We had lunch at Salsa this weekend and after the meal, the only thing we could think to say was, “Well, the chips and salsa were good.” Spicy salsa with fresh cilantro was a perfect complement to the thin and crispy chili-dusted chips. I only wish the rest of the meal had followed suit.
We decided to eat at Salsa before heading upstairs to the wine tasting hosted by Great Wines and Spirits. We thought it would be good to support the restaurant instead of skipping the food and heading straight for the booze. After the meal we were having second thoughts.
We decided to start with the hongos al chipotle – mushrooms stewed in a chipotle sauce. It sounded really good and different from the normal Mexican restaurant appetizers. We started to get a bit concerned when tables that ordered their meals after we did were getting their meals while we were still waiting on our appetizer, but we were being well fed on the chips and salsa, and our glasses weren’t empty, so we didn’t worry too much. When the mushrooms finally appeared, they were a bit anticlimactic. Just a bowl of mushrooms in a red sauce. We tasted. The description in the menu was unfortunately misleading. The mushrooms were stewed, and they were in a chipotle sauce, but they weren’t stewed in the chipotle sauce. The flavors didn’t blend and mesh. While not a bad appetizer, this one didn’t wow us the way that we had hoped.
We moved on to the frighteningly large bowl of tortilla soup we had ordered to share. Now, I’ve always loved tortilla soup. It’s one of those things that I’ve ordered at nearly every restaurant in town that has it on the menu. But I’ve never really found good tortilla soup in Memphis. And after today, I still haven’t. While better than some (at least the broth wasn’t creamy) and at least obviously made from scratch, the flavor was mild to the point of blandness. Salsa makes their own chicken stock for the soup, but today they had neglected to skim the fat off it, and it left a lingering greasiness in the mouth. The large chunks of celery and carrot seemed to belong more to homemade chicken noodle soup than tortilla soup. Once again, we were under-impressed.
Then our entrees arrived. I had the tacos al carbon, and Papa Squirrel had ordered the enchiladas Maria (one chicken, one cheese). There had been some confusion in the kitchen, apparently. The enchiladas appeared without the tacos, and our waiter took them back to the kitchen until the tacos were ready. We assume that he wanted to serve us together, but we wished he had asked our preference. He didn’t do the enchiladas a favor by making them wait. We had decided when we ordered that we would split our entrees – one half of each enchilada and a taco for each of us. Papa took the first bite of cheese enchilada. And then he waited for me to try it. The sauce had cooked into the tortilla and toughened it. The cheese was cheddar, not the best cheese for an enchilada by far. The chicken enchilada was made with the meat from the chicken boiled for stock. It didn’t seem to have been seasoned past that. The tortillas for the tacos were doughy, and the tomatillo sauce overpowered the meat. I knew the meal was over when Papa covered the sad little bodies of the enchiladas with a soft tortilla shroud.
Salsa used to be the most authentically Mexican restaurant in town. The menu selections went past the typical tacos and enchiladas to offer uniquely Mexican flavors. With the influx of Hispanics into Memphis, the appearance of authentic taquerias and restaurants has increased in proportion. Salsa doesn’t compete with those.
I’m not a restaurant manager, but today seemed to be a missed opportunity for Salsa. Salsa has a lot of potential, and it’s one of those restaurants that has stuck around town for a long time now. Hosting the wine tasting should give the restaurant a chance to draw in customers with great food and atmosphere. There should have been an irresistible aroma to tempt the wine tasters to eat before heading upstairs to the tasting. There should have been samples of something delicious at the door. The food should have been at its best. It wasn’t. Yes, we’ll go back to Salsa, but next time, we’ll just be going upstairs for the wine.
Salsa Mexican Restaurant
6150 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38119