Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Casa Gallardo

1092 Old Des Peres Road
St. Louis


  For over a year a couple of buddies from work and I would cross the road and have lunch at the Westport Plaza location of Casa Gallardo each Friday. We did it so often that the staff eventually recognized us and just let us head back to our usual seats, they’d bring us our chips, salsas and tea without even asking. The same waitress would stop by and confirm our orders, which seldom varied.
I’d always get a combination plate, one chicken enchilada and one chicken taquito, refried beans, rice and a corn cake. Of course this was only after the three of us slaughtered a couple of baskets of chips and salsa. They offered three kinds of salsa, normal, hotter and ‘oh my god!’ Each of us had our favorite, mine being the wimpier stuff. I stopped doing this a few months back as one of the three amigos left for another job.
It was always quite good, not that I really measured it against anything else. During the week I don’t eat anything before lunch so I’m not very picky when I do eat something.
During our visit to Ponderosa last week I noticed a Casa Gallardo across the street. So this past weekend I decided to take the family there and impress them.
What a difference a few miles can make.
The Place:
Across from / near the South County Mall, a free standing building, fairly large. Inside the décor worked really, really hard to make it appear like a courtyard in old Mexico, adobe/mission style facade, paved terra cotta floor, colorful red, white and green bunting, etc. There were three levels of seating and the place was busy and loud.
The menu didn’t look familiar, though it had been over a year since I needed a menu at the Westport location, I couldn’t say for sure if they were the same.
The young redhead asked us about drinks, Angel went for sweet tea, Adam a Pepsi, I decided, since I wouldn’t be driving, to go for beer again. She spat out the names of several Anheuser Busch products, I passed. I asked about Sam Adams, nope. She then went through a list of ‘Mexican’ beers. I stopped her at Dos Equis. All I knew about the brand was that the 'most interesting man in the world' enjoys it, at least according to the commercials.
The chips, one bowl of red salsa and the drinks arrived. The salsa was a little hotter than what I expected but not too bad. Angel said yes to the offer of chile con queso cheese dip, it was brought out quickly, about the time that we’d decided on meals.
The Food:
I didn’t see any taquitos listed anywhere, so I went for the Tres Enchiladas. (Three enchiladas) One beef, one chicken and one shrimp. I thought it was served with beans and rice, I was wrong. It was served with rice but instead of creamy beans, they plopped a pile of sautéed veggies, onions, carrot shreds and broccoli. Yeah, broccoli. (blech)
Adam ordered the Ultimate Combo #2, a ground beef enchilada, chicken burrito and a taco, without tomato, Angel ordered the Trio Favoritos, a Steak taco, enchilada and a mini-chim.
We crunched on chips and salsa but after a taste or two abandoned the cheese dip. Though it had floaters, a few pepper chunks, it tasted like heated Cheez-Whiz. Too American-Cheesy, no punch.
The plates arrived after a drink refill or two. I spent the time being thoroughly annoyed by the constantly talking and moving family across from us. My beer was served in the bottle with a lime stuck in it. I squeezed a little into the beer and then Angel grabbed it away and took a sip. She seemed unimpressed, as was I when I did the same. No body, no texture, just another typical light beer. Nor did I feel more interesting for having tried it.
My enchiladas looked limp and puny. There was barely any sauce on any of them. When I took knife to them they resisted in a rubbery way. The tortilla wrapping was as thin as paper and had the slimy appearance and texture of overcooked calamari. Inside the first one there was only four shrimp, and nothing else. If there was sauce on it, it had no distinct flavor. The shrimps themselves were dry, overcooked, though fairly spicy. The second one, shredded beef was coated with a red sauce that turned out to be more barbecue sauce than enchilada. The beef was tough and not shredded quite enough. The last hope was the chicken, strike three. The chicken was blackened and cubed, the sauce was once again, tasteless and nearly non-existent. I ended up plucking the meat out of the slimy wraps, only the shrimp got eaten completely. The rice was too dry, but not nasty. The veggies were under-cooked and there was broccoli on my plate.
Adam and Angel’s experience wasn’t much better.
Her taco was spicy and quite good, but the enchilada was too salty. Her beans were not very creamy, she too said the rice was dry. Inside the chimi, the vegetables were undercooked and tough.
Adam liked the rice, but said the chicken was skimpy. His tortillas as well were without taste or texture.
After the meal he said that he’d always heard that the nicer a Mexican restaurant looked the worse the food. This of course was a tip of the hat to our favorite Mexican place, Los Portales in Hillsboro, which by nearly every description is a run down, worn out, non-pretentious dive, but man-o’-man the food is good.
We agreed that at best this location was a family restaurant pretending to be Mexican.
Being as none of us actually finished our meals, we decided to order dessert, the choices were fried ice cream or flan.
Flan is a custard, this one covered in a brown caramel (burnt sugar) and a dab of whipped cream. They arrived quickly, large portions, too large. The texture was spot-on, but the taste was very rich and overwhelmingly eggy. Washing it down with beer was just weird. Angel said that it might have been better with coffee. None of us finished our desserts either. The redhead offered take away boxes, we all declined.
Very, very disappointed. There was nothing actually very good among the meals. As a whole it was unanimously thumbs down. I noticed that other folks seemed to not be making a fuss about the food, maybe this was the best they’d had. I feel sorry for them if that was true. It doesn’t take a lot to make a good Mexican meal, it’s simple, only a few ingredients and the cooking process is not difficult. Los Portales, admittedly run by a Mexican family, has this stuff nailed, for a lot less money.
The tab came to sixty plus dollars, partially excused by the extras, the flans and the cheese dip, but even with that the food really wasn’t worth the price.
I’ll be going back to the Westport location sometime soon I’m sure. I’m curious if this bad experience is simply location-based or if the chain has really stepped back that much.
Casa Gallardo Mexican on Urbanspoon

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