The Belle of Ballast Point and I have traveled extensively in Mexico; the Yucatan, central Mexico, the Copper Canyon, and a few of the border towns. Besides meeting the people who live in this fascinating country, one of our great pleasures is enjoying true Mexican cuisine.
By "true" Mexican cuisine, I am differentiating between what we Norte Americanos think of as Mexican, which is usually Tex-Mex or some kind of gringo nightmare, and what the people in the various Mexican states actually eat.
With that said, we were thrilled beyond measure when we heard that an authentic Mexican restaurant was opening in the space formerly inhabited by Bistro Bleu on South MacDill in Tampa. Since they first opened their doors a few months ago the Oracle has had the pleasure of dining twice at Catrinas Cocina y Galeria.
We have since met both the chef-owner Tisbeth Mejia, and her business partner and co-owner Karol Ortiz. These two ladies are passionate in their love of and dedication to the authentic foods of Mexico. That love and dedication shows in the foods that have been presented to us.
Well, enough talk - what about the food?
On both visits we entered a beautifully remodeled restaurant that features works of art including sculptures and paintings - many by Chef Mejia. We were promptly seated and presented with menus. On both occasions our servers were prepared to field any questions about menu items - and, there were many - menu items, that is.
To refresh the palate in preparation for the meal, the table has a small bowl of fruit and jicama that the diner can stab with provided toothpicks. While stabbing, we requested a Sangria Catrina Guerita for her and a Tecate for me. What can I say about a Tecate - a cerveza is a cerveza, but the sangria in a terracotta cup was excellent said the Belle of Ballast point.
The first time we dined at Catrinas we started with the Catrina's Guacamole - served in a molcajete topped with lobster meat, shrimp, fresh Mexican cheese, and crispy corn chips.
It was so good we ordered it again last night.
On our first visit the Belle ordered the Chicken Taco and I requested the Carne Asada de Abuela, or the roasted Grandmother's steak.
As our camarera was taking our orders a four family party with a menagerie of small children walked in unannounced and bedlam ensued. I mention this only because wait staff as well as kitchen staff was called into service. As a consequence both the chicken and the carne asada arrived more well done than we would have liked. Both were good, just over cooked.
Our second visit, last night, was perfect in every way.
For her entrée my bride ordered the Chicken Quesadilla, a tortilla filled with succulent grilled chicken, poblano peppers, cheese, and served with Mexican rice, beans and nopalitos (cactus pad) salad. She could not finish the quesadilla last night, so I had the remainder for lunch today. She said it was good last night and it was certainly good re-heated again today.
With that tidbit of knowledge in mind, I requested the Huitlacoche Quesadilla with roasted poblanos, onions and cheese on a toasted tortilla, along with tomato-tinged rice and soft refried beans. This quesadilla was listed as vegetarian and since I am a carnivore I was concerned that I would not get filled up on just a veggie dish. My new friend, and fellow Virgo, Karol assured me that I would be fine. She was ever so right - I did mention that she's a Virgo. Oh my gosh, that quesadilla was good - and very filling!
Be adventurous and give it a try.
Our dinner with two sangrias and two Tecates plus a 20% gratuity came to $78.27. It was such a pleasure to enjoy a truly fabulous meal, in an art gallery setting, with warm, friendly staff and management, and waddle out with full bellies for under a hundred dollars.
Buen provecho, y'all.