Now open: Masa, 2811 6th Ave., Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Grit City
With a menu that's as epically sweeping as the ancient Mexican city Teotihuacán, it's hard to get a taste of Masa in one bite.
But I can tell you this: We're not in El Toro anymore, muchachas and muchachos, and I'm not talking just about the restaurant's industrial moderne meets Day of the Dead decor.
I enjoyed the four dishes I ordered at Masa Tuesday night, the second night of business for the "high-end" Mexican restaurant launched by the folks behind Asado, which opened a year ago on Sixth Avenue, right across the street. (Masa is in the former Ricardo's location, which as longer-time Tacomans know, was Lorenzo's before that).
Here's Masa's massive menu math:
12 starters (guacamole, chile relleno, Dungeness crab salsa, priced $6-$12) ...
5 salads and soups (cactus and goat cheese, Caesar, squash, $7-$10) ...
7 pizzas (chorizo and pineapple, meatball, and shrimp and smoked salmon, $13-$15) ...
9 "shared snacks" (quesadillas, taquitos, smoked-salmon-filled corn tortillas, $8-$9) ...
7 sides (chorizo cornbread, Mexican street corn, escabache, $3-$5) ...
14 1-item rice and beans plates (tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, $10-15) ...
Down at the bottom of the menu –- which is physically so large I couldn't see my wife across the table from me while I held the menu up to read -– are 12 entrees ($17-$27) that seemed to get lost. That's too bad. I think everyone should contemplate turkey mole with corn dough dumplings in a clay pot, or the surf-turf-and-tamale trifecta, with rice, beans and fresh tortillas.
Chef Sean Quinn's pork and pumpkin mole pulled at me, but I'd already been distracted by cactus and goat cheese salad; smoked prime rib chile relleno; Mexican meatball pizza; plus amazingly light quince-brioche bread pudding for dessert.
As I said in my review upon encountering cactus at Mi Chalateca in Federal Way, I'll order cactus anytime I see it. I like the meaty tang of succulent flesh. Here, cactus was poached and tossed with cucumber, red pepper and cherry tomatoes in cilantro-lime vinaigrette. A blob of warm goat cheese with hazelnuts obscured the salad visually but brought it together through tastes and textures.
Smoked prime rib chile relleno sounded like a dish designed to tempt Northwest palates (c'mon – smoked prime rib?), but was actually muy macho, if a tad greasy inside. Still, I think I'd like the vegetable version better. Outside the stuffed poblano chile, patches of lightly blackened and blistered skin peeked through the light and crispy fried batter.
Accented with cornmeal in the crust, smoky, chocolatey mole for sauce and Oaxaca cheese that translates like gooey mozzarella, meatball pizza was primo pie –- intriguing and exotic, but not in that icky Wolfgang Puck way. Fried jalapeno pizza with tomatillo sauce, salty cheese and honey is dying to be goosed with foie gras for an extra five bucks.
But I'm not so sure about "Nachordinary" nachos with foie gras for $18, or about Masa's reported plans to stay open 24 hours on weekends, for that matter. But we'll see.
I may have a hard time seeing anything when I size up Masa's tequilas against The Matador's tequilas. Both new restaurants feature tequila lineups of staggering proportions and prices.
Unlike The Matador (which I write about in Friday's GO section), Masa serves minors. While Masa's bar will no doubt be filled with Sixth Avenue scenesters sipping Mexican Side Cars and Champagne Sangria, the restaurant's youth-friendliness (at least at first glance) surprised me. I saw two babies and a few kids, one of whom received crayons and paper to scribble on. Kids, hippie geezers and most people in between should enjoy Masa's eye-candy Day of the Dead-inspired full-wall mural. Large parties and anyone who likes to drink under the stars (if warm weather ever arrives) might like Masa's upstairs.
Masa plans to serve lunch and take-out in its deli area. I like the sound of that.