Monday, August 17, 2015

Rosa Mexicano Food Review II

Costillas de Res Tacos

There's no shortage of fine dining options at National Harbor; but I'm a firm believer in fate, even for relatively small affairs (such as deciding where to have dinner.) So when I looked out my AC Hotel window, I knew immediately where I had to go... Rosa Mexicano, the top of the Mexican cuisine food chain (outside of Mexico and Texas, of course.) 7:00 reservation, here I come.

When a top-notch restaurant is less than 100 feet away from your hotel's main entrance, you don't tempt fate. Rosa Mexicano is as top-notch as you can get, delivering terrific food, service and ambiance each and every time I've had the pleasure to dine there. Better still, it doesn't matter where you visit (DC, Atlanta and downtown LA) you're practically guaranteed to have a great time.

Incredible Chips and Salsa

National Harbor is no exception. It's a large space with ample outdoor seating, and (as you can probably imagine) breathtaking views of the Capital Wheel, Plaza and Potomac. Inside, it's typical Rosa Mexicano chic... warm, rich colors, playful decor (love the masks) and an intoxicating buzz that somehow doesn't seem to bother me (great food has a way of covering up a noisy room.) That said, be prepared to raise your voice a little.

Loud rooms? I'd stand in the middle of M&T Bank Stadium during a Ravens playoff game, if it meant getting my hands on the best chips & salsa anywhere (with all due respect to Agua 301.) Honest to God, I'd drop $20 to just sit there and eat chips & salsa all night (and nothing else.) When Wendy (my server extraordinaire) replaced my chips midway with hotter, fresher ones, I almost cried in appreciation. Needless to say, they're absolutely delicious.

Ceviche de Camarones

But be careful, it's not the only scrumptious bite you're going to have... especially if you order a Ceviche de Camarones ($12) to start. That's wild shrimp marinated in citrus with avocado, cucumbers, jalapeƱos, jicama and a mix of red plum and yellow tomatoes. Antojitos are supposed to be "little cravings," but I counted a dozen generously-sized shrimp, each one zestier than the next. Cucumbers add crunch, and jalapeƱos the tiny bit of kick the dish needs. Otherwise, it's as refreshing a dish as you'll find on the menu (if not the entire harbor.) Normally, I'd opt for the Chorizo Empanadas, but I'm thrilled to find another go-to item to wrestle over next time.

Achiote Rice

Midway through my appetizer, the kitchen sent out my main entree (oops) but fear not... Wendy to the rescue. Within seconds, she swooped in, apologized and took it away (no questions asked.) What a brilliant way to turn a potentially big gaffe into a mere hiccup. It also provided me enough time to finish my super-sized app... and a few more chips with salsa (wink.) A well-paced meal is second only to a delicious one.

Grilled Mexican Street Corn

For the record, Costillas de Res Tacos qualifies as delicious (not to mention ample.) Three generous tacos with grilled Mexican street corn (blended with cheese & mayo) spicy Achiote rice and black beans on the side. That's a lot of food, even for someone like me. I passed on the beans (saving room for dessert) but it's impossible to skip corn and rice this tasty. The corn was extra creamy and decadent; and the rice... the perfect compliment to any protein (especially beer-glazed beef short ribs.) Those ribs were so tender (ditto for the soft taco shells) they literally melted in my mouth; and the accompanying tomatillo-habanero salsa added a nice touch of hear at the end of each bite. Fancy a seafood taco? Rosa Mexicano also offers Camarones Capeados and Pescado de Mahi Mahi, with shrimp/kale/pickled onions and fried or grilled fish/cabbage escabeche respectively. Something else to look forward to, next time.

Churros en Bolsa

It's imperative to save room for dessert, and even though I like their Flan de Rosa (espresso flan) there's only one choice so far as I'm concerned... Churros en Bolsa, AKA hot Mexican doughnuts. Even the presentation is fantastic: They come in a brown paper bag, which is shaken in front of you (sugar, sugar, sugar) then poured on a plate next to three different sauces (caramel, chocolate & raspberry.) The former is my favorite, followed closely by raspberry: Sorry folks, I'm not crazy about chocolate (too bitter.) Best of all, the portions are sensible (six churros total, each one small enough to devour in two bites.) Why don't Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme sell doughnuts like these?

Probably because Rosa Mexicano isn't easy to duplicate. Many have tried, but matching good food (with really good spices) and fancy atmosphere isn't as easy as you'd think. Toss in all-star caliber employees like Wendy, and it's easy to understand why I love this chain so much. The fact that quality doesn't suffer across various locations (even 3,000 miles away) is a testament to RM's proven formula. Sometimes the status quo can be pretty darn amazing.