Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's a Beautiful Afternoon in San Diego

Perfect for sitting at an umbrella-covered table at Case de Pico in La Mesa. So why are we eating inside? Because Casa de Pico is one of the most beautiful Mexican restaurants I have seen. It’s not a bare bones taco joint. Nor is it decorated like a Christmas tree with multiple piñatas, serapes, and flags. It is refined Mexican décor with food just as refined.

Zak Woodruff at santee.patch.com states: “The main dining floor is divided into sections that are nonetheless all visible to each other, meaning tables feel simultaneously intimate and spacious—and not too loud, even with large groups chomping on nachos like alligators eating light bulbs…The whole place has decorative flair with an emphasis on color and vivacity: A bright peacock mural adorns the entrance wall, luminous horse statues abound, and the poster-blue exit doors are topped with whimsical, clownish masks...”

David Rottenberg at the Daily Transcript further describes Casa de Pico: “With exquisite attention to detail, the…restaurant recreates the feel of elegant Mexican dining, whether on the roomy outdoor patios or in the beautifully decorated interior. Classic Mexican architec-ture, with arches in the doorway, tile and other surfaces are combined with vibrant colors and classic furniture. Tivoli lights, fountains and plants give the restaurant an exciting ambiance. Most nights, mariachi musicians stroll through the premises to play at diners' tables. The music of guitars and trumpets blends with the sounds of people talking, laughing and having a good time.”

To the left as you enter is the warm and inviting cantina which has an inviting menu of bar snacks, Margaritas, tequilas, and other adult beverages.

To the right is the main interior dining room with high-backed booths and tables with high backed chairs which add to the sense of intimacy. Along one wall is a large colorful piece of Mexican artwork flanked by mirrors with tapestry frames to match the upholstered chairs.

High on one wall is a collection of miniature whimsical building that we joked were the Mexican equivalent of Dept. 56.

High on another wall were two tableaus--one of a seated woman and

the other of a man and his burro.

And how proud is this dandy "gentleman" of his brightly colored ornamentation?

Adding to the atmosphere are the women servers in their bright, attractive Mexican costumes.

A large basket of tortilla chips and two cups of salsa came as soon as we were seated in one of the booths. With two cups, we were free to “double dip” to our hearts content. This was excellent lightly pureed fresh salsa with medium heat and just a hint of cilantro. I would have liked more cilantro but this was perfect for Chuck’s taste.

Having munched our way through about half of the chips, we were finally ready to order from the very long menu. Way too many great sounding choices. Pico Enchiladas Suizas—tortillas dipped in green tomatillo sauce and stuffed with shredded seasoned chicken then rolled and topped with more sauce and melted cheese. There were Crispy Shrimp Tacos—soft tacos filled with crispy shrimp, shredded cabbage, and jalapeño cream sauce. Or how about the Seafood Enchiladas Supremas—enchiladas with shrimp, white cod, and vegetables and topped with creamy jalapeño sauce. There was ceviche, citrus marinated shrimp chopped tomato, cilantro, onion, cucumbers, and avocado with a bite of serrano. I, like the menu, could go on and on. But I’ll stop here.

To start, Chuck ordered a bowl of the Tortilla Soup—with two spoons—since I did want a taste. Well, I ate more than just a taste. I ate half of the bowl. This was a meal in a bowl with huge chunks of white meat chicken, red bell pepper, onion, avocado chunks, and crispy tortilla strips in a rich chicken-based broth that had a mild chili flavor. A strange thing to think about on such a beautiful day, but this would be great on a cold winter’s day. Except I don’t think they get cold winter days in San Diego.

He then went to the “Healthy Dining” section of the menu (Yes, this is Chuck I am talking about) and ordered the Black Bean Burrito topped with tomatillo sauce and Mexican chile cheese. The black beans were tender but still whole (no easy thing to ac-complish), but what set this apart was the marvelous tomatillo sauce. Not at all spicy, but full of bright almost lemon-like flavor. I was scraping the last vestiges of the sauce from his plate with my fork. With his burrito came a small side of seasoned rice nicely presented in a fried tortilla cup. By the way, the Healthy Dining section of the menu gives nutritional information for each of the choices. His burrito came in as: Calories = 689, Cholesterol = 13.10 mg, Fat = 12.8 g, Sodium = 1,382 mg, Protein = 5g, Sugar = 5 g, Trans Fats=0.

After considering any number of combination plates that included chili rellenos, I finally went with the Chicken Mole Enchiladas—enchiladas filled with chicken and topped with spicy mole sauce and served with Mexican rice and Pico beans. This was one very large plate of food—especially following the chips and salsa and half of Chuck’s soup. The plate contained two very large rolled enchiladas stuffed with moist and tender chicken and awash in a chocolate mole that had a bit of bite. With the enchiladas came tortilla cups of seasoned rice and pico beans. Normally, I don’t eat the beans on a Mexican food plate and was ready to hand these off to Chuck. But I took a taste. And then another. No beans for Chuck. These were delicious. I’m not sure what made them so much better than other refried beans. All I know is that I ate them all. No, I didn’t share.

We were introduce to Casa de Pico by Chuck’s cousin Karen Allsing and her husband Dick and will be forever grateful. Truly a 5.0 Addie eats.

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