first culinary hint that something different is going on here
comes with the guacamole, which sounds like I’m heading into
Tom Robbins territory. In any event, the guacamole is tomato
free. I add tomatoes to my own recipe; I’ll bet you do, too.
(Or did, before we discovered that factory-farmed tomatoes
can be just as filthy as is factory-farmed meat.)
Here, however, the avocado—which undergoes only a cursory
mashing—is enriched only with lime juice and cilantro, some
onion and chiles. And it’s served with tortilla chips prepared
in-house. In other words, thanks to nothing more than simplicity
of approach—and careful choice of ingredients—it blows most
any other guacamole out of the water.
Destino occupies a corner spot in the center of Chatham. My
wife, who grew up near there, remembers when passenger trains
still stopped in town, back when it was a charming rural village.
As an outpost for downstaters who can afford to spend time
away from the city, it has evolved a new identity over the
past 20 years.
So it’s no surprise that what once was the Chatham Bakery
should be much trendier, offering a different kind of conviviality.
The restaurant also styles itself as a margarita bar, and
one taste of the fresh mint margarita ($7) sold me. I try
to be a button-down traditionalist where libations are concerned,
and thus I’ve resisted many a fruity drink concoction. But
the mint-spicy slush with the hit of tequila behind was a
nice way to ease out of a Saturday afternoon.
They don’t take reservations unless you’re part of a five-top
or larger, and it’s a hopping place mid-weekend, but I had
no trouble getting my people in on a pair of visits. And if
you do have to cool your heels for a while, there’s a big,
blond-wood bar where the margaritas flow.
Once you’re seated, a basket of tortilla chips with a mild
homemade salsa appears; don’t be afraid to ask for hotter
sauces, because jars of habanero- and jalapeno-based heat
await. With a margarita or a Negra Modelo within reach, it’s
time to study the starters.
Fried plantains are here served as crisp ringlets, enhanced
with the ubiquitous (and pleasingly so) flavors of lime and
chile peppers ($4). Brochetas de camarones ($7) present
fat, skewered shrimp, this time with chipotle and ginger the
dominant additional flavors. And if you’re a fan of the stringy,
almost sweet Oaxacan cheese, try it as an appetizer fondue
($6), served with tomato salsa and chips.
The cheese also shows up in a quesadilla ($6), a format that
also can be ordered with three cheeses, spinach and mushrooms,
sausage and cheese, and grilled chicken ($7.50 each), as well
as citrus-marinated grilled shrimp ($8.50).
Several salads are available, and if the basic house salad
($5.50) is any portent, they’ll be terrific. The array of
mixed greens, pickled onions and roasted pepitas are
tossed in the lightest of vinaigrettes (citrus-flavored, no
surprise) and presented in a generous portion.
Carrying vegetarian-friendliness to an amusing extreme, Destino
offers a tofu burrito ($8). I have nothing more to say about
that. You can still satisfy a meat-free diet with a black
bean burrito ($7.50) or a burrito with mushrooms and garlic
($10)—and there’s much more in the menu’s pages, each vegetarian
item marked with a Huitzilopochtli eagle.
Like so many Mexican eateries, Destino sells the sizzle along
with the steak if you order fajitas. They emerge still crackling
on a blistering platter, with the meat of your choosing (chicken,
shrimp or beef, $9.75-$13) or just vegetables to fashion into
sandwiches with the accompanying soft tortillas.
If you like crispy tortillas, the taco selection includes
tasajo tacos (grilled hanger steak with roasted chile
de arbol, $12.50) and the classic fish tacos, made with
I’ve yet to sample the El Toro burger ($7.50) or any of the
culture-clash pizzas (around $9 apiece)—but chunky tomatillo
salsa with charred corn and queso fresco sounds like
a toothsome topping.
Mole, from a Nahuatl word meaning “sauce,” has come to denote
a purée of chiles, nuts and seasonings finished with a small
amount of chocolate. Recipes are varied and many, with the
greatest concentration in Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico.
It’s a labor-intensive process that requires separate, careful
processing of the chiles and nuts, with a resulting paste
that’s smooth, dark and shiny. Destino’s chef, José Ortiz,
is Oaxacan, and so brings a native expertise to bear upon
Although the menu boasts a tempting variety of selections,
find the pollo con Oaxacan mole ($15) on the “Specialties”
page and give it a try. The flavor is spectacularly unique,
mixing savory and sweet with just enough heat to keep it lively,
with an earthiness that lets it linger on the palate.
Chicken, being chicken, makes a good palette for the sauce.
Like the bird itself, the meat never gets too intrusive. Brown
rice and black beans finish the dish, and also garnish most
of the other entrée plates.
Other entrée specialties include chile relleños, a
roasted poblano pepper stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and
goat cheese ($12.50), an excellent combination of flavors,
or a version with shrimp, onions and Oaxacan cheese ($13.50).
Salmon tostados ($14) and some enchilada variations also are
offered, in addition to which are daily specials.
Youthful, black-clad servers provide the attention you’ll
need. Although you’ll be assigned a particular server, any
of them are willing to help.
For dessert, the flan ($4) has some flavor enhancements, with
coffee and ginger versions (we stuck to the traditional);
if you’re a kid, or traveling with one, the ice cream-topped
Mexican brownie ($5) is a marvelous concentration of chocolate
and chile. I tasted it; its sweetness bookended that earlier
Besides offering superior food, Destino is reasonably priced
and, if you’re in the Capital Region, surprisingly close.
It’s certainly worth the drive.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Arts Fest has a full weekend ahead of dance,
music, theater and more, celebrating the city’s
long history as haven for artists (the horses
sometimes obscure the bigger picture). Tonight
(Thursday) is a kickoff event: the ArtsFest Prelude,
an evening of wine tasting, good food, and art
previews, running from 6 to 8 PM at Universal
Preservation Hall at 25 Washington St. Sponsored
by Putnam Wine and Putnam Market, the event features
hors d’oeuvres and a dessert table crafted by
the market, as well as a bounty of fine wines
from around the world, including California’s
Cartlidge & Brown and Ridge Vineyards, Murphy’s
Law from Washington, South Africa’s Mulderbosch
Vineyards and Graham Beck Wines, Australia’s Long
Flat Vineyards and Madfish Wine, Baby del Rey
from France, and such renowned French specialties
as Taittinger champagne and Château La Tour Haut
Brion. It’s priced at $75 per person, which also
lets you buy a weekend ARTSPASS at a $5 discount.
For reservations or more information, call 580-5618.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(food at banilsson.com).