Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: Cascal - Spirited Pan-Latin Cuisine

Cascal Restaurant in Mountain View, CA is the subject of this Last Bite Restaurant Review.

Upon arriving at Cascal we were surprised at how full the place was. I would expect this type of crowd on the weekend, but not mid-week. The restaurant was two thirds full and the bar was at capacity. We actually had to stand at the bar as there were no seats left. We managed to squeeze into a small spot on the side of the bar closest to the entrance until a couple of seats opened up.

The bartender was on his game and greeted us within a minute of making our way to the bar. He recommended a Mojito or Capyrhania or a glass of wine; however no specific wine was offered. I order an Iced Tea and my guest ordered a Capyrhania. The drinks were wonderfully presented with muddled fruit in the Capyrhania and fruit garnish on the iced tea. Both the cocktail and the tea were fresh and delicious tasting.

The cocktail was served with two tiny straws. This made the beverage a little difficult to consume since the muddled fruit was constantly clogging the straws. I offered my larger straw; which I was not using, to my guest and this problem was eliminated. While we enjoyed our drinks and the newly claimed barstools the bartender came back and asked if we would like to order any food. We mentioned that we would be eating in the dining room shortly.

The bar remained at full capacity the entire time we were there. I even checked upon leaving and there was only a single stool opened. This place was jumpin’ for sure!

When we finished our beverages I got up to have the hostess get our table ready. My guest stayed at the bar while I went to see about our seats in the dining room. When I returned with the manager, who was seating us, the bar tender offered to transfer our tab. We thanked him and moved to our table. I am already impressed at the way the staff here interacts. They all work together supporting each other’s roles and it is making for a very pleasant experience so far!

For an appetizer we ordered the Crab & Corn Soup. It was presented simply yet attractively in a ceramic crock. The soup was creamy, sweet and smoky all at the same time. It was garnished with a medallion of lump crab meat in the center.

The flavors of this dish worked together well. All the flavors were subtle and enhanced the complexity of this dish. I felt there was an element of texture missing as the whole thing was a little mushy. I did find a little bit of crab shell in the soup. While it did not completely put me off eating the soup; it was somewhat unpleasant.

The Mexican Bar tapas was served simply on an oval platter. There was a spicy dipping sauce on the platter for flavor enhancement of the individual items in the sampler. The sampler was quite boring to look at, and the empanada and quesadilla were completely devoid of any garnish. The sopes were garnished with a sprig of flat leaf parsley, and the taquitos with some crumbled queso blanco. This entrée tasted fine; however, my guest was forced to spit out a long thin chicken bone that was hiding in one of the sopes.

The Puerco Cubano was extremely delicious. It was presented simply with an accompaniment of white rice, black beans, plantain and sweet potato mash.

I felt that the pork itself was outstanding and the rest of the dish was just ok. The pork was perfectly seasoned and fork tender. It was moist and delicious and a pleasure to eat. I felt it was just a little fatty in spots but not enough to put me off.

The side dishes; other than the sweet potato mash were somewhat bland. The rice was served plain, the black beans lacked seasoning. Even a little salt and pepper would have helped with the flavor of the sides. We both felt the outstanding nature of the pork made up for the weak side dishes on this meal.

The entrees were delivered in the appropriate amount of time and were served at the proper temperature. Portions seemed to be adequate and neither of us felt like we were still hungry afterwards.

For dessert we ordered the Tres Leche Cake. It was presented wonderfully; with a sprig of mint in the center. The topping of flavored sweetened condensed milk was either broiled or torched for a caramelized effect.

While we both felt the caramelized topping was a little too sweet; overall this was a wonderful dessert. There was a layering of flavors and you could clearly pick out tones of coconut, vanilla and lime. The cake itself was moist but not soggy and this dessert was a pleasure to eat. We ordered some coffee to help cut the sweetness of the topping. The strong coffee they were serving was a perfect pair to this dessert.

The overall appearance of Casacal was very clean and well maintained. The building itself had a new appearance. The property seemed well maintained and there was no sign of any lapse of maintenance anywhere on the premises. The lighting inside was dim yet appropriate for the ambiance that they have created. Outside was also well lighted and inviting.

We did however find the noise level inside to be almost unbearable inside. The venue was at capacity and patrons seemed to almost be yelling to carry on their conversations. Above all that, the music could still be heard. Perhaps the reason for the loud environment was the music level. It’s hard to tell.

Our server was very pleasant and attentive when he was around, with the exception of keeping my iced tea full. We enjoyed the service that he provided. While he did seem to be very knowledgeable of the menu items, no suggestions were made other than pointing out the wine section of the menu. When we asked pointed question regarding menu items he was able to provide some guidance.

He did check back with us a few times; sometimes he simply glanced over as he walked by making sure we were happy while we ate.

Bussers kept our table cleared of excess dishes at all times. They were very effective and after our entrees were completed the busser even wiped down our table as if he was crumbing it. We felt this enhanced our dessert and coffee experience.

If you’re looking for a great Latin food experience and you don’t mind a bit of a crowd we highly recommend Casacal Restaurant on Castro Street, Downtown Mountainview, CA.

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