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Let's Eat Out : Food for a Fiesta Mood

July 25, 1985|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

Each Wednesday, a car marked "Tijuana taxi" parks on West Third Street offering one-way rides that no one takes. Business is poor because the "taxi's" function is not transportation but advertising. And the trip it promotes is not to the border but to the adjacent building, which is Kathy Gallagher's restaurant.

On Wednesdays through the middle of September, Kathy Gallagher hosts a Mexican summer fiesta. The restaurant is hung with sombreros and serapes. A lone mariachi sings day and night. The barmaids wear holsters armed with tequila bottles and limes. And a bright yellow menu of Mexican dishes supplements the regular bill of fare.

Some Personal Favorites

There are some very good dishes, thanks to chef Carlos Benitez and to restaurant owner Gallagher, who added some of her personal preferences. Gallagher insisted that Benitez make chunky guacamole, because she doesn't like it smooth. She also wanted fajitas because the dish is one of her favorites. A well-laden chicken tostada was borrowed from the regular menu and a Mexican breakfast from the Sunday brunch. Of course, there are Margaritas, both plain and strawberry-flavored.

Although he is from Mexico, not Texas, Benitez came up with a marvelous version of Texas-style barbecued chicken. The marinade is spicy, the chicken juicy. It is possibly the best dish on the Mexican menu, its closest rival being the grilled swordfish spread with tomatillo sauce. The pork tamales are another Benitez idea. They don't have much filling, but what they have is good, and the surrounding masa has nice flavor too.

Excellent Appetizer

Gallagher thought up an interesting appetizer, beanless nachos topped with shrimp, bacon, cheese, onion and cilantro. The concept is excellent. But the nachos would have been better if they had come to the table before the melted cheese congealed.

The Mexican breakfast plate, another nice idea, suffered from a flaw in the kitchen. The eggs for the huevos rancheros were overcooked, not quite leathery but not meltingly soft as they should be. The plate includes a chile relleno, cheese-topped beans and little strips of toast topped with bright green jalapeno jelly for a pretty effect.

When beans accompany a dish, they are black, and the rice is brown. These starchy accompaniments aren't served with the same frequency as in the average Mexican restaurant. The grilled swordfish comes with rice and steamed vegetables. The enchiladas have neither beans nor rice on the side but shredded lettuce and red cabbage. It was a surprise to find the enchiladas sauceless. What sauce there is coats the filling. The outside covering is sour cream, cheese and guacamole.

Surprising Combinations

First courses include shrimp cocktail, Acapulco-style ceviche, a chalupa and a hearty soup, pozole, its broth red with chile. Salads include a non-Mexican combination of limestone lettuce, radicchio, artichokes, mushrooms and avocados. The Mexican Christmas salad is far from an authentic rendition of that dish. An assortment of sliced fruits topped with grapes, toasted pine nuts and no dressing, it could more accurately be called a dieter's special.

The Mexican menu is dessertless. The waiter said, not very seriously, that he would pour tequila over the regular desserts. But that wasn't necessary because the selection included creme caramel, which is the same thing as flan. Gallagher's flan is an excellent one, silky, light and surrounded by lots of caramel sauce, an appropriate ending to a fiesta dinner.

Kathy Gallagher, 8722 West 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 271-9930. Mexican Summer Fiesta on Wednesdays only, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Reservations advised. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking in lot behind restaurant.

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