Tag Archives: salsa

Gran Agave


Oh, what’s a diner to do when a meal leaves you feeling lackluster?

At this point, I’ve made a few visits to Gran Agave in the Homestead Waterfront, and while I have never had anything outright bad at the restaurant, there’s been very little to take away from each meal. The service has been okay. The food was okay. The price is okay. Everything is just okay, and in a city with a growing Mexican population, the last thing that will get a Mexican restaurant noticed is its achievements in the average.

I don’t relish occasional necessities to complain, especially when a place is clearly attempting to offer a standard of ingredients and preparation that far surpass the mindset behind the cuisine at their corporate brethren. But forgive me when I say that attitude is one very important factor, but aptitude cannot be underestimated. So while I admire the attempts to marry the now-standard suburban Mexican chain restaurant menu with a menu more varied and traditionally minded, I cannot help but think they’ve dropped the ball a little on the one factor that counts more than anything else: Taste.


Some things are hard to get wrong, however. The high point of my latest meal at Gran Agave were the chips (in-house made at some point, but they didn’t seem homemade to me this time) and cheese dip, a velvety, if a little thin, gooey white cheese that was flavorful but not overwhelmingly salty. The salsa is also fairly good, better than the chunky canned complimentary offerings of chain Mexican, but not quite as standout as what is served table-side at places like Cocina Mendoza (this may be a preference on my part, as I prefer salsa with less liquid and more fresh chunks of veggies, but as it was, the salsa could stand to lose a little of the sauce).


The real problem comes in with the entrees. My mother ordered a chicken enchilada and a cheese enchilada, served with refried beans and rice. To me, enchilada sauce has always come off a bit like mole’s less showy sibling. Without the chocolate and the smokiness of mole, it has to have a tangy zip and slight pop of heat for it to really stand on its own. The sauce here was bland. No heat, no smokey, heavy qualities to the flavor. The plentiful interior elements of the enchilada, the cheese, the chicken, were of good quality and preparation, but they were undermined by the enchilada sauce.


More of the sauce on my dish. It’s got to tell you something that I can’t even remember what dish I ordered. Somewhere underneath that thick layer of bland sauce is an enchilada or burrito or something. I will use my memory to instead reflect upon the dishes of equal blandness to the sauce: The refried beans.

I’m not suggesting that every dish of refried beans needs to be heart-stoppingly salty. But there’s fresh and then there’s no taste, and these had no taste. Plus, the beans are pureed to the point of gruel, thin gruel, and without even the sodium to pick up the slack, after one or two spoonfuls, the texture starts to wear the palate down. There’s just not much to distinguish what it feels like from what it tastes like.

And yet, I don’t dislike Gran Agave. I just wish they would pay a little more attention to flavorful elements of their dishes. I appreciate the menu items that showcase an attention paid to traditional meals, and I understand where that might lead to the kitchen putting more time in on the less standard items, but even a plate of refried beans should have flavor, even if it’s just from a pinch or two of salt.

The restaurant itself is pleasant enough, with a decor pleasingly free of South-of-the-Border kitsch, yet designed and laid out in an almost pseudo Southwestern, mission style. In the land of the Waterfront, where generic decor of one bar and grill becomes the generic decor of another bar and grill, the amount of attention paid to fashioning a unique interior is appreciated.

I just hope that when I make my next visit, the choice I make for my meal will be as appetite attracting.

Gran Agave on Urbanspoon

Sad Morning, Super Easy Cheesy Chili Nachos

My Monday morning posts are almost always written the Sunday night prior, so, as you might expect, I’m a little sad while recapping this recipe. Much as we enjoyed this snack (and boy, did we enjoy this snack), it did not really help us recover from the disappointing Steelers loss to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. As me and my roommate made our way back from our friend’s apartment on West Liberty Avenue, we noticed an eerie quiet to our surroundings, which can only be the hushing whim of sorrow weighing down heavy upon our Steel City souls.

Enough with the sobbing! The following dish is not vegan, as my usual Meatless Monday contributions are, but seeing as the Super Bowl is a time to gather around a TV screen with friends and rejoice in football and fatty foods, I felt it was no time to be stingy with the dairy. This dish is, however, very very easy to make, crowd-pleasing, and flatulence-inducing. Proceed with caution!

Super Bowl Super Easy Cheesy Chili Nachos

Ingredients
– 1 1/4 cup of shredded Mexican-blend cheese
– 1 can of chili beans
– 1/4 cup salsa verde
– 1/4 cup fresh salsa
– Tortilla chips
– Jalapenos (optional)

– Throw a bunch of tortilla chips on a large platter and sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over top.

– Over medium heat cook the beans in a sauce pan until just bubbling. Turn heat down and add 1 cup of cheese and the salsa, then stir until melted and mixed.

– Pour bean mixture over chips. Add fresh salsa on top. Add jalapenos if desired.

– Scarf down during the halftime break to watch the “Puppy Bowl” on Animal Planet.

Good Morning… Uh, er… Good Afternoon!


My Sunday afternoon laziness delivers rewards once again!

It was a withdrawal weekend for me and my partner. While the pro football season is still going strong, it’s just about over for college football (except for the bowl games, but we have to wait for those). Luckily, nice weather on Saturday gave us a good excuse to enjoy a few hours outdoors, including some backyard time spent tossing the football back and forth. (I’m getting better, really! I can almost throw a consistent spiral.)

Something I didn’t do this weekend was make it to the Strip for my bi-weekly produce shopping. (After a Friday night out late, celebrating a friend’s birthday, I needed a morning in.) My fridge was stocked with tofu from DeWalt’s World of Health on Potomac (selling extra firm 1lb water-packed tofu for $1.20 each) and I had a few remnants from my post-Thanksgiving Strip trip, but otherwise, not much to work with.

Luckily for our Sunday afternoon late brunch, I had just enough to make us a decent round of vegan “huevos rancheros,” this time with the added novelty of tomatilloes. Note to self: as long as there are cans of beans in the cupboard, you will eat like a king. Good thing to remember when I’m a broke student next fall.


Sunday Afternoon Lazy Man’s Tofu’n’Beans

Ingredients
– 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
– 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
– 1 pound extra tofu
– 5-7 small tomatilloes, sliced
– 1 large sweet potato, sliced
– 1 avocado, sliced
– 1/2 tbsp liquid smoke
– 1 tbsp turmeric
– 1/2 tbsp Arizona Dreaming spice from Penzey’s (you can use any Tex-Mex style spice blend, or better yet, make your own!)
– 1 tsp onion salt
– 1 tsp cayenne pepper
– Ground black pepper (to taste)
– 1 tbsp salsa (I used an extra hot jalapeno salsa)
– 4 corn tortillas (optional)
– Olive oil (as needed)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Pour about two tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet. Peel and slice the sweet potato, then toss on the oiled baking sheet. Lightly season with onion salt and pepper. Toss again to evenly distribute seasoning, then place in oven. About ten minutes later, flip the potatoes. You want them tender, but a little crunchy on the exterior.

– While the potatoes are baking, drain the tofu and squeeze out excess water (if you’re gentle, you can do this by hand just by squeezing the tofu like a sponge, but gentleness is key). Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a non-stick pot – again, amount is really up to how oily you like your dish – and set at medium heat. Add tofu, tomatilloes, liquid smoke, and turmeric. Cook for about five minutes, then add the beans and the rest of the seasoning (including the salsa). Cover and turn heat to low. Let this cook for about ten to fifteen minutes (the longer the better).

– Suggested plating: Two corn tortillas on the plate, a layer of the roasted sweet potatoes, then the tofu’n’beans. Top with avocado slices.