POSTED ON JUNE 16, 2010:
Top of the "Casa"
Casa Laredo offers beautiful surroundings and tasty offerings
KENNETH M. RUGGIANO
We as Tulsans are lucky to have the beautiful, ornate buildings available to us in our downtown area. It is a charming urban area and worth taking the time to really observe.
The architecture of this city is really outstanding, and we owe a lot to the forward-thinking folks of the early 20th Century who left us such a charming legacy.
The first thing you are struck by when you walk into Casa Laredo is how perfect the atmosphere of the old Adams Hotel building at Fourth and Cheyenne is for a Mexican restaurant.
Built in 1929 by Isaiah S. Mincks, the founder of the Mecca Coffee Company, it's brightly colored with shiny glazed Saltillo tiles everywhere. It is a beautiful building, both inside and out. Proprietor Guillermo Rojas couldn't have asked for a better setting when his lease ran out at 41st and Peoria.
We were cheerfully greeted at the door and seated immediately. It was not particularly busy, but we were there on a Tuesday evening -- traditionally a very slow time for the average restaurant.
There was a Tulsa Shock game going on at the BOK Center, and we were told that for nights when most events are going on in that arena, they run a two-hour wait at Casa Laredo. The same beautiful tile work we found in the lobby and on the steps leading to offices on floors above continued into the bar and dining room areas. You can get a pretty good idea of it from photos on the website, casalaredo.com.
A basket of warm, crispy and fresh chips and several dishes of house made salsa arrived seconds later. The salsa had a nice tomato flavor, a little bite and a wonderful undertone of cilantro -- one of my favorite flavors anywhere, anytime.
I asked our server what the house specialty of the appetizer menu was, and she named four of the eight or so appetizer offerings, and I figured out pretty quickly she didn't have much of an opinion. The only thing worse than steering a customer to a bad item, is not steering them anywhere at all, and I sensed a long night ahead. As a matter of fact, it got a bit better, but she was a tough audience, and I found myself working hard to bring her out of her shell.
At any rate, we opted for the Argentinean Style Empanadas. I suggest one cheese, one chicken and one beef, so you can sample them all. The beef and chicken were excellent, the cheese was, well ... cheese. It could have used a bit of spice to my taste. They were all wrapped in nice short dough, flash fried and golden brown.
My wife thought they might be a frozen product, but I saw enough irregularity in the finished product to suspect they were made in-house. Either way, they weren't bad. They were served with a side plate of shredded lettuce, sour cream and a pico de gallo (that was way too sweet for both of us, and she has a sweet tooth). My suspicion was they use tomato juice for extra liquid, and it is just too sweet for the job at hand.
My wife ordered the Shrimp Fajita plate, and after a minute or so of trying to order it for her in Spanish, my server finally put me out of my misery and told me I had it backwards. After 15 years, my wife just shakes her head.
I went for the Chili Verde plate, and yes I know chili verde is already the Spanish translation, so I was safe. I ordered the dinner, which comes with rice, beans and tortillas as well as a salad. Priced at $8.50, it was a bargain.
The salad was a disappointment. A bowl of shredded iceberg, a small dish of salsa, and some sour cream (that I stole from the set-up plate for my wife's fajitas along with a lime wedge) and some salt and pepper was all the dressing I could pull together on the spot.
The shrimp were exactly as promised. Twelve large shrimp, probably a half pound or more, with tons of sautéed peppers and onions, three tortillas, a bit crusty around the edges, and a side of so-so rice. The shrimp were marinated and tasty and nicely cooked, not overdone. That's a trick for a line cook when they continue cooking on those sizzler platters all the way to the table. It's easy for them to get rubbery.
I am reminded of an old friend and restaurant manager from many years past who gave me my first memorable lesson on marketing. He said that fajitas were not about the meat and peppers, they were all about selling the sizzle. And he was right. We always squeezed a lime over the hot metal platter before sending it out to the dining room, and we knew that all that smoke and sizzle in the dining room would sell more. He would have the tallest waiter he could grab carry the tray over his head throughout the dining room, and within five or 10 minutes, we would get a dozen or so orders just from what he called the "sizzle factor." It worked every time.
It may be that I have just seen too much authentic Mexican food, but I am always a bit put off by a plate of three different brownish things running together with the same cheese melted on all of them. Authentic Mexican food does not look like that and for good reason: It's not particularly appetizing.
With celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay showing us what Southwest and Mexican cuisine can look like, I am always surprised when a plate is put in front of me looking this way. It's just not particularly creative or visually appealing.
Refried beans, if they MUST go on the plate, don't have to be runny, though these did at least have some bean texture in it, and Spanish rice doesn't have to be plain red rice with little flavor and visual texture. Unfortunately, that is pretty much what I received. It wasn't terrible, but to me the side show should be as exciting as the big top. It's attention to detail that makes the difference.
A live guitarist played during dinner and was quite talented and interacted well with the audience. At one point, I noticed him covering the Beatles tune "Something," I think with a few of his own lyrics. Did George Harrison say "Something in the way she stirs her sala-a-a-a-d?" Or did he make that up because he was watching a lady at the table in front of him eat her salad?
I almost never order dessert, but several items looked good, such as a tequila Lime Pie and a Tres Leches Cake. Unfortunately, neither of them is available anymore. According to our server, the lady they bought them from is no longer in business.
I went for the standby, a Flan. I have mentioned before, that flan is a custard and is as much about the texture on the tongue as the taste. It must be cooked in a very low oven, in a water bath, and not over cooked. I am sorry to say this was everything a flan should not be.
It was dark from being overdone. Not just on the outside, but all the way through. The egg protein was completely curdled, so it resembled scrambled eggs more than custard, and it was bitter from being overcooked plus the caramel had gone watery as well. I know it's a tough call when you have already told a customer half your dessert menu is no longer in existence, but that should have never made it to the table.
Casa Laredo Latin Grill and Tequila Bar
403 S. Cheyenne
Monday through Saturday 11am--9pm
Food *** ?
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A30823