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Monday, March 7, 2011

Pablo's Cantina - Tustin

2601 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA 92782

Pablo's Cantina in Tustin is the latest eatery to open in The District at Tustin Legacy. This is the second location of a restaurant that started in Honolulu, Hawaii. Pablo's occupies the space that once housed Bistro West.

I dined at Pablo's Cantina this past Sunday evening. The wait was too long at Lucille's so we decided to check out Pablo's. Pablo's has only been open for about a week. There was no wait for a table at 6:30 PM.

After being seated, I took a look at the menu. I was very impressed with the variety of food that they offered, or at least that I thought they offered. The prices are also a bit high. There was a special section on the menu that bragged about how they served authentic, unusual meats that you can't find at your average Mexican restaurant. The menu section listed lengua (beef tongue) and chicharron (fried pork skin) as an option in a taco, burrito, sope or torta. There were no prices in this section, so I asked the waiter for details. He told me he would have to check. He came back a while later and told me that these meats were no longer available. In fact, they were removed from the menu before their grand opening. I was surprised that the restaurant would remove these items without even giving them a chance, especially after bragging about them so much on their menu. I was very disappointed because these unique meats were what was setting them apart from the average Americanized Mexican restaurant.

The chips and salsa here come with a green salsa verde instead of the standard red salsa. The salsa is very sour and not very good. J decided to order Queso Fundido con Chorizo ($9.00) as an appetizer for the table. This is basically cheese melted over some ground chorizo. It wasn't bad but you have to eat it really quickly. A few minutes after arriving at your table, the cheese will cool and harden into one solid lump.

For dinner I had fully intended to order lengua. Since that turned out not to be an option, I decided to just order two tacos because I wanted to try their dessert. I ordered one mahi mahi fish taco ($4.00) and one mushroom taco ($2.00). I asked about getting a side of rice and beans with my tacos but was told that it would be $6.00 so I passed. Both tacos were served on a small 3-inch corn tortilla. The fish taco had a teeny-tiny piece of fish on it with some shredded cabbage. The fish had a slightly fishy flavor to it, but no flavor other than that. The taco was nowhere near as good as a fish taco you would get at Wahoo's. The mushroom taco wasn't bad. It had a little bit of a spicy kick to it. Overall though, I believe that both of these 2-bite tacos were overpriced for what they were.

V ordered an Al Pastor (marinated pork) torta ($9.00). She hated it. She thought that it just tasted like two pieces of bread with bland, tasteless mush in between.

S ordered an Al Pastor Burrito ($13.00). S did not like her burrito at all. She agreed that the Al Pastor was flavorless and really didn't care for the sauce that they doused the burrito with.

J ordered the Barbacoa de Res (barbecued beef-$15.00). Like V and S, she though that her food had no flavor. She was very disappointed in her meal.

R decided to get the Chile Verde (pork in green sauce-$17.00). R thought that his food had flavor, but unfortunately for him, not a flavor he enjoyed. He thought that the dish was too spicy and wasn't able to eat very much of it.

When we were nearly done with our meals, the waiter came by and asked us to be honest about what we thought of the food. He said that he wanted feedback to give the kitchen since they were new. We all told him how disappointed we were in our food and detailed what was wrong with each dish. He apologized and said he would pass the feedback along to the kitchen.

Since I had planned from the beginning to order dessert, I decided to get the Tres Leches cake ($7.50). After about a 25 minute wait, it finally arrived at the table. The cake was SO dense and hard that I was barely able to cut through it. It sort of had the consistency of a super-dense pound cake that someone had compressed to make even denser. The waiter came by and asked how I liked the cake and I told him how horrible it was. He apologized again and said he would pass the feedback to the kitchen staff.

After the waiter brought the bill, he told us that he had passed our comments along to the chef and had asked the chef to come out and talk to us. Unfortunately, the chef declined because he said that he was too busy to talk to customers (The restaurant was over half empty). I guess it is understandable that the chef did not want to talk to us but I was surprised that at no time during our visit were we visited by the manager. Even though none of us liked our food, the server did not offer to take anything off the bill nor replace any food item. Not only that, but we noticed after we left that we were actually charged $2.00 for a side of tortillas that no one ever ordered.

Overall, the food was bad and the service was friendly but extremely slow. The food is also very overpriced for what it is. I would not mind paying their prices if the food was actually good. I strongly believe that you will get a better meal for half the price at Don Jose or El Torito. If you really want to go to a high-end Mexican restaurant, I would suggest you go to Gabbi's. I do not see myself returning to Pablo's Cantina anytime soon. Since this place is brand new, I will consider visiting again if I hear a lot of stellar reviews after they have worked out all their kinks. If they don't fix things soon though, they might disappear as quickly as Bistro West did.

Pablo's Cantina on Urbanspoon


DanGarion said...

We are right there with you. We went there Saturday night with D&C and none of us really thought much of it. I had the carnitas and it was completely flavorless. The chicken tortilla soup was ok. Kelly had two breaded fish tacos which she thought were ok. C had pazole (I think) and it had no flavor. It was just a bunch of flavorless food. I doubt we will be going back any time soon. I'd rather pay those prices at Gabbi's or Taco Rosa where I know the food will be good.

Johnny Automatic said...

11 of us had a much different experience on Saturday. The green sauce you had and didn't like is a raw tomatillo/jalapeno (or serrano) salsa. It is certainly not the standard salsa you usually get with chips at a Mexican place, but it is a traditional salsa.

I had the chile relleno (one of my classic Mexican tests). It was a pretty good example of a fluffy style relleno (actually 2 stacked on top of each other.) I liked the red sauce it was served with. My wife got the cheese enchilada plate with the same red sauce and she liked it as well. She hates a thin, wimpy red sauce.

My friend got a carnitas taco - moist and flavorful. Everyone seemed to enjoy their food fine. Not as good as Gabbi's but certainly not as overpriced as Javier's and the room was much more pleasant than that dark, noisy, crowded pickup joint.

DanGarion said...

Hopefully this means they have finally got their act together.