Crazy . . .
Loco Mexican Cafť
Madison Ave., Albany, 436-1855. Serving Tue 4-10, Wed-Thu
11:30-10, Fri 1:30-11, Sat noon-11, Sun 4:30-10. AE, MC. V.
price range: $8 (veggie tostada) to $14 (high-end Loco
The competition has soared since El Loco opened its doors
more than 20 years ago, with Mexican chains, Mexican fast
food, and even serious stabs at Mexican fare coming and going.
Itís been easy to lose sight of El Loco, but this crazy restaurant
perseveres in its charming home between the park and Lark,
dishing out exactly what you expect in an atmosphere thatís
fun and relaxing.
Itís a tribute to the vision of owner Marcia Tolive, who has
guided the place through a succession of internal and external
changes, and who lately has retrenched and reestablished the
restaurant as one of the more reliable locations for this
type of fare.
Since last reviewing El Loco in 1997, Iíve had a few disappointing
visits. Even the addition of outdoor dining, a boon in downtown
Albany, didnít make up for them.
But my recent visit did. And I kick myself for not having
retried El Loco even sooner. Everything from the service to
the food to those intangibles of comfort and sociability were
working, and continued to work even as the place filled almost
to capacity while I made my way through dinner.
The menu seems to have changed little, and even the prices
seem more reasonable than what I last remember. One thing
that grabbed my eye was the eveningís special: Oaxacan chicken
mole tamales ($12.50), in which the sautťed meat is finished
in a mole (bitter chocolate) sauce with some help from Dos
Equis Amber. ďIíll have that,Ē my daughter said.
Not surprising. Our tastes are beginning to coincide. As we
awaited my wife, I decided upon the ancho chicken and spinach
chimichanga ($10.25), which Susan immediately claimed once
she was seated. I talked her into a spinach burrito ($9.25)
with sharing privileges.
Which makes ordering here sound easy! It isnít. Start yourself
with some chips and salsa ($2.75) and, as good as youíll find
the salsa roja, with fresh tomatoes and cilantro livening
the flavor, be sure to enhance your options with the hotter
stuff that awaits at the salsa bar in back.
Then consider the menu. Burritos, quesadillas, tostadasóyou
know what the parameters are. The challenge is to satisfy
your hunger requirements even as you explore the permutations.
I find that guacamole ($4.50) is a good test of south-of-the-border
cooking, reflecting much about a restaurantís approach. A
mixture thatís too uniform, blended in a machine, heralds
a kitchen happy to cut corners. If thereís not enough avocado,
youíre talking cheap. Good guacamole is hand-mashed and -blended,
as itís done here. I wouldnít mind it more piquant and spicy,
but I have to note that El Locoís version is so avocado-centric
that itís full of flavor even as it contrasts with the spicier
The Loco Chili Carne ($3.25) advertises itself as something
special, and, while it may not suit the purists in Terlingua,
its heart (and seasonings) are in the right place, in a brew
thatís also slightly sweet.
Combo platters are a good way to sample a variety of items
and range from $8.50 to $14, the latter a burrito-chimichanga-enchilada
monster. And you get a side dish, which can range from rice
and beans to a soup, guacamole, or blue corn bread.
But that Oaxacan mole was also an outstanding way to go. Enchiladas
are filled pastries steamed in a cornhusk. For this dish,
itís a scallion-cornmeal concoction thatís then drizzled with
a cilantro-scallion cream. Inside, those chocolate-enhanced
chicken chunks, a big flavor thatís especially good on a chilly
Setting off the quesadilla I chose is chipotle, or roasted
jalapenos. This contrasts well with the sweeter flavor of
the ancho chili, and the tartness of spinach is a natural
addition. Itís also easy to get lost in all the cheese that
accompanies this dish, with jack and cheddar flowing over
and into the whole-wheat flour tortilla in which the meat
Mexican rice is a side, along with a small helping of salad
that offers a welcome contrast of temperature and texture
to the rest of the dish.
The burrito espinaca comes with rice and beans and
the option of another side; Susan chose a cup of the sopa
del dia (soup of the day), which was chicken Florentine
(lots of spinach this night). It was a good, if somewhat unremarkable
blend, but at least distinguished by virtue of being homemade.
The burrito itself also contains mushrooms and artichoke hearts,
which are nice flavors to combine, and plenty of cheese surrounds
it. Although it looks comparatively petite, itís a filling
Donít forget that this is a very vegetarian-friendly place,
where items that donít explicitly claim meat content are cooked
completely without it; where you can assemble an a la carte
sampling for few dollars (tacos are $2.65 apiece, rice and
beans $2, burritos $4.20 and thereís much more).
Service was swift and efficient, and we saw several servers
during the course of our meal, all working together with impressive
ease. So donít let the competition daunt you: El Loco was
the original, remains original, and is worth another visit.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
(Thursday, Oct. 19) there will be a cigar soiree
at Park 54 (54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton
Park) in association with Park Lane Tobacconist.
$60 gets you drinks, dinner and cigars. For more
info, phone 688-1548 or check out www.park54restaurant
.com. . . . Tonight sees another cigar dinner,
this one at Carmineís Restaurant (818 Central
Ave., Albany), where chef Carmine Sprio is designing
a menu to accompany a selection of CAO cigars
(youíll get five!) Along with drinks and dinner
for $85 (inclusive). Call 690-2222 to see if there
are seats left. . . . The Gateways Inn and
Restaurant (51 Walker Street, Lenox, Mass.)
will host a Macallan Whisky cocktail reception
and four-course dinner at 7 PM Saturday (Oct 21).
Chef Rosemary Chiariello has created a four-course
menu that includes roasted-duck-breast salad,
lobster cappuccino and grilled beef tenderloin
in a peppered wine sauce. Itís $80 per person,
and you can reserve seats by calling (413) 637-2532.
. . . Girl Scouts, Hudson Valley Council, will
hold their fifth annual Cookie Cuisine event
from 6 to 9 PM Tuesday (Oct. 24) at the Italian
American Community Center, Washington Avenue Extension,
Albany. Youíll see Cookie Cuisine honorary chair
Carmine Sprio and a host of talented culinary
teams prepare gourmet entrees and desserts using
all of your favorite Girl Scout cookies, including
a brand new, top-secret cookie. Tickets are $35.
For reservations, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110,
ext. 105 or e-mail ssmith@ girlscouts hvgsc.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail food@ banilsson.com).
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..