BY MARTHA JEONG
After reservations at one of my favorite restaurants in Boston fell through on Saturday night, we decided to follow in the footsteps of many satisfied Cambrigians who had applauded the delectable Ole Mexican Grill in Inman Square. Winner of Best of Boston 2000, 2003, and 2005 for “Best Mexican” and Boston’s Best 2000, 2002 for “Best Mexican” food by Improper Bostonian, it seemed to be that we were going to be in good hands. Unfortunately, there are times when seemingly very popular consensus can steer you the wrong way. In my three years in Boston, this was probably the worst meal I’ve ever eaten, or at least the most disappointing considering all of the hyped expectations.
Starting with the caveat that I’m not an expert on the authenticity and subtleties of how cuisine from the Veracruz and Oaxaca regions of Mexico should taste, my disappointments were more concerned with how fresh food should taste in general, regardless of what region of the world its from and how much it costs.
As far as upscale Mexican restaurants in the states, I’ve tried my hand at several in New York City including Mexican Mama, Rosa Mexicano, Pamplona, but my favorite has to be the highly acclaimed, and rightly so, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. Both are creations of Chef Rick Bayless, whose restaurants were awarded more praise than I could possibly list; both were honored as finalists for the 2001 James Beard Awards, which is as high as any praise in the food world extends. I also spent five months living with a local family near the fishing village of Zihuatanejo, helping run a bed and breakfast and feasting on the most delicious food day after day. Dona A. joked with me that the B&B actually started as a restaurant, but the patrons were so overwhelmed with the wonders of the food, they all wanted to stay overnight to see what breakfast would be like and hence the birth of the B&B.
Like I said, I wasn’t expecting Chef Bayless or my wonderful Dona A. in the kitchen on Saturday night at Ole, but I was expecting food a little more enjoyable to swallow then the horrendous renditions we were served. The uninspiring chicken taquitos appetizer came out on a little bed of iceberg lettuce and sour cream, served with a spoonful of raspberry sauce, with the consistency and taste of children’s cough syrup. The chicken was flavorless; the sauce was flavorful, but not in a good way, and I have no idea why those two items were paired together. After a few bites shared in silence, I picked up one half of the taquito with my fork and asked my dining companion: “Do you know what this reminds me of?” to which he replied without hesitation, “Price Club.” As much as I would like to think that my boyfriend and I are connected to each other by some weird telepathy vibes, the taquitos were just too oddly familiar to the frozen value packs of taquitos sampled out at Price Club and eaten as after school snacks. Food memories that send you back to childhood days are usually nice, but not this one.
Thinking perhaps we had just picked a bad appetizer, we awaited hopefully for our main courses. I ordered one of the restaurant’s house specialties, Costillas de Puerco, slow cooked pork barbeque ribs with chile ancho peanut glaze and mashed potatoes. Having eaten quite a bit of BBQ back in my days in Houston, I know what ribs taste like when you order them hot at the restaurant versus what they taste like the next day when you reheat the leftovers. I’m not sure why a restaurant would reheat their specialty dish to a customer on a weekend evening at prime dining hours, but my costillas which came out piping hot only to cool off in a few minutes, displayed the clear sign of being reheated. The ribs were so densely fatty that I had to work my surgical skills to eat them, and once the heat left the ribs, the gamey taste of the meat was alarming.
The rib eye steak was also equally unpleasant; at $26 a dish, it was the most expensive entrée on the dinner menu and we were utterly convinced the steak was un-marinated, because it had no taste and no accompanying sauce. I’m a proponent of subtlety in food and I don’t need powerful sauces dribbling off my plate to be satisfied, but clearly something was missing here. On the side were some sliced up potatoes that made the dish look like diner food, an aluminum foil cupcake wrapper of guacamole and one small enchilada that tasted like it was cold and confused. There was some un-melted rather tasteless cheese shredded up in the center, topped with mole sauce. I’m a fan of good mole, but somehow it didn’t quite mesh with the other tastes. And what was one to do with the guacamole? It tasted fine but it didn’t go with the sweet mole enchilada or the home fries-like side dish, perhaps we were supposed to smear it on the meat? It was like eating a plate of multiple personalities that didn’t like each other very much to begin with.
The only thing upscale about Ole Mexican Grill is the price. With so many other good dining options in Inman Square, I’m still confused as to what the fuss is all about. For gourmet Mexican, you’re much better off with Tu y Yo Mexican Fonda in nearby Somerville (858 Broadway; Tel: (617) 623-5411).
Rating: Zero stars.