Sitting next to the proud father of the chef and being lucky enough to be served by someone with an uncanny resemblance to new "It" girl, Zooey Deschanel, things look very promising at Grand Electric long before we sink our teeth into the 7 finger foods on the menu. But remember, its quality not quantity that counts. And quality is all you get here.
Okay maybe there are 11 items (counting all four varieties of tacos) and the one dessert. But we still end up ordering the entire menu, and as one
dish after the other is set forth, we realize that this kind of revelatory fare is something rare.
Two days after opening, the buzz is already out, with line-ups well outside the door. If you aren't there before 7 you may as well go home and watch Jeopardy with your Lean Cuisine. And how's this for a pleasant change: the excitement is almost entirely due to the thrill-inducing food, not to mention a list of bourbons longer than your arm, and of course the team: ex Black Hoofers Ian McGrenaghan, front-of-house fella, and chef Colin Tooke (former BH co-owner).
Dishes come out fast and furious, fresh and flawless. It's totally mind-blowing how such basic food items can be composed with such intricate detail. Much like County General, just down the road, Grand Electric will have you stomping your feet and pounding the table with excitement, oohing and ahhing with every bite. Perhaps I exaggerate a tad, but not much.
Tooke started playing around with idea of the dishes when he was still at the Hoof, so they were perfected over time. Take his guacamole and chips ($8), for instance. Perfectly simple and simply perfect. Dare I say perhaps better than Caliente Cab in NYC? Even the homemade chips have a hefty chew, as well as the mathematically exact amount of seasoning.
Long, bitter experience has taught me that starters this good invariably lead to mediocre mains. Not here. Soft tacos (3 for $10 or $3.50 each) are so addictive you'll probably want two orders. Or three. They include a Baja fish (tilapia) with a crispy battered exterior that melts away on lip impact. Pork belly al pastor proves that pork belly can indeed be lean and meaty, while tender beef cheek and spicy chicken might have you licking and/or eating the paper they come served on.
The licking continues with a tuna ceviche ($ 7.50). Finally, folks brave enough to really use enough lime juice to "cook" the delicate tuna, the over-zealous (in a good way) use of citrus makes this dish stellar and on par with the Boulevard CafÃƒÂ© as the best in town. Even a shrimp tostada ($8.50), sitting pretty on a nicely crispy deep-fried tortilla has a delicate, thoughtful quality not often seen in usually robust Mexican cuisine.
A salad seems like a pretty good idea after virtually inhaling most of those dishes. But then salad here like the ensalada electrico ($11) features buttery Bibb lettuce anointed with a not-too-creamy buttermilk dressing topped with a deep-fried pork cheek croquette. Me thinks a button just popped.
And never has a soup, phos included, ever crammed in so many varied ingredients as a pozole rojo ($7 for small/ $12 for larger), a fiery red soup with practically a full pig swimming in it. It's so meaty it could feed a family of four (...Americans). Add to that pieces of hominy, cilantro and peppers and it is the ideal seasonal soup for winter. A chicken frito ($14) is equally spicy, offering up other Asian flavours and topped with cilantro and hot red peppers. Mmmm mmm good.
The only dish that gives us any pause is deconstructed key lime vasa ($5), a small jar with an over-the-top topping of whipped cream that really overpowers a textbook lime curd with the perfect pucker. That is an easy improvement to correct - and, fingers crossed, we're told that churros are in the works. Wheeee!
Few restaurants, so early on get so many things so right from the get-go. It is indeed a rare and beautiful thing to behold. But Grand Electric is evidence that with the right mix of passion, and a well-thought-out idea, showcased in a friendly unpretentious atmosphere, that the first time's definitely a charm.