Cari Taylor-Carlson

La Dama Is Some Kind of Wonderful

Fine dining Mexican style in a colorful setting: the old Crazy Water with a lovely redesigned decor.

By - Jun 19th, 2021 12:47 pm
La Dama Mexican Kitchen and Bar. Photo taken by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

La Dama Mexican Kitchen and Bar. Photo taken by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

When you climb the steps and enter La Dama, the person who greets you might be Peggy Magister, owner and chef extraordinaire. She relinquished her chef duties when she reinvented Crazy Water and handed the kitchen over to longtime employee Emanuel Corona. As Magister told us as we left after a stunningly delicious dinner, “It was time for a change.”

If you are disappointed because Crazy Water did an about face, take heart. La Dama has maintained the fine dining tradition while serving contemporary Mexican cuisine that appears to have no relation to popular Tex-Mex combos.

This is a Mexican restaurant after all and that means tacos are on the menu. When you pay $20.00 for three, those tacos had better be more than spectacular, and they are. Here’s a trio: Grilled NY steak, black bean puree, charred drunken bone marrow, piquin salsa, chicharron and grilled onion; Seared tuna, horseradish crema, avocado and crispy peanut slaw; and for vegetarians, Seared spiced cactus, sun-dried tomato, mushroom, queso fresco and pumpkin seed pesto.

Two chefs at work at La Dama. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Two chefs at work at La Dama. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Reservations are strongly encouraged and even when you show up on time, there could be a brief wait, as we discovered on a busy Friday evening at 7:30. No problem. We stood outside on the steps, noses pressed against the window, and watched Chef Corona along with a second chef, prepare multiple dishes in the kitchen by the window. They worked in that tiny space in tandem, grilling, sautéing and plating, with nary a false move, a dance-like show that ended with a procession of aesthetically arranged plates.

For the Romana Salad, we watched Corona grill a head of romaine, add a few accruements, roasted corn, slivers of radish, cherry tomatoes and pepitas, and dress it with pumpkin seed dressing. The finished dish looked as if it was ready for a fine dining photoshoot.

Not only is the food beautiful and delicious, everyone from the servers, to the people who bussed the dishes, to the dishwasher who returned clean plates to the kitchen, functioned like a well-designed freeway at rush hour. It was a pleasure to watch our efficient server weave among the tables, yet find time to answer our questions with enthusiasm.

On the list of Antojitos, you will find a dozen appetizers, a tour through Mexican small plates, some not so small, like the Vegetable Tlayuda. This crisp Mexican flatbread is topped, or more accurately piled, with fava bean mash, roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, toasted pepitas, and panela, a white Mexican cheese. You could call it dinner and go directly to dessert.

The Datiles con Chorizo Y Tocino, or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo and sitting in a puddle of Romanesco sauce, are impossibly creamy and crisp at the same time, and a generous serving of four, enough to share. Like everything on the menu at La Dama, every bite was a surprise, a pastiche of flavors, textures and colors.

Color is essential in the traditional Chile en Nogada, a popular dish in Mexico that displays the colors of the flag: green roasted poblano peppers, white walnut cream sauce and red pomegranate seeds. Inside the pepper there’s pork and steak, chopped apples and pears, and for another pop of flavor, sweet raisins.

For the Salmon Encrustado, the chef used dried Chapulin for the crust. You may know chapulin/chapulines as grasshoppers, common in parts of Mexico, especially Oaxaca, where they are toasted and served with warm corn tortillas and pico de gallo. Unlike the Mexican toasted chapulines, the legs were not visible on the crust of the salmon. It was served on beet puree, a crisp, meaty dish, with a hint of citrus.

Not only is the food a joy to admire, so is the redesign of the restaurant. The tin ceiling and the elegant chandeliers are charming reminders that the building is old and has that ageless patina. The wall murals are reminiscent of the great muralists of Mexico, and the bar with its hanging shelf, adds a focal point and touch of contemporary in this small space.

To satisfy your sweet tooth with a classic taste of Mexico, order the Tres Leches Cake with its mound of whipped cream and fresh strawberries, a fine finale to dinner at La Dama.

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