No Tacos At Antigua
West Allis restaurant offers Mexican, Spanish, South American fare.
When three friends and I come to lunch at Antigua there’s not a taco in sight in this restaurant that specializes in Mexican, Spanish, Latin, and South American cuisine. People looking for Mexican or Tex-Mex, as in burritos, tostados, and chimichangas, have come to the wrong place. They do feature a few quesadillas and one enchilada on the lunch menu, but that’s about as Tex-Mex as they get in this small restaurant in West Allis.
Before we order, our server brings a plate of warm sliced bread and a small dish of chimichurri made with lime, garlic, cilantro, and olive oil. It’s delicious. We refrain from asking for seconds as lunch is coming.
We bypass the Quesadillas: The Cuban, ham, pork, Swiss, pickle, and mustard; The Mango, Chihuahua cheese and mango; The Cochinita, pulled pork and mozzarella. Quesadillas, yes. Traditional, no.
The rest of us depart from tradition for our choices. Another companion, after much deliberation, decides on Mole Poblano. She doesn’t like spicy food and has never tasted mole making this dish a stretch for a fearful, risk-averse diner. I convince her if the mole/sauce has the complex flavors found in all the Mexican moles I have tasted, she will not be disappointed. The mole poblano, which originated in Pueblo, can have as many as 35 ingredients and usually spends at least two days in a pot which needs constant attention. If done right, mole poblano, which includes chocolate, nuts, and pastilla peppers, has a mahogany brown color and complex flavors to support any accompanying protein. In this dish, two plump chicken breasts drown in mole, enough to flavor every bite.
My risk-averse friend says, “It’s good.” I sample a spoonful and go further, “It’s beyond good. The chef spent some serious time tending to this mole.”
We check out Ropa Vieja, the national dish of Cuba. To make this, the chef first stews a hunk of beef, often brisket, shreds it, then, cooks it again with chili, tomatoes, onion and cumin. The name, Ropa Vieja translates to “old clothes,” thus some say it resembles a pile of old rags. At Antigua, this dish, traditionally served with plantains and rice, perfectly reproduces this Cuban specialty. Sliced and deep-fried plantains add to the mix of cilantro rice, beans, and a generous pile of tomato-flavored shredded beef. We decide the tomato overly dominates the flavors of the meat. As for a resemblance to those “old rags” which suggests tough, it’s not. We find the meat tender and juicy.
I order El Danwich because our server says, “This is what the Mayor of West Allis orders.” The meat, cochinita pibil, or slow-roasted pork is popular in the Yucatan. To prepare it, the chef marinates the meat in citrus juices with annatto seeds which add the bright orange color and a hint of pepper. Trivia alert: cochinita means baby pig; pibil means roasted.
I need a bib when I eat this drippy sandwich. It’s tasty and messy, as the juice soaks through the bun and on to my clothes. *Note to kitchen: squegee some of the juice before filling the bun! Pickled red onion and chipotle mayo top this pulled pork sandwich and mingle with the juicy meat to add contrasting flavors.
We also note three varieties of empanadas, popular south of the border, especially in Argentina, Columbia, and Peru: The Colombianas, cheese and pork; The Yolanda, ground beef, red peppers, olives and more; The Vegetable, braised root vegetables with saffron and cheese.
Antigua offers a limited menu, all the better to give the kitchen staff time to prepare each dish with care. We find prices at lunch reasonable, a place locals can visit often without mortgaging the house. It’s also a restaurant where the chef expands the definition of south-of-the-border cuisine, making it a destination for adventuresome diners who don’t want to stray too far from familiar tastes.