Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dos Perros - from October Fuqua Times

Greetings Team Fuqua! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Josh Makaron and I will be standing here in the Culinary Corner every so often, facing the wall and thinking about what I have done wrong as a First Year. You’ve all come to know and love Tali’s helpful cooking tips and recipes, and if you haven’t tried out any of her suggestions yet this year, I would strongly urge you to – she knows her stuff. I am here to play the blue devil a bit (pun definitely intended), and encourage everyone to find the time to indulge in a nice meal out with friends every once in a while. Before you go all Jessie Spano on me about how there’s never any time, consider this quote from M.F.K. Fisher, one of the very first to write seriously about food: “And above all – friends should possess the rare gift of sitting. They should be able, no eager, to sit for hours – three, four, six – over a meal of soup and wine and cheese, as well as one of twenty fabulous courses. Then, with good friends of such attributes, and good food on the board, and good wine in the pitcher, we may well ask – when shall we live if not now?”

The triangle area, and Durham in particular, has a plethora of tried and true restaurants that not only offer good value, but also have the ability to compete on a national level. This year, I will be trying to steer you in the right direction with some reviews of places you may not yet have discovered. There is no pay for play here at the Fuqua Times, so I am giving you my unbiased account. My authority lies only in the fact that I live to eat rather than eat to live, but without further adieu, come take a walk with me through revitalized downtown Durham to Dos Perros, the brand new refined Mexican joint at the corner of N. Mangum and Parrish.

I visited Dos Perros as one of a party of two on a Thursday night around 8:30 pm. The restaurant had a somewhat empty feel to it, but not overwhelmingly so, and there was still a light din from a few larger groups and bar patrons. We were greeted with a warm welcome by the hostess and manager, and then oddly enough seated at a table for four when there were tables for two available. Maybe they could foresee that the amount of food we would order would necessitate a larger table – in any event, we were too lazy to pipe up and happy to get rolling with some drinks and comida. Dos Perros has an extensive tequila list, a decent selection of beer and wine, and a specialty cocktail list that might be their bread and butter. A refreshing gin cocktail with lemongrass didn’t quite have that Mexican sound or feel that I was hoping for, but I’m never one to complain about lemonade with a kick. A watermelon tequila special was nice and light – a bit heavy on the tequila, but preferable to the oversweetness that watermelon drinks are prone to. Next time I plan to try the bourbon drink that is made with bitters, orange, and love – that’s right, amor in a drink. When I asked the waitress what exactly “love” was, she expressed similar feelings of confusion. I think we shared a moment.

We started with guacamole, which was heavy on the NaCl, especially when combined with the salty tortilla chips. On the recommendation of the owners of Toast, one of my favorite eateries downtown, we ordered a number of small plates: The ceviche, a dish of lime-cured local seafood with crisp tortillas was an above average ceviche with a nice level of acidity and fresh, tender chunks of white fish, shrimp, and crab; ensalada de nopales, marinated cactus paddles with tomato, onion, and avocado, fell short of expectations but did exceed a prior experience with cactus and bonus points for no signs of thorns anywhere. Never had cactus before? It tastes just like chicken. And by chicken I mean peppers. It’s worth a try if only to say you’ve eaten cactus. The winner turned out to be the tamal oaxaqueno, diced chicken with mole negro wrapped up in banana leaves. The banana leaves helped to sear in the flavors of the rich but not overpowering mole.

One of the knocks on Dos Perros is that in its infant stages it often runs out of dishes. This will undoubtedly improve with time as the staff figures out what items are the most popular and can better gauge their required supplies for any given night, but this did prove unfortunate as we were looking forward to the Mayan style grouper which was not for sale. In its place, we opted to split a main dish of camarones al ajillo - sauteed shrimp with garlic and guajillo chiles. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the Mexican rice was packed with spice that makes you smile, not sweat. With all of the above we were stuffed, but since all good meals end with dessert, we split a rice pudding. We would have been better off without it as it was a mediocre effort. Other desserts sounded enticing, so I am hesitant to say that you’re better off heading to Ben & Jerry’s after, but I would avoid the rice pudding as its texture was too pulverized and the raisins offputting rather than enhancing.

The service was unobtrusive, yet visible and efficient when warranted. Not quite ninja-like, but made for a pleasant experience. Our waitress also offered some other local recommendations, but I’ll need to keep those a secret right now for future FT issues. Dos Perros is definitely vegetarian friendly, as most Mexican restaurants tend to be, but they do have some veggie entrees that sounded even better than the proteins even to a carnivorous animal like myself. Both the baked corn pudding with grilled poblanos, garlic sauce, and queso asadero, and the vegetable and masa dumplings piqued my interest – but we live to eat another day. Though Dos Perros won’t break the bank like some of Durham’s top restaurants, the bill can add up if you start piling on the drinks. Appetizers run in the $4-$8 range, and while they are somewhat small, they are fairly priced for the quality. There isn’t an entrée over $20, so if you want to have a drink, and share some small plates and entrees amongst a group, you can leave there satiated at a very reasonable expense.

The interior décor matches the building’s bright yellow façade, with a Mexican festival charm that is a bit different than that of our beloved Cosmic Cantina, but playful nonetheless. For a variety of experiences, you can choose to sit at the bar or in the dining area where the kitchen is semi-open and visible. Dos Perros is open for lunch from 11:30am to 2:30 pm Monday to Friday, serves dinner from 5 to 10:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and plans to serve breakfast soon. But most importantly, Monday nights are $5 margaritas. Reservations are highly recommended for Friday and Saturday nights as the newbie restaurant is already a hit among the young urban Durham crowd. If you can steal away during the day, the lunch menu is designed to be more of a quick hitter and may be a nice time to sample some dishes not found on the dinner menu. Raul, the manager, made us feel taken care of on our way out just as the food from Executive Chef Josh DeCarolis made us feel taken care of throughout the meal. Overall, Dos Perros gets 2.5 out of 4 “Oh Da Babies.”

Dos Perros

200 N. Mangum St.

Durham, NC 27701


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