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Valley Life | restaurant review

Missing Ingredient

Mexicali's looks promise more than the food delivers.

May 26, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mexicali is much more ambitious and upscale than a mom-and-pop place. Its attractive bar serves aggressive margaritas and, at Sunday brunch, excellently balanced mimosas. A lot of people consider it one of the handsomest restaurants on Ventura Boulevard. If it has a problem, it's lack of identity.

Many items on the menu, which runs to Mexican dishes, salads and sandwiches, just don't have much personality. For instance, most egg dishes on the Sunday brunch menu taste pretty much the same. The huevos rancheros are better because of a fine, thick ranchero sauce--that is, if the chefs don't solder your eggs to the red-hot plate, as has happened to me.

The breakfast burrito is filled with scrambled eggs, jalapenos, green onions, avocados, Jack cheese and even a touch of goat cheese. Even so, it's not much more interesting than what you'd get at Taco Bell. Omelet con queso is a regular cheese omelet topped with avocado. Wrap it up in a flour tortilla and it tastes to me just like the breakfast burrito. Big deal.

I suppose I'm so disappointed because this place stirs your expectations. The menu is full of great-sounding things like ceviche, garlic chipotle rotisserie chicken, rib-eye steak soft tacos and grilled swordfish with orange-mango-chipotle pepper salsa.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 2, 2000 Valley Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Restaurant review--A review of Mexicali restaurant in the May 26 Valley Life section contained several errors. The pinto beans are prepared without oil, not refried; the ceviche is made with swordfish only, not shrimp, and the dessert was a blackberry-raspberry pie, not a three-berry cobbler. Dinner is served daily from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

But my chicken tortilla soup didn't have any tortilla strips, and the waiter just shrugged and said, "They're mixed in." Ri-i-ight. The tangy ceviche, a mixture of shrimp and fish, is quite good, but the garlic chipotle chicken scarcely tastes of garlic or chipotle peppers, and comes with gummy Spanish rice and mushy, if tasty, refried beans. There is much more to praise in the fajitas, especially the jumbo shrimp version and the flavorful steak fajitas. My grilled ahi tuna wasn't a bad piece of fish, but the rice, beans and roasted tomatillo salsa piled around it only diluted its flavor.

The best salad, without question, is rotisserie Cobb: mixed lettuces in a balsamic vinegar dressing topped with pulled rotisserie chicken, crisp bacon, ripe avocados, blue cheese, tomatoes and onions.

At lunch you can get a reasonable grilled swordfish sandwich on toasted herb bread and an acceptable burger. Desserts include the restaurant's trademark chocolate flan, the best choice, and a mixed three-berry cobbler that tastes pretty good with vanilla bean ice cream. Forget about all Mexicali's problems. There are a couple of things you won't find at Taco Bell.

BE THERE

Mexicali, 12161 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City. Lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; brunch Saturday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m., and Friday-Sunday, 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Parking in rear lot. Full bar. All major cards. Brunch for two, $17-$26. Suggested dishes: ceviche, $7.25; steak fajitas, $8.95; rotisserie Cobb salad, $7.95; grilled swordfish sandwich, $8.20. Call (818) 985-1744.

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