The second Tico opened I made a reservation. A new Latino restaurant in the Back Bay? Hell yes. Latino restaurants have been opening left and right! I love it. Things are starting to look up on the Mexican / Latino front and I, for one, could not be happier. The executive chef is Michael Schlow, the man behind Via Matta, Alta Strada and Radius. His background is traditionally Italian so I was interested to see his take on Latin American. While we were waiting for a table, Michael Schlow saw me taking pictures and walked up to us to see what was going on. He was super nice and hospitable.
When we arrived, around 8:30, the place was packed. There were people waiting, the bar had a crowd three deep and servers were flying by from every direction. It was exciting! The Black Keys were blasting, which kind of threw me off, but I’ll never be one to complain about that. The layout is much more open than that of Cottonwood Cafe, the mediocre Mexican/American restaurant that used to inhabit the space, you can see right into the kitchen at Tico. It was difficult for me to even remember Cottonwood’s layout. My favorite part about the design was the frosted shade between the bar and the dining area, it casted organgey silhouettes the dining room.
At the bar we got some drinks while waiting for a table. They didn’t have a drink menu yet, so I just ordered a regular margarita. Boooring, but it was good. Nothing special about the presentation whatsoever, the marg was served in a water glass (pictured above).
The menu has mostly small plates, along with some tacos, sides and entrees. The small plates owned a majority of the space on the menu, prices ranged between 8-14 dollars. Some items on the menu were more on the Spanish Tapas side than the Latin American side. I thought this place was going to be totally Latino, I guess the Tapa trend has yet to die. When our server greeted us, he cut to the chase and asked about drinks. No welcome, no explanation of the menu – just drinks. He couldn’t be more obvious about trying to get the bill higher. We asked what drinks were the best, the lack of drink menu did make it difficult to choose. He recommended a shot of tequila and Budweiser. Umm…if that’s what I wanted I would walk down the street to Lir. Was he serious? We wanted something festive man, this is my Friday. This is the new Latino spot. The boys went ahead and ordered the shots anyway and Cadillac margaritas (regular with a shot of Grand Marnier). Now we’re talking.
We ordered almost every taco. It was hard not to, they were completely different from one another. The two textures of the beef were supposed to be soft / braised and crispy. I couldn’t detect the crispiness at all, but it tasted good. The crispy fish was a standard fish taco, the spicy shrimp was great because it was something different – the bacon and avocado were a fun addition. I was most excited about the pork with spicy cucumber, but the cucumber wasn’t spicy, it was mild cucumber that didn’t stand out next to the marinated pork. Still delicious, but ‘spicy cucumber’ was a tease.
Cheese obviously had to play a role in this meal, the main offering being the crispy fried Manchego, yum (but isn’t that Spanish? Whatever). Mini
latino Spanish mozzarella sticks. These were great, but the sauce was the star of the show. The spicy pomegranate honey was a standout, after we were done with the cheese, we kept it at our table for the rest of the meal.
Clockwise From Top Left: Serrano Ham with Tomato Rubbed Bread | “Creamed” Corn with Bacon, Chiles and Thai Basil | Tuna Tartare Tostadas with Lime, Cilantro and Serrano | Mushroom and Cheese Quesadilla with Black Truffle Salsa | Chorizo Risotto with Pasilla Chiles, Scallion and Parmigiano
More small plates! Here there were a couple things I liked, and a couple things I didn’t like (starting to sound like Padma…) On the positive side we have another especialidad de España, pan con tomate! I LOVED this, it had way more tomato than the tomato bread I had in Spain, it was simple and delicious. Plus the serrano ham was joyous. Yes, joyous. The “creamed” corn was my favorite dish of all, but “creamed” it was not, it was just regular corn, but the bacon and chiles mixed in were out of this world. The risotto was very similar to the corn and actually had what the corn was lacking, creaminess. The corn was awesome don’t get me wrong, but I think they need to describe it differently. Anyway, the risotto was cheesy, creamy and mixed with a few of my favorite things, chorizo and chiles.
I thought the tuna tartare was meh. I’ve had tastier, more flavorful, better presentation, bigger portion, etc. Skip this. The mushroom and cheese quesadilla felt and tasted like only mushrooms, there was barely any cheese. Hello, QUESAdilla. Taste was good, but lack of cheese can be a major problem.
Aside from some of my food and menu issues, we were mostly satisfied with our food up to that point, then things started to get a little shaky. On multiple occasions, servers came to our table to remove our small plates before we were finished. There was one or two bites left, which may not be a lot, but when there are three bites total it’s a lot! We actually had to tell our server to put half a taco back down. There were only two tacos on a plate! And they cost like $14, come on. Two minutes later, a busser came over and took a different plate that still had food on it! Not cool.
Another issue I have is how they charged the drinks. We had Cadillac margaritas, and they charged us for one margarita ($13) PLUS $11 for a shot of Grand Marnier. That is $24 FOR ONE DRINK! Yea it had a floater, but seriously, that is not how you ring in a drink. Clearly the servers didn’t know what they were doing yet, and the lack of a drink menu definitely didn’t help, but that is just absurd. Oh and those shots we ordered? $14. Yup, that one was our bad, but who the hell recommends a $14 shot? Again, not cool.
After we left I had very bad taste in my mouth from Tico and it was not from the food, it was from the service. This place is expensive! For the price tag, the service should be flawless, it wasn’t, not even close. Tico had this attitude with nothing to back it up! It’s safe to say I won’t be back for awhile. If a Latino craving comes along, I’d rather take my hard earned cash to Orinoco.