If there has ever been a reliable predictor of bad Mexican food, it is a bowl of stale tortilla chips aside a dish of average salsa. So when that bowl of stale chips arrived at my table last week at Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant in Thousand Oaks, I felt as though I were boarding a rickety prop plane in Guatemala after my Magic 8-Ball had warned me specifically, “Outlook not so good.”
However, I forged blindly ahead, hoping against hope that the bad chips were just a fluke — the bottom of the bag, an exception to the rule. And, as luck would have it, my hoping actually paid off. Stacy and I, already situated cozily in a nice warm booth, sipped lazily on two tasty margaritas, avoiding the triangles of foul-tasting cardboard in the center of the table, while we waited for our meals: a cheese enchilada/chile relleno combination plate for her, a chile relleno/chicken flauta combination plate for me.
And when the meals arrived on two gigantic steaming plates, smothered in cheese? Well, they looked promising, but then again, the chips had looked fresh. I tested the waters, ever so hesitantly, securing a small bite of the chicken flauta on the edge of my fork. What I tasted was as close to perfection as a chicken flauta (which is really a glorified chicken taquito) can get — the outer shell was crisp and flaky, the chicken was perfectly marinated and unbelievably tender, and the ranchero sauce smothering the whole thing was just ever so slightly spicy. I was so surprised that I ate half the thing before uttering a word or looking up. When I finally did, Stacy was halfway through her chile relleno, a look of obvious food bliss on her face.
So, of course, I tried a bite of mine. Although not as good as the flauta, the egg batter was light and the chile was pleasantly mild. The sides of beans and Spanish rice were satisfactory, but I didn’t have room for more than a bite of them anyway after polishing off the relleno and the flauta.
I did, however, have room to split the fried ice cream with bananas and chocolate sauce after our server enthusiastically recommended it. It arrived in a small dish and was topped generously with whipped cream. How one fries ice cream I will never understand, but, in this case, the result was fantastic. The fried outer shell was almost chewy and hinted at cinnamon, which complemented the vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and bananas.
It was so simple and tasted so good that I pretty much forgot about Enrique’s earlier shortcomings — so much for that old adage about first impressions.