[Guest Writer: Jonathan L.]
Before the meal begins, I warm my palette one of Cafeteria's custom cocktail options: The Grove (Single Village Espadin mezcal, Bulleit Rye, Fernet Branca, Agave, Cardamom bitters). Cafeteria's cocktail concoctions are one of the highlights of the establishment, the most memorable being the Ghetto Michelada - spiced Tecate beer served in a head-sized plastic bucket, topped with carrot and pear shavings. Inspired during a trip to Mexico by the founders, this cocktails highlights Cafeteria's pursuit of authenticity that is pervasive in all their offerings.
After a light serving of guac and chips, the first course of the evening is a refreshing Octopus Ceviche. The octopus is poached in white wine, served on a bed of jicama, and topped with deep fried yam strips. The chewiness, acidity and crunch of these three ingredients respectively make every bite well-balanced and complex in both flavour and texture. My favourite offering of the night.
The tasting menu continues steadily with a soft shell crab salad that introduces a comforting warmth in the arc of the meal. This is followed by an smartly understated tuna tostada - the rich bright tuna flavour is more than deserving of its spotlight.
Being relatively new to the tasting menu format, the meal starts to slog somewhat at this juncture. Sharing food with Monica means consistently consuming the larger portion and by the time the more substantive meat dishes are served, I'm starting to feel the effects. The Huitlacoche Quesadilla and Venison Tostada are a blur in my memory - good but somewhat underwhelming. And the intimidating brown molten blob that is Chicken Mole gets largely bypassed in favour of the Steak Tempiquena. This turns out to be a wise decision. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, dusted with chili, and paired with a creamy spinach sauce, this healthy portion of steak is a decadent climax to the meal.
All in all, my experience at Cafeteria turns out to be an enjoyable affair. The ambiance is lively, the service is friendly, and the food is authentically prepared with a balance of nuance and flavour. There's no better endorsement of Cafeteria than the fact that we outstay our welcome by at least a couple rounds of the deliciously smoky Mezcal Libre - even a simple spin on a rum and coke yields dividends for this thoughtful establishment.