By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
By Loren Green
Flattery, it is true, goes a long way. And it's definitely flattering that an upscale dining chain with well-known outposts in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami has chosen Minneapolis as its first non-coastal location.
Rosa Mexicano got a lot of attention in 1984 when it debuted Mexican fine dining in its first New York City location. This was Mexican fare on the good china: steaks and chops and fancy drinks, white-tablecloth service (at white-tablecloth prices) in an elegant setting. It was not, even then, the European-influenced fine dining one might find in Mexico City, but folks who had grown up with Old El Paso taco night were pleasantly surprised. Reviewers liked to use the word "refined."
That was 1984, and the dining world has come a long way. Rosa Mexicano has, at least, traveled a long way: There are now four New York-area locations, two in California, two in Florida, one each in D.C., Baltimore, and Atlanta. And now here, in our very own City Center. The various restaurants still fill up with large parties of happy margarita drinkers, but the reviewers have grown a little cool; Rosa's refinement hasn't quite kept up with the times.
609 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)
609 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
appetizers $7.75-$14; entrées $18.75-$28.50
Still, it feels good—right?—to have such distinguished lineage hop right over Chicago, skip Boston, ignore the Bay Area, and say, "You! You guys in Minnesota look like you would like to know refined Mexican food. You'd appreciate it." We get a little preeny and say, "Why, yes. Well, of course."
But flattery will only get you so far. The initial titillation disappears—poof!—the moment the tacos arrive on the table. Overcooked, flavorless chicken breast in a puddle of congealed cheese. "This? This is what you really think of us?" The rest of the meal—while not so condescending—is tinged with lingering indignation.
Remember that Rosa Mexicano made its name on refined, but not necessarily innovative, Mexican food. There seem to be few updates from that 1980s mindset. The main dishes are meat-heavy, big, burdensome steakhouse plates: Flintstones-sized skewers of steak on a serving platter, a tortilla pie big enough for a family of four, stuffed peppers bigger than a goalie's fist—two of them on the plate. It's enough to make even the most avowed carnivore cry out for a vegetable. (So, definitely order the market salad, unremarkable as it is, to start.)
Overall the flavors on those plates are flaccid, undistinguished, and one indistinguishable from the other. This is Mexican food! The flavors should be vibrant, deep, earthy, complex, and layered. Take those chicken tacos. The menu promised "ancho chiles, garlic, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon"; the dish delivered none of that. Tasting a platter of Enchiladas Mole Xico next to the Chile Ancho Relleno in black bean sauce revealed pretty much the same tangy-sweet flavor profile in the two sauces. (Both these dishes are marked "hot" on the menu; neither is especially spicy at all.)
Despite their flaws, both the enchiladas and the chile relleno have their charms. An ancho chile is a dried poblano. Stuffing a dried and reconstituted chile is a brave and slightly unexpected choice. The smokiness comes through (and some of the toughness of a dried chile remains). The pork stuffing in the pepper is tender, though quite sweet. While a Veracruz mole (sweetened with raisins and enriched with nuts) is traditionally served with turkey, it works with the beef.
On the grill, the results are similarly mixed. The Pescado Pibil, a butterflied whole snapper, came to the table overcooked and underseasoned. The beef on the Alambre a la Mexicana, a massive skewer of beef and chorizo, was tender. This dish is also designated "hot" on the menu; it is not in the least, unless you pop a whole grilled Serrano pepper in your mouth.
There is little on the appetizer menu worth going out of your way for: crab empanadas without enough crab, tuna tartar (again marked "hot" on the menu) without enough seasoning, muddy tortilla soup without enough acid (and with a blob of cheese at the bottom), Queso Fundido (melted cheese) with Garlic Shrimp and Chile without enough chile.
Tableside guacamole, ground in a stone molcajete, is fun and flashy, but no longer particularly innovative. Why no lime in Rosa Mexicano's version? Nobody could tell us. (If you've got kids with you, they get to grind the guacamole themselves, a sure way to the heart of even the grumpiest critic.)
The pork belly and scallop tacos should be the marker on the end of the road for the pork belly trend: floppy and flavorless pork, cut too large to bite comfortably in the tortilla wrapping, brushed with an indifferent sauce. The large, tender scallops, however, are worth rescuing from their companions and eating on their own.
The Flautas de Pollo are definitely the best of the bunch, striped prettily with Rosa Mexicano's two house sauces, a kicky salsa verde and a smoky salsa pasilla de Oaxaca, and drizzled with crema, although the insides were a bit dry.
In the midst of all this crankiness, there are some shining bright spots on the menu. Come at lunchtime. Have a torta. These layered sandwiches somehow manage to offer the richer, more complex flavors the main dishes can't muster. And they come with heaping mounds of hot sweet potato fries. No complaints there at all.
You can't really make a meal out of sides, but having tasted the fried plantains—almost candied, with a great texture, just soft enough—you might try to. And the short-grained brown rice that comes with every main is buttery, very faintly tangy with mustard, and pleasantly chewy. The refried beans are rich and creamy, just like they are supposed to be. And the corn tortillas are clearly made fresh in the kitchen, from good masa.
Then, on the dessert menu, out of nowhere comes Rosa Mexicano's secret weapon, a dish that must have been designed to make you forget all that came before. The Flan de Rosa is over-the-top in a way that suits the pink decor, with a thin layer of rich brownie on the bottom and an espresso flavor infused all the way through. It felt almost dirty, like hush money pressed into your palm after you witnessed some unseemly behavior, but so good you're tempted to accept.
The other desserts don't reach these heights, but none are really bad. Skip the chocolate flautas; they might as well have come frozen out of a box. The tres leches cake, robed in chilled fruit, doesn't have that smooth texture and fine crumb I associate with the classic dessert. The churros are delightfully cinnamony, but almost raw in the center. You will be willing to overlook this, however, once you taste the goat's milk caramel dipping sauce. This should come with a spoon.
It should be said that all of this, even those sad pork belly tacos, is served in a beautiful space. Rosa Mexicano seats over 300 people, but the individual dining rooms are laid out in a way that makes each of them feel intimate and small. Wide aisles, generous booths, individual lighting, and some great sound design make each table feel separate and private. Big round booths accommodate parties of eight or ten in a way that few restaurants in downtown Minneapolis can. The pink interior steers just shy of bad '80s mauve. And a mesmerizing water fixture in the center of the room takes up real estate that could have been used to cram in more tables.
These details, like flattery, go a long way. I can imagine a large celebratory group, all craving margaritas and guacamole and steak, who will be very glad to take up a big, round booth for the evening. But flattery isn't enough. We deserve better than gloppy cheese and flavorless chicken, and we know it.
Minnesota is the only place I know of where people try and defend inadequate restaurants.No matter what the price, the food should be well prepared, represent the cuisine that's advertised, the right temperature, and delivered in a reasonable amount of time. This is what you pay for in a restaurant. If they cut corners, and hire inexperienced / noncaring / nondiscerning employees, good recipes can be executed in a very bland, lifeless presentation.
$100 for two meals - this will easily buy 4-5 day’s worth of groceries for two. At these prices, the food should be spot on.
But then again, think about the restaurants that are being replaced: TGI Friday, Applebee's, and the Hard Rock Cafe - everything out of a can or a Sysco truck and a deep fryer. As an East Coast transplant, it seems Minnesotan's have no lower limit / discernment in regard to food.
Well, Mr. Too Sophisticated for Minnesota. I spent a decade on the East Coast too, and I'm pretty confident in the quality of my palate.
Also, I've been to the Rosa here for dinner three times now (and the one in DC countless other times), and been quiet happy with it. The service has been very good every time, and I've enjoyed the food.
But yeah, look at what it's replacing. It's a major upgrade, which makes me quite happy, even if it isn't the most perfect high-end Mexican restaurant ever!
You seem to have overlooked the fact that Rosa started on your East Coast. And that most of the Minnesotans discussing it here don't like it. How does this reflect poorly on Minnesota, again?
If Minnesota is the only place you know of where people defend inadequate restaurants... you don't know many places.
your contentious bullshit about where the other sites are located was nauseating and not germaine. i get the feeling you'd bitch if they hung you with a new rope. i dined there a couple weeks ago and found it to be a nice evening with very flavorful food. you won't last long here with your attitude. go away.
Hey Phil, thanks for enlightening us, New York style. Would it help to hear the opinion of someone who grew up in Albuquerque, or does everyone not from NYC lack proper perspective to judge Mexican food (or anything else for that matter)?
My impression of Rosa Mexicano in a word: Mediocre. I think the majority of what Tricia wrote rings true. Here's a quick rundown of my experience. Service: attentive enough to compensate for it being a little impatient and arrogant; Atmosphere: not bad; Guacamole: pretty darn good, although there was no discernable difference between one order deemed "hot" and the other accurately labeled mild. Drink: had a beer cocktail and found it bland; Entree: I had the Chile Ancho Relleno and was disappointed. You would be hard-pressed to find a relleno prepared like this in New Mexico. An ideal one is lightly battered, with the chile as the star of the dish, irrespective of the filling (which can vary, though the best ones I’ve had are stuffed with cheese). In this case, it was a pair of un-battered very thin-skinned chiles offering little in the way of flavor, stuffed to the bursting point with pork, which was dry and blandly seasoned. The bean-based sauce around it was nondescript. The menu indicates it as one of their spiciest dishes. It is anything but. What I was basically given was a serving of pulled pork.
The consensus of the four other people I dined with, including my boss from NY (who said she has enjoyed eating at one of Rosa’s NY locations), was that the experience and food were “OK.”
The prices are horrifying, particularly in light of the pedestrian outcome. I’ve been to absolute dives where I paid a quarter of what we paid at Rosa and received much better food. I guess the silver lining is the dinner was work-related, so the good ol’ employer picked up the tab.
Looking at reviews on Yelp, Open Table, etc., it appears that the objections Tricia brought up are pretty commonplace among the diners Rosa will depend upon to stay in business in Downtown Minneapolis. If it fails, I guess it’ll just be viewed as another one of those things from New York that Midwesterners weren’t worthy of. “The fact that they made the investment downtown and are helping to reboot the local economy shouldn’t be forgotten.” Wow. How’s that different from any other business that opens its doors? Seriously, if the intent of your posting is to help this establishment out, you might want lighten up condescension. From one outsider to another, people hate that around here.
It does seem that the proprietors have left out the spice. Maybe they don't think we Minnesotans can handle it. But I think this review is a bit too negative.
I really enjoyed the Chile Ancho Rellenos, and have had them more than once, although they could use a bit more kick. I also like the mole enchiladas, and while the "flavor profile" is similar to the black bean sauce on the rellenos, it's not the same.
As you say, the flautas are good, and actually do have a healthy bit of spicy. The same for the crab tacos, which I also enjoyed.
It's not perfect from top to bottom, but just for the decor and the style, it's a very welcome addition to downtown, where we're still pretty short on style.
If you think there are no good Mexican restaurants in the Twin Cities then you simply haven't looked. Forget the chain restaurants (Rosa, Barrio, Masa, etc) and look toward Eat Street and Lake Street--the places where people from Mexico are actually conceiving the menu, not just cooking. Pancho Villa, El Mariachi, Los Ocampo, Pineda, Taco Taxi, La Hacienda, Mercado Central...
That's quite a review Tricia and welcome to Minneapolis! I do think your review is a little mean-spirited. As an avid Rosa fan in NYC who moved to Minn last year, I've been thrilled with my experiences there. I work a few blocks from the restaurant and was so happy that Rosa came to MN. Their new design is stunning and their food and beverage matches to boot. The fact that they made the investment downtown and are helping to reboot the local economy shouldn't be forgotten. The food there has been nothing but great. I've been at least 10 times since they opened, for lunch, for brunch, for their amazing happy hour and for dinner. There have been a few bumps, but the management has always been around to help recover and I always left happy. While I dont love everything on the menu, their guacamole is to die for. Nobody adds limes to Rosa Guac...it's blasphemous since in Mexico that's not how it's traditionally prepared. I know that from my many visits to Rosa in NYC. I'm sure they would have given you limes if you'd asked for them. And how about those portion sizes you criticize? Isn't it a good thing to be given too much vs. too little food? Perhaps as a critic you know a little about a lot of things but you don't know Mexican food? If you've suffered through Minneapolis Mexican and that's your standard, perhaps a bit more education is in order before you tear a new restaurant apart...
You've hit this dead on in my opinion. At a business lunch, a colleague's chicken sandwich was the clear winner at the table. My salmon came with a "tropical fruit mole" that tasted like applesauce, not rich earthy mole. A pile of mashed beans, corn and zucchini tasted exactly like a pile of beans corn and zucchini with no discernable flavor.
One huge gap in the menu is there are no Mexican beverages- no hibiscus, no tamarind, no horchata- nothing. (The server offered me hot tea. When I asked if it was black tea and he said, "No, it's kind of brownish.)"
The restaurant is gorgeous. A good place for happy hour.
After just a few weeks of reviews Tricia, I really like your style, and observations. Adult, and to the point.
For 'real' Mexican recepies, get one of Diane Kennedy's ( a contemporary of Craig Cliaborne and Copeland Marks) books on the cusines of Mexico. They are probably out of print, but should be readily available. Also some of the Time/Life books of the 1970's have some great South American recepies (like matambre and chicken pibil - from Peru).