We just had a very nice meal at a new Mexican (not
Tex-Mex) restaurant behind the Ambassador Hotel on Zhongshan N. Rd. today. It was opened a couple months ago by a nice fellow from LA, Erik, but I haven’t seen anything on it on Forumosa or in the TaipeiTimes yet.
Erik bills it as contemporary Mexican cuisine, which I think means that he serves authentic Mexican food, while some dishes are his own inventions but within the realm of authentic Mexican flavors and techniques. For instance, his Cielo Chicken dish is cumin-marinated grilled chicken with chipotle chiles in adobo sauce topped with homemade sour cream, served on a masa bed with California avocados. The masa bed is his own idea, and it works well, but it’s authentic enough in effect, being an extension of the ‘sope’, if you know real Mexican food.
I didn’t see any of the hallmarks of cheap Tex-Mex – no cheap ground hamburger meat topped with cheap shredded cheese, no Cheez-Wiz on Doritos. Erik brings in his own authentic ingredients at considerable expense, such as many kinds of Mexican chiles, masa harina and tortillas, real limes and avocados (not the local crap), and real Mexican vanilla for the flan – and you can taste the difference.
When you tuck into a dish with chiles as an ingredient, like these beef enchiladas, you’re going to get the real warmth and breadth of flavor of good Mexican chiles, with a pleasant, lingering aftertaste, rather than the simple addition of the hottest chiles or sauces for two-dimensional heat.
Mexican chiles are all about flavor, and may or may not be about heat. That's something Tex-Mex needs to learn.
There are a lot of things to like about Mayan Grill’s menu and service. The staff were very polite and professional on the phone in taking our reservation despite endless hemming, hawing and changes and late arrival on our part. There were no problems getting extra chairs for the baby and our stuff. Water was available on request. The bathrooms were clean and had soap and towels. Service was reasonably prompt (the place was not packed, at mid afternoon) and very professional and friendly. The owner, a very likeable chap, was very receptive to constructive feedback, and seemed eager to keep quality high.
I like the fact that their drinks are made from freshly squeezed juices, and real lime is available for Mayan lime soda and margaritas.
I like that fact that you can ask for alterations to dishes. Want spicier? No cilantro? Milder? Just ask. I like the fact that good quality corn tortillas (better than the ones you can buy frozen locally) are available for many dishes, not just flour tortillas, and that fresh, hand-made corn tortillas are also available.
I like the fact that the menu included more than the obligatory antojitos (meaning tacos, flautas, quesadillas etc.), not that there’s anything wrong with those if they’re done well, and these were. The chips were freshly fried and the salsa freshly made and well balanced. The mild red sauce we ordered for the chips was also appropriately mild. Chips and salsa weren’t overpriced, at about NT$50 each, nor were our drinks or soup. I think the tortilla soup was $115, or $145 with chicken added, for instance, which is reasonable.
In addition to antojitos, things like steak and fish (done Mexican style of course) and soups and desserts like flan are available, the way they are in a real Mexican restaurant.
Many dishes could be ordered with or without meat added, which is nice for vegetarians. Some would benefit from adding the meat IMO. If you get the quesadillos, which are made with a very mild white cheese, perhaps Monterey Jack, have them add the spicy beef (similar to chorizo). YUM.
I like the widespread use of chipotle and ancho chiles in the cooking, and cumin. Real tomatillos for the green sauces. Real Mexican vanilla.
You might wish to try the Tour de México assortment platter of small antojitos, including flautas, taquitos and quesadillas, to get a good sampling. There were four of each, just enough for our groupt to each get to try some.
The taquito filling (shredded beef) was very good, as was the ancho chile aftertaste from the flautas.
Dishes ranged widely in price, from $50 for salsa or chips to enchiladas in the upper 300 range, upper 600s for the Cielo Chicken and four figures for USDA prime done up in a special Mexican style. They have prime filet, ribeye and strip loin, and Erik’s description of how he marinates and cooks those left my mouth watering (I won’t spill any secrets here). Some of the dishes I simply have to go back to try include the pineapple salsa pork loin, churros and chocolate, tacos with Sonoran fish, and chilaquiles. Our bill came to about $750/person including service charge, and we had (between four of us, with only moderate appetites this afternoon) non-alcoholic drinks (one each), the Tour of Mexico appetizer assortment (shared), salsa and chips with extra salsa (shared), one soup, one main dish of beef enchiladas (shared), one Cielo chicken (shared), and flan (one each). You should budget more than that if each person is having their own main dish and/or alcoholic beverages or if a big eater.
I wouldn’t say every dish was spot on
perfect, but they were all very good, and my complaints very minor. The taquitos and chips were ever so slightly oilier than I would prefer, but Erik assured me that this would be remedied shortly with a change in the type of tortilla used. If you have the Cielo chicken, I recommend having a bit of each ingredient (the masa base, chicken, toppings and avocado) in each bite. It's delicious that way, but if you just get a small piece of chicken and a large chunk of the chile toppings the flavor is a bit overpowering. The tortilla soup needed more salt– no problem, they brought me some. The quesadillas needed to be browned a bit more to really bring out the right flavor – no problem, Erik will ensure they are better going forward. I do think the flan was too sweet, but then again, that’s a matter of personal taste. The xiaojie next to me thought it was perfect, and so does Erik. Perhaps if they serve the caramel sauce on the side in a tiny pitcher in the future, each diner can add just as much as desired. I mentioned this to Erik and he seemed open to the idea. I will say that the flan itself was the good stuff, rich, creamy, fragrant, made with the best ingredients, and the Mexican vanilla in it clearly came through.
Mexican beers are available, like Bohemia Clásica, Modelo Especial, Sol and of course Corona Extra. Margaritas and other drinks are made from freshly squeezed juices. Sangria is available by the glass or pitcher.
They have an open restaurant area with no minimum charge on 1F, and VIP rooms with a minimum charge on 2F. Open 11:30 to 23:00 daily (closed Mondays)
Address: No. 6, Lane 65, Zhongshan N. Rd. Sec. 2, Táibĕi
Phone: 2511-6292; reservations are advisable, by phone or at email@example.com
To get there: Heading north on Zhongshan, you’ll pass the Ambassador Hotel on the right as you approach Minsheng W. Rd.; turn right into Lane 65 after the hotel and before Minsheng, then Mayan Grill is on your right.
(under construction, but it has a map and contact info)