, carpets and, of all things, potted plants. What is the world coming to? To someone like me, who prized the Deli for its aggressive lack of style, the new quarters were something of a shock. I liked the old place, with its Formica tables and Naugahyde chairs. And not because it thumbed its nose at fashion. The deli was more perverse than that. It seemed not to know there was such a thing. And the waiters! Always so preoccupied. To see them, you'd think they were members of the Federal Reserve Board, or delegates to the U.N. about to cast an important vote. All part of the deli's charm. That and watching the lawyers who filled the place. Most of them thought they were slumming.

Ah, but time changes everything. It has long been apparent that the Cortes aspired to something grander. Some time back, it opened an upscale offshoot on Alabama that never found its stride and would die a slow death. But no one doubted the Cortes would try again. Now it has.

The menu at the Cortes Restaurant is more elaborate, boasting such things as pechuga de pollo and fajita scramble (whatever that is). And there are other changes: The waiters push daily specials, your plate is whisked away the moment you finish eating and there's a man whose job it is to tip up your water glass. In an ordinary restaurant, you expect such things. Not in the Cortes, though. Here it's positively unnerving.

I wish the Cortes well. The food is good and the prices moderate, and I will drop by from time to time. But the place isn't funky anymore. It's unctuous now; a bit pretentious. Imagine! The Cortes assuming airs and graces! Oh, unhappy day. But the news isn't all bad. Some things survived the move, one of them being that painting of four Mexican revolutionaries sitting on a cowcatcher. With their rifles raised and their bandoleers, you would think they'd look fierce. But they don't at all. These men, it's clear, have no stomach for war. It's their wives they're thinking of, and their children, and evenings under the stars singing "Dos Arbolitos" and "El Sol Que Tu Eres." I hope all four of them made it home.

-- Eric Lawlor

Cortes Restaurant, 404 Shepherd, 880-4295.

 
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