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Downtown Mexican Food: Cielo Mexican Bistro

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Although I'm often skeptical of Mexican food that bills itself as "modern," I recently found myself downtown, hungry and craving fajitas. It was late enough on a Saturday that many of the restaurants were already closed, so I was pleased to discover that the kitchen at Cielo Mexican Bistro (300 Main St.) was sill up and running. After spending half an hour trying to avoid the $10 parking fee everyone was trying to push on club-goers, I finally found a spot and went in. Perhaps I should have taken into consideration that only one other table was occupied an hour before closing...and they were really just drinking margaritas.

My dining companion and I settled on the potato fritters with sweet onion chutney aioli for a starter, and the shrimp tamales and beef fajita tacos al carbon as main courses. We added grilled onions and shredded cheese to the tacos al carbon. The chips and salsa we consumed while waiting were quite good, with thick-cut corn tortilla chips and fiery salsa. The potato fritters arrived five to a platter and steaming hot. They were cheesy little potato balls that were perhaps a bit oversalted, but I enjoy that in a potato dish.

Dinner did not live up to the app. The guacamole on our plates was turning brown, and the overall presentation looked rushed and slopped together. Nothing appeared to be particularly fresh or cared for. I was really looking forward to the homemade shrimp tamales topped with tomatillo cilantro sauce. I guess they weren't the thing to order, though, especially later at night. The masa had dried out, and the shrimp tasted fishy. I had to ask the waitress for my accompanying sauce, and she did a thorough plate inspection, as though I were stashing the extra sauce in a hidden corner. There was no rice as promised, and when I asked for it, she denied the dish was supposed to be served with rice. I was utterly disappointed, and my only hope was that the smelly shrimp wouldn't make me ill later. The beef fajita tacos al carbon were slightly better, but still uninspired and not worth eating again.

For some reason, I was tempted to order dessert, but when I tried, I was told that I could take one to go if I wanted. It was late, but I'd arrived a full hour before closing time. Not okay. While Cielo is not terribly expensive, our bill was about $50 without drinks. I felt that paying that much for a Mexican food meal entitled me to not being cheated out of food or rushed out of a restaurant. I've spoken to people who have had much better experiences at Cielo, so this might have been my own bad luck or timing, but regardless, I won't be heading back any time soon.

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