Two weeks ago, Inquirer critic Craig LaBan tore the Ritz-Carlton’s new Richard Sandoval restaurant Aqimero to shreds. The “execution is uninspired,” he wrote. “In a town that mastered Nuevo Latino cooking 15 years ago and that now has more great Mexican food than ever, Aqimero, instead of making a statement befitting its lofty perch, must step up its game.” Philly Mag’s Jason Sheehan couldn’t agree more:
“A waste of time, of space, of money and reputation. Leave it to the expense-account crowd and move on.”
Richard Sandoval, a “big time international restaurateur”, just can’t compete with Philadelphia’s restaurant standards — a notion Sheehan assumed from the start. “I’m not pissed off about my meals at Aqimero. To be pissed—for my experiences to rise to the level of actually making me angry beyond a kind of vacant, low-boil frustration—would presume that I was at all surprised by my experiences.” Instead of being angry about his 0-star experience, the critic was sad to see a “great restaurant space (what should have been a great restaurant space) so terribly misused, and the liveried staff lingering expectantly around the host’s station, waiting for customers who are never going to arrive.”
The problems LaBan experienced during his visits persisted during Sheehan’s: The “fried shrimp chicharrón was just tempura-battered rock shrimp mounded up on a plate and squirted with a chipotle aioli (really, Richard? Jeez) that immediately made the batter mushy wherever it touched.” The lobster sushi roll LaBan called “scant” with lobster”? Sheehan questioned it just the same, “Who, in this time, in this place, is going to go out of his way for a $19 Nikkei lobster sushi roll that had to be deconstructed (the micro-cilantro removed, some of the mayonnaise-heavy spicy sauce scraped off, the limp, cold sticks of asparagus poked out with a chopstick) before it tastes even remotely of the rubbery lobster that makes up its core.”
Read the full Philly Mag tear down here.
In other Latin American food news, this week, Craig LaBan dropped in on Mission Taqueria, the pretty-in-pink-neon Mission District/Mexico City-inspired taqueria-beer garden perched atop its sister restaurant downstairs, Oyster House. Two bells rang for the upper-level Center City, each bell symbolizing a significant shift in Philly’s restaurant scene:
“First is the emergence of Sansom Street West - long an in-the-know hideaway for Center City lunchers - as a nighttime playground for the trendy, young, and thirsty, a crowd that will continue to grow with the recent opening of the massive Harp & Crown, a glam bowling alley and restaurant across the street.
Second is the realization that with self-propelling cocktail crowds like these - from the corporate happy hour hordes off Market Street to girls-night-out tables nibbling tacos before going to see Beyoncé - this food is probably far better than it needs to be.” After all, the space, with its shuffleboard games and foosball cheers, does evoke a beer garden aesthetic.
The last part is important because it’s a theme which plays throughout his entire experience. Nachos at Mission receive an “upgrade with goat chili, earthy from guajillo chilies and smaller Franciscan red beans layered among the chips with stretchy Oaxaca cheese, fresh pepper heat, and juicy cherry tomatoes.” The mahi mahi tacos became LaBan’s “new favorites in town” through the cunning use of homemade Olotillo corn flour tortillas. “The big cochinita pibil, an achiote- and guajillo-marinated pork shoulder that cooks all night long inside banana leaves, was a far more satisfying sharing platter than the lamb, the incredibly flavorful meat sided with tortillas to build out tacos with the vibrant spark of salsa verde and pickled red onions.” The lamb, by the way, is the same lamb which caused the South Philly Barbacoa spy-gate a few weeks back. Mission’s rendition was “so overly tangy and mashed”, LaBan likened it to “a strange lamb pudding.”
All in all, though, Mission's “successes easily outnumbered its flaws”, so LaBan rang the bell twice.