Saturday, June 20, 2009
mexican: EL GALLO
No. 42, Chung Shan North Road, Sec. 7,
hours: M-F 11:30 AM to 3 PM; 5:30 PM to 10PM
Sat/Sun 11AM to 3PM; 5PM to 11PM
Kid friendliness: high chairs and kid menus available.
Visit reviewed: 11/2/2008
Any time I hear about a new Mexican restaurant in town, I think to myself, nah, can't be good, don't want to get my hopes up. Then I drool over any decent review, forums about good experiences, pictures and the more time passes, I think the more my expectations build and get too high. It took me awhile to get to El Gallo from when I first heard about it, as it's in Tianmu which is far for me, and took me awhile to write up and post this review (from when I first started it over 8 months ago), but I'm sure it will still be new to some of you.
El Gallo is definitely a cute, little sit down restaurant that's elegantly festive, with a decent sized English or Chinese menu that include appetizers and main dishes that are more than just tacos and burritos, with dishes like Chile Colorado Pork Stew or Chile Rellenos Stuffed Bell Peppers.
They even offer a weekend brunch.
I was extremely excited about the enchiladas, as that is one of my favorite dishes back home and the guacamole. My love and familiarity with Mexican food is from Southern California, probably starting with family dinners at neighborhood restaurant El Paso Cantina in Torrance when I was a kid with their warm crispy chips and sweet, spicy salsa- continuing to discovering places like the awesome Mexican/Salvadorian Gloria's Cafe on Venice. In LA, often you get huge hot plates with pools of refried beans and rice almost overwhelming the enchiladas or chimichangas.
I've been to hole in the walls, taco stands, sit down family restaurants and chains, so I'm open to the variations that exist. With El Gallo having a Mexican chef/owner, I thought I'd have something that reminded me of home. But then a number of "different than my expectations" happened.
"Different than my expectations" number one was when the guacamole (NT$150) came and we tasted it, we could tell it was made with Taiwan avocados (which was confirmed when I asked the waitress). Taiwan avocados are just more stringy and less sweet and creamy than Haas avocados. While I know that Haas avocados are expensive here and not always in season, if I'm paying NT$150 for a tiny bowl of guacamole, then I want the real deal, or don't serve it. Or at least the waitress to ask "it's made with Taiwan avocados, is that ok?" But it was my fault for not asking.
"Different than my expectations" number two was that when the carnitas (NT$450) (or roasted pork) came they weren't spiced, browned and shredded. The flavors of the dish was very light. But this wasn't a big deal- it was still tender and nothing a little salsa couldn't fix.
But "different than my expectations" number three when I bit into my enchiladas (NT$380) was the deal-breaker. The texture of the corn tortillas was chewy rather than soft and the sauce was like a thick salsa and I realized that the dish wasn't piping hot and it wasn't baked.
And wait, there wasn't any melted cheese anywhere.
I took a few more bites to convince myself that it had just been too long since I had an enchilada, but the textures, flavors and elements just didn't add up to be what I was craving. I even asked "aren't enchiladas usually baked?" and they said "no, they were pan fried and then served with sauce."
Huh. I've never had them not baked.
That night, I googled up a storm, extremely confused and I guess in some parts of Mexico that that IS how enchiladas are served? So perhaps El Gallo is a bit too authentic for me and people who are expecting Mexican American versions of Mexican food. Maybe it's sort of like people who come back to Taiwan and wonder where their favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant's beef and broccoli or moo shu pork went? Even if we eat the original versions, our favorites are the incarnations that we've grown to love, a sort of comfort food that reminds us of home.
After that, I was a bit too disappointed to enjoy the rest of the food, which was decent, but I had really hoped for baked, cheesy enchiladas to eat. I think I might have been okay if I had ordered a burrito or tacos, as their rice and beans were not bad, although sort of randomly served. Some dishes, like mine, came with both. Others came with only one or the other.
There was a very spicy shrimp dish or Camarones a la Diabla... (NT$380)
and chicken fajitas (NT$450)...
and a kid's meal which had 1/2 a quesadilla and rice...
and a strawberry margarita.
If I lived in the neighborhood, I'd definitely give them some more tries with other items on the menu, like the Carnitas Tamales or the Mexico City Steak, and I think they have a weekday lunch special, but they are just too far for me to make the trek without a special occasion.