Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mexico On Main A lot of "Ole!" for very little Dinero!

John and I are now making a weekly trek to a little hole in the wall restaurant in Trenton, IL called Mexico on Main.  Located on Main Street (no kidding, right?) it is a little gem that is getting a big following.  Their prices are more than reasonable, the food is excellent and they offer some dishes that are not seen on very many menus on this side of the border.  The service is fast and friendly and on Thursday and Friday they have pitchers of  lime Margaritas for $9.99 which are some of the best Margaritas I've had in Illinois.  It's a small place and they are open for lunch which is really cheap--and I'm sure it's just as good.  The line starts at around 6 pm, but moves quickly and they do have outside tables for dining al fresco (not something I particularly like) and I assume it's also the smoking section but I don't know for sure as I haven't been here when it was warm enough to eat outside.  The pleasant experience begins with piping hot chips and cold homemade salsa.  The chips are unsalted but you can add a sprinkle from the shaker if you like.  The salsa is cold and spicy with a hint of cilantro but not a lot of bite--but you can spark it up with the habanero sauce on the table if you are a fire-eater. *NOTE:  The green and red habanero sauces on the table are viciously hot and not for the faint of heart--add sparingly and at your own risk.  The Margaritas are served with or without salt at your request and two glasses come pre-filled along with the first pitcher and while they are delicious, they pack a punch, so bring a designated driver if you are in a group that likes to drink.  They have an amazing assortment of fajita combinations to thrill the palate, and enough to make even the pickiest eater happy.  In addition to the unusually flavorful chicken, they have steak, shrimp, chorizo and carnitas in a myriad of combinations.  The chimichangas are remarkably good--filled with lots of nicely seasoned beef or chicken that has been prepared on premises--no canned chicken here--and enormous for the price.  The carnitas are butter-soft, lean and tasty under a blanket of seasoned fried onions.  Every dish comes with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo and most come with refried beans and rice.  The beans and rice are the only things I'm not to crazy about--the beans are salty and soupy (which seems to be the norm) and the rice is fairly bland but no worse than any other Mexican restaurant in the area.  Mixing them together helps, but they could be much better with very little effort. The guacamole is delicious--chunky with large piece of avocado (and if it's not homemade, then they are using a first rate commercial product)  and I'm pretty comfortable in saying that it's made by the restaurant. The tortillas are definitely homemade and are delicious--I haven't had tortillas this good since I lived in El Paso.  They make the most amazing chicken soup I've had anywhere; great spicy flavor with huge chunks of white meat chicken and I am sure that they make the stock from the many chickens they boil to make the fillings in their enchiladas, burritos and such.  It's a huge bowl of soup and perfect for a lighter dinner. They also have a seafood soup I haven't tried yet but I have every intention of sampling so I will post an update when I do. The portions are generous, the prices are low and if you aren't a big eater, there'll be plenty for lunch the next day.  Everything I've eaten here has been exceptionally good and they are consistent in their dishes--they taste delicious every time.  I'm very impressed with this little piece of Mexico on Main and I think you will be too! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overpriced, Overrated and Oversalted: Mike Shannon's--a Pinnacle of Mediocrity!

John and I had dinner at Mike Shannon's lauded restaurant last night and it wasn't just bad--it was the epitome of an over-hyped restaurant that is long on promises, short on delivery and needs a chef who isn't resting on the laurels of past glory.  We were seated in some very uncomfortable chairs in front of a window with the hot sun pouring through it and the air-conditioning wasn't on--I was dripping sweat for the first 20 minutes!  Finally the A/C kicked in--which is good because I was dying from the heat.  I expected an excellent meal as I bought into the reputation of the restaurant that I had been hearing about for years.  The menu prices would leave one to believe it was a quality dining restaurant as it makes Ruth's Chris look like bargain dining! Tragically, the steaks aren't even close to the quality needed to justify the price.  $38 buys you an 8 ounce filet mignon (a la carte--not even a breadstick or piece of parsley--meat and plate)  that even cooked rare didn't have a drop of juice--not one drop.  It made up for the lack of juiciness with a total lack of flavor but didn't lack for salt.  I've had beef jerky that wasn't as salty as that steak--or as tough.  My husband should have sent it back, but didn't as he doesn't like to send food back no matter how horrible the dish--but he never goes back after a bad first experience.  Along with his $38 dollar hunk of Clydesdale he he ordered an $8 order of again horribly over-salted fries of which I tasted three.  The outside was crisp and the inside fluffy but the amount of salt would have put McDonald's to shame.  I've never had fries that were so over-salted, and sadly the chef's passionate love affair with the Morton Salt Girl was a theme that was repeated with every dish except the macaroni and cheese which mercifully had no salt.  Sadly, it also had no cheese, no flavor and no exposure to a heat source as it arrived stone cold in a hot metal dish.  Having eaten beef for my last 4 meals, I ordered the appetizer calamari ($8) and the mac-and-cheese side dish ($9) for my meal.  The server didn't bother to bring me a plate for my meal which was stunning--even the cheapest Chinese joint brings a plate--apparently Mike Shannon's expects their customers to eat directly from the serving dish to save wear and tear on the dishwasher.  I took a bite of the calamari and while it was tender, I couldn't taste ANYTHING but the exceptionally heavily oversalted coating.  I took a second bite from another side of the plate hoping that the salt had been confined to one area but alas, this was not the case.  The mac and cheese was without a doubt THE WORST MAC AND CHEESE I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE. Morrison's cafeteria has better mac and cheese--as does Piccadilly, Bob Evans, Stouffer's frozen--even Kraft powdered from the box is better.  It had no cheese; it was cold even though the serving dish was hot  and the best thing I can say about it is that the bread crumbs on top were nicely buttered, crispy and not salty--the only dish in the meal that missed being buried under the salt avalanche.  I sent it back 15 minutes after it arrived--I would have sent it back sooner, but the waiter who dropped it off sans plate, took 15 minutes to reappear.  By the time a woman (who didn't introduce herself so I can't tell you what her position is) came by to offer to make me something else, my husband had finished his dinner, so I declined although I would have declined if they'd offered something else as I was over my salt allotment for the month after the 3 bites of food I'd already consumed.  The waiter returned to offer sell us some dessert (although I don't know why he thought I'd eat dessert when I hadn't had dinner yet) but we declined and asked for the bill which for 3 domestic beers (Michelob products--2 Shock Top and 1 Amber Bock) an 8 oz steak and an order of fries was SEVENTY DOLLARS before tip and EIGHTY-FOUR DOLLARS with the 20% tip which was about 10% more than a server (who didn't bring a plate for me to put my food and waited 15 minutes before coming by to see that my food was untouched) deserved.  It's no mystery to me that the dining room was a sea of empty tables.  I don't know how a restaurant as lauded as Mike Shannon's can fail so miserably to make french fries, mac and cheese and a steak.  The calamari was not made on the premises--it was a frozen product that would have been acceptable until they drowned it in salt and served it with lemons that were old enough to vote.  It was unbelievably bad--if I hadn't seen it myself I don't know if I would have believed it but this restaurant is living on it's reputation which won't hold up much longer--it's lucky there are a lot of tourists in the area from the local hotels because if they had to depend on the local trade, they would have locked their doors by now.  A truly awful dining experience all the way around.  NEVER AGAIN!!