A damned bad case of the Mexicali blues.

Welcome back!  Seems an eon since my last New York City review – this holiday season really was ridiculous for me.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I ate about three meals last week in restaurants that were overpriced and under-delicious – fortunately, I wasn’t paying, but it definitely made me yearn to be back in the restaurant-review saddle.

Unfortunately, my 2006 restauranting got off to a very bad start last night – Mexicali, on Court St. between Atlantic and Pacific, is easily the worst place I’ve eaten in recent memory, and a strong contender for worst ever.  What gives, you ask?  Well…

Let’s flash back to New Year’s Day.  In the evening hours, with the weather being pitiful and my extreme exhaustion making it hard to sit up straight, my roommate and I ransacked our cache of takeout menus.  We could only come up with $17 between us, so our options were somewhat limited.  After calling a few places that were closed, including Mexicali, we settled on Bombay Dream on Smith St.  I had, however, noticed the appearance of mole poblano and pipian on Mexicali’s menu, and resolved to sample both at my earliest convenience.

As it turns out, we were fortunate that Mexicali was closed on the 1st – we might have otherwise starved to death.  Arriving with high hopes, I took a table in the front and watched the rather boring streetscape.  Chips and salsa arrived, and I had what I thought to be a few too many nearly-stale chips (fueled by a salsa that only burned when you stopped eating it – this kind of thing is designed, I think, to sell more beer).  I ordered a dual helping of chile relleno (stuffed green chile peppers), a dish I’ve rarely seen on Mexican menus east of Utah.  Maybe the fact that the chiles were supposedly slathered in mole verde and mole poblano should have been my first clue to stay away, but I guess I was out of practice.  I also ordered a side of the pipian sauce to try.

I can say without hesitation that, if I was surprised to see chile rellenos on the menu, the chef must have been doubly or trebly surprised to see them ordered – they came out with the coating (which I assume was an attempt at pan or deep frying) roughly the texture of driftwood, and without the pleasant salty taste.  I mean, this stuff tasted like shit.  Picking it off, I managed to salvage some of the chiles, which didn’t seem very stuffed, but were at least somewhat edible.

I scraped the mole poblano into the beans (after picking off the melted cheese) – it was actually the best thing I was served, though it was more chocolate than spice, and the sesame seeds were raw and carelessly strewn on top, rather than toasted and stewed.  I might have done the same with the mole verde, except that it was basically ruined by a dollop of sour cream plopped on top, and from what I could tell, not very good to begin with.

The pipian was equally disappointing.  It arrived a pallid shade of yellow, displaying none of the telltale bright green hue of crushed pumpkin seed.  It tasted like the inside of a can – acid and iron-flavored.  I scooped it onto my rice and tried to make the best of it, which was probably a mistake.  I finished the last few chips off with as much salsa as I could manage, hoping that the painful spiciness would wash my taste buds and memory of the awful-tasting meal.

I was dispirited afterwards – I wandered into the Korean bodega that my roommate and I call ‘Munchie Heaven’ and bought two pints of Double Rainbow Soy Cream.  There is some truth to the rumor that I briefly considered pairing the dessert with a box of tissues and a weepy movie.  The Mexicali blues are not to be trifled with, much like the food itself.


Filed under NYC

5 responses to “A damned bad case of the Mexicali blues.

  1. Anonymous

    I’m surprised at your comment about Chili Rellenos being scarce in the Northeast. I’ve lived in New York City, Boston and Woodstock, NY and grew up in Dutchess County and I can say that I’ve enjoyed that dish on numerous occassions across 35 years of eating in all these locations. In Brooklyn you can try Pacifico on Pacific and Court, both Mescal’s locations on 5th Ave, that place on 7th and 1st, and Tacos Nuevos Mexicos on 5th Ave at 14th. This is to say nothing of Sunset Park. In Manhattan you can get them at a multitude of places. They are hardly scarce. Maybe an excursion to find the best of them would be a nice entry?

  2. Had To Move

    Holy cripes, thanks for the warning, I’ll stay clear of this place during my wanderings on Court Street.

  3. In defense of Mexicali, we moved from Austin, Texas last year and I want to say that, while Mexicali isn’t perfect, it is damn close to authentic TexMex. The salsa is spicy and flavorful (spicy as it should be) and the chips have always been warm, fresh, and crispy. They actually have nopalitos on the menu and their verde sauce has the right balance of tomatillo and lime.Try it again …

  4. Actually, we ate here and it was excellent! Going back tonight.

  5. Anonymous

    I love Mexicali! It’s delicious and unpretentious Tex Mex comfort food.

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