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CLOSED: Brunch at Los Dados, 3/09/08

It had literally been two years since Stacey and I were able to venture out in the city for a drink or bite…Just the two of us. I remember it like it was yesterday; Stacey and I grabbed drinks at the W Hotel in Midtown East after work. She had some sort of virgin cranberry-orange juice concoction and I had something alcoholic (as usual). Since Stacey was expecting her first child, downing mojitos with me wouldn’t have been the brightest idea.

Stacey’s adorable daughter is five-months old now, the perfect age to have Daddy baby-sit for a couple of hours in suburbia, while Mommy comes in to the city to have brunch & a much needed sanity break with yours truly. I made reservations for the two of us at Los Dados for 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 9th.

“Lindsay, can you hear me? We’ve got a bad connection. Anyways, I told the cabbie to take me to Gansevoort Street, and he doesn’t know where that is. Can you help?” said Stacey. “Tell him it’s in the Meatpacking District, just off of 13th and 9th Ave. That should work…I hope. Call me back if you all have any more problems finding the restaurant.” I said. It was about 11:20 a.m., and in true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived at Los Dados ridiculously early in order to give myself time to study the space. Luckily, the employees at the restaurant were kind enough to let me inside and out of the bitter cold, even though Los Dados didn’t technically open for another ten minutes. Once I made my way through the front revolving doors, I realized that Los Dados was comprised of a bar room, a dining room and a casual eat-in/take-out taqueria room. I was immediately transported from the concrete jungle of the grungy-chic Meatpacking District to my hometown of El Paso, Texas, that hugs the border of Mexico. Singing to me overhead was nouveau Spanish music that, while authentic and festive, was borderline-offensive due to the volume. An abundant presence of Mother Mary and Jesus figurines, paintings and candles was so moving that I almost belted out a phrase from the famous song, Walking in Memphis: “Tell me, are you a Christian, child? And I said, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight.” Los Dados’ slick concrete floors gave way to both exposed brick and peppy colored walls evoking tones of royal blue, bright magenta, and pineapple yellow. From the ceiling hung mismatched Southwestern chandeliers that dimly illuminated the space, allowing the natural sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows and doors to take center stage. A large, rustic wooden partition housing various Mexican knickknacks in its open “cubby holes” divided the bar from the dining room. Towering over the right side of the space were three gorgeous iron pillars that made quite a handsome presence...Almost like a father looking down upon his children. Located in their own doorless “rooms” were large booths for parties looking for more of a private, intimate experience instead of being seated amongst the masses at tables.

Stacey walked in to Los Dados right at 11:30 a.m. We met at the hostess stand, where I announced our “party of 2” reservation and were immediately whisked to a spacious four-top table. Ice water, two menus, a basket of golden tortilla chips and a small ramekin of salsa arrived all at once. Upon perusing the menu, I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount of both American-inspired and Mexican brunch items. An example would be the Eggs Benedict, which was made with poblano corn bread instead of an English muffin. In place of breakfast potatoes, many dishes came with refried beans. I found these subtle Mexican substitutions to be quite unique and creative. For those guests unfamiliar with a certain Spanish ingredient listed in a dish’s description, Los Dados had many of them defined on the back of the menu…Very clever!
I couldn’t resist the basket of tortilla chips within arm’s reach, as hard as I tried. Each 14-karat-gold colored triangular masterpiece was handmade, salted and served piping hot from the fryer. Every chip was literally 1/8th of an inch thick, yet just as crispy as a candy cane, but almost hollow inside. My first bite dipped in salsa could not have been better…Unless more salt had been added to the dip. It was clear that the tomatoes, onion and green chilies had been freshly pureed and made for a salsa that was fresh, robust, yet mild enough not to scare off the gringo’s.

After given quite an ample amount of time to study the menu, our waiter returned to take our orders. Stacey decided on a cup of hot tea, the roasted chicken quesadillas and a side of sweet plantains. I ordered a cup of coffee, the sliced mangoes and the huevos rancheros. Within five minutes, our beverages arrived. Stacey was given a choice of different flavored tea bags, and ended up going green. My black coffee came piping hot with a side of whole milk and sweetener. After adding two packets of sugar and a generous splash of milk, I sipped my caffeinated concoction and was quite impressed. While on the stronger side, the coffee tasted as if it’d been freshly brewed, just for me. There was no scorched aftertaste; this was one solid cup o’ Joe.
My sliced mangoes arrived next. Served atop a large plate, the fruit was lightly brushed with fresh lime juice and sprinkled with chili powder. I know that this combination sounds bizarre, but the trinity of flavors (salt, sweet and spice) could not have seemed more natural together. The addition of the lime and chili is a technique that is authentic to Mexican cooking, and transported me back ten years to when I was vacationing in Acapulco and we’d eat this every morning for breakfast. Had this dish been prepared with a riper mango and a bit less chili powder, it would have been perfect, but it was a bit too dense and spicy…Even for me!

After gossiping for some time, Stacey and I realized that there was only one other table being occupied in the restaurant. I found the fact that my empty coffee mug hadn’t been refilled a bit silly, especially when I caught a glimpse of our waiter thirty-feet away flirting at the hostess stand. Ice water would have to suffice!

Finally, our entrees arrived. Stacey’s plate came piled high with sliced chicken quesadillas finished with a drizzle of spicy pink crema. Along with her entrée came a generous portion of sweet plantains. My plate consisted of two corn tortillas laid side by side, topped with a schmear of thick refried black beans, a poached egg, pico de gallo, and fresh crema. Each tortilla was finished with a different salsa, one red and the other green. I found my meal enjoyable overall, but thought that: the corn tortillas should have been fried, as they are traditionally, adding much more strength to the overall dish than an uncooked tortilla; the eggs should have been cooked for a couple of seconds longer, as I found the components to be much too runny; the plate should have been topped with a heavy handful of melted Monterrey Jack or Asadero; and finally, I thought that the entire plate could have been served warmer instead of its sad lukewarm reality. The flavors were there, but the warmth and textures were not.

I had one bite of Stacey’s quesadilla and found that the tortillas that enveloped the chicken were perfectly griddle cooked, crunchy and buttery. However, the dark meat was unappetizing and the cheddar cheese and pico de gallo filling was overly spicy. On the flip side, the sweet plantains were outstanding. The fruit was at its peak of ripeness, creating produce that was extra sweet and almost creamy in texture. Externally, the plantain was battered and fried leaving a delicately crisp crust that melted in to its velvety flesh.

Overall, Stacey and I were impressed with our brunch at Los Dados. The service was a bit lackluster, especially since there were only two tables (including ours) being occupied for the entire hour that we were at the restaurant. Regardless, I hope to return to Los Dados in the near future to experience lunch, dinner and/or a night of margarita sampling.

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