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Dinner at Cafe Frida, 1/16/08

I'm a total sucker for weeknight dinners with my girlfriends. Since we all work in the same part of town, meeting eachother is normally seamless. On Wednesday, we decided to hit the new restaurant in The Royalton Hotel, Brasserie 44. At around 4 p.m. that day, I had a spare moment and went to view the menu to get a feel for what I'd order later that evening. As I scrolled through the contents on menupages.com, I almost had a sticker-shock coronary when I saw the Brasserie's prices. There would be four of us dining, and I knew that the steep bill wouldn't go over well with the entire group. Time go back to the restaurant drawing boards! For someone who's such a planner like me, I felt out of my element when we needed to make last-minute restaurant changes, so I called upon my friend, Melissa, for some advice and direction. Where can you get a last minute reservation for a table of four gals? The first place that came out of Melissa's mouth was a Mexican restaurant in the Upper Westside called Cafe Frida. And being the dear that she is, Melissa also offered to make the reservation! Instantly, I felt relieved and elated...we all know how much I love my Mexican food! I could almost taste that first margarita!

Our reservation was for 6:15 p.m., and all of us girls arrived on-time and were seated immediately (shock!). I didn't even need to look at a drink menu to decide what I was ordering (margarita), so instead, I studied the atmosphere. Cafe Frida
is a charming bi-level restaurant decorated with festive Mexican colors and artifacts. Lively Spanish music played in the background and every patron appeared content and relaxed.

After we ordered our cocktails, our waiter asked what we'd like to eat. Unanimously, we chose to start with guacamole, chips and salsa. Then, after our waiter had taken my friends' orders, it was my turn. "I'd like the cheese enchiladas, please." He looked at me like I had five heads, and blurted, "We don't have cheese enchiladas. We have shrimp or chicken enchiladas." I looked at him and started laughing, but he didn't flinch. "Are you serious?" I asked. The man was as serious as a heart attack. Then, my friend Mimi interrupted, "But how can you not have cheese enchiladas? My Tampiquena steak comes with a cheese enchilada! Look, it says so on the menu!" Again, the waiter didn't flinch, and simply asked us if we wanted to confirm this with the manager. Three minutes later, the manager arrived and reconfirmed what the waiter had said. "No I'm sorry; we do not have cheese enchiladas here." Instead of fighting the man, I ordered cheese quesadillas con rajas (sauteed onions and green chiles) and a side of the caserolo de arroz (creamy rice laced with zucchini and corn).
Shortly thereafter, our drinks and chips, guacamole and salsa arrived. My frozen pomegranate and prickly pear margarita was just the perfect size (not served in a fish bowl like most restaurants) and had the correct frozen consistency. The margarita was sweet and tart but a bit too strong for me! I was glad to see the chips and dips, which I'd use as a chaser for my drink.

The warm and crispy tortilla chips were served in charming narrow metal buckets, which I found to be a creative touch. The guacamole came in a mortar bowl and was your basic, homemade smashed avocado (I still prefer Rosa Mexicano's version). My favorite of the dips was the salsa. It was a smooth, smoky deep red that had the perfect amount of spice, garlic and tomato.

Finally, our meals arrived. Everyone's entrees looked divine, including mine. Though a bit on the small size, my quesadillas were probably the best I've ever had...in my life! They were artistically plated overlapping eachother and came with a small side of dipping salsa (a different salsa than the dip that came with our guacamole). Staying true to its authenticity, the quesadillas were made on corn tortillas and stuffed with thick, white Oaxacan cheese and perfectly sauteed onions and green chiles. This dish completely made me forget about my unsuccessful cheese enchilada craving. The caserola de arroz was a delicious accompaniment to my meal. Imagine white rice blended with buttery cream, corn kernels and slivers of delicate zucchini then baked together forming an almost casserole-like side dish.

In conclusion, I was very satisfied with my experience at Cafe Frida. The service was a bit lackluster, but the food was wonderful. Will I ever get over the cheese enchilada incident? Probably not, especially since their menu on menupages.com says that they do have cheese enchiladas. However, because of this mishap, I was able to taste the best quesadillas I've had in my life. This truly was a beautiful mistake.

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