What makes a good dining experience? Is it the service, the atmosphere, the… food?
Last night I went to a little Mexican restaurant just outside of New Haven called Ixtapa Grille. Considering my favorite food is Mexican (flautas, and chimichangas and enchiladas… oh my!) I had a hard time picking out something from the menu. I was hungry. I am talking stomach-growling so loud the mariachi band could not help to distract the gurgles and groans of my empty tummy. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a wee bit, I was only slightly salivating out the mouth over the smell of a taquito appetizer being devoured at the table to the right of me.
After being distracted with a perfect Pico de Gallo salsa and house-made tortilla chips, I decided on a strawberry and banana margarita. I could taste the freshly blended fruits but felt a beyond satisfactory helping of Jose Cuervo. Hands down, this margarita was one of the best I have ever had.
I decided that chugging my margarita like an AA escapee was not a good idea in regards to my company. I slowly read over the menu, and decided that seafood was a fine choice.
I ordered Camarones de la Mexicana, or grilled shrimp with garlic, onions and bell peppers tossed in La Salsa de Pato (a Spanish version of Duck Sauce made with, amongst other ingredients, apricots, plums or peaches). The plate was hot, and obviously not ready to be eaten. I disregarded the warning sides which included sizzling and steam and popped a shrimp into my mouth. Amazing.
Accompanied by signature refried beans and rice, I also got half an avocado and a stack of tortillas to soak up the Pato sauce (this is how I used it). That is the great thing about large, plentiful dishes such as those of Mexican fare; you can fiddle around with your meal and eat it how it suits you.
Soon becoming my new favorite dish of its sort, I asked the waiter to briefly tell me more. He told me that Camarones de La Mexicana is one of the most popular, oldest, and easiest in Mexican cuisine. Because there are so many variations, including a famous Arroz de Camarones Yucatan, it is best to find a recipe that suits my tastes, but that a variety of vegetables and salsa can be used.
When the bill came it was relatively cheap, costing about $13 dollars for an extremely well-made, satisfying entrée and another insignificant amount for the much-needed tequila beverages. On top of it all, the service was excellent for a busy Friday evening.
If you live in the New Haven County area, I suggest Ixtapa Grille in Hamden on Whitney Avenue. And well, if you live anywhere from Mexico to California to New York, chances are some delicious version of Camarones de La Mexicana are available to you.
¡Comer, beber y ser feliz este Sábado!