Sunday, June 12, 2011

El Estilo Jalisco Has Arrived in Denver: Carne en su Jugo at El Olvido with Denveater

El Olvido, which translates literally to "oblivion", is the newest business to occupy the building at 2200 South Broadway. You wouldn't be amiss to think this eatery was named for the restaurant-swallowing hole that this building has become over the years--maybe in an attempt to take on the jinx head on--and while that may be part of the intention, El Olvido comes from the line to a song Ella by the famous Mariachi singer Jose Alfredo Jimenez: "Quise hayar el olvido al estilo Jalisco" (I wanted to reach oblivion Jalisco-style). Indeed El Olvido is homage to great things from the state of Jalisco, of which three of the most notorious are tequila, mariachi and carne en su jugo.

My wife and I met Denveater and her beau a couple weeks back at El Olvido, tempted by the first restaurant I know of in Denver to feature this great regional dish which translates literally to "meat in its juices" (a wonderful name by the way). Being that I have two 4-month old boys whose mother would rather not have me show them my tequila-face just yet, and since Denveater and the Director had big plans of painting their house that day, we abstained from the tequila (though we did enjoy some lovely micheladas). And as far as the third Jalisco specialty, mariachis, it was only noon on a Saturday and there were none to be found.

In fact sadly enough, there was no one at all to be found in El Olvido save a server, a cook and a couple of kids running around on the patio. Let's hope that chef and owner Jorge Pingarron can be more sucessful than his predecessors and that Denver will come to embrace his carne en su jugo.

Here's what Denveater had to say about our day there, and for my words, go to her blog here.

Me: What was your first impression of El Olvido?
DV: In a word, hesitant. First of all, it seems to me an opportunity to redecorate has been missed; the dining room's as nondescript as it was under previous ownership. Given the revolving-door curse that's been on this space for the past few years, with restaurants coming and going, you'd think they'd want to inject some new mojo, give it some life. Second,  but for us, it was totally empty the entire time we were there. Third, what was with the opera screening on the two mounted TVs? At least a telenovela would've been more fitting. But I felt a little better upon sitting down to find that they'd started you off with chips and a giant helping of refried beans studded with corn kernels rather than the usual salsa. The stuff wasn't attractive, but it was good. 

Me: Yes, opera on TV and salsa music overhead was a strange and novel combination. I'd like to know why no mariachi?

Me: The name for El Olvido comes from the lyrics a classic Mariachi tune. In typical Mariachi style, it is mostly about drowning one’s sorrows in tequila (Jalisco-style) while pining over an unrequited love. Not exactly Saturday brunch material. Maybe that is why it was so empty. We should go back in the evening sometime, sidle up to the bar and open up a bottle of Herradurra. Then we might have a different impression of the place. You in? 

DV: Um, yes. We're in. Besides, I bet evening light softens the starkness of the interior.

Hopefully not a sign of things to come...

Me: The menu was interesting. Relatively short but rather diverse in Mexican regional specialties with random moments of fusion. What did you think? And how were the wings? 

DV: Clearly, the kitchen's far less concerned with being all things to all people, offering something for everyone, than it is with getting a few things right for a specific set of customers: those who appreciate the opportunity to experience something new, to learn something about Mexican culinary traditions that aren't well known in these parts. That's what excites and impresses me most about the place so far. I can get burritos and tacos anywhere; not so the dishes on El Olvido's short menu. 

The wings were good—not great, but solid. Well-seasoned, though something about the texture made me wonder if they'd been precooked and reheated. They weren't served with the advertised avocado sauce, though there was already some on the table, so that was an acceptable oversight.

Me: The obvious draw of this Jalisco-themed restaurant is the Carne en Su Jugo. Did it live up to your expectations? 

DV: Well, I really didn't know what to expect. With the hindsight of online research, I  see that preparations can vary from soupy to chunky, more stewlike; ours was the former, but I think I'd prefer the latter, simply because it gets pretty messy, spooning soup into tortillas and then adding more liquids in the form of three side sauces. That said, I loved the overall effect of all those ingredients together—the mixture of broth-simmered beef and beans with the two excellent salsas, one based on vinegar and red chiles and the other on avocado and green chiles, as well as cooling, creamy ranch and a squirt of fresh lime juice.

Me: Our friendly server had improbably long eyelashes. Gravity-defying, mesmerizing and elegant eyelashes. You don’t have to say anything about that, I just thought it was worth mentioning again. 

DV: Ha. Yes it is.

Me: This is basically like a neighborhood restaurant for you and the director. You’ve seen places come and go at this location over the years. Will El Olvido make it onto your regular list? Will it make it at all? 

DV: I'd like to go back at least once to try the fish platter with the chile poblano con crema; if that's at least as good as the things we tried, I could see us stopping by now and then. Whether we'd become regulars is a different matter—although if we did, who knows what other, lesser known specialties we might discover that the chef makes off-menu?

Me: Me too, and I will say that both the red snapper tacos and the enormous Ceasar salad were very good. 

The salad, of course, being that it was invented in Tijuana was the more "traditional" Mexican dish of the two: 

One last question. You said something about painting your house that afternoon. How did carne en su jugo and micheladas affect those plans?

DV: Oh yeah! We went to Home Depot right after lunch, loaded up on supplies, got home, and decided it was pointless—too close to happy hour. So that was that. We are not very domestically ambitious.

El Olvido on Urbanspoon

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