Oh, Curra's, how could you?
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., June 15, 2007
6301 W. Parmer, 257-2500
MondayThursday, 7am-10pm; Friday, 7am-12mid; Saturday, 9am-12mid; Sunday, 9am-5pmwww.currasgrill.com
I have always been a fan of the cuisine and inviting atmosphere at both the original Curra's on Oltorf and the second location on Burnet Road. The García brothers, first Marco and now Jorge, have guided what started as a tiny taco shack into two of Austin's favorite spots for Interior Mexican food and great margaritas, supplemented with some necessary Tex-Mex staples such as queso and fajitas. Excited about the prospect of yet another outlet, we ventured to the suburbs of far North Austin to find the new Curra's Long-Bar in a new shopping center at the intersection of Parmer and McNeil. In addition to the new Curra's, the center offers Schlotzsky's, Whataburger, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and the second location of Little Woodrow's. All of them were busy at dinnertime.
The advance word I'd heard on the new Curra's described decor that "reflects a hip, artsy Mexico City style," with a menu "featuring a lot more seafood specials, including escolar and even halibut." Those things certainly piqued my interest, and I entered Curra's Long-Bar with high expectations. The bar is indeed long, accommodating up to 22 people with full-bar service. There are the ubiquitous flat-screen TVs tuned to sporting events but also a good selection of top-shelf tequilas ready to mix into your favorite Curra's margaritas. The decor can best be described as modern industrial: It's all metal, wood, and glass with exposed ductwork and a gigantic metal ceiling fan. The dining room is divided by long wooden banquettes with uncushioned narrow benches and holes punched in the straight backs for decoration. All those hard surfaces make for a very noisy dining room. The patio dining areas on each side of the front door were packed with patrons.
We opted for a table near the bar so we could see the action and soon discovered that the modern IKEA-style chairs of hard plastic on metal legs are cool to look at but incredibly uncomfortable to sit in. With only one bartender for 22 bar patrons plus the busy patio and a rapidly filling dining room, the drink orders were painfully slow getting to the table. It took about 20 minutes for us to get two beers and two house margaritas. We went through a whole basket of chips and salsa ($1.99) before our drinks even arrived. Then we had to ask for water, and the wait continued. When our server finally took our dinner order, we were on our second basket of chips.
After a frustrating wait for our food, I walked up to the service line of the open kitchen to ask the expediter what had become of our order, and our appetizers finally arrived. The Queso Flameado ($6.29) was very good, with lots of roasted poblano strips and mushrooms (59 cents to add those) mixed in with the warm melted Monterey Jack cheese, although the advertised chorizo was missing altogether. We were only served three corn tortillas for an order to be shared among four people, making it necessary to request more. That cost us an extra $1.17. The regular Tex-Mex queso ($4.59) was flavorful with a pleasing consistency. By then we were so hungry, we scraped the bowl with the last bit of chips. At that point, we had to flag the server for drink refills, as none had been offered.
More surprises were in store when our entrées were served. One of my dining companions ordered the Enchiladas con Chile Colorado ($7.99) described on the menu as "two enchiladas filled with Monterey Jack cheese and smothered with pork tips simmered in chile guajillo and chipotle sauce." The pork stew was indeed delicious, and it was covered in melted cheese, but there were no tortillas to be found! "So, these are tortilla-less enchiladas?" we asked the server. "Yes, that's the dish you ordered," was her baffling reply. We also were charged 59 cents for charro beans with the "enchiladas." No off-menu fish specials had been offered, so I ordered the Camarones Campeche ($12.99), expecting sautéed shrimp tossed with tomato, cilantro, and green onions, glazed with mescal and served with rice and vegetables. Instead, the server brought the Campechana ($8.99), a mixed-seafood cocktail that I love but had not ordered. My companions ate while I had to wait for my order to be corrected. My friend's Pescado al Mojo de Ajo ($11.99), fish sautéed with garlic, was just fine, as were my husband's Tacos al Pastor ($6.99). However, he was not offered the customary choice of tortillas, and his tacos came in flour tortillas, a sacrilege for that quintessential Mexico City street food.
Unfortunately, my overall response to the new Curra's was one of real disappointment. Both the menu and the actual food closely resemble the fare at its popular predecessors, but the stark industrial decor left me cold, and the service was, frankly, terrible. The new suburban location with its busy long bar is obviously a hit with patrons in that neighborhood. But for me, the warm, funky, comfortable charm I've always associated with Curra's seems to have been lost in translation.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org