Corazon at Castle Hill
Lovers of Castle Hill Cafe fret not: With a pleasant makeover and a refocusing of the menu, Corazon is a lovely offspring
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Jan. 30, 2009
Mon.-Thu., 11am-9:30pm; Fri., 11am-10pm; Sat., 5-10pm
Corazon at Castle Hill1101 W. Fifth, 476-0728
After 22 years in business, Castle Hill Cafe shut down for a couple of months to morph into Corazon at Castle Hill. There was much gnashing of teeth and worry over the news from the devout regulars, but other than a very pleasant makeover inside and concentration more on the Mexico-centric dishes that the cafe had done through the years, not that much has changed. Call it more of a refocus of the menu, and if you loved Castle Hill before, you'll love its offspring.
The dining room has been redone in rich, warm colors, and the walls are adorned with paintings in a south-of-the-border style – some modern, some not. Decorative pieces are placed strategically, with folk art situated about, and the windows are now covered with flourished metal panels. The effect is welcoming, casual, and subdued, and the tables are divided to offer some privacy. The music reflects the menu and the mood.
Owner Cathe Dailey and Executive Chef Mike Taddeo are both on board, as is most of the staff that you had become accustomed to. Service at both meals was top notch: efficient and helpful without being obtrusive. Suggestions were volunteered when requested, courses were timed perfectly, and plates were whisked away when empty. And we couldn't have been happier with the service portions.
Both meals began with soup. On one occasion we tried the tortilla soup ($3.95, cup; 6.95, bowl), a tasty, dark chicken broth redolent of ancho, with chicken, avocado, tortilla whiskers, and pasilla chile strips. On both trips we had the Posole Blanco ($3.95; 6.95), a little thin the first time but rich, hearty, and delicious the second, with bits of pork, green chile, and tomatillo. The queso fundido ($5.95) was problematic: The taste was more of cream than cheese, and it refused to hold on to either chip or tortilla; we tasted instead with a spoon.
The guacamole ($5.95) is excellent: a large mound of ripe mashed avocado with lime, cilantro, onion, and a grilled serrano chile. The lamb empanada ($4.95) is good; though we expected more of a picadillolike interior, the lamb, raisin, and pecan flavors are there, and the knish-style pastry is flaky. The flautas carnitas ($6.95) are a huge winner: fried thin tortilla tubes overstuffed with shredded pork carnita meat, served with a rich ancho, sun-dried cherry chutney, and some queso fresca. The barbecue shrimp taco ($5.95) is good: plenty of small, sweet, perfectly grilled shrimp on a tortilla, topped with mango slaw, pickled onions, and toasted pecans; if the barbecue sauce were less sweet and applied a little more judiciously, it would have been perfect.
The Chicken Enchiladas Mole Coloradito ($13.95) didn't really excite us. The "slow roasted chicken" description conjured images of whole chickens being shredded, rather than diced cubes from breasts roasted on a sheet pan. The accompanying Oaxacan red-chile sauce seemed to lack depth and dimension. The al pastor taco plate ($11.95) arrives deconstructed, with piles of tender, richly seasoned pork, grilled pineapple, cilantro, avocado, pico, and sour cream; once constructed, the tacos are yummy. The arrachera beef($12.95) is wonderful, a marinated hanger steak grilled to perfection, but the tiny squiggle of roasted tomato sauce seemed like an afterthought, and the accompanying gordita has great masa flavor but is so tough it needs to be cut with a steak knife. The pork tenderloin ($17.95) with pipian sauce is a mixed bag: The pork is perfectly cooked, tender, and wonderful, but the pumpkin-seed sauce tastes mostly of tomatillo – as does another pork tenderloin, this time with Hatch green-chile sauce, tamarind glaze, and pumpkin-seed butter. The promised pipian crust is so thin that it probably should not have been mentioned. The black drum ($17.95) with black-bean-tamarind-pasilla chile sauce may have been the winner of both meals; an impeccably fresh fillet, moist and delicious, with a complex and complementary sauce.
The coconut-banana cream tart ($5.95) is fine, with a crispy phyllo-nut pastry containing coconut custard, topped with a mountain of whipped cream, with rum-sautéed bananas drizzled with chocolate riding sidecar. Double the custard, halve the whipped cream, and you have a winner.
Portions at Corazon are large, and you get real value for the menu price. The quality of the ingredients is first-rate, and every plate comes with a fresh vegetable mélange and usually a lagniappe of some sort (tamale, relish, mango slaw, etc.). If we have any problem with Corazon at all, it is with the menu descriptions. Sometimes they create a false anticipation that fails to live up to the promise, and occasionally a small dab of sauce only meant to accent reads like the prime directive.