Monday, December 5, 2011

...Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina

Different does not equal bad.

Sometimes the negative connotation of "different" causes people to think so - when you want to be nice, and you try a new food, you often say, 'Well, it's different..."  Unfortunately, this can cause confusion, in that people tend to think that any food described as "different" isn't delicious.

Verde is different, but in a good - as in unique - way.

I have been eagerly awaiting this restaurant's opening for months - in fact, I have been eagerly awaiting its opening since being inspired to start this blog, as it was mentioned in the original China Millman article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that caused my epiphany.

Verde has been running a blog since April, which I have been following since June.  It's refreshing to see a business that reflects upon its doings and is excited to share its progress, whether it's progressing positively or negatively.  They commented on their research, their vision, their progress, and their successes and failures alike, which goes to show that the restaurant industry, no matter how much education, planning, and vision you may have, is always a learning experience.

I like that.

I was so thrilled when the soft opening was announced for November, but I didn't want to visit until the soft open was over.  It's not fair to review a restaurant when it first opens - that would be like doing someone's annual performance review in their first week on the job or giving a midterm exam during the first week of classes.

No es justo.

James suggested going to Verde, and I couldn't hold off any longer.  We made a reservation for the Thursday of the official opening week, and I was thrilled to see a post on their blog about what they had learned during the soft open and what they were going to do to improve.  That in itself showed me that they were doing everything possible to make this restaurant a success.

I arrived first and was seated at a booth near the restrooms.  James arrived shortly thereafter, and we started to decide upon our vittles.  While debating upon our appetizers, we were served our complimentary basket of fresh cut chips with roasted tomatillo salsa.  Although I am partial to red tomato salsa, this tomatillo salsa was far superior to any kind that I had had before, including the apple tomatillo salsa that I had made myself.

We knew that we had to try the table-side guacamole, where the guacamole is concocted right at your table with the option to adjust the ingredients to your preferences.
Making the guac, table-side (pardon James' hand!)
 Neither James nor I are super picky about fresh guacamole - we love every ingredient, so it wasn't as if we wanted anything special.  It was wonderfully fresh (it couldn't BE any fresher!), and the mix of ingredients was perfect, but I would have been just as happy if it had been made in the back; however, if you have special preferences (such as no cilantro, not a lot of lime, no onions, etc.) this would be the perfect way for you to enjoy guacamole the way that you prefer it to be. 

Our guac - the final product
 We also ordered the "Ceviche del Dia", made with barramundi, a fish sometimes referred to as perch.  I was mostly intrigued by the red-ish topping - we thought that they were beets, but our waitress informed us that they were pickled jicama (say that three times fast).

Barramundi Ceviche topped with pickled jicama

I love a good jicama, especially if I get it at a good price.  I wasn't sure how I'd like it pickled, but it was almost like pickled beets.  Regardless, this was great ceviche - fabulous flavor from the lime, onions, peppers, and herbs, plus it wasn't fishy-tasting, proving that it was made well.  It was served with plantain strips, which were perfect planks upon which to perch the perch ceviche (now say that three times fast...)

Barramundi Ceviche & Plantain Strips
Although I need to try many different types of Hispanic/Latino foods, I cannot ever resist the Pollo en Mole Poblano on a menu - and so that is what I ordered; moreover, it came with yucca fries, a staple in my visits to Chicken Latino.  James went with the Chiles Rellenos, since many of his Twitter followers suggested it from their visits to the restaurant during the soft open.

Pollo en Mole Poblano, yucca fries, grilled spring onions

I'm so glad that I chose the Pollo en Mole Poblano, because their version is truly unique.  I commented on the mole at Las Velas (which still holds the ranking as my favorite!), and how bland the mole was at Gran Agave, and how much sweeter and more chocolate-y the mole at the Franklin Inn was - but this mole was unlike any other.  In fact, it did not taste chocolate-y at all - more like nutmeg, or a similar autumnal flavor.  In addition, it was not very spicy, which I can take or leave in a mole.  I'm not saying that the mole wasn't delicious - I definitely enjoyed the flavor of the mole, and James agreed.

Like I've mentioned - different does not equal bad.  Not at all.

The chicken itself was not shredded, as it was in every other chicken mole dish in every other restaurant - it was served as half of a chicken, which also set this apart from the others.  I felt as if I got more chicken than sauce, making this a better value than most dishes, as I'm usually left with a plateful of sauce with nothing else with which to clean it up.

If it were socially acceptable to lick sauce off of a plate, you had better bet that I would.  Fortunately, I didn't have to at Verde with all of that chicken!

The yucca fries and spring onions complemented the dish well.  The fries were as crispy and well-salted like those at Chicken Latino, and the grilled spring onions were cooked well enough to dilute the strong onion-y taste that raw onions have, while maintaining the flavor of a fabulously cooked onion.

Chile Relleno
James' Chile Relleno was quite tasty - it was stuffed with quinoa and a black bean succotash, and covered in queso blanco and chipotle asado sauce.  I only took one bite to try, but I am a fan, based on that bite.  It was quite spicy - spicier than I expected, actually, and spicy enough for James to sweat like a menopausal woman having a hot flash.  Perhaps some of the membrane of the pepper was still intact, or maybe the sauce was spicier than we thought; either way, it was much spicier than the chile rellenos I have tried previously.

I was surprised during our meal when a man came over to our table, looked at me, and said my name, questioningly.  I replied, "Yes?" and he proceeded to introduce himself as Jeff, the owner of the restaurant.  I was in disbelief mostly because this was the first time that any restaurant owner recognized me without me first introducing myself to them or a member of their staff.  He thanked James and I for coming in, and at the end of our meal, returned to ask for feedback.

He wants constructive criticism.  He wants this restaurant to be spectacular.  I love Jeff for that reason.

We commented on the uniqueness of the Pollo en Mole Poblano, mostly, and how much we enjoyed everything else, especially the ceviche.

I'm sure that the menu at Verde will continue to change and evolve as feedback comes in, whether explicit or implied.  Regardless, there are many things on the current menu that are great options for my next visit...which will occur in the near future, hopefully...

Verde Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
5491 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15206 (Garfield, at the Glass Lofts)

Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina on Urbanspoon


  1. This has sealed the deal for me. I'm celebrating my birthday this weekend and can't wait to go to Verde as the b-day dinner!! Thanks for the review


  2. Thank you for such a detailed review of this new restaurant. This makes me want to take a special trip to Pittsburgh from Georgia just to try the delicious cuisine!