An Evening of Highs and Lows at Cuchara

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It's taken me a little while to visit Cuchara -- although I had heard good things since it opened, it never sprang to mind to try. I looked online prior to my visit and the menu had some interesting offerings, the Mula de nopal, grilled cactus filet stuffed with panela cheese, quesadillas de huitlacoche (corn with black mushroom) and the charalitos, deep-fried small lake fish were certainly interesting enough. I went into Cuchara with an open mind and a curious palate but left rather disappointed. I also confirmed that one should never go to a Mexican restaurant with a Mexican friend who can throw down tamales, posole, mole and everything else in the kitchen like it's nobody's business, because nothing will compare.

The space that Cuchara occupies is prime real estate. The huge windows that open up into the lively streets of Montrose make it a perfect spot to linger over cocktails. And Cuchara really uses this open feel. The beautiful, colorful murals, created by the owner's sister, that adorn the walls, the bar and the ceiling truly adds a sense of whimsy to the minimal, almost industrial aesthetics.

They do not take reservations but our party of seven didn't need them even though it was a Friday night. We got a coveted spot next to the window. We started with cocktails, most of them tequila-based and ordered appetizers. The chicharrones ($8) were your standard fried pork rinds but somehow were extra crispy without being at all greasy. The mousse de aguacate ($8), avocado mousse, was light and creamy and just slightly sweet, the queso fresco sprinkled on top added the perfect salt balance, I did note that the menu said the mousse came with tortilla fritters but I'm pretty sure what we got was just your run of the mill tortilla chips. And the deep-fried lake fish that I was anticipating were the best thing I had that night ($8), they too were perfectly fried, crispy but not greasy, a squeeze of lime and the smoky, just enough heat, salsa helped to brighten it up. I popped those suckers whole one after the other enjoying every last crunchy bite. Those at the table that were at first hesitant to try them, became quick converts.

My entree, however, wasn't nearly as satisfying - the mole verde ($16), green mole with pork tenderloin, was delivered to our table with each component, the mole, beans, rice and white corn puree, in its own miniature pot. The presentation was great but it did make it very obvious that you weren't getting much for what you were paying. The pork was extremely tender and fell apart as you picked up the pieces but the mole lacked flavor, I couldn't taste the cumin, and there was no herbal accents. It was just...creamy. The rice was also overcooked and the beans were nothing special.

While everyone had raved about the appetizers, no one was jumping up and down about their entrees. Dessert was also hit and miss, the tres leches was dry but the spicy chocolate stuffed fritters with Papantla vanilla ice cream was inspired. The whole evening was a series of highs and lows.

I'm not sure if I would return to Cuchara, there is just far too many places to get amazing Mexican food, my friend's kitchen for one, Lucy, you've ruined me for all Mexican restaurants.

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