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November 06, 2007

Zocalo Cafe Taqueria Fresca, 1110 West Lynn

"Fresh Mex" is a euphemism in dire need of an involuntary retirement party. Like "pro-life," it is a thinly-veiled condemnation of the other side of the argument and, like all political language, has little real meaning on its own. Who isn't for life? Who doesn't want fresh food? When the "Fresh" label is applied to Mexican food, it is a purely political statement, translated by our fear-addled food brain into "less grease and a couple more salads." It's freighted with potential dread, not unlike a Guiliani stump speech.

So, I come at the opening of Zocalo, which advertises its freshness in a tagline-logo package that appears predestined for highly profitable franchise opportunities, with an admittedly jaundiced eye. After all, I see nothing un-fresh in the greasy al pastor of a good taco wagon or in a lard-infused molé. Neither is light, but both are as fresh as any pineapple salad. Then again, I am both pro-death and pro-lard, so there you go. Death by lard for me, and I am going to enjoy every goddamn minute of it.

Zocalo took over the old West Lynn Café space; I'm told another establishment was there in the interim ("some Indian joint," my attorney tells me) but I did not try it out. I used to like West Lynn, if only for their refusal to hew to any of the vegetarian trifecta of black-bean-everything-hippie-dom, austere deprivation, or simulated meat. Vegetarianism may have religio-political undertones of its own (don't get me started), but I wouldn't begrudge even the loopiest food wacko a periodic trip outside the confines of brown rice and tempeh.

Zocalo's blank interior gives nothing away, but the menu exudes "think different" goofiness with signature items like make-your-own guacamole and "stacked" enchiladas (the latter, much to our dismay, did not look or taste anything like a massive pair of tits). We opted for both, along with a carnitas taco plate and a grip of sides. The results were mixed, though generally pleasant. And, yes, goddamn fresh.

The guac was a bust, a silly, literally half-ass attempt at the "made-at-your-table" guacamole sensation sweeping the country like a bad Cobb Salad. When the avocados are already mashed into a paste back in the kitchen, this becomes a thrilling exercise in garnish application. Yee-haw. Bring more salt. The house-fried tortilla chips were crispy and just oily enough; they disappeared quickly with the guac and some tasty salsa.

The stacked enchiladas looked suspiciously like stacked tostadas to us, so I'm not sure where the name comes from, but they were artful, if a tad insubstantial. The pork carnitas came on three quite small, handmade tortillas and required a lot of maneuvering to add veggies, but the pork was excellent, very tender and moist. A side of pineapple salad had enough heat to send me back inside for a tea refill. Spice-phobes should avoid it, but if you want an unusually sweet kick in the teeth, this baby's got cojones.

The jicama salad might have worked as a small palate cleanser, but it wasn't up to the duty of a full-fledged side dish. A notch too far over on the "cooling counterpoint" scale, its bland, abstract sweetness was reminiscent of that Swedish exchange student you sorta had the hots for in 9th grade, until you realized she was nothing like a porn star and was doomed to a life of pickled fish and chronic alcoholism. Ah, Britt, where are you now?

Zocalo is a decent alternative when you've got to lunch with those three "zone" diet dudes from inside sales but you need some pork and a little heat. Sit outside if you can; the interior is oppressively minimal, and the scenery along West Lynn is always entertaining, a seemingly endless stream of 6-series BMWs, Aston Martins, Range Rovers and skinny fresh-mexican restaurant servers on bullhorn single-speed bikes.

And one day, undoubtedly, a dusty, sad-eyed blond piloting a Volvo wagon hurriedly onto 9th street, destination Wiggy's, for another bottle of Aquavit, just a little something to take the edge off. There you are, Britt. I'm glad you're safe.


Posted by brentbuford at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)