Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Colonia Taco Lounge (La Puente, CA)

Colonia Taco Lounge
13030 E Valley Blvd, La Puente, CA 91746
Wed 01/29/2014, 07:50p-09:45p

Colonia Taco Lounge Exterior

Given the good experiences that I'd had recently at both Guisados and Bizarra Capital, it only made sense to check out Ricardo Diaz's newest creation, Colonia Taco Lounge. The restaurant bowed in August 2013, and features the Chef's famous guisados-style tacos along with craft beer, cocktails, and (occasional) live music.

Colonia, like Bizarra, is situated in a former location of El Siete Mares, a chain of Mexican seafood restaurants that Diaz's grandfather started decades ago, and which his father, uncle, and he himself grew up around. This latest venture is all about family in a way, since he partnered with his sister Stephanie Aguirre, who happens to run the well-regarded La Taquiza Fish Tacos up in Napa, as well as brother-in-law Patrick Aguirre, who was head baker at Bouchon for two years and also spent time at A.O.C. However, rumor has it that Patrick, at least, has left the venture.

Colonia Taco Lounge Interior
Inside, the space has been freshened up from its days as a 7 Mares. The dining room is large, moody, almost befitting its "lounge" moniker with the bar tucked into a corner. Note that there's no waiter service here, so you order at the counter and your food is then brought out to you, Carl's Jr-style.

Colonia Taco Lounge Menu
As for Colonia's menu, you'll find it scrawled on a chalkboard, much like it was at Diaz's former joint. Each day there are about a dozen-and-a-half tacos on offer, split between guisados (the long-cooked stuff) on the left and caseros ("homemade" made-to-order ones) on the right, as well as a couple sides, including the popular "Nachostadas." In terms of bebidas, think cocktails, fun sodas, some wine, and, of course, cerveza, mostly on tap.

Berries & Rye
Berries & Rye [$9.00] | whiskey, red wine, lemon bitters, blackberries
We leaned more toward the cocktails, the first of which was the Berries & Rye. I don't think I'd ever had whisky paired with wine before, but it worked out pretty well, the vinous essence of the tinto functioning as a complement to the booziness of the drink, all while the berries added just enough tartness.

Nachostadas [$6.00] | Aged chorizo, Cheese, 3 tostadas
First to the table were the Nachostadas, which were pretty much exactly what the portmanteau would suggest. They were delightfully crunchy and damn tasty though, with the meaty heft of the spicy sausage giving a great depth to the dish, tied together by the gooey cheese while the pico imparted the right amount of lightness to things. There were some pretty focused flavors here, but the course was also just slutty enough to make it good drunk food. You should order this.

Coliflor [$2.50] | Battered cauliflower, Salsa veracruzana, On flour tortilla
We would eventually make our way through the entire taco menu, and the gauntlet got off to a flying start with the cauliflower incarnation. Texturally, the florets were crisp and satisfying, imbued with a slight touch of spice while the creamy sauce brought it all together. This should be on your list to try.

Caipirinha [$6.00] | cachaça, lime, fennel
Colonia's take on the Caipirinha was effective, showing off the classic, refreshing character of the drink with just a trace of anise from the fennel.

Barbacoa [$4.00] | Braised lamb, Cilantro, Onion
The barbacoa was also a standout, the slow-cooked lamb arriving with a wonderful bite to it and just brimming with peppery, ovine flair. If that wasn't enough, the taco came with a cup of chipotle-infused braising liquid, which added a fantastic, earthy depth to the meat that elevated it even further.

Tongue [$4.00] | Beef tongue, Pico de gallo, Beans
Despite coming in unusually large chunks, lengua was especially tender, though lacking in flavor, which seemed odd given the strength of the rest of the food. I did appreciate the counterpoint provided by the beans, and the salsa worked, but the supposed star of the show underwhelmed.

Michelada [$7.00] | lime, spice, ice
If you're only getting one cocktail, perhaps it should be the Michelada (made with Dos Equis I believe), which was certainly one of the best preparations I've had, a fun, refreshing concoction with a deft blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and savory. Take note that this is the only drink we ordered a second round of.

Chicharron [$4.00] | Pork skin, Beans, Avocado, Salsa
Chicharrones were unabashedly porky in nature, just loaded with piggy flavors that made sense against the various accompaniments, the frijoles in particular. My only warning here is that the gelatinous consistency of the pork can be disconcerting to those expecting the crunchy type of skin you often find.

Doraditos [$5.00] | Crispy potato, Cheese
The deep-fried potato tacos were another highlight for me, the hearty, smooth papas melding well with the cheese while the various greenery provided a perfect balance to things. Quite possibly the best tater tacos I've had.

Oaxaca Calling
Oaxaca Calling [$9.00] | vodka, lime, peppermint, jamaica, mezcal
Our next cocktail was the Oaxaca Calling, which had a lot of sweetness up front from the jamaica leading to a somewhat bitter finish, but with a sort of minty overtone enveloping the entire experience. I would've liked more a pronounced taste from the mezcal though.

Duck [$4.50] | Duck confit, smokey guacamole
The pato was yet another table favorite, displaying a super intense "duckiness" to it that made it one of the most profound preparations of the bird I've had. I loved the crispy, caramelized bits here as well, not to mention the zip of the pickles on top.

Campeon [$3.00] | Seared queso fresco, Bacon, Molcajete, Avocado
The requisite cheese taco was a winner too, reminding one of my dining companions of "breakfast in Mexico City." It really was quite lovely, the combination of cheese against salty bacon and creamy avocado satisfying in a pretty base way.

Mai-Tai [$9.00] | rum, lime, pineapple
Our last cocktail of the night brought us the Mai-Tai, a non-traditional version of the classic that conveyed the boozy weight of rum at first, but with the pineapple giving things a tropical sweetness toward the midpalate.

Pavo Pibil
Pavo Pibil [$4.00] | Turkey, Achiote, Onion pickles, Salsa
The special of the evening was a turkey taco, and it just might've been the most flavorful presentation of the bird I've had, its creeping bit of spice nicely accented by the zing of achiote while the pickles imparted a great crunch to the mix.

Sonora [$4.50] | Steak, Raw green salsa, Onion, Cilantro, On flour tortilla
A Sonoran-style asada managed to become another one of my favs as well. The steak itself was superb in taste and in texture, but the crux here was the combo of raw salsa and charred scallion, both of which gave the dish a fantastic brightness to go against the meat.

Pork & Pumpkin
Pork & Pumpkin [$3.00] | Kabocha squash, Seed salsa
The carnitas-esque pork was surprisingly good. I was afraid that the squash would render this overly sugary, and indeed the nose was full of sweet spice, but taste-wise, just think a really lush presentation of pork, with a touch of kabocha sweetness and the pepitas adding a superb textural contrast.

Huitlacoche [$3.00] | Mushrooms, Bourbon cilantro sauce, Avocado
The corn smut taco is another one you need to get, the "mushrooms" giving up a deep, earthy richness that just paired perfectly with the verve of that cilantro salsa. Pretty awesome.

Cucapa Lookout / Silly Saison
At this point, we decided to move on to beers. First up was the Cucapa Lookout [$6], a blonde ale with a great base of malty sweetness tempered by some tasty floral, hoppy qualities. The Silly Saison [$7], meanwhile, was even better with its fantastic fruity character paired with a bit of earthy, yeasty funk.

Pollo Tesmole
Pollo Tesmole [$3.00] | Chicken, Masa thickened spice sauce
The chicken taco was rather enjoyable too, the tender bird serving as a fitting base on which the deep, satisfying sauce could really sing. Nice use of the onions here, too.

Chayote [$2.50] | Squash succotash, Cheese, Corn
A calabacitas-y taco was a pleasant surprise I must say, the veggies really coming together admirably in a mélange of tastes and textures, all bound together by a sweet, savory, spicy liquid.

Avocado Crunchy
Avocado Crunchy [$3.50] | Hard shell, Fennel, Pineapple, Vegetables
The second crispy taco of the night also managed to satisfy with its smart mix of vegetables, the piquant sauce here really doing a great job in integrating all the flavors at play. Superb crunch on that taco shell, too.

Beef [$4.00] | Smoked porter braised beef, Salsa
A stew of beef was uncommonly tender, though flavor-wise, it didn't stand out to me. I wanted to taste more of that smokiness from the porter.

Camaron [$4.00] | Sauteed shrimp, Aji, On flour tortilla
Yet another favorite was the camarones, the shrimp here arriving expertly cooked and showing off a wonderfully focused brine, one tempered by the toppings of red cabbage and scallion while the coconut rice served as a unique moderating element.

Voodoo [$4.00] | Habanero-honey salsa, Chicken, Cucumber
We ended, naturally, with the spiciest taco in the bunch. It certainly didn't compare to the hottest menu item at Guisados, but packed a punch in its own right, the habanero really imparting a sharp bit of heat to the comparatively subdued chicken. I did like the cucumbers here as well, which worked in putting out some of the fire.

Bunuelos [$4.00]
Time for dessert. I rather liked the buñuelos, wonderfully crunchy shards of dough dusted with a coating of sweet spice. Delectable alone, and even better with a dab of that honeyed condiment on the side.

Ate con Crema y Queso
Ate con Crema y Queso [$5.00]
Last up was the ate de membrillo, a sort of quince paste that came in neat squares atop equally neat square of queso. My dining companions weren't too fond of these, but I enjoyed them, finding the sweet-savory interplay and textures here pretty pleasing.

Count Colonia as yet another feather in Ricardo Diaz's cap. The food here is at least as good as what was served over at Guisados I'd say, and you have the added benefit of booze. The Chef has done the taco proud, once again. So what's next? Now if you recall, Chef Diaz and the Aguirres were supposed to partner up for Duro, an eatery dedicated solely to crispy tacos and flautas. It was set to debut in the coming months at the site of the Siete Mares in Silver Lake, though with the recent developments, I'm not sure what's going on (the Aguirres may just open up Duro by themselves). Further along, Diaz has also expressed interest in Chorizo Amor, a Mexican sausage-plus-beer concept that was originally slated for the Duro space, so hopefully that'll come to fruition.


Blogger Allan said...

First to the table were the Nachostadas, which were pretty much exactly what the portmanteau would suggest. They were delightfully crunchy and damn tasty though, with the meaty heft of the spicy sausage giving a great depth to the dish, tied together by the gooey cheese while the pico imparted the right amount of lightness to things. There were some pretty focused flavors here, but the course was also just slutty enough to make it good drunk food. You should order this.

Describing a "taco joint" never sounded so great.. Awesome stuff

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 5:24:00 AM  
Anonymous H.Peter said...

I read about this place somewhere else and now your post, I need to book a trip to California.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 2:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! What a fantastic food journey. Makes me hungry for travel.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 8:41:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Allan: Ha, I was quite a fan of that as well.

HPeter: How are the tacos in France? I'm curious if Mexican cuisine in general is widespread there.

Chris: Anything like this up in Edmonton?

Monday, February 24, 2014 2:53:00 AM  

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