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Review: Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar

Shooting for sexy, and serving up solid Tex-Mex
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 10, 2011

 Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar

To paraphrase the second paragraph of the eponymous Nabokov novel: She was a cocina at twilight, sprawled into a Back Bay basement. She was a tequila bar by night. In her past, she had been Papa Razzi. On the bottom line, she was a branch of a Mexican restaurant in Greenwich, CT. In business school, she was the product of consultants, the cb5 Restaurant Group, LLC. But in her publicity, she was always sexy Lolita, clichés of Tijuana brothels and dark-eyed senoritas overlaid (as it were) upon the creaky bedsprings of a once-risqué pedophilic work of literature.

Besides repeating the word a lot, what makes a restaurant "sexy"? Red-and-black flocked wallpaper is supposed to be like a bordello. I've never been, I must confess, and that kind of wallpaper always reminds me of the front bathroom in a suburban ranch house. Two hundred brands of tequila will impress some dates, I imagine, but you can only drink one at a time. The logo of a heart crossed by barbed wire, and cast-iron grates all over the place? Not my scene, I guess.

The opening complimentary grapefruit granita with tequila poured over is made sexy by being served over dry ice — if that doesn't evoke witches. Tostada chips and three kinds of salsa for me evokes sports. The salsas are a nice green "tomatillo," a spicier red "poblano" with cilantro — my pick— and "chipotle cream," which tastes to me like burnt rubber, but there's never enough smoke flavor for some people. A guacamole fresco ($9), one of four options, was really the ideal dip for these chips.

Now the sticky spare ribs ($14) — that's what I call sexy. You tear them with your teeth; you lick drips of sauce from your lips; your object of desire does likewise. It's a stack of five or six meaty ribs, with a thick sweet-hot sauce involving coffee, chocolate, citrus, and sesame seeds. It is actually a fresh sauce, and thus more like real molé than canned molé, even though it is not an orthodox Mexican black molé. Tres ceviches ($14) could be sexy, except for that problem of trios. I always wonder why the chef didn't just pick the best one and make three times as much. It is also served in three glasses in a rack, and sexy food ought to be out there more on the plate. If I were the chef, I'd stick with the "traditional," which is fish in lime juice with red onion, hot chili, and cilantro. I might do separate plates of the "sangrita" with shellfish in tomato and orange, and the "coco" with ahi tuna in coconut milk, lime, and cilantro — think cold Thai soup.

"Crisp jicama" salad ($8) is one of the best things I've had with the crunchy but tasteless root, here cut into long strips and contrasted with avocado, chunks of oranges, and greens. Tortilla soup ($8), which I think of as way to use up leftover corn tortillas in chicken broth, was here done with wheat tortillas (nix, nix) and enriched with avocado and pulled chicken. Not bad if served hotter.

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Related: Sugar Baking Co. & Restaurant, Review: Yesterday's, Review: Canary Square, More more >
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