(We’re reinstating our long-lost tradition of occasional food/restaurant reviews. This one’s from our last big road trip to the Midwest)
July 18, 2008 – Red Iguana
Salt Lake City, UT
Rating: +2 (0 = average; +3 = lifetime memorable; -2 = physically sickened)
Good sign number one: upon arrival around noon on a Friday, we saw a dozen or so people waiting outside of an undistinguished building on an undistinguished section of road just outside of the downtown area.
Good sign number two: no one waiting seemed at all cranky about the delay.
Good sign number three: there was no time for a third good sign, because the place is much larger than it looks from the outside, and we were quickly seated.
You can’t judge a Mexican restaurant entirely by its chips and salsa, but you can gather a lot of clues. Red Iguana’s chips were fresh and well sized for dipping, with just enough salt on them to bring out their yellow corn taste. The salsa said even more: despite not being especially thick or chunky, the smoky-vinegary mixture clung nicely to the chips, packing just enough of a peppery punch to arm the taste buds.
Each of us took several laps through the menu, finding way too many entrees and appetizers that we wanted to try. Our compromise was to share an appetizer, chile con queso, in addition to our entrees.
This proved to be a miscalculation. Not because we didn’t like the queso—nay, nay! We adored it. Absolutely wanted to cuddle it like a teddy bear, and we would have if it hadn’t been a gigantic pot of hot melted cheese, tangy and slightly sweet with large slivers and chunks of hot and bell peppers set within like dinosaurs in the La Brea tar pits. It was the sheer size of the dip that caused the trouble—it was clearly intended to be shared by a table full of people. By the time our entrees arrived, you could barely tell that we’d eaten any of it, even though we’d been flitting in and out of it for a solid ten minutes.
All thoughts of queso flew out of our minds when the entrees hit the table. In front of Paul: a trio of enchiladas that was the special of the day, all smothered in a densely-spiced, smoky red sauce. Side of guacamole passed the purity test and was well laced with garlic. Beef, chicken and cheese fillings did what they were supposed to do, anchoring the whole thing.
But the big winner of the day was Storm and his pork mole (mo-LAY…spicy sauce, not facial blemish.) The menu featured a half dozen different moles, each more fantastical than the last. And the "Lomo de Puerco en Mole de Almendras" was the most fantastical of them all. Nuts, raisins, artichoke and other goodies rolled into a pork loin, baked tender, and smothered in a nutty/creamy sauce reminiscent of Indian cuisine’s korma, or Thai satay dip. Served with fresh, hot flour tortillas for dipping.
Final tally: mole entirely consumed, enchilada plate mortally wounded, beans and rice dallied with, and queso appreciated but still insulted.
Service was friendly and unobtrusive. Don’t miss the horchata or grab a Jalisco Limon to wash it down.