Wild Salsa celebrates feasts of all sorts
Reposted from The Star-Telegram
By Andrew Marton
I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that no other restaurant in the Metroplex besides Wild Salsa so deftly pulls off the trick of surrounding its diners with all the decorative motifs of Day of the Dead while serving some of the area’s most well-executed Mexican food.
But I will attest that Wild Salsa — the 7-week-old Fort Worth location of the restaurant, following others in Dallas and Fairview — is a highly polished melding of the themes of a 24-7 paean to the Day of the Dead, with a parade of authentic and, yes, even life-affirming Mexico City-based cuisine.
Could some of the dishes have been less tentative, more “R” and less “PG,” in their heat and spice? Absolutely.
But this is a minor quibble in Wild Salsa’s successful approach honoring the street-festival flavors — accenting cumin, garlic and cilantro — of Mexico City. Indeed, so committed is Wild Salsa to honest Mexican cuisine that it persuasively boasts about making everything from scratch, constructing recipes based on countless research trips to Mexico and not even having a freezer or microwave to tempt them to stockpile pre-made dishes.
Wild Salsa honors the hallowed tequila part of Mexico’s culinary heritage by offering 70 varieties, from the pineapple-tasting Ambhar to the smoky anise of Ilegal Joven mezcal. Most of its menu’s 57 dishes incorporate proteins from fish and chicken to beef and pork, and nothing seems overlooked, from complex-tasting sides of borracho black beans to the cilantro-infused rice.
Before I took my first swig of the extra-cool effervescent Mexican Coke, I had to embark on a self-guided stroll of Wild Salsa’s interior. I was immediately dazzled by the floor-to-ceiling stack of roughly 150 squat white and tapered blue tequila bottles behind the hostess stand. Then I spied the blood-red underlit central bar and bookcases and tables holding winged angels, glass-encrusted crosses, and irresistibly joyful ceramic skeletons outfitted in peasant garb and sombreros.
Easily the most stunning interior touch was the 40-foot-by-12-foot mural painted by local artist Isaac Brown. It was filled with images of peasant women, with roses peeking out from their braided hair, next to skulls with flowery eye sockets and skeletons all baring their benevolently gleaming teeth.
At the meal’s outset, I found Wild Salsa’s knowledgeable staff totally accommodating as I ordered a side of mango-jicama slaw ($5) as a second appetizer to accompany my Gulf shrimp taquitos.
The slaw packed the lively crunch from three different cabbages, along with healthy strips of tropical mango interlaced with jicama. I could have used more of its zesty cumin-laced agave dressing.
The taquitos ($9) were an unequivocal success: Four cylinders acted as deep-fried tortilla envelopes for a winning combination of plump shrimp and tangy Monterey Jack and cotija cheeses — all tailor-made for dipping in a chipotle crema.
A star “plato fuerte” was the pork calabacitas ($18). And given its six-hour braise in a mix of cumin, cilantro and garlic, it was impossible to resist. The meat yielded to every nudge of my fork, with my knife only required to snowplow the chile-based, remarkably al dente Mexican zucchini, nubbins of corn and mild chiles.
I gladly dove into the two long vegetable enchiladas verde ($13), prepared with chicken stock though they could have been customized to be purely vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. The Swiss chard- and spinach-filled pouches achieved a nice balance of crunch thanks to the curls of flash-fried beets, carrots and spinach serving as their crackling roof. Augmenting these enchiladas’ flavor was a stripe of Mexican crème fraiche.
The meal’s star dish was the three wild tacos ($13). To be sure, the mesquite-grilled skirt-steak version was eye-catching with its molcajete sauce (composed of fire-roasted tomatoes, serrano chiles and garlic), while the flash-fried shrimp taco was certainly no slouch, combining Monterey Jack cheese and cilantro.
But both were straight men to the star turn of the taco filled with chicken tinga. Its shredded breast and thigh meat were marinated in a stunningly flavorful bath of tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and garlic. The finely calibrated heat was gently calmed by cilantro and pico de gallo.
The flan dessert ($8) certainly had all the pleasant trappings of the classic crème caramel, down to the burnished lid of sugar and pale creek of vanilla- and nutmeg-tinged sauce — except it packed the opulent denseness of a New York-style cheesecake, if that Manhattan original also wore a topping of crispy quinoa.
Wild Salsa also does a decadent cuatro leches cake, a confection of cubed white cake soaked in four kinds of milk — evaporated, sweetened condensed, heavy cream and coconut cream — and ornamented with freshly diced strawberries and blackberries, all topped off with candied pumpkin seeds.
This time, I passed on the cuatro leches. But it will surely be one of several temptations luring me back to Wild Salsa.
Location Mentioned: Wild Salsa